Sunday, February 05, 2017

Saving Harley

I've already written about the stupid trend among amateur internet movie critics to fixate on the concept of a character arc as an essential thing for a movie to be good. But I wanted to bring up a particularly stupid example I saw in this video essay by Patrick (H) Willems. While I agree with him the writing is generally bad in DC movies, his insistence that the inclusion of more character arcs as a fix I find incredibly short sighted, particularly in one of the examples he brings up for Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn.

Harley, while probably the most fun person to watch in the movie, is completely static. She wants to get back together with the Joker for the entire movie. That's it . . . What's a shame is that there's a great arc sitting there unused, where she could realise over the course of the movie how abusive and awful he is and then finally gain some independence and reject him. Sadly, that does not happen.

Willems himself admits Harley is fun to watch but apparently this doesn't matter if she's static. To fix this, he wants to take away her relationship with the Joker in her very first film. That would be like a first Batman movie in which Alfred decides he doesn't want to be a butler anymore and leaves. He wants her to triumph over the negative influences in her life to be heroic example to us all.

If Harley Quinn were a real person, I'd be first in line encouraging her to kick that psycho to the curb. But just because something's positive in real life doesn't mean it's good fiction. Real people can be hurt. Characters in fiction demonstrate aspects of human behaviour and try dangerous or unwise paths without any actual risk to real people. The advantage is that it allows a storyteller to say things about the human experience without actually killing or injuring anyone. I don't have to look far for a case in point--look at Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. Remember his arc? Of course not, because he didn't have one. He showed up, he caused chaos, and he was caught. He never had a soul searching moment, he never had a scene where he clearly seemed to be thinking maybe he should give it all up and do his time. The film is so much better for it. Can you imagine how unbelievably trite and forced it would be if every member of the Suicide Squad happened to learn a Very Valuable Lesson by the end of the film?

One might say that the difference between Ledger's Joker and Robbie's Harley Quinn is that one was a villain while the latter was a hero. In which case, you've put your finger on exactly what was wrong with a movie that was supposed to be about a team of villains.

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