Death Wish

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"The underprivileged are beating our goddamned brains out. You know what I say? Stick 'em in concentration camps. That's what I say."

Ah, the wisdom of Death Wish.

However, not everyone thinks that way. Paul Kersey certainly doesn't. At the start of Michael Winner's vigilante wet dream, Kersey is a 'bleeding heart liberal'. He even has sympathy for people who aren't fabulously wealthy. What a fool!

Death Wish starts with Kersey on holiday with his wife. Everything is idyllic – the sun is shinning, waves are lapping on the beach and Kersey's wife poses for several snapshots. Then they go back to their hotel room to have sex. What a mistake. You never have sex with Paul Kersey and live to tell the tale.

But despite this well-known fact, the Kerseys are oblivious. They just finish their holiday and return to New York. Then five minutes later, Kersey's wife and daughter are attacked by the monster that is Jeff Goldblum (playing 'Freak #1'). The rape scene that follows, if it weren't filmed by a filmmaker that is wholly incompetent in the art of movie making, should be hard-hitting, but instead it's hilarious. Basically you have a skinhead, a Jew and a moron in a bandana raping and pillaging while spouting lines like, "Don't jive, mother." Has Michael Winner ever met anyone that doesn't drive a Rolls-Royce or anyone who doesn't dine at The Ivy? His idea of 'punks' is so quaint, so out of touch and so naive that all the hard-hitting scenes are extraordinarily camp – bandanna has an obsession with spray-painting things ("Let me paint her ass"). I guess this is what criminals do in Winner's world. They're children who have to paint swastikas everywhere.

After the rape, Kersey's wife dies (Goldblum beats her around the head while spouting the best dialogue in the film – “Goddamn rich cunt! I kill rich cunts!”) and Kersey's daughter is reduced to a catatonic mess after being forced to taste the delights of Jeff. But how does Kersey react to this news? Well, he shakes a little bit, but he hardly seems fazed (Bronson is such an expressive actor). However, there's a deeper change in Kersey. He realises that to be a liberal is to be a fool. He realises that to have sympathy is to have weakness. And he realises that the only way you can make the world a better place is to blow large holes in the heads of goddamn punks. In other words, liberalism gets you nowhere, fascism gets you everywhere.

But Kersey doesn't immediately become a killing machine. First he walks the streets with a cosh – he fills a sock with coins. But although the effects are pleasing, heavy sock killings are time consuming, energy sapping and far too messy. What any good vigilante needs is a gun. And Kersey gets his gun on a business trip to Arizona.

The Arizona sequence is actually one of the funniest. There's one bit where you have a long close-up of a noose. Do you see what those do-gooders have done to us? There was a time when you could just lynch a man. There was a time when you could string criminals (or suspected criminals) up by their neck and get instant justice. But then people had to come along with laws and courts and foolish notions like 'innocent until proven guilty'. Look what they've done. But then Kersey watches a fake cowboy stunt show. He positively glows when he sees men shooting themselves in the streets. What a much better place the world was back then: you could settle everything with your fists and a gun. Those were the days.

And so, tooled up, Kersey returns to New York (or "that toilet" as one character says). And no sooner has he landed than he's confronted by his son-in-law. How's his daughter? "She's almost a goddamned vegetable." Ah, such kindness and understanding.

So, with this news, Kersey is in the mood to start killing. However, after his first killing, like the pussy liberal that he is, he pukes. But he soon gets the hang of it (he gets plenty of practice; in the space of a ninety minute movie he gets mugged four times). Soon he's shooting black men in the back with great aplomb. And he enjoys it so much that he redecorates and starts listening to chirpy music. Killing is a great cure for depression.

Pity, though, that the police aren't impressed. For some reason they want to apprehend Kersey, even though crime rates are down. But we soon understand why. They fear that Kersey is too effective. They fear that there will be a wave of vigilantism and that the public will no longer have a need for the police. What scumbags. They're denying us a utopia, a utopia where muggers, perverts, poor people and people who look at you funny are shot on sight by squinty-eyed madmen. The world needs more Kerseys!

However, the film doesn't broach the subject that if there was widespread vigilantism that the criminals would become more desperate, more ruthless and more dangerous. That would be too sensible and would require too much thought. Plus it would get in the way of a great wet dream, one where the pampered middle classes can shoot punks at will. If only...

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