Monday, January 04, 2010

The Patron Saints of Fascism?

When The Boondock Saints was released in 1999, it was largely to critical derision.

In time, the film would grow into a cult classic. In ten years time, the film would finally merit a sequel. While the film has garnered itself a considerable following, there are messages at the core of the film that, while actually quite common in films of its genre, can actually be rather troubling.

In Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg writes about the fascist messages that can be detected in vigilante movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish.

Boondock Saints contains many of the core themes of other vigilante movies: the corrupting power of outsiders to a society (in this case, the Russian Mafia) and the corrupting influence of the state's weakness.

Boondock Saints takes these messages even further.

In the film, the McMannus brothers (Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus) find themselves the targets of the Russian mob when they get into a fight with enforcers trying to close down their favourite watering hole.

After killing the mobsters in self-defence, the two highly-religious brothers receive a vision and a mission from God. They're declared to be the new protectors of the innocent in Boston. They're to liquidate the Russian mob.

The film generously mixes religious iconography with a message regarding the inadequacies of the state to deal with dangerous, external, and often alien enemies.

More interesting still is the eventual decision of FBI Special Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe), the forensic detective assigned to catch the Saints, to become an accomplice of the Saints. Like many citizens portrayed in interview at the end of the film, Smecker views the state as ill-prepared to handle the criminal element in Boston.

However, even as an agent of the state, Smecker has begun to have more faith in the McMannus brothers' ability to deal with crime, and has thusly decided to join them.

Smecker thus facilitates one of the elements necessary to the development of a fascist state -- the subversion of the state by fascist elements.

In its closing credits, the film also reveals one of the more troubling elements of this particular brand of vigilantism: its tendency to evoke these kinds of sympathies among individuals who, like Smecker, have lost faith in the state's ability to manage these challenges.

These sympathies can make fascism oddly appealing, and therein lies the greatest danger of vigilantism.

Films like Boondock Saints make for splendid entertainment, and there very much is some value in the message of these films. But the value in the films must be carefully weighed against the deeper implications of the film, and those implications must be considered accordingly.

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