When was the last time you had a visceral reaction to a movie? Movies may be entertaining or moving, shocking or scary, hopeful or sweet, funny or ridiculous, enraging or frustrating, thrill rides or slow raft trips down a river. Some rare few will make you think. Even rarer movies will teach you something about life or death that you didn't already know.
But when was the last time a movie reached into your soul and showed you a part of yourself that you hadn't know existed before?
In fairness, my mama bear instinct has always been strong, but I've thought of it more as a protective instinct, not viscerally violent. Until I saw the movie Taken on Monday.
I'll put on my critic's cap and tell you (if you haven't already seen it) that Taken isn't a great movie, and I certainly didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I prefer my action movies silly rather than intense. Think The A-Team and Knight and Day...fun and funny romps with nary a lick of seriousness in them. Taken, however, is nothing if not intensely serious. It was released in 2008, so it's really old news, but DVD is the only way I would see an action movie like this anyway because I can simply walk away when the action gets too violent or uncomfortable.
From a critic's viewpoint, the script of Taken is clunky, the plot predictable and extremely manipulative. The movie focuses so tightly on action and violence that the characters come off as flat stereotypes rather than rounded, real people.
But I loved the movie anyway because all the bad guys we meet--and there are a LOT of them--die violent, well-earned deaths at the hands of an angry father, played by Liam Neeson, who, by the way, is aging so very nicely.
What engaged me even more than a simple angry-dad-going-after-his-abducted-daughter plot is that the daughter's abductors are human traffickers, kidnapping attractive young women to sell into slavery. The subject is popular in the news lately, with lots of bloggers promoting organizations that rescue women trapped in the sex trade, plenty of news segments on NPR discussing the wife-buying between North Korea and China, and eastern European mafias. Human trafficking is everywhere, really, and always has been. Making slavery illegal doesn't make it go away.
That's why the justice meted out in Taken is so very, very satisfying. Neeson's character is a Dad operating outside a system which can't provide justice for all. Only a rogue retired CIA agent can get the job done, and these slavers are messing with the wrong Dad. As the movie's Dad brutally forces his way to his daughter, I felt the intense satisfaction that only comes from seeing justice duly served on people who would dare threaten my child.
Isn't that what's great about the movies? We can experience vicariously that which we would never experience in real life. In Taken, the bad guys get their just desserts and the good guys return to normalcy without ill effect.
What isn't so satisfying is the fact that only two girls are saved...and the first one because Dad needs information to find his daughter. We see plenty of women who've been abducted, but Dad's only interested in saving his daughter. In the process he kills the wealthy leader of the Paris slave operation (yay!), but a thinking viewer knows this slime-ball is just a cog in a very large machine. Taking him down won't stop the slavery. Rescuing one woman won't help the thousands of women who aren't rescued.
I'm really proud of my teenage son Nick for recognizing this problem. "What about all the other girls?" he asked.
You might take that unspoken point from the movie as an indictment of the worldwide establishment which doesn't put enough effort in stopping slavery. But that would credit the movie with far more intelligence and social conscience than it demonstrates otherwise. It's an action movie that does action very well and engages the violent protective instincts latent in all parents, but not much more.
That's what makes it fun to watch.
The not-fun-at-all question remains, however. What about all the other girls?
Now it's your turn. What movie have you seen recently that, perhaps unexpectedly, engaged your heart or mind?