Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A History of Violence

No, this isn't about A History of Violence.

If a person A wants to kill a specific person B, there is a very, very high probability that A will succeed. In modern America, there is a fairly low probability that they'll get away with it, but that's not the issue. If someone really, really wants you dead, you're pretty much screwed. If you know about it in advance, you can take steps to defend yourself; set a trap for them, or kill them preemptively.

The situation changes if A intends to do the deed themselves, or if they intend to get someone else to do it. In the first scenario, you only need to eliminate A in order to save yourself. In the second scenario, you need to eliminate A and whoever they hired. You may also possibly need to eliminate other people, since even though A might be the primary Architect of your doom, they might have friends who will take up their goals if they die. (I'm thinking, like, the Mafia.)

Many, many action movies are predicated on the idea that Bad Guy A wants to kill Good Guy B, and ultimately fails. On its face, these failures are highly implausible; B usually survives by having better luck than anyone in history, and also because A's minions are all terrible, terrible shots.

A is also willing to underwrite a great deal more violence than is plausible in Western society. In the real world, if A sends five black sedans full of minions out to kill B, resulting in a chase through a shopping mall and dozens of injured or killed bystanders, the most likely result is that dozens of police would show up and end up arresting the minions (assuming the minions didn't start some kind of hostage standoff in the mall). With that many minions, A would definitely get named, and there'd be a huge big ol' trial and it'd be the biggest news story around for months on end.

In the movie, the minions will either all get killed or evaded during the chase, no police show up, and A proceeds with his evil plan for another act and a half before B, of all people, personally kills him.

In the United States, the rule of law is very strong, and there is virtually no chance that any such large-scale attempt to murder someone would result in anything less than an overwhelming police response. Take a real-world scenario where one guy kills another guy. No accomplices, no grand plan, no minions. The perp is sitting at home, with no idea that the cops are coming to arrest him. How many cops? Probably a dozen, at least, for this one guy, even if they know for a fact that he's home alone, unarmed. Five sedans of minions driving through a mall, shooting helter-skelter at their target, would draw no less than a hundred cops, SWAT teams, and possibly the military.

Nonetheless, we accept the Wealthy Villain With Countless Minions (as well as massive, and massively implausible, chase scenes) as a standard trope of action movies. Why?