Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rulebook Casefile: Exchange of a Symbolic Object in Iron Man

I said we’d move on to another movie today, but no, I think that, from now on, for every Road Test, I’ll also include at least one Rulebook Casefile, focusing in more on one of the rules the movie did a particularly good job of exemplifying. 
This time, let’s look at how nicely Iron Man showed the exchange of an object representing larger values: Tony’s heart device.
  1. Ambushed in Afghanistan, Tony Stark’s heart is injured when his own bomb pierces the armor provided by the army.
  2. He finds out that that the shrapnel is lodged in his chest, aimed at his heart, and can’t be removed. He can only hold it back with magnets. The person telling him this knows what’s going on because he’s seen that this is how Tony’s bombs kill children in his village. (Hearing that he’s being stabbed in the heart stabs him in the heart.)
  3. He and his new third-world friend devise a glowing device to keep his heart alive and fill a hole in his chest.
  4. His friend dies and tells Tony not to waste what he’s given him.
  5. Tony gets home and invents a sleeker device using his superior technology. He doesn’t trust doctors, so he gets his executive assistant Pepper take it out and put the new one in. She does so by reaching deep into his chest cavity. She asks about the old one, but he forcefully waves it away and says “Destroy it, incinerate it. I’ve been called many things, but never a sentimentalist.” Nevertheless, she takes it with her.
  6. What do you get for the man who has everything? Pepper gives him the device encased in glass, set in a metal ring that says “Proof that Tony Stark has a Heart.”
  7. Stane, Tony’s faithless partner, builds his own armor, but can’t figure out how to build the heart of it.
  8. Stane rips the device out of his chest, and leaves him to die.
  9. Tony crawls down to his lab and busts the glass on Pepper’s gift at the last second. He gave his heart to the right person!
  10. The final battle can be seen as Pepper’s heart vs. Stane’s heart, or as the authentic third-world-built heart vs. the stolen first-world heart.
A lot of this sounds heavy-handed when I spell it out, but that’s the beauty of it: the movie doesn’t have to spell it out. We would reject these messages if we heard them, but we’re simply feeling them instead.

Think of all the dialogue exchanges that this object’s exchange has replaced. Tony doesn’t have to talk anywhere near as much about how he feels about his weapons killing innocents, about how he feels about Pepper, about how she feels about him, about how it feels to be betrayed, etc. It allows Tony to remain the happy-go-lucky guy we want him to be, because we have this object to tell us a lot of the things he doesn’t want to say.

This also allows the film to discuss the politics less openly, which allows it to subconsciously make political points that its audience might not want to hear.

Okay, next we’ll finally move on to a very different movie...

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