Tuesday, June 01, 2010
Two years late on this, I know. I mentioned to a friend that I’d never seen it, and his bug-eyed astonishment persuaded me I ought to give it a go. I’ve seen it now. Verdict: fairly jolly.
Longer verdict: for much of its length, this almost lives up to the ideal; the ideal being that the title is short for Irony Man. There’s some movement in this direction, with Downey Junior’s wisecracking screen persona, but only some. In fact the heart of the film (the gleaming, metallic, circular heart) is clumsily, even painfully unironic. It’s the dream narrative of US military involvement in the Middle East: one American is able to go to Afghanistan, kill only the bad Afghans, leave all the virtuous Afghani men women and children alive, and then leap clean away into the sky having Done Good.
Iron Man’s suit, classically, is a wish-fulfulment dream of invulnerability, in medieval-knight or Ned Kelley mode. What this film adds is a twopetal garnish to that ancient human fantasy: first, the magic-carpet dream of jet-flight mobility and second, the equally potent dream of perfect moral choice. For Stark’s magic suit comes fitted with software that allows him not only to see everything (from the kid’s icecream blob falling from his cone, to the wicked Taliban fellah hiding behind the wall) but also to lock-on and, assisted by his silky-voiced computer advisor, discriminate good from bad. That’s the film’s major mendacity: that accurate moral judgement and effective ethical action are predicated upon an ontology of perfect, mechanical invulnerability. The exact opposite is the truth. Our ethical potential is grounded in our vulnerability.
The next stage in the analysis would be to trace this misprison, the belief that ethical behaviour must be grounded in invulnerability, deeper into the US psyche: the obsession with guns, the catastrophic foreign policy. But that would be a large and complex task, and beyond me at the moment. Intuitively, though, I wonder if there’s something in it.
A most provocative final paragraph, Adam. If anyone undertakes that task, I’d be interested in reading the result.
Ah, you’re right: it’s almost the opposite, isn’t it? Ethical behavior must be grounded in vulnerability. That’s the basic soil my work is rooted in.
I have to confess that I find Robert Downey Jr. possibly the best actor of his generation, and I’m waiting for his thinking to outgrow this part.
Once again, it seems that some people just don’t get it at all, so they need a refresher:
Tony Stark didn’t refuse to give the Iron Man suit to the government because he hates the government (he doesn’t)-he refused to give it to them because he knew the arms race that would result if it was ever taken over and modified to be used for the dictates of the U.S. Armed Forces. The situation in the movie with Ivan Vanko was a one-off that would likely never really happen again, but would continue if Justin Hammer had got his way. Remember, this is a man (Tony Stark) who became paranoid because he was afraid of how his armor tech was being used by a ton of super crooks (the main story point of the Armor Wars storyline in the comic book) and who waged a kind of war to make sure these crooks didn’t get it. Not to mention the change he went through in the cave in Afghanistan that set him on the path of being Iron Man and discontinuing the making of arms.
If this guy wasn’t that concerned, he wouldn’t be acting as a force for good the way he does in the comic books (which you and many other people should try to read along with watching and reviewing this movie!) Once again, you join a panoply of people on the left and right who have commented on the Iron Man franchise, but don’t really get it at all.
Oh, and Tony; as for Downey changing his thinking-he’s done more change in his life than you will ever know. Playing a force for goo is a change-just not one that you give a shit about. Your loss.