Thursday, July 26, 2012

#43: Drawing Lines

(c) Disney

Treasure Planet, 2002
watched July 15, 2012

"Is that even a real movie?" Yup, it is. You may recognize the novel from which it was adapted: Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Turns out we get most of our pirate stereotypes from Mr. Stevenson (e.g.: wooden legs, parrot on the shoulder, X marks the spot, etc.). Treasure Planet takes the pirate theme in Island and puts it in outer space. Think steam punk meets Star Trek. Brilliant, eh? Well, sorta.

As a troubled teen who has never quite recovered from his dad's abandonment, Jim Hawkins longs for adventure in outer space. And so, we follow him on his journey to find meaning in life. In addition to this feeling really familiar, I am bewildered at how a ship travels through space where there is no atmosphere. It's worse than Pocahontas' language "miracle." Almost.

Jim develops a friendship with the ship's cook, John Silver, a cyborg to whom he has been assigned to work as a cabin boy. Over time, Jim begins to see him as something of a father figure. However, complications arise when the audience discovers Silver is planning a mutiny with the rest of the crew, who are actually pirates.

In Disney films, we like to draw a solid line between the good guys and bad guys. It helps us order our emotions about the characters. We like to root for heroes and root against the villains. You're a misunderstood teenager whose dad left you? I'm on your side, buddy. Oh, you're a one-legged cyborg? You must be bad.

But Silver, the so-called villain, experiences the most significant transformation of any character in this story--something that usually happens to the hero. As he grows more fond of Jim, he realizes that his pursuit of Captain Flint's lost treasure is no longer his sole priority. When faced with the choice of saving Jim's life or collecting the treasure, Silver acts in a way that surprises even himself. Not your typical villain's story arc.

In real life, we, too, have people pegged (no pun intended) as one thing or another. What? You're gay? You're straight? You're an atheist? You're a Christian? That must mean you're _____. We have all sorts of ideas about what people should be like based on some category, the way they look, who they associate with.

It's significant that the audience remains undecided about Silver throughout the film, even up until the last moment. I found myself wanting to just put him in a category. Are you a villain? Are you a father figure? Should I care about you or not?

Animated characters are portrayed by simple, defined strokes, just like the lines we draw around each other. But in reality, the edges are much blurrier. People are designed for good but have potential for evil as well. Like Silver, no one fits into just one category.

Perhaps instead of drawing lines between people, what we should do is see them for their capacity for change. When we do that, we see them the way that Jesus did, enabling us to love and care indiscriminately. The results are always quite surprising, no matter what side of the line you're on.

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