This past week I stumbled upon one of Michael Mann’s recent movies: BLACKHAT, with Chris Hemsworth as Nick Hathaway, a convicted hacker turned anti-terrorist operator. I didn’t particularly like the movie. Michael Mann is one of those directors I really respect and I always enjoyed his work since the TV-series CRIME STORY days. I love his version of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS and HEAT is a powerhouse of a movie. Still, his later works as COLATERAL and particularly MIAMI VICE, are some of my favorites of the genre. BLACKHAT just isn’t able to reach that kind of quality. It’s a clumsy movie and it only gets mildly interesting when we reach the Third Act, which really isn’t a good sign. Still, there are good moments in the movie, especially towards the end. One interesting thing that Mann brings to his gritty and intense movies is a particular type of Final Image. Let me discuss this a little bit with you.
In the 15-beat Snyder’s Beat-Sheet, the Final Image is the last beat of the movie. It wraps the story in a last feeling for the audience, a last message that will hopefully remain as people scroll through the final titles. This Final Image should be a ‘closing the circle’ in relation to the Initial Image and it basically seals the fate of the protagonist. Now, Michael Mann, in some of his movies, tends to let the story float as if it doesn’t end. It shows the protagonist just walking towards somewhere else, to the next unshown scene or untold chapter of their lives. It’s as if Mann is telling us the story will go on, that this chapter in the characters’ lives was just another chapter, even as he also seems to show there was an impact, a toll on the shoulders of the characters. We can see that in COLATERAL, as Jamie Foxx and Jada Pinkett Smith walk away from the train and (SPOILER ALERT) the body of Tom Cruise’s character keeps going, commuting to another place. We also see it in MIAMI VICE as Colin Farrel’s character walks into the hospital to join his fellow cops. And even in PUBLIC ENEMY where Stephen Lang’s character, detective Charles Winstead (not even the protagonist), walks out of Billie’s cell after a beautiful scene played by Marion Cotillard. And finally, we see this kind of shot in BLACKHAT where Hemsworth’s Hathaway and his partner, Wei Tang’s Chen Lien, walk through an airport with heavy looks in their eyes, fugitives forever. In all these scenes there seems to be a ‘walk-off’ by the characters to another plain, where the story will continue.
There’s, in my view, another interpretation we can take from these scenes. It is as if Mann is trying to tell us that these are normal people. In all these cases, they are not – they are heroes that played important parts and went through significant and impressive dangers, from stopping a ruthless terrorist to shooting one of the most notorious gangsters in History. Yet, they are also normal people, just like us. They did what they had to do and now their lives will go on. There’s a kind of ‘film noir’ gallantry in this attitude. We are, at least I am, fascinated by that hero that doesn’t act like a hero and will go back to his or her life in spite of having sacrificed for our sake – remaining anonymous in the end in spite of deserving all our recognition. I was caught up with that image as I was writing this scene a few days ago for my WIP – LAURA AND THE SHADOW KING:
She couldn’t stop looking into his eyes. Then he started pulling his fingers away. ‘I have to go.’
Then she saw the drawing in his arm. She pointed with her chin. ‘What’s does it say?’
He looked at the inside of his arm. ‘My tattoo? Ego Spartacus. It’s Latin for I am Spartacus.’
‘What does it mean?’
He slipped his fingers out of hers and caressed the back of her hand between the needles and the tubes. ‘It means that if we want to have a better world we have to make it ourselves.’
The reference to ‘I am Spartacus’ is, of course, a reference to 1960’s Kubrick’s movie SPARTACUS, with Kirk Douglas as the main character. In the final scenes, after the gladiator rebellion led by Spartacus is quashed by the Romans, the protagonist has been made a prisoner along with a few dozens of his men. Then a Roman official comes to the prisoners in horseback and announces that the ruler has a deal to offer them: if they could identify the prisoner or the body of leader Spartacus, they would escape the horrible fate of crucifixion. Of course, we can see in Kirk Douglas eyes his determination as he is making his decision, but as he stands to give himself up, his friend, played by Tony Curtis, stands up with him and shouts: ‘I am Spartacus’. And then another man stands and says ‘I am Spartacus’, and then another and another until all the men are standing and shouting: ‘I am Spartacus.’ Those men forfeited slavery for death by crucifixion, a much worst fate – and they did it not to protect Spartacus, who would also be crucified, but to protect his work, his idea, his project. Of course, they did this assuring total anonymity for themselves – they were actually assuming another man’s name. But the idea of freedom, of a better world, was more important to them. It wasn’t about the glory, it was about doing what’s right. It wasn’t about following a leader, it was about being leaders themselves. And this seems to be the thread that unites all of these unsung heroes.
In the Final Image of SPARTACUS, the brilliant Kubrick offers us Spartacus sweetheart, played by Jean Simmons, showing the crucified dying anonymous gladiator their son and saying: ‘He will be free, Spartacus, he will be free.’ What a beautiful scene. What a beautiful idea. What a beautiful ending.
See you around the next campfire, fellow warriors.