Saturday, March 9, 2013

"Wreck-It Ralph" and the Problem of Evil

It has been a long time since Disney was seen as an innovative story telling company. They have been stuck in a relatively formulaic rut, or been following the lead of other companies for years now. Some of that has even rubbed off on their younger partner, Pixar, in recent years. However, “Wreck-it Ralf” is like a breath of fresh air. In both the creativity of the world building and the mechanics of story, this is the best effort from the studio since at least “Lilo,” possibly Tarzan. It is certainly the best non-traditional animation effort from the studio.

The story is so tightly constructed that the film is almost too predictable in parts. We see the foreshadowing clearly spelled out and are never surprised or left wondering about anything. The defense is probably that this is a kid’s film, after all, and they need uncomplicated plots. That being said, the complicated layers and messages delivered here are anything but simple, and sometimes border on the troubling.

To be sure there is the wonderful message that we can decide what sort of person we are going to be. Our background, our “programming” does not make us who we are, it is the decisions we make and the things we do with our lives that count. There is that troubling duality, however, that is delivered so “matter-of-fact” that we don’t even question it. Do we really want to accept a definition of reality where good is only defined by its distinction from evil? Where we in fact need bad to highlight good? Where some people simply have to be “bad guys” and that is not a bad thing?

I know some will think me too demanding raising questions like that. And to be fair this film does present a truly evil character in contrast to all the “bad guys” from the games. But it is still a legitimate question that we need to ask ourselves as we examine our world view. Does the world really have by necessity some people who have been programmed and destined to fulfill a needed role of evil, and if so, are they really bad?

The alternative that we do not see in films like this is that we have all failed to live out our programming. That that absence or failure to function correctly—to be good—is the very definition of evil and we all suffer from that problem. And, that all the bad in the world is a result of the glitch that we all suffer from. If that is the case, our only hope would be for the creator of the game—the programmer—to design a reset option that we could accept. The beauty of the whole thing would be for that reset to be offered but not forced, so that we could truly choose good and not just be neutral—because doing something you have no choice in is neither good nor evil.

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