Sunday, August 8, 2004

Collateral enjoyment

I just saw *Collateral* tonight. The film, directed by Michael Mann (also made *Heat* with Pacino, DeNiro and Kilmer), stars Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. It was excellent. I was riveted. It was witty, suspenseful, philosophically mature, and extremely well filmed. It reminded me a lot of Dostoyevsky's *Crime and Punishment*. Vincent (Cruise), like Raskolnikov, lives (in stunningly brutal ways) as if he is above traditional folk morality and beyond sympathy. Yet, both characters not only defect from their mercenary worldviews at crucial points in their respective plot, but also are both eventually swallowed up by it in poignant, ironic endings.

The difference is that while there is hope of redemption for Raskolnikov, we are left to pity Vincent as an irretrievably unredeemed man (and no, that's not a spoiler: you, gentle reader, still don't know whether Vincent lives or dies or what). Much like *C&P*, *Collateral* reminds us again of the real stakes of a godless, non-transcendent (conscendent? descendent?) worldview. In a word, it ain't pretty; and the problem is that there's nothing inherent in that worldview to prevent it from being so nasty every time it's tried on. Granted, *Collateral* is not a religious morality play – God never comes up in any explicit way – but it says much the same as *C&P* about the moral world, while avoiding all that dusty God-talk. In this sense, *Collateral* is a post-Christian *Crime and Punishment*, but in English and with lots of intense gunplay.

Although I was disappointed by the (semi-Hollywood lacquered) ending of the film, I realize that even if it had ended as I felt it should have, the conclusion still would have given us, or me at least, no other feeling for Vincent but pity. He is pitiful in the truest sense: he cries out for mercy, for loving pity, as a sociopath and he cries out for mercy as a victim of sociopathology. He cries out for the comfort of grace, as he is a bitter, hollow man disgusted by the depravity of the world. He cries out for the comfort of grace as he is also, paradoxically, simultaneously, a purveyor of that depravity. The question I leave you with, and which Mann leaves us with, is which creature is Vincent: victim or criminal, sadist or masochist?

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