Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Iron Man and Lancelot
In the spirit of Benjamin's posts on lessons from cinema, I want to talk about some things I'm learning from the joint venture of watching the recently released DVD of Iron Man and reading T.H. White's The Once and Future King, which is about King Arthur.
Redemption. That's the word (repeated in many reviews you may have read) that convinced me to watch this movie, and I'm glad I did. The way the main character, Tony Stark, goes from careless playboy genius to conscientious superhero genius is both moving and representative of real repentance which, as my little girls say, is "changing to be good." The thing that impresses me the most about it is his total change of heart and aggressive action to correct not a bad social situation like Batman, but the consequences of his wrong choices. Iron man doesn't become, at least in this movie, a vigilante crusader against all things evil. He has a specific mission to remedy the harm he has caused by not caring about the right things.
So where does King Arthur come in? He doesn't. But Lancelot does. In The Once and Future King, White describes Lancelot as a man who does so many good works because of his own dark nature. He enjoys hurting people and is filled with lust and envy. To combat these things, he establishes for himself a rigorous code of conduct that prevents him from acting on any of his base impulses.
These two ideas combined and came to a head in the first scene in Iron Man in which the title character takes action in his new cause. I have rarely had a more powerful experience with film, but I don't think everyone would have the same kind of feeling I did in that moment. To me, it represented a moment of decision, in which past transgressions and the natural man were overcome by the sheer force of will. I was going to say "human will," but that would be wrong. While the decision to repent and change is ours, Stark acknowledges later in the film that he would not be living if not for a higher purpose than his own. He cites his knowledge of this as his motivation for his new life. I think we can learn from that.