I saw Batman V Superman this past week, and I very much enjoyed it. So many of the complaints I’ve heard about the movie didn’t apply to my experience of it – I didn’t care about pre-used storylines, inconsistent character portrayal (I took off my novelist hat that afternoon), or Ben Affleck. I didn’t care that there was more setting than action, and a distinct good guy superhero vs bad guy superhero vibe.
I very much enjoyed the backdrop against which the movie was set: a world that is tumbling into chaos, and the heroes can’t always save everyone. Sometimes, the heroes are even a little bit despicable. I’m a big fan of chaos, and apocalypodes, and I enjoy being given the opportunity to “watch the world burn”. Hell, I spend a great deal of my free time calculating scenarios in which I can bring about a good ol’ fashioned world-burning.
For all those reasons, I loved the film.
Our main antagonist, Lex Luthor – whom I thought Jesse Eisenberg portrayed brilliantly – is mad.
That’s why he’s evil, you see. He’s nuttier than squirrel shit.
What kind of crazy? We’re never given a proper diagnosis. We just see bits and pieces. Disorganised thought and speech patterns. A touch of paranoia. An inflated ego and sense of grandeur. And of course, masterful manipulation.
These symptoms – which I am certain is not a comprehensive list – could point to any number of mental illnesses. I’m leaning towards a personality disorder – probably Borderline Personality Disorder. But I’m no psychologist.
Our buddy, the Joker. Definitely an Antisocial Personality Disorder kind of guy.
Harley Quinn? I mean, I don’t know her on a personal level, but based on what I’ve seen – and her own references to the voices in her skull – that could be anything from schizophrenia to UNIMAGINABLY BAD bipolar disorder.
Two-Face obviously has Dissociative Identity Disorder. They’ve written into his name.
The list goes on, I’m sure, but I am no expert on comic books and I’ve made a point.
I saw this movie with a colleague, who is a self-described comic book nerd. During our walk back to campus, I asked my colleague what he thought of the movie. He talked about the original storyline, where it deviated, whether the deviations were successful or not (he, too, enjoyed the film), and his undying love for older Batman.
“Why do you think they made Lex Luthor crazy?” I asked him.
“I don’t know. He’s the bad guy. It’s a good short-hand for people who don’t know much about the world,” he responded, after a minute.
Mental illness is a good shortcut for the uninitiated to know who is likely to do you harm.
This problem, which can be shrugged off because “it’s a comic book movie”, is immediately analogous to films that make the bad guys black, Muslim, or Mexican.It’s a shortcut – if you see a guy wearing a head covering, he’s probably going to kill you. If you see a black man, walk canny, aye? If that dude on his cell phone is speaking a vaguely south-of-the-border language (Spanish, Portuguese, they’re all the same, right?), you’d better hope you’ve got your rape condom in. If you see a homeless person muttering to himself on the street, give him a wide berth because he’s probably just arguing with his voices how to best blow up your street.
When it’s put like that, it’s gross, isn’t it? It’s lazy. It is absolutely problematic.
Just because something can be used as a quick-and-dirty way of getting exposition and backstory in there, doesn’t mean it should be. Screenwrights are writers first, everything else second. Get creative!
I’ve spoken about this at great length in other posts. The mentally ill are more at risk of becoming a victim than they are of victimising other people. They are more likely to end up raped, homeless, murdered, or hospitalised against their wishes. They are amongst the most vulnerable people our society contains, because in addition to being unable to hold down full-time work, maintain supportive relationships, or remember to shower daily, they have the added difficulty of being unable to determine reality from fiction, illness from fact.
And yet, we buy into the movies and the books and the plays that demonise the madman, make him our enemy, make his destruction our end goal. Buffalo Bill, the mother in the Sixth Sense, Lady MacBeth, the Joker, Donald Trump…they are all mentally ill. They are all, in the public’s mind, unequivocally evil. (To be honest, I am not certain about Donald Trump. He may simply be evil).
Yes, there are two sides to every brain. So let’s focus on the other side of the brains, shall we? Let’s rehumanise our crazy villains. Work to understand them, rather than fear them. Help them, rather than harm them.
Madmen are people, too. They just have more interesting backstories than most of us.