The Importance Of Evil
I’ve noticed something recently.
I was thinking about a lot of ideas I’ve had over the past few years, and about a lot of media that has come out in that time.
Now, this is nothing new, but most stories recently have been skewing towards a very dark, edgy tone.
I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the past as well. It’s something writers do to lend a feeling of depth to a project. It’s a complete hoax in many cases, but it’s still used a lot.
I’m not sure where this stereotype came from, but it is generally accepted that lighthearted, colorful stories are for children, and darker, gritty stories are for adults.
It’s not that this isn’t true. It is. It just isn’t true in all cases.
The problem is when stories go for a really edgy feel to them for the sole purpose of appealing to an older audience, or making the story seem more “adult”.
That, however, is not in fact the thing I noticed recently; I just thought some context was in order.
What I noticed was how important evil is in a narrative.
You see, I love discussing things I watch and read with my friends; it makes for very interesting conversation a lot of the time. What my friends would often do (and would sometimes spark debate on my part) is dance around a particular point that’s basically always the same: “I didn’t watch X show because it has Y in it.” Fill that in with what you will; didn’t watch Breaking Bad because it had drugs in it; didn’t watch The Wire because it was full of racism and violence; I’m sure you get the picture.
I was reminded of a time back in 2001 when a much younger Brendon was at his piano teacher’s house for a weekly lesson. We were talking about how our respective weeks had been, and I mentioned how I had loved seeing the first Lord of the Rings movie, which had just come out.
“Oh,” said my piano teacher. “I walked out of it with my family when the wizard’s duel happened. Too much magic and witchcraft in that movie.”
I was taken aback. She had missed everything past that point? The journey past Rivendell and that incredible ending sequence with Boromir, and all the wonderful, touching, and tense moments in between? I could certainly understand someone being unsettled by or objecting to witchcraft as a concept; but as a plot device to push forward an incredible story with an amazing message that has lasted and enthralled people for decades, finally realized on screen?
No matter my level of understanding on why she did what she did, I couldn’t help but feel a little annoyed at it.
And that sentiment has not changed over the years.
It is my firm belief that objectionable content, when used correctly, only adds to a movie. This clearly varies from film to film, and depends entirely on what the film is trying to achieve or the message it is trying to send. The themes that permeate it.
To have a truly moving ending, the character must pass through trials. The severity of those trials will determine how grand the climax and payoff is.
The easiest example I can give is The Pilgrim’s Progress, a story of a journey from The City of Destruction to The Celestial City. All thinly-veiled allegorical meanings aside, if this was simply a guy walking from one city to another, it would be both boring and lacking in anything that brings fulfillment to the journey. But luckily, it isn’t just walking. He has to pass through places such as the Slough of Despond, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the city of Vanity, and The River of Death; all of which obviously sound like places you wouldn’t even want to go near (though it would be sort of badass to be able to say, “yeah, I live next to the RIVER OF DEATH”). The point being, he went through many trials, faced many dangers, and lost friends along the way. And the ending is more meaningful because of it.
I think it would be best to let Samwise Gamgee sum all this up:
“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something.”
So I urge you today, if you are someone who has shied away from something simply because it contained an element you didn’t like, please reconsider.
Going back to the two examples I gave earlier, if I hadn’t given The Wire a shot because of all the objectionable material it contained (which is a lot), I wouldn’t have gotten to experience a very real, down-to-earth show that moved me and gave me new perspectives. It really has some incredible and touching moments.
And for everyone who hasn’t seen Breaking Bad simply because “it’s about drugs”… well, I just have to get this off my chest: you are flat-out incorrect. That show is about the characters that inhabit it. And those people are some of the best written characters I have ever seen grace the screen. Ever.
The darker the tunnel, the brighter the light at the end will seem.
Brendon “fully realizes the title of this post was totally incendiary” Regier