Wanted: A Movie Review
By John Lobell
Myths are a repository of the structures and mores of a culture, a suprapsychology, a system of principles describing the nature and workings of being, the universe, society, and individual development. Movies have become a dominant artistic form in our culture, and are therefore a major vehicle for the presentation of our myths.
The prime myth of Wanted, as of many action movies, is Percival, the story of one of the knights of King Arthur’s Roundtable. A sub myth is the search for the father. While the search for the father is found in the myths of many cultures, the themes of the Arthurian Romances are unique to the European culture which began around 1,100 with these tales and with the laying down of the Western temple form, the Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals.
Joseph Campbellâ€™s favorite line from Chretien de Troyes’ Percival comes when the knights set out on a quest to view the Holy Grail, and, “they entered the forest, each in a different place where there was not path or way, for they felt it would be a dishonor to follow in the path of another.”
The idea of the individual following each their own calling is found in no other mythology. It is not in the Bible, Old or New Testaments. It is not in Greek mythology. Achilles is not following his own path, but the way of honor in battle that will win him immortality.
In the Indian Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, a wronged prince, leads his army against a usurper. Their armies are lined up against each other, and Arjuna rides in his chariot between them, and then declares that this battle should not take place, saying, I see friends and teachers on both sides. It is not right that they should die for my petty desire for a throne. At that point, his charioteer, who is Krishna in disguise, rears up as his horrific self, his giant tusks crushing the bodies of the soldiers, declaring, I am Krishna, devourer of worlds, lord of time. Who are you to deny your duty? These men are already dead. You are a warrior. Do your duty. Fight.
So the Arthurian tradition unlike the Biblical, Greek, and Indian traditions, centers its ethical and action worlds in the individual.
In Wanted, a group of assassins with an ancient lineage (The Roundtable) takes in Wesley Allan Gibson, whose father had been one of them. Note that Percival’s father had been a great knight, a fact hidden from him by his mother who does not want Percival to die like his father. We are of course also reminded of Luke Skywalker and his father.
The assassins call themselves the Fraternity, and receive from patterns in the cloth their loom weaves the names of those they must kill. So they are not acting out of their own volition, but in obedience to commands from an outside omnipotence. Not good by Western standards. The Fraternity has gone astray, become corrupt, and entered the world of the Wasteland, the fall of Camelot, which comes down to us in T. S. Elliot’s poem, and which is quoted to us in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
The Wasteland comes when people act out of the authority of their roles rather then their inner vision. Note that in the Biblical traditions, in India, and in China, where Monkey must be imprisioned, one is discouraged, even executed for acting out of this inner vision.
The Wasteland comes when people become inauthentic. Note that Gibson is in the Wasteland in his accounting job at the beginning of Wanted. The land is restored when someone comes along who acts authentically. “Down these mean streets walks a man” and then a thousand movies, Shane, High Noon, The Maltese Falcon, Dirty Harry, The Bourne Identity.
In the tale of Percival and the Fisher King, the King is wounded and the land has become a Wasteland. Percival can heal him and the land only by acting spontaneously out of compassion, doing what his heart urges him to do, not what he has been taught a knight should do. Gibson at first follows orders and screws up, as did Percival the first time. Then he acts out of his inner vision, and puts things right, as did Percival the second time.
At the end of Wanted, Gibson has completed his task, he has not completed himself. In the Bourne movies, which Wanted parallels, Bourne is with his woman at the end of the first movie, loses her in the second, but finds his origins in the third, as does Luke Skywalker in Episode VI, and Tommy at the end of the Who epic.
We await the subsequent Wanted movies.
It is interesting that despite fifty years of attempts by the body politic and the academy to domesticate us into a Levantian or Eastern communitarianism, the Western spirit of individuality is as strong as ever in America, as seen in just about every popular movie.
Wanted is a ballet of graphic violence, but that is for anther review. Here, as in my review of Phantom of the Opera earlier on this site, I wanted to address the archetypes of the movie, what the movie is about. How well it does is another discussion, although I will remark, Cool!
Just a note on Fox, played by Angelina Jolie in Wanted. Jolie has been building a new female archetype, the female hero, which she began in her Laura Croft movies. But this woman separated from the biology of reproduction, something unsuccessfully attempted by second wave feminism, is not yet finished. And the play between these movie roles and Jolie’s real-life dedication to motherhood make for an interesting tension. We look forward to how this new archetype of woman plays out.