In about a year from the day I write this you’ll have the chance of watching a movie called “Suicide Squad”. You might have heard of it, especially if you’re a comic book aficionado.
I dare say the movie’s essence is already in the trailer that you can easily find on the Web.
What I’ll write here is what transpires from the trailer only. Eventually in the future we might be able to add a few extra points if necessary.
A missing initiation
“Suicide Squad” tells the story of a team of antiheroes that fans of DC Comics know fairly well.
The premise of the story is straightforward: a group of deranged individuals belonging in cells due to their criminal and psychopathic behavior are recruited by a government official for a dangerous mission.
Watching the trailer you might hear the Devil being mentioned pretty soon, very significant allusion to the symbolic father, as I’ve written on “Daredevil’s fathers“, and well represented by the Devil tarot card.
Summarizing: the card’s theme appears in the movie as the cage, representative of the Devil’s chains, the Saturnian Super-State, the government and the oppressive Father figure that has imprisoned and removed these unfitting citizens from society.
So the movie and trailer clearly begin with the first dualistic analogy: the antihero as a repressed son, and the State as an oppressive father (the law of the super-ego).
The character of the Joker has been changing quite a bit from its first appearances in the movies. He’s getting younger and younger. Now with Harley Quinn as a partner he appears even more teenage-like.
Appropriate choice, because the story-line of an antihero who fights against the State and its laws represents the delicate psychological phase of adolescence where youngsters enter society, splitting from the familiar motherly embrace to get into the arms of institutions and the patriarchal order. “Daddy’s Lil Monster”.
It’s a moment of initiation and great vulnerability for young people.
In some old tribes this phase was in the hands of the Shaman as the holder of tradition and legacy. Young men were ritually taken from the mother’s hut and submitted to painful rituals in order to enter manhood. This in psychological terms is the role of the symbolic “positively enabling” Father: unlike its constraining and tyrannical Devilish counterpart, the positive Father initiates an individual into the social world enabling his vocational call, not to lock him up into regulations.
It might sound pretty silly to us, but we better reconsider. We’ve lost these rituals, but not the traumatic sense of loss and confusion inherent in adolescence.
In all societies teenagers find themselves unable to belong, lacking coordinates in search for groups and new idols. Now these come in the forms of celebrities, bands, personal heroes and more, and when young men or women can’t find any outlets at all they might try to self-initiate.
The results can be potentially destructive.
In Italy drug addicts use the idiom “mi faccio” (“I make myself”) whenever they use heroin. Not a coincidence. The very term “hero-in” is peculiar and interesting in these contexts, especially as a feminine term: heroine. A return to the mother’s womb, the female hero, a pre-born Ouroboric phase where the archetypal father is nonexistent.
In Sigmund Freud’s work “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” we find this point further developed in what he calls the Death Drive, which has much to do with the unconscious tendency of the psyche to return to a state of undisturbed balance. Hence Pleasure following the collapse of external disturbances and stimuli: Nirvana.
The self-made man
Immaturity, blind rebellion and failed transition into adulthood is the negative side of the Fool tarot card, of which the Joker is the main but not sole representer.
The new Joker and Harley Quinn are rather emblematic of the “foolish” age. They are social rejects.
The Joker’s tattoos represent the phase of self-branding many teenagers go through in search for an identity within the new order (the “mi faccio” phase).
Harley Quinn with her succinct outfit, stained face and melting make-up is like a little girl trying mom’s lipsticks a bit too soon, only to end up looking like an abused prostitute.
They are the harlot queen and jester lovers who rebel against their own king.
This is also an allusion to actual suicide: whenever the teen can’t keep up the conflict against the idealistic demands of a restraining super-ego the danger of suicide is tragically there (see Sigmund Freud’s “The Ego and the Id”).
Such unfortunate tragedies are often glamorized in the figures of rebellious rock-stars and actors who never made it to their 30s. Teenagers are still immensely charmed by the likes of Jim Morrison, James Dean, Curt Cobain, Janis Joplin…
Heroic and erotic deaths, and yet still regarded as Dionysian symbols of passion, wisdom and sexuality. Smells like teen spirit, doesn’t it?
The teenager-father conflict marks all societies as the dominant factor of our ages. It’s an unresolved phase waiting for a definite outcome that sometimes never comes. It manifests as the culture of the self-made man, the myth of success, from stables to stardom, but also as the dream of rebellion and rebirth: stand out or die.
All the antihero can do is to keep on fighting subversively till death tears him apart. As a self-made man the antihero has nowhere to go. He can only vent his inner conflict by confronting the tyranny of law represented by the state-hero (the super-man) who embraced it. Ultimately he’s in a quest of annihilation and self-sacrifice.
“This is the end, my only friend, the end
It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end”
“The End” by The Doors.
In the world and politics
When it comes to Hollywood and mainstream movies we can always take a further step and observe how curiously the underlying themes of Suicide Squad seems to be a metaphor for the international image of the United States, fallen from grace since the 2nd World War, walking the fine line between legal enforcement and tyranny.
Under the eyes of the global mediatic world the US now appears as the teenage country who claims its own freedom, slamming fists on the table, seeking control as the ultimate possibility for peace, as if saying “if I remove all terrorizing aspects outside I’ll be at peace within myself”. The perfect haven. Vain illusion.
Americans, and to some extent Europeans, are under this unfortunate spell in quite a noticeable manner, because self-expression is still a strong force in the culture, unlike what we might find in some Asian countries who deal with the super-state in different manners.
Hence the ego/superego conflict is currently much more evident in the “west”.
Normalization of perversion
The Suicide Squad might represent all this and more and we can be fairly sure that the movie will portray the antihero under a better light as the movie unfolds, to once again romanticize alienation and perpetuate the cult of personality.
However there’s a much darker side to it: an advertised normalization of psychopathic behavior.
It wouldn’t be the first case and it’s one we must be aware of, from the Hannibal Lecters, to the TV-series Dexter and the day Jason of Friday the 13th became a main immortal character in his own flicks.
It’s all over the news as well, in several mainstream articles presenting the perversion and destructive behavior of ruthless corporation businessmen as acceptable or even socially constructive and heroic phenomena (the “suicide squad” saving the world). So say the “scientists”.
This last point casts a much more disturbing light onto this and other movies.
All we can advise is to critically discern the motifs within mainstream shows and find beauty, poetry and inspiration in other aspects of life regardless of what the movie-making-machine and media propose.
Characters like the suicidal fool and the harlot queen shouldn’t be anyone’s role models. They walk a path that in reality only leads to annihilation, both of oneself and others, and unfortunately not only in fiction.
In the end we wonder why these themes are being pushed in movies, comics and video-games, especially among teenagers who face one of the most critical stages in life.
The cult of suicide is no laughing joke.