“The better and worse angels of our very nature”
WARNING SPOILER ALERT! – If you have not seen X-Men 3: The Last Stand you probably don’t want to read this!
X-Men 3: The Last Stand suffers from too much in too little time and becomes a somewhat disjointed hodge podge of action scenes. But it is still entertaining and addresses the ‘mutant question’ in interesting ways.
The most enduring aspect of the comic books, which is maintained albeit not as broadly in the movies, is that mutant is supposed to represent a blank space, a place of different as different and not a specific minority. Of course many are going to want to graft sexuality onto that difference if not for its presence in current debates then for the arguments over its genetic origins. Magneto, whom we find infinitely more sympathetic than in the previous two films, ties the mutant repression to religious and ethnic realms. Erik Lensherr aka Magneto (though it is revealed that Lensherr was not his birth name but that he had a ‘gypsie name’ forged for himself after the war) is a Polish Jew who served as a Sonderkommando at Auschwitz and watched his entire family die.
The X-Men’s debut
Magneto met his once friend and eventual enemy Charles Xavier (aka Professor X) in Haifa, Israel while the two were working in a hospital helping holocaust victims overcome their trauma. The mutant identity also took on another form with the creation of the island of
Genosha which was an ‘ideal’ community that functioned by using mutant slave laborers. Genosha is generally seen as a metaphor for African apartheid. The UN eventually gave the island to Magneto because he demanded a mutant’s only nation. After the population was almost completely wiped out by Sentinels (one of these large robotic mutant hunters is briefly seen at the start of X-Men: The Last Stand when the team is training in the Danger Room) Professor X and Magneto teamed up to rebuild the nation. The connections to Israel here should be obvious enough. Mutants as a racial category arises in the film in regards to the issue of passing when it is pointed out that the experience of being a mutant is very different for Beast then it is for Storm. There was a missed oppurtunity to develop this further when, after addressing a church full of mutants, Magneto is approached by Callisto and asked why he doesn’t wear the mutant mark.
Callisto and her mutant mark
Magneto responds by saying that he already has a mark (his id number from Auschwitz) and that he wouldn’t let ink touch his skin again. While this could easily bring up discussion of
what is really the missed opportunity is a discussion of the Morlocks, which both Callisto and Archlite belong to (but this is not brought up in the film). The Morlocks were mutants who could not pass and were forced to dwell in the sewers. One of the Morlocks was Masque, her power was that she could physically alter the appearance of others and usually used that power to disfigure recruits so that they would remain loyal to the Morlocks. There’s some hardcore identity politics for you!
Despite his tyrannical gestures, Magneto’s actions seem somewhat understandable when he attacks Worthington Labs in an attempt to destroy the ‘cure’ for mutancy and he often shows restraint in his actions but displays disregard and cruelty as well. The strong point, throughout all the movies, is that Professor X and Magneto are not diametrically opposed, it is not simply an opposition of good and evil. Magneto’s leadership and militant action is poisoned by racism whereas Professor X’s restraint often times leads to little or no action. Magneto is not at all oblivious to the contributions of Professor X and Professor X is not blind to the positive results of some of Magneto’s actions.
The point that should be taken from the third film it is that Warren Worthington II, Angel’s father is the real threat. Worthington wants to erase the antagonism, he wants to rid difference itself. The fact that he wants to cure his son (who is the closest thing to literally being an Angel) should make it clear why he is the real threat. Worthington does not want the just and virtuous to win the battle he wants no battle to take place. This denial of the precarious balance of virtue and terror is best exemplified by François Antoine de Boissy d’Anglas, the great Thermidorean, who after the French Revolution decided that virtue was too dangerous a goal because of the possibility of terror. As Alain Badiou points out in his insanely brilliant text Metapolitics Boissy advocated for ‘rule by the best’ and ‘best’ was taken to mean by the Convention of the 9 Thermidor the current formulation of the most banal definition of politics: that of economics, the word of the law and ‘representative’ voting.
Here we should ignore what our high school history teachers told us and listen to Robespierre:
“If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless.” — Robespierre
So to bring us back to The Last Stand, it is those who would rather kill all the angels (and demons) together who we should watch out for. It should be no surprise that at the end of the film neither Professor X (if you wait till after the credits) nor Magneto are fully defeated. There can be no cure for Magneto and in the case of our friend Charles, and again to quote Robespierre, “Death is the beginning of immortality.”
What is the political meaning of Magneto’s muted survival? Does it simply speak to the limit of the ‘cure,’ or does it speak to a more-then-genetic meaning for mutants, for identity? Or is that Magneto’s politics have always been indicative of a kind of impotence? (His attacks then would be passages a l’acte?)
In one of the early trailers for the film Professor X is quoted saying:
“Since the dawn of existence there have always been moments when the course of history shifted; such a turning point is upon us now. A conflict between the better and worse angels of our very nature, whose outcome will change our world so greatly there will be no going back. I do not know if victory is possible – I only know that great sacrifice will be required, and because the fate of many will depend on a few, we must make a last stand.”
One should take note that the nod to angels is most likely an allusion to the closing words of Lincoln’s First Inagural Address which was given at a time in which the nation was still catching its breath from the clamor of secession:
“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
What is the war between mutants and humans, is it between subject and other in the most generic sense or is it the battle to maintain the further contestation of difference itself?
Filed under: Badiou, film, history, politics | 1 Comment