Sunday, January 4, 2015

we've got his little girl

EXT. VIEWSITE - NIGHT

A black Camaro is parked at the side of the road. The city twinkles beyond.

INT. CAR - SAME

Two teenagers, engaged in a first-rate makeout session. One of them is Roger Murtaugh's daughter Rianne. The other is MARK, he of the hilarious dimples. They are kissing when Rianne suddenly pulls away:

RIANNE
Mark, I gotta get home.

MARK
Would you quit worrying? Your mom thinks you're asleep and your dad's busy shooting crooks.

RIANNE
He said he'll shoot you if we have sex.

MARK
Some things are worth dying for.

Interrupt this forgotten scene to ROLL EYES.

He leans in and kisses her. Passion, horniness. Something. He runs a hand inside her sweater. She starts to resist. Gives in.

RIANNE
Wait.

She takes out her gum and sticks it to the steering wheel. Leans over to kiss him again.

FACE

comes INTO FRAME. Right outside the window. Crewcut. Shirt and tie. No less than Mr. Joshua himself, as we --

CUT TO: (p. 79-80)

I can't decide if it's better or worse that Rianne is not kidnapped from her home but from the car where she's surreptitiously out with Mark. I wrote yesterday about Rianne as a sexually-tagged woman in this script. Backup to her introduction: She comes down the stairs in her New Year's Eve dress, asks her father--who we all know wants her to remain his little girl forever and not grow up and go partying (or parking) with boys--what he thinks, specifically whether it's "cool." He is taken aback, speechless. Then, he mutters, "Goddamn heartbreaker." In Black's script, Rianne is introduced as "Heartbreaker stuff, Seventeen. Takes your breath away folks" (p. 7).

But, think about this: what role does Rianne play in the plot? She doesn't have her own storyline. She is there as someone to push some buttons between Murtaugh and Riggs, but even that only barely. It's more cute than problematic. She might as well be a preteen as much as a teenager. Especially since, in the movie, we never meet Mark and he is killed (and she is kidnapped) offscreen. Hell, I just stuck her kidnapping into a parenthetical. I'd like to do a study--take all of the kidnappings in movies like this and see who is the victim. More often than not, I'd wager it's a daughter. Followed, probably, by the wife or the girlfriend (or perhaps the partner in some buddy cop movies). Then, maybe the son. (It's the son kidnapped in Ransom, which also stars Mel Gibson.) A kidnapped child (or wife, for that matter) is a challenge to the man's role as head of the household. Roger Murtaugh is at his lowest when his daughter is taken. Later he will be beaten and barely be able to stand at one point, but his daughter's kidnapping is the turning point, the low from which he will be returning (with a few skips and starts along the way) for the rest of the movie. Losing his daughter means he has failed at what is arguably his most important job, the way our society looks at it. Riggs has no such obligation--fatherhood.

But, then I gotta ask, does it matter which child is taken? Does it matter that Rianne is a "heartbreaker"?

Let us backtrack, move away from Rianne for a moment. The movie begins with another beauty. Black introduces Amanda Hunsaker (nee Lloyd) like this:

CAMERA CONTINUES TO MOVE IN THROUGH billowing curtains, INTO the inner sanctum of a penthouse apartment, and here, boys and girls, is where we lose our breath, because --

spread-eagled on a sumptuous designer sofa lies the single most beautiful GIRL in the city.
Blonde hair. A satin nightgown that positively glows... (p. 1)

On that same page, Black calls her "the sleeping Venus," calls her "beautiful." Even dead on the next page, she is, "Still beautiful." The thing is, does it matter how beautiful she is? Is it far more tragic to have a beautiful girl jump to her death? Does her father care how objectively beautiful she may be? Or, is her death a tragedy regardless?

In Hollywood, of course, whether or not we subscribe to it as a society (which may be debatable), the prettier the victim, the bigger the tragedy. And, white girl, blonde--that's the prettiest. What's the Edgar Allan Poe line? "The death then of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world..." We want our cinematic heroes to be manly. Even the women, in being heroic, must do things we classify as masculine. I find myself returning to the oft cited (in this blog) Daughton (1996) regarding Groundhog Day:

Connors must embark on what is traditionally a feminine rather than a masculine quest, journeying inward in order to encounter and submit to the power of the dark goddess, rather than outward in order to master and claim some object in the external world. (p. 140)

Riggs' internal journey here is secondary to the case, the plot. Secondary enough that the film never quite justifies the transformation away from suicidal. It just TELLS us he doesn't need the bullet anymore. Or, at least, Riggs tells Rianne as much. The sensitive hero, as McCaskey tells Murtaugh--that's an "eighties man." Just like we got male melodrama after World War II, after Vietnam we got ourselves some heroes with a little more nuance. But, only a little. This is still Hollywood. Give us a good contemplation of suicide, and that paints the usual proneness to violence a little differently but really doesn't alter the plot. It gives us more of the illusion of depth than actual depth. I haven't seen the sequels in a while, but Martin Riggs is just as prone to violence, even though he has left the suicidal thoughts behind, if I remember it right.

But, I wasn't talking about Riggs. I was talking about Amanda Hunsaker. Tragic victim to, well, Hollywood. We don't need to know the tragic circumstance that brought her to drugs or, as it turns out, prostitution and pornography; she's half naked and she's attractive and something drove her to suicide. Before we know about Michael Hunsaker or Mr. Joshua or General McAllister, we feel her death. And, at the same time, we're titillated because she's showing some skin as she dies. It's actually a bit of a twisted opening, really. Shane Black's introduction into successful screenwriting is to give us sex and death in one quick scene to pull us in.

So, let's break this down. The movie begins with Hunsaker's daughter dying because she was (presumably) caught up in her father's world of drugs and violence). Our third act gets going with Murtaugh's daughter getting caught up in her father's world of, well, drugs and violence. Daughters are props to further the plot. Riggs and Murtaugh are manly men. Murtaugh jumps on Riggs after Dixie's house explodes because his coat is on fire and Riggs says, "What are you, a fag?" This is the 1980s. It's okay to ask that question. But, what does that question say about men, or rather manhood, masculinity, in the 1980s in the face of challenges to it like kidnapping or war? We want our men to be men, our women to be women. Murtaugh's wife is in the kitchen on at least two occasions in this movie, and it's hilarious that she cannot cook. But, it is also a tragedy because what else is she supposed to do in the world of this film? She is a wife and mother in a world where men are men and women are women.

It's actually a good thing that Riggs' scene with the underage prostitute was taken out of this film because, as much as it may remind us explicitly how damaged he is, it also reinforces the idea that prostitution is, on some level, acceptable. As I'm writing this, Riggs was just shot in the street by Joshua. He was talking to another prostitute for information, but does she even exist after the shooting? Does anyone check that she is ok? Does anyone care?

Then, Murtaugh is called in about (presumably) Mark's dead body being found a few blocks from his house. The movie does not even try to suggest that he and Riggs checked on the body. They just go straight to Murtaugh's house, to find out Rianne has been taken. Murtaugh's got a cell phone. He could have called home. But the throughline that we are following is leading to Rianne's kidnapping. That is the plot point to drive us home. One daughter lost to start us off, another lost to finish it.

I'll say it again: daughters are props to further the plot.

Otherwise, this is a story about men fighting men. This is Vietnam coming back to haunt the American male. What does Lethal Weapon tell us about America in 1987? We were still reeling from Vietnam, still stuck in a Cold War, and we were afraid of what would become of our men when the war was over. As long as we kept fighting it, as long as we had daughters to protect, we could remain men, could remain America, on top.

Works Cited:

Daughton, S.M. (1996). The spiritual power of repetitive form: Steps toward transcendence in Groundhog Day. Critical Studies in Mass Communication 13, 138-154.

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