Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dirty Harry (Siegel, 1971)

If one were to take Harry Callahan's actions as being condoned by the filmmakers, the stance of the film would be more or less one of fascism (as has been well documented in most reviews of the film). Of course, Harry discards his badge at the end of the film, so this would be some sort of vigilante fascist justice... thing. Kind of like Batman, except Dirty Harry is way cooler than Batman.

However, it is more probable and rewarding to see Harry as being presented as a hypothetical. From this perspective, the film begs the question: if criminals like the sadistic fuck in the film exist (and it's not terribly far-fetched that they do, though probably not with much frequency), does it not take an equally sadistic opposing force to successful, well, oppose it? The film's exploration of the question of "How much force should law enforcement have?" is similar to the questions posed by Fritz Lang's M, though M is arguably a more potent and competent disseration on the concept.

Though we may not like the idea of an officer like Harry Callahan walking the streets, we may like it a lot better than the idea of a criminal like Scorpio. And, aye, there's the rub: which is the lesser of two evils (in the long term)? Can a force such as Harry be trusted to not abuse his power, whether legally sanctioned or not? Can a more moderate law enforcement system be counted on to stop a criminal such as Scorpio, in the event that one may appear?

The film was loosely based on real events of the Zodiac killer in San Francisco. The Zodiac killer was never captured. We can not be certain that a real life Harry Callahan would've made any difference, but, again, he's a hypothetical. We cannot condone a Harry Callahan, we cannot condone withholding a force capable of stopping a Scorpio killer. This is the Kobayashi Maru of the legal system: we have checks and balances, but what do we do about off-the-radar extremes? They can throw off the average unexpectedly, and we may suddenly be defenseless. Quite the quandary, indeed.


Blogger Matt said...

Hey, it's Rictus13 from RT --

Great analysis of the film. Never really thought about them being the two extremes of the same spectrum. Very cool theory.

10:36 PM  
Blogger Nikolus Ziegler said...


I just finished Michael Powell's Peeping Tom moments ago, and I have no idea what I'm going to write about... it's a pretty complex film, and I'm sure I don't have half of it down. I'll have to think of something.

12:09 AM  

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