I was watching the new X-men Origins film yesterday (OK, I know it’s not new but relatively new). It brought a lot of ideas forward and can show something about the twentieth century that perhaps can only be shown to its full ferocity through the medium of fantasy comic book movie remakes.
In the twentieth century experiments on the human body became widespread; through assorted eugenic societies in the majority of western nations, to the Nazi genocide and on to the racial segregation that characterised the final third of the twentieth century, humanity has proven itself more adept at attempting to create and to go to whatever means it can to be better than its rival. This film, and in fact the entire franchise is a chronicle to this past and the future that will involve us all.
I am going to use my very scant knowledge of the X-men series and of the entire background to twentieth century eugenic biopolitics to give you an opinion. This opinion will include grave over-generalisations and numerous presumptions but I hope that it will incite you to think about cult-media in a different manner.
In the film there is an extended scene where Wolverine or Logan, a ‘mutant’ (in this case someone who is human but who has a genetic malfunction that has mutated and given him some form of ‘power’ – incidentally all mutants have powers, this is why they are feared and excluded), who has been taken to a secret military facility deep in the mountains to allow an experiment to be carried out on him for whatever reason. The key thing here is how he was tricked into allowing the experiment be carried out. By fear. By threatening his life. By taking the life of the one he loved. By placing him far from safety and alienating him from his own family and his own ‘kind’.
He is, in a sense, a mercenary, hired at the price of his own life’s safety. By agreeing to allow the experiment to be conducted on him he admits that he must rely on the scientific strengths of his enemy for his own survival – by altering his body he reduces his own humanity, objectifies himself and allows himself to be treated as part of the ‘mutant problem’. True, he does survive in the end. But at what price? The only way that he can be stopped is by a bullet into his brain which erases his memory and his identity, further alienating himself from what he truly believed himself to be; a quiet, Canadian, lumberjack who was in love with a local schoolteacher.
Now at this point I may seem to have drifted from the intended direction of this discourse. I am still attempting to give a broad interpretation of the film and what is going on in relation to international relevancy. Here I think we should think about who allows themselves to be used for human experiments? And I mean any experiment. From medical trials of a new treatment to allow genetic or artificial implants to enhance the body, we as humans admit our own frailty and inability to deal with the reality of what we have made our won lives.
This film or series builds itself on the difference between humans and mutants. The broad range of mutants against the closely defined category of humans again turns on the emergency lights and presents the segregation of individuals as a worldwide struggle – a war, one between those who are different and those who are normal. Not a very definite boundary I think you’ll agree. Even if you throw in politically correct terms like special needs and talented/gifted people, they are still different and separated, categorised and placed on the outside of society.
Now, no doubt you’re coming to understand the angle that I’m approaching this film from. It is essentially a story about racism. When I use the word racism I use it as a term that implies all manners of discrimination because of a physical difference in a person’s body. The act of racism is the discriminatory prejudice preventing access to a service or quality of life. The act of racism also employs tools such as ‘assimilation’. ‘Assimilation’ requires the victim, broadly speaking, to accept that they are different and to make a conscious effort to be less like them and to be more like the perpetrators of the discriminatory actions.
The film, X-men Origins: Wolverine, brings all of these topics together. We see people employed because they are ‘mutants’, then used for their skills but abused because that is all they are seen as, tools for obtaining something. We see mutants trying to move on, we see mutants fighting for survival against each other but always being subjected to the whim of the human authority, we see mutants suffering from scientific experiments, we see them escape but do they really escape? Is there real sanctuary in a world where they will always be hunted for what they are not who they are?
I cannot list the situations that this movie brought to my consciousness because the list itself is too long and I think it would not do justice to those who I did not include because of my own ignorance. It is rare that such a film questions such hard fought truths that we are led to believe everyday. Films regularly talk of freedom and survival and Hollywood is often the mightiest herald of them all, but this film is different. This film talks about the freedom of the masses, including individual freedom, and no matter who they are or what their genetic makeup is. This film exposes the world for the prejudice we accept as due process and questions what we ourselves are a party to.
We can choose to watch and enjoy or we can chose to watch, watch again, read between the lines and respond beyond the doors of the cinema or the couch in the living room.
I will leave it to you to decide.