The Crow (1) – Victims, aren’t we all?

December 21, 2014

Food for thought - 2 - victimsThe title of this article copies a rather famous quote from the movie The Crow. Because I’m a big fan of the tragedy genre and its many subtleties, I sort of got a penchant for finding such stories or at least aspects that can be considered tragic (in a strict poetic way). I really do think that you can feel the presence of the divine in a tragedy. A real tragedy is beautiful in sublime ways, because of what it teaches you, not because of gratuitous suffering and cheesy catastrophes. Which is why I’m going to speak to you a little about the story this movie proposes (and later on about a game… yes, a video game story! – these exist too!). I am not a film critic and I will not make a classical review of the film per se, as I’m sure you can find better, profesionally-made ones, on the internet. But I do want to speak to you about the myth and the story itself. I find The Crow beautiful and even sublime as a lyrical tragedy rather than anything else, without overlooking other great aspects, of course.

I shall assume that you know at least bits and pieces about The Crow phenomenon, since I am not going to describe every little detail or character. Still, a little practical information first: The Crow can mean a couple of things. It all started with a comic book series created by James O’Barr in 1989. As Wikipedia states, “the series was originally written by O’Barr as a means of dealing with the death of his girlfriend at the hands of a drunk driver”. 

The plot itself is the interpretation of an old myth, acording to which the souls of the dead are carried into the afterlife by crows. But sometimes, a soul can carry so much sorrow that the crow decides to bring it back to make things right. The comics are about Eric Draven, a common man, and his girlfriend Shelly Webster. They were about to get married when their car broke down one night. Then, the disaster happened. A gang of criminals attacked, raped the girl and killed them both. In the real world, it ends here… in The Crow, Eric returns as a revenant (you can call him many things… but please not zombie – and he isn’t a vampire either, or a ghost).

He was brought back to life by a supernatural crow in order to have revenge (this is what “making things right” meant for him). Eric doesn’t really need to understand his shape that he is in now either… this is why I call him simply a revenant. An awesome word, for an awesome character. He is now a vengeful creature, full of hate for his murderers but also pain, for he grieves when he thinks of Shelly and of everything they have lost. There is not much else to tell at this point… for of course, you can rightfully assume that with an amazing revenant on their trails, no mortal criminal is safe. Eric will get his revenge and then, maybe, the crow will reunite him with Shelly. You can now read the entire original comics here.

But the phenomenon didn’t stop here (luckily!). It had great underground succes, but in 1994 the first movie was made and it was and still is amazing in its own way even though it may not have been what we call today a blockbuster. It was starring Brandon Lee and a part of the The Crow’s notoriety was gained from the fact that, unfortunately, the main actor died because of an accident involving an unloaded gun during filming. He managed to do, however, an outstanding job, for which many fans are eternally grateful. Brandon Lee interpreted the Crow which is the closest one to the original vision from the comics.

The movie didn’t change the essence of the comics, only some details (even though the comics have many more poetical insertions that explain Eric’s inner feelings). Music was always important in the series, and this new Eric Draven is a rock musician who got killed togetherVictims 1 - the crow comic classic with his fiancee in their own home, called ,,the loft”, for they were living somewhwere looking like an attic, with a huge round window that will become iconic for The Crow. Eric Draven was thrown out through that window falling for a long distance, while Shelly was left to die slowly and painfully from the beating and the rape. The evildoers have the same names and personalities, with slight differences in thier hierarchy. But don’t worry… they all die anyway.

There is not much to tell about movie technical aspects. The cast is great and did a fine job making the discreet supernatural be even more subversive and chilling. Special effects are just in place, with no gratuitous moments or bad rendering. The comics were black and white, giving their protagonist a distinct look. Today, we can surely label the Crow’s facial aspect as gothic, maybe black metal like, but its story is well explained in both media and it has created a completely distinct, iconic look for what the Crow truly is. The movie couldn’t be black&white, but it used bland colors instead – remember, this is not an super-hero action movie, it does not call for colorful costumes and flamboyant villains. It is a rather modern-gothic tragedy based on a discreetly interpreted myth. Which brings us to the main subject of this presentation. As the movie and the comics do not differ in essence, I shall consider the story to be the same.

The Crow – a tragedy. Yes. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Why? Because even though the movie tackles a few “hardcore” themes, love, death, justice, memory, they all serve as decoys for a very profound tragedy. Some people will say that it is a love story. They are not wrong: Eric’s love for Shelly is always present and consuming to the point of madness, for they are both dead but not together. Others may say it’s about revenge: true, Eric wants some justice for himself… after all, revenge is a wild form of justice that hasn’t been yet inscribed in some rules. The story is also about the power of memory and many other things. But while all these can act as the main theme, I think there is much more than we can get from this story… something about the profound nature of things.

We have pretty much become desensitized in regards to tragedy. The poetic one, I mean. Everything today is tragic or catastrophic… people dieing, wars, corruption… but the literary meaning of tragedy is rather different. In the classical sense, a tragedy is a play in which the main hero usually dies as a punishment for a fault he had, a sin or a guilt usually committed against the gods because of pride (hybris). Both the hero and the spectator know that it’s going to end bad because a punishment is needed to cleanse the sin. We are only watching a tragedy to see how masterfully things unfold. We don’t watch a tragedy to hope for a happy end for the poor, suffering hero. The hero is not forgiven – he is punished in order to drive away the consequences of his fault.

Victims 6 - leeDo we find all this in The Crow? Yes, if you are willing to look deeper than just the nice supernatural, maybe horror, maybe unfulfilled love, action movie… and deeper than just mere events that make the plot.

But is our hero, Eric Draven, guilty of anything? No… not while he was alive anyway. Both him and Shelly got murdered for nothing. Of course, the criminals are guilty, but they never pass through a self-analysing process like the classical hero. They try to escape their fate. Where is the hybris then? Much deeper…

…do you find it normal for the dead to come back and have revenge, as if we’re here, doing nothing, just hoping that the undead are going to clean up after us? Normally, the dead need to stay dead. It is why we tell them to rest in peace. Death is not the end of everything, but it is the finale of all worldy problems. Coming back not only creates an unusual creature (more or less cursed?) but also serves as a painful reminder of how little we can actually control the things beyond our limited horizon.

Yes, I am actually saying that Eric should have remained dead, injustice or not… him reviving is a hybris. The crow that brought him back knew what he/it were getting into. You cannot have a revenant running loose, becoming a vigilante, administering justice. This will need to be punished in the end, for the guilt to be washed away. Eric is a tormented figure with no escape from his inner sorrow. He needs to commit acts of revenge (during which other people are hurt) and then be returned by the crow in hopes of seeing his Shelly again. But this is uncertain, at least in the comics, which are very visceral and brutal.

However, is Eric truly guilty of this hybris? We do not know whether he chose to be brought back, refused to “move on” like any good spirit or the crow simply brought him independently. Perhaps he’s just a victim. Which case, far from canceling the tragic aspect, makes it even worse.

How?…

Let’s find out together in the second part of this analysis of the tragic.

~*~

Curious… aren’t we all?

by Anca-Raluca Sandu

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3 Responses to The Crow (1) – Victims, aren’t we all?

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