Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Portrait of the Fascist as a Young Captain

(Sergi López as Captain Vidal.)

Kia at Gall and Gumption has written an excellent piece on Guillermo del Toro's 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth (Labyrinth of the Faun/ El Laberinto del fauno). The bulk of it is an in-depth psychological profile of the brutal Captain Vidal, the wicked stepfather of the film's young heroine, Ofelia. Here's a taste:

To the Captain and to the numberless others who rule like him every personal affront or grievance undergoes a transmutation, it’s framed as something that happens not to them personally, as individuals, but to the cause. This is of course convenient if you have any power at all – the power to rat someone out to the police, the power to go rummaging in their secrets and a public platform for exposing them, the power to withhold a job or a ration card or a promotion or a signature. The exercise of malice and envy and contempt becomes a necessity of virtue. This transformation of the personal into the political is convenient in another way: it keeps up the supply of enemies (and the system depends on the steady supply of enemies) by creating new pretexts for identifying them, and it offers opportunities for the display of righteous zeal.

To destroy your own guilt is nearly impossible; it requires a return of the rejected self that people demonstrate again and again that they cannot do. It is easier to destroy innocence, to destroy the idea of innocence first, which enables the destruction of actual innocents. For this result, contempt is necessary, and there is always a lot of that floating around in search of a worthy object. Once you have overcome your guilt at the suffering of others from poverty, deprivation, and injustice, contempt for them comes naturally: they have imposed on your good nature, and they will do it again at the least opportunity. So it becomes necessary to distinguish between the deserving poor and the undeserving, and for the latter more deprivation, more hardship, is the best remedy. When it comes to that, even the deserving poor had best be kept strictly in line and taught not to expect too much. This is why, in Jane Eyre, Mr. Brockehurst and his well-fed, well-dressed daughters could visit Lowood School and looking upon its ranks of half-starved, beaten-down, dispirited orphans and daughters of impoverished clergymen, see nothing but their own goodness.

They are also, of course, destroying witnesses and evidence against the day when it all collapses. On that day, forced at the point of a gun to admit that crimes were committed, the guilty retreat into a sort of twilight of willful amnesia about their part in the crime: they didn’t know what was going on, that they had no choice, and they always acted with the best of intentions and never had any other kind. Their exact relation to the machinery of crime will be hard to define, although it will always somehow be clear to them that they were victims, too, and that they are now doubly victims because they find that the world does not think as well of them as they wish to think of themselves.

There's far more, and do read the rest. Needless to say, the profile applies to many an authoritarian, and not solely the character of Captain Vidal.

I counted Pan's Labyrinth as one of the top four films of 2006. It's the second film reviewed here. I'm overdue for watching it again.

1 comment:

Marc McDonald said...

Pan's Labyrinth sounds like a worthwhile film. I'm going to check it out now.