OPINION: Big issues finally on the big screen

Alexandra Lisa | Staff Writer

Dashing hero overcomes evil villain and saves the day. This used to be an acceptable story. This used to be the story. The first ever Disney movies, Snow White and Pinnochio, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, some of the most popular stories of all time are centered around this idea that good always battles evil, and good people always make the right decisions; that good always wins because it’s what’s right.

Recently, however, popular movies have grown less cut-and-dry. These stories have blurred the lines of right and wrong to depict stories and characters which, while not necessarily darker, are more applicable to the real world. 2016 gave the cinematic world a new dose of realistic expectations by forcing the audience to ask themselves harder questions.

I started to realize the difference after watching Zootopia. This was the first time I’d seen any children’s movie attempt to factor in such controversial, present-day issues as racism and police brutality. While it was nicely coated with doe-eyed cartoon animals and bright colors, the message behind the movie hit closer to home than I would have expected. Kids’ movies tend to focus on the light and the happy and the straight-forward decision and the foreseeable outcomes. But in this film, lovable characters made decisions with the best of intentions, and still came out the other end with a mess they had to clean up.

Superheroes also took a darker turn, beginning with the two most iconic heroes of all time. Since his incarnation, Superman has been an incorruptible goody-too-shoes; Batman has been the same won’t-kill do-gooder since Adam West. Yet, those two characters have gradually been transforming into less pure of heart people, and more conflicted, tainted, imperfect men trying, and occasionally failing, to do whatever it takes for what their greater good.

That character arc reached its climax in Dawn of Justice this year, when the two grim versions of once virtuous characters faced off to fight for their greatly different ideas of what was right. The same conflict rose between Captain America and Iron Man in Marvel’s Civil War, though with a few less extreme consequences and a more light-hearted tone.

X-Men Apocalypse asked the question of what peace actually costs and what role freedom plays in achieving it. Suicide Squad challenged the misconstrued idea that good people do good things and bad people do bad things. Deadpool was the epiphany of everything a hero should not be, and yet managed to be one regardless. Some of the most influential figures in our lives were teaching us to look at the world in a dimmer, less utopian light.

Perhaps the most impressive movie, however, in terms of shedding light on the false image of good and evil to younger generations, was Rogue One. While its characterization was a touchy subject for many fans, the movie did manage to capture its audience, and what stood out most to me was the emphasis on the questionable and often destructive decisions made on both sides of the struggle against the Empire.

Until Rogue One, few had questioned the standard evil of the Empire and the dark side of the force, or the oppositely good and morality of the Rebellion and the light side. Jedi were good and Sith were bad. However, Rogue One put a spin on something we were all expecting to be another replica of the previously set precedent.

Rogue One showed us, for the first time, the dark side of the rebellion. We saw terroristic attacks in the middle of a city populated by innocent civilians. We saw allies literally shoot each other in the back and keep secret plans of assassination. We saw rebels admitting to having done terrible things in the name of the rebellion, blindly following orders because they felt they were doing what was right. While this doesn’t quite measure up to blowing an entire planet into oblivion, it does prove that people who aren’t evil are capable of doing evil things. The gray area between black and white bleeds deeper than most people like to think.

This was not the first time movies had delved into controversy and complication when it comes to right and wrong. However, this was the first time I had seen such an abundance of movies watched by teenagers, middle schoolers, elementary students – the movies these groups watched this year were overflowing with deep questions that fractured what so many people viewed as the truth. For years, the majority of movies have saved the gruesome truths for the adults, and showed the kids replays of heroes battling villains. This year, kids watched heroes battling heroes, battling society, battling themselves.

That’s huge. It’s huge because it enables people to open up their minds and accept the fact that “right answers” don’t exist. No matter how much nicer it is to think that we can tell the difference between the right choice and the wrong choice, reality doesn’t care about what’s nice. It gives you the facts; no one knows for sure which path will lead to which consequences.

And finally, finally, we are starting to use these facts to influence kids. Not illusions, not the good vs. bad five-minute microwaveable Hot Pocket of a movie, done over and over and over again, but brand new ideas surrounded by facts of life. It is essential that the age where we stuff “Everything’s okay” fluff into our developing minds continues to decrease. Our minds need to be less fluff and more substance. Because our minds are where we develop opinions, and opinions can be dangerous things when tainted. It’s dangerous to allow ourselves to run around thinking our opinions are correct simply because we believe in something as silly as clear-cut good and evil.