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Men in Black


Blockbusters & heroes

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. In this story, he is a young cop, athletic & confident, who learns that there are bigger dangers facing New York City, America, & indeed the world than the mundane chases that let people know the police is keeping the peace.

The movie starts with Will Smith in hot pursuit, on foot. His youth & athleticism are on display. At the same time, his strutting: He is dressed in a flamboyant orange tracksuit, the first of many such peacockish ensembles. He seems to know it is useful to humiliate the perp with humor, which brings his strutting, or confidence, to its peak.

The kid obviously thinks he deserves better. A world where alien menaces are routine is the only world where this man 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…

The man who recruits him for secret service work knows the kid chafes under civil authority. He can offer him the independence he wants, but it carries a price. 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 the people in general. The men in black know danger, but have conquered their fears. The civilians lack both knowledge & courage. The strange thing is that the men encourage the ignorance of the civilians. Awareness of power & danger is never going to become democratic, except of course through such stories, addressed to a large audience.

The men are themselves of two kinds, those who know & those who do not. 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.

The first, & best, installment. Still funny.