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Payback

payback
On how to make crime pay

This is the original anti-hero story. Porter is returning to NYC. He was betrayed by his wife, whom he seems to have trusted, although he is a criminal; she maybe was jealous. Another mechanic also betrays him, but mechanics do not trust each other… They left him for dead, which is not necessarily good enough. Porter somehow proves that there is unseriousness in both actions. Porter is supposed to prove that seriously pursuing one’s own good works.

Porter needs to get back on his feet. He steals from the poor & weak when he cannot steal from the strong. He takes what he needs because he understands the good corrupts everyone. Everyone is enfolded in the deceptions of the city. Cops are corrupt, betraying laws for private ends, seeking luxury – the criminals who corrupt them are by turns slavish in obeying authority & masterly in perpetrating deceptions.

Porter is a new kind of man. He gets people to do what he wants because he knows, like Dr. Johnson, that the prospect of death concentrates the mind wonderfully. It works for him; others are slower learners, but he will teach them. Porter’s new science of political economics is dead serious. He does not kill anyone he does not need to kill; he does not move people to passions that will get them killed; he does not take pleasure in inflicting pain.

His enemies all have something of the barbarian about them – cruelty & arrogance are their hallmarks. Servile bullies – they could be bureaucrats, which they are. Porter is mounting an attack on the city in attacking organized crime, because from the point of view of one’s own good, there may be no difference between the city & a gang of thieves. How radical is Porter’s attack on justice?

One aspect of the criticism concerns war. Porter sees men who turn bodyguards into valets & worry more about their comfort than their lives. The life of crime, in being successful, makes men weak. Prosperity breeds indolence. All organizations need to be refounded continuously, or else they forget how much violence is required for success. Porter kidnaps the boss’s kid. There you have the contrast between the natural prince & the new prince.

Another aspect concerns peaceful enjoyment of goods secured through war. Porter shows us how much pain is involved in pleasure & how difficult the two are to separate reasonably. People who know the price they pay for what they want have to be clear about what they are doing. They become radically unromantic. Among the degenerates & perverts who thrive in the new commercial republic, Porter is close to an apostle of manliness. But for his apolitical love of women.

The best movie made after a Stark novel. The last time Mel Gibson looked tough as nails. Find it. See it.