This movie quite surprised me, I was not expecting such a deep level of philosophical analysis possible. I had expected another typical super hero movie that didn’t really have any substance beyond good guy/patriot wins over the evil/foreigner message. There’s a few themes I’d like to go over in this movie. Primarily, I think most importantly the conflict that exists in this movie is that of ideological vs. material.
Green Lantern like pretty much all super hero movies contains the usual anti-intellectualism. Its a very common theme for comic books and super hero movies to place a great fear or revulsion on those of great intelligence. The hero is rarely an intellectual. Take the archetype Superman, the strongest man in the world. His archenemy is Lex Luthor, a man who is rarely afforded any ability to physically fight. He uses the power of his intelligence that proves to be more dangerous than any of the physical combatants Superman ever faces.
Green Lantern faces his enemy Hammond who is a xenobiologist, which is a scientist that could not be any more abstract. He literally embodies the understanding and the pursuit of the knowledge of the Other. He is the intellectual who is to be feared most. In the course of the movie he pretty much loses the ability to use his body and as a result his gains psychokinetic powers. Thus literally making his mind more powerful and deadly than his body could ever be.
This demonetization of the intellect is a common theme throughout Western popular culture.
In reality it manifests itself in a hatred for the greater educated. One need look no further than the fear mongering of Glen Beck and the Tea Party people making outlandish claims of University and Collage professors indoctrinating students with Marxism. Hilarious and idiotic when one considers the actual indoctrination that takes place against ideas that challenge the status quo.
Positive Human Nature vs. Negative Human Nature (Will vs Fear)
Fear as addiction:
The theme of the Green Lanterns is a combat of Will versus Fear. The Will of any Lantern is the source of their power, they’re forbidden to feel any fear for it is a weakness. A weakness the main enemy Parallax exploits all too well. Superficially we can see here the struggle between strength and weakness in its most “male bravado” way. To show any fear is to admit weakness/cowardice, so one must insist upon refusing to admit that they have any fear. This refusal of admission leads to an inability to deal with the fact fear is felt, causing the deaths of several of the Lanterns. This fear is only defeated once one of the Lanterns (Ryan Reynolds) finally admits that his is afraid and is thus able to combat his fear.
Fear is the problem that affects the entirety of the Green Lantern corp. In this do we not see the addiction to fear as it is denied? Fear like a chemical addiction is something kept in private until its effects upon our lives becomes too large to hide. This is what happens in the film, Green Lantern sees the problem, this all pervading fear is causing, thus he has to take the first step in conquering any problem/addiction. “Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Doesn’t the scene where Ryan Reynolds calls out the Guardians of the Universe on being afraid not seem an awfully lot like an intervention? He very confrontationally accuses the Guardians of the Universe of being afraid themselves and calls on them to admit as such. In doing so he gets them to admit their weaknesses and allows them to more objectively view them.
Good Nature vs. Bad Nature:
As the struggle between Fear and Will continues throughout the movie it becomes clear that we are dealing with not just some abstract super hero issue, we’re dealing with human nature itself. We can see that the Lanterns have chosen Will as a weapon and not Fear. Is this not the same choice we face ideologically here in the real world as we confront the multitude of social problems and economic relations?
It is in reality, like in the movie, much easier to give into fear (which symbolizes the negative in human nature) than it is to play to the good in people (symbolized by Will in the movie). Do we not see this same struggle in economics? Is not capitalism the product of fear? The fear that one may not have as much as another? The fear that we will have to give too much? Or fear being invaded something we are not familiar with, as with the perception of immigration? Isn’t this fear much easier to live with than having Will? Isn’t the struggle to hold onto Will scarier than simply just being fearful?
Interestingly here there is a parallel we face with the problem of revisionism. As the Guardians of the Universe begin to realize the seriousness of the situation (in a bad time) they begin looking at fear as possibly weapon to be used against fear. They consider betraying their core belief in Will as a means of dealing with a problem they don’t know how to solve with Will.
Isn’t this all too similar a temptation of revisionism? When faced with a situation that we don’t know how to use Marxism to solve, isn’t there a temptation to just us a pro-market reform to solve it? Isn’t the revisionist action easier than to studiously work out the contradiction causing the problem? Revisionism, like Fear in Green Lantern, is an option that is made available to us. The Guardians of the Universe know that using fear is a slippery slope to the eventual downfall of the Green Lantern core, just as we know a single pro-market reform could cause untold devastation among the socialist economy.
Are we not tested in our ability to resolve contradictions using the dialectic not similar to the way the Guardians of the Universe are tested in using Will to defeat Parallax?
Ideological vs. Material
Before the final battle between Green Lantern and Parallax, Green Lantern has to face Hector Hammond. In the battle between these two characters there is a clear philosophical struggle. Green Lantern uses objects created out of energy as weapons, non-material objects. Hammond uses real material physical objects that are around him as weapons. So here we can see a conflict not just between two powerful beings, but a conflict between ideology and materialism.
This can certainly been seen as the struggle among the Left that we see today. One portion of it has a Utopian view, left liberalism, the Venus Project etc., those to propound a great world view with nothing at all as a blue print to affect that change. Their flaw is exactly that, their inability to give that blue print because they are too abstracted into the Utopian view they have. The real concrete material conditions that prevail are certainly (and rightfully so) criticized, but they do not give the tools for defeating or altering them. (Utopian socialism.)
On the other side of this struggle we see the materialist view point, those of us who see a method of change that is grounded in the real material world. Anarchists and Communists alike see that things are the way they are because of series of conditions, many of them contradictory. The key to our beliefs is not in some abstract view that is supposed to “instantly appear” once the system is smashed. We see it as a series of concrete material conditions that have to be changed. Contradictions that must be resolved so that we may get to our view of a better world. A materialist view shows us not only the goal, but the path itself and gives us the tools in order to construct it. (Scientific socialism.)
This is the problem we face today in the Left, and why it is so dysfunctional right now. Too many are pulled to Utopian views like a genteeler kinder capitalism like the various Green parties that exist, or a very left Democrat stance. In its most obscene form people are drawn to the Venus Project and the Zeitgeist movement, complete Utopian views with absolutely no grounding materialism. Just one day all people will automatically become supporters of the Venus Project. (Especially funny here is how this is supposed to happen when the vast overwhelming majority have not even heard of it.)