Ayer’s ‘Bright’: Difference, Discomfort and Lessons in Integration

This Christmas I was happy to watch the new Netflix’s movie: David Ayer’s BRIGHT. It stars two great actors with great chemistry: Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, as a human and an orc who are reluctant partners in a fantasy LAPD. It reminds us of other Ayer successes, from his directorial DC blockbuster SUICIDE SQUAD to his brilliant scripts for TRAINING DAY or END OF WATCH. Actually, BRIGHT takes the very risky leap of integrating both genres: Mythical Fantasy and hard-boil Street-Cop-Gangbang action thriller. Or whatever they’re called… Yes, of course mixing genres is a difficult and risky enterprise: you have to be able to be credible in the several genres you use, and integrate them in a way that does not offend the fans of any of them. On the other hand, if you succeed, it could become something special. And Ayer was certainly able to pull it off. BRIGHT is a brisk, funny, imaginative, enjoyable, well-made movie that I definitely recommend.

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Different is not always good. An agent I once met told me: «When someone comes to me and tells me he wrote something that has never been done before, I usually find out there was a good reason for not having been done before.» Many writers and other artists tend to go for «different» like moths to fire. But «different» is sometimes a cop-out, a way not to do the work, not to be really creative and sophisticated and deep. On the other hand, how many vampire, werewolves, dragons, dwarfs, elves and orcs can we really handle? I am very suspicious and even nauseated buy cannibalistic writers that must use other people’s characters to enhance their own. This whole PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES trend and the likes is really tiring to me. Develop you own ideas, for crying out loud!

This said, there are remarkable writings that have become so dear to us exactly because of the netting of diverse influences they are made of. From the top of my head I recall THE MATRIX, and its mixing of hacking, kung-fu movies, post-apocalyptic environments, manga and anime, etc. Or WESTWORLD. With its mixing of western storytelling and scifi dynamics. In the end, it’s all about characters and integration. It’s all about the human history within and the way it touches our core. It’s all about the story.

The theme of BRIGHT echoes these kinds of problematic. It centers in the story of two cops, one human and one orc, which struggle in a world full of magic where humans live between the extremely capable elves and the clumsy brute orcs. This code becomes a way to talk about race and immigration problems. I particularly liked the dialogues between Smith and Edgerton, well developed and clever, many times uncomfortable. The portrait of Edgerton’s orc character as stupid, crude, maybe treacherous and bad, is a reflection of both what we think of orcs in general and how some people see certain immigrants or certain races.

At a time when many in the US are losing their jobs to new technologies and hordes of refugees knock on Europe’s door, immigration is an uncomfortable subject at best. Immigrants bring new (or old) customs, different ways of thinking, they look differently, they sound differently, they eat differently and even smell differently in some cases. Some of the ways they behave seem like disrespect to many of us. And as they struggle to understand our languages, rules and traditions, they seem stupid and crude. The mistrust and discomfort immigrants cause soon become race issues, as patterns emerge. And then there are concerns, real or imaginary. That the way we do things will be tainted by archaic customs. That our streets will become unsafe because of these people. Or that many of them are in fact terrorists, rapists or drug and human traffickers.

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In reality, data shows us something different. Immigration is of course uncomfortable to immigrants and hosts alike, but it also brings many advantages, improves economies and the well being of many, and helps develop stronger societies, also balancing demographics in all countries and increasing educational inputs everywhere. Since the beginning of History successful civilizations attract immigration. When we think of a cosmopolitan center, as New York today or ancient Rome or Beijing, or other era’s Lisbon, Paris, Amesterdam or London, we think of places full of life and uniting different cultures and different peoples. Cosmopolitanism is equivalent to diversity. These cities have attracted immigration because they were successful and in turn thrived because of immigration.

I believe all life forms look for comfort. Comfort is good. We like the things that are familiar, the places we grew up in, and what feels natural to us. Immigrants bring change, and change, good or bad, is mostly uncomfortable. So we react, and many of us focus only on loss and negative feelings, not being able to see the wonderful richness of what’s different. But going back is an impossibility. Change is a constant. Trying to stop time is futile. I have no idea of what comes next, but I’m very sure it won’t be the same as it was yesterday. And that is something we must accept and prepare for, with open hearts and minds. Because, most of all, discomfort can generate creativity. And creativity generates progress.

This said, I think BRIGHT is an intelligent, creative, complex and fun movie. It makes us think in a sometimes-subtle-sometimes-not-so-subtle way. And I laughed and suffered with the characters, and believed the story. That’s the best thing, when you believe the story. As fantastic as it may be. Good show, Netflix. Happy New Year, everybody!

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