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Men in Black


The truth about aliens

This comedy means to teach us that there are bigger dangers facing New York City, America, & indeed the world than the mundane crimes that let people know the police is keeping the peace. In our modern world, in our metropolitan-cosmpolitan way of life, we have become aware of the grandeur & dangers of the universe itself. The vast immensity seems to call out to us, to say that it is not empty. What is it that awaits beyond the confines of our small world?

A world where alien menaces are routine is the only world where our hero, full of strutting & self-importance, has something worth doing, some way of proving himself. He mockingly says he is half the man the fattest cop on the force is–the cops humiliate him for his tall tale of fighting aliens with superhuman powers…

But the universe is a strange stage for a man to ascend. On the one hand, there are enormous powers and a vast, almost infinite space that humble human ambition. On the other, it turns out every other being is as full of contradictions & foolishness as human beings are. All you can ever learn is, the world is such that there are heroes & villains; all you can learn is how alien you yourself are in this world.

The man who recruits him for secret service work knows the kid chafes under civil authority. He can offer him independence, but without fame. Secret soldiers do not get parades or public congratulations from the president. He has very little private life. If the city is his home, he has no home of his own. The real agent tells him it is worth it, because this life is bereft of illusions.

Fear of death is what separates the man from his countrymen. The men in black know danger, but have conquered their fears. The civilians lack both knowledge & courage. Strangely, these men who assume great responsibilities proudly, if discreetly, encourage civilian ignorance. Awareness of power & danger is never going to become democratic, except at the movies. That’s where you go to learn the truth.

The men are themselves of two kinds, knowers & ignoramuses. The young cop is considered a superior man to men trained in the armed forces. He lacks their accomplishments & prestige; some may have even fought in wars. But men in the services are not knowers. Perhaps because hierarchy chiefly means taking or giving orders, not looking for order. The heroes of the blockbuster shows something close to an independent mind, because their dedication to save America is not blind. They distinguish justice from legality, their own good from the common good, & the noble course of action from what is merely expedient.

This was one of the movies Will Smith made when he first became a Hollywood star. It was as difficult to separate the summer blockbuster from his fortunes then as it is difficult to put them together now.