I am behind the cultural zeitgeist in reviewing this movie long after it has been a celebrated script, and a completed film with a successful theatrical release. However, this was my first weekend off in three months, and I wanted to watch SOMETHING. It was either this, or 22 Jump Street.
I hadn’t intended to review it, but I found the film interesting for reasons which are peculiar to me, and I thought this reasons might be worth sharing. So, here goes…
Rarely do I find a film with a theme which, literally, assaults you from its very first frame. The Equalizer knows what it’s going to be about; it tells you over black in the quote from Mark Twain which begins the story:
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
I’m not sure the moviemaker’s realize this [I don’t even know if Twain saw the connection] but I couldn’t help being reminded of Aristotle’s function argument:
1098a8: “the function of man is an activity of s
oul in accordance with, or not without, rational
1098a16: “human good turns out to be activity of soul
in conformity with excellence, and if there
are more than one excellence, in conformity with the best and most complete.”
1102a1: “happiness is an activity of soul in accordance with complete excellence”
In summary form, Aristotle is claiming that we are best [in an ethical sense] when we are realizing our greatest excellence.
Again, I don’t want to put words into this script which are not in this script, but the reference to Twain at the beginning, combined with the story arc McCall’s character follows, leads me to the conclusion that McCall is GOOD [in an ethical sense] when he does what he is most excellent at. In this case killing people who harm the innocent and weak.
McCall is Batman without the mask.
I found this interesting because the film grants McCall an ethical pass which is not granted to Batman [and the other vigilante’s like him]. The theme of The Equalizer is not [as you would expect from a vigilante film]:
The ends justify the means
Instead, the theme is:
You are good if and only if you oppose wickedness with the force required to end it.
Honestly, that is somewhat unique. Our modern anti-hero’s [read super-hero’s] all revolve around trying to get around Kant’s ethical critique of all teleologies… In other words, the ends justify the means, if and only if, you are sure you are right. Kant knew there was NO WAY to be sure, so he hamstrung us with his genius in the form of a categorical imperative. McCall and The Equalizer are interesting to me, because they take Kant’s greatest rival for theory dominance, Aristotle, seriously.
Aristotle says, we are good if we fulfill our function. McCall says, fine, I will fulfill my function. He is sure THAT will guarantee he is good.
I give the film further credit for having McCall arc from sadness to “happiness” as he commits more and more to what it is he is “born to do”. There is a realization on the part of the filmmakers [subconscious or not I can’t know] that if McCall stayed the same, the film would have missed its own point.
Lastly, I must acknowledge that all my other reviews about excessively violent material have been lost. I made it clear in those reviews that I think violence in the cinema is an area of concern for Artists. You are, William Butler Yeats (1) et al, responsible for the expressions you give to your gift. I could not be someone who maintains, vociferously, that Art Makes Life, if I didn’t worry about the things We Make as Art.
As I’ve said to walker in the past, I think Violence is the last form of “magic” humans can’t process intellectually. To witness an act of violence counts as the same thing as witnessing an object be in two places at the same time. I think these hyper-violent depictions of humans arise because our inadequately evolved brains still crave magicians. We want answers to questions that we can’t find answers to, so we resolve the contradiction by punching the world as hard as we can. This is, at bottom, a beautiful trait we humans possess—it’s like looking at stars and being awed—but Artists owe it to the world to move past it.
Rating: Worth Watching.
1. I can’t forgive him his propaganda as plays.