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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, January 24, 2014


"I don't like brutality.  I like heroics. I like the blood of heroes."-- THE BLOOD OF HEROES (1989)

In this essay I review-compared the 1987 film THE RUNNING MAN with the 1989 film THE BLOOD OF HEROES.  Both are films about violent futuristic sports. The first story is literally a "bloodsport"-- one in which the main player is supposed to be killed by the game-- while the second tale is more comparable to modern-day sports stories, in which players may be expected to wreak great violence upon one another in order to win, but not to kill one another.  The first is centered upon one centric hero, a "Ben Richards" (Arnold Schwarzenegger), whose few allies do not share the main stage with him.  The second revolves more around the fortunes of a team that plays the futuristic "Game," which I described as "a combination of football, hockey, and gladiatorial combat."  However, only two of the players, "Kidda" (Joan Chen) and "Sallow" (Rutger Hauer) are centric characters, with their fellow players functioning as support-cast.

Neither the solo-hero Richards nor the ensemble-team of Kidda and Sallow are unambiguous examples of Vladmir Propp's "seeker" function, which Propp defined along these lines: "if a young girl is kidnapped,,,, and if Ivan goes off in search of her, then the hero of the tale is Ivan and not the kidnapped girl.  Heroes of this type may be termed seekers." 

With respect to RUNNING MAN's Richards, the hero is initially not "seeking" to overthrow the corrupt government of his future world.  I've commented that, in contrast to Stephen King's novel, Richards' "light bulb" realization that The Repressive Government Is Bad does not prove credible and seems to be just a tired device to make film-audiences identify with Richards.  Though Richards has risen to the position as the pilot of the police department's helicopter, he's genuinely shocked when his bosses tell him to shoot down civilians.  One might observe that Richards is "victimized" for this action by being sentenced to prison-- which sentence eventually leads him to be recruited by the "Running Man" game-show.  Still, the character's act of disobedience is meant to signal his innate heroism.  In prison, prior to being recruited by the game-show, Richards encounters some members of a resistance group that does wish to overthrow the evil government.  At first he sneers at the rebels, and his words sound like those of a demihero: "I'm not into politics. I'm into survival."  But his actions bely these words: the villain Killian is only able to coerce Richards into entering the game by threatening the lives of the rebels.  And of course Richards' triumphant conquests of the various "Running Man" executioners are part and parcel of the normative image of the adventure-hero.  Thus, though RUNNING MAN is far from being the best example of this hero-type-- in fact, it's pretty crappy next to inspired efforts like Schwarzenegger's TOTAL RECALL-- it still displays the pattern of a "seeker" type of hero, who in turn represents the "idealizing will."

The team of "juggers" in BLOOD OF HEROES really are primarily concerned with survival, at least at the outset.  And also in contrast to RUNNING MAN, there's never any suggestion that they can do anything to alter the political status quo of their futuristic world.  Rutger Hauer's character Sallow is, as I note in my review, the old pro with the tragic past. Long ago he was feted in the big cities, but he offended the aristocrats and so found himself playing his game in rude "dog-towns."  In contrast, the considerably younger character Kidda covets what Sallow lost.  Once she manages to join Sallow's team, she convinces him to return to one of the cities that exiled him, to challenge the professional players in the "Big Leagues."  Kidda hopes to be noticed by League scouts so that she can reap the financial rewards of professionalism.  Sallow, however, is motivated more by his own past grievances, not any practical considerations.  Not only does he not expect to overthrow the aristocracy, he also has no illusions of regaining his lost social status.  But when the professionals accept the challenge, the Game, not its financial rewards, becomes paramount in their minds. Kidda becomes the focus of the game at its climax, since her function is to make the equivalent of a dramatic "touchdown."  Though Kidda has no dialogue during this sequence, the tension of the scene suggests that even in her the spirit of the sport has triumphed over motives of financial advancement.

That said, even if I find Sallow and Kidda to conform to Propp's notion of "the seeker"-- since they certainly aren't forced to challenge the establishment-- they remain representations of "the existential will."  The same admixture of "idealizing will" and "existential will" also appears in my earlier examples LOST IN SPACE and LOST WORLD, and this is consistent with what I wrote on this theory in APES AND ANGELS 2:

I should have said earlier that these two forms of will, these "two souls" that seem to dwell in every human's breast, only appear in fictional characters to the extent that their creators choose to emphasize one or both.  It is possible to have characters who are purely devoted to glorious ideals, or purely devoted to the persistence of ordinary existence.  It is also possible to have combinations of the two, but one form of will must dominate over the other, by the same logic I pursued in JUNG AND SOVEREIGNTY and other essays with regard to the admixture of mythos-elements in a given work.

This will probably be all that I have to say for the present on Propp's categories, though I anticipate at least one more essay on the topic of "sports heroes" and "sports demiheroes."


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