Seven Psychopaths is a film unlike any others we have watched in class: none of the main characters seem to follow Campbell’s monomyth cycle of a hero, and Billy, the character that gets the most attention throughout, seems to even portray a sort of anti-hero. With that being said, though it is not the film we were meant to link with the fairytale readings we have done thus far, I believe there are still some connections that can be drawn between the film and traditional lore.
One link would be the concept of violence – not just aggressiveness or gore, but more the over-dramatizations of these things. We have talked briefly about the ways in which fairytales often portray gruesome acts of violence, such as the huntsman being told to kill the sometimes as young as 7-year-old girl in the woods and cut out her heart, lungs, or liver to bring back to the queen; or the wicked stepsisters hacking at their feet and literally removing their own body parts in order to put on a blood-soaked slipper; or those same stepsisters having their eyes fiercely pecked out by birds. There are many examples to be found in fairytales, but the parallel to this level of violence that I noticed most in Seven Psychopaths was when it came to the story of Zach and Maggie – the serial killer-killers. Though the flashbacks were shown with twisted romantic undertones, the images put on the screen were gruesome enough for many people to look away, such as when Maggie was quite literally sawing off someone’s head, or when they staked the Zodiac’s hands to the table before lighting him on fire. In my mind, there is the violence we are most used to, such as the frequent shooting of guns throughout the film, and then there is violence on a whole other level that seems to simply be violence for the sake of violence, such as those examples of the serial killer-killers. While these acts were not necessarily drawn from a fairytale, the violence was indicative of such tales, and the casual way in which Zachariah relayed them to Marty reminded me as well of how we mentioned authors of these variations of fairytales tend to just say something outrageous to us before moving on, as if their audience can just accept it without question.
Also worth noting, though perhaps to a lesser degree, was the marginalization of any female characters portrayed. Firstly, there were few enough that I could count them on one hand: the Australian girlfriend who was constantly called names; Myra, who was killed off; Angela, who was killed off; the imagined hooker; and very briefly the background of Maggie, unless I am forgetting another. Regardless, women had a far smaller and more insignificant presence in the film than the men had, which calls up the idea we learned from the fairytales about the life of action being unfeminine. Of course, Maggie’s life was certainly full of action – but a corrupt, psychopathic side of it rather than the type of action a hero typically gets to experience.
“Seven Psychopaths” seems to write itself as the story unravels. It is about a writer. Marty, writing a film called “Seven Psychopaths,” that, viewers find, mirrors the movie that they are about to watch. Marty’s friend Billy has an idea of the movie that Marty should be writing, and takes steps to help him get there. Billy has good intentions, and only wants to help his friend. Yet, we find that the actions he takes to help have very real consequences. Ultimately ending in real-life violence, despite Marty wanting the situation (and his movie) to end peacefully.
A commentary on screen violence and Hollywood’s influence over writers seems to emerge. Writer/director McDonagh seems to point out real-life consequences of violence, when movies typically portray it as something so casual and even glorify bloodshed. Billy wanted Marty to finish his film, but he wanted it to be written his way. Meaning, to be a film filled with violence and ending with an emotional and intense final shoot out, the way crime movies so typically do. Billy ultimately strands Marty, Hans, and himself and calls the psychotic and irrational Charlie to come after them to seek revenge for the kidnapping of his dog. In this way, Billy can be seen as representing the way Hollywood and society influence film. He forces his hand into the story and takes control to make it play out the way he wants it to, similarly to the way societal attitudes and Hollywood itself plays a role in changing the way films play out. (I am reminded of the story told in class about how the original ending included the death of the dog, but McDonaugh was advised not to as an American audience would not respond well to that; an example of how writers original ideas are changed to fit with what will be well-received). In this reading, Marty represents the creative, individualistic filmmaker who’s ideas are changed to fit a certain mold.
Marty points out all of the cliches of the genre, and insists that his movie should be different. But, Billy thinks his movie should involve all the usual ingredients. As the “real-life” events unfold in tandem with Marty’s writing process, the inevitable violence and death that occur as a result of Billy’s interventions show how hard it is for writers to break free of convention.
Dead Poets Society is a film that leaves viewers thinking, “I don’t know how to feel about this.” Our hero dies a horrific death, his mentor fired, the other Dead Poets revert back to lost boys with nothing to hold on to, and no repercussions for the school or the parents. It leaves the viewer hopeless enough before those in the English field incite debates about how the film depicts English professors; some in the field hate it, others credit it as their reason for entering the field. The only way to describe Dead Poets Society is tragic. Neil is the tragic hero; Professor Keating the tragic mentor, Neil’s friends (specifically Todd) are left to face the reality of their friend’s suicide. On top of that we have Neil’s father who is so self-absorbed he does not even think of the possibility that he was the one who pushed his son over the edge. Finally, a headmaster who will blame anyone and anything to save the reputation of his school while keeping the idea that, in relation to Neil’s father, could have nothing to do with his students being depressed and anxious.
In Poetics Aristotle writes, “tragedy is the imitation of an action….on actions all success or failure depends” (11). Without action tragedy cannot occur; Dead Poets Society does a brilliant job at following this model of a tragic hero (12). We start with the action of Neil’s father telling him that he needs to drop his passions for chemistry. The film then moves to the introduction of the mentor with his guidance and understanding of the hero and the hero’s circle of friends. The Dead Poets Society is then formed and speeds up the transformation process of the hero. Then the viewers are taken to the final four actions, the most defining actions that push forth the tragedy. Neil’s father humiliates him in public and refuses to acknowledge that his son is a person, not a prop. Neil commits suicide -> Mr. Keating is blamed for the faults of others -> Neil’s circle of friends remember the lessons of the hero and the mentor but are still trapped in the cycle of outside actions.
The viewer leaves the film understanding that Dead Poets Society is a tragedy, but many also take with them the feeling of inspiration. The overall nature of a tragedy, especially a hero’s tragedy, is to inspire those around them to push themselves to do better. In this case, the words carpe diem are stuck in the viewer’s mind. Regardless of whether or not one likes the film it is undeniable that Dead Poets Society is a prime example of Aristotle’s model of tragedy. It then is left up to the viewer to either agree with the criticism or be inspired by Neil and Professor Keating to say “screw you, I can like the film without your permission.”
Vivian Bearing starts a new chapter, or journey, of life when she is diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. Her first chapter of life included being torn apart by her mentor, becoming an over exaggerated version of said mentor, and dominating her field. Vivian is the professor everyone hates; the only reason for taking her class is to boost graduate and job resumes. Her diagnosis is meant to knock her down off her pedestal and remind her of what it means to be human. However, Vivian would be better labeled as an anti-hero than a traditional hero. An anti-hero is defined as a main character that lacks the ideal characteristics of a hero. Think more Rick Grimes, less Clark Kent.
Yes, Vivian comes to terms with her morality, she learns how to admit fear and ask Susie for help, faces off her past maliciousness in the faces of supposed villains Dr. Harvey Kelekian and Dr. Jason Posner (a former student who seems delighted to degraded Vivian based on the simple fact that she did not give him an A); Vivian even has the tragic hero death. Yet, all of these things can relate to her being the anti-hero of Wit. It can also be said that Vivian was an anti-hero in her first chapter of life. A hero in her field and community who is hated for her lack of compassion, as typical quality of a hero. She recognizes that she has treated people badly in the past, but only makes a true effort with Susie. Vivian understands why Kelekian and Posner are so cold and comes to the realization that she could have been a hero had she made exceptions for students who just lost their grandmother. All of this brings us to Vivian’s death. She accepts her fate and makes the request to be put on the Do Not Resuscitate list. It is a hard decision for her as it takes away research opportunities from young scholars.
In the end Vivian is denied her true tragic hero death by Posner who is so wrapped up in his research he gives no thought to Vivian’s final wishes. Susie has to swoop in and allow Vivian the honor of her choice. It appears to the viewers to Vivian’s death and Posner’s horrific mistake will force him to become more human and more hero-like in the future. He will drop his role as a quasi-villain because of the effect Vivian had on his life as a doctor. It is here that Vivian ends her journey as the anti-hero of Wit, with a last heroic action of changing the lives of both Susie and Posner.