16 June 2006

On Bruce's Void and Forehead

Bruce Willis, with Michael Madsen in the background    Rather half-watching Sin City again last night, I was struck by some of the latent literary connections within it.  Not knowing anything about Frank Miller's work, I have to assume they're intentional.  Most obvious, and perhaps most cheeky in its inclusion, is the scar on Hartigan's (Bruce Willis') forehead, which has to be a variation on the "lividly whitish" scar on Ahab's head from Moby-Dick.  (Not, however, the mark of Cain, which lurks behind Melville's construction of Ahab.)  More than the typical hard-boiled detective, he's a man who has been struck by lightning, a clear spirit of fire breathing it back, a self-described "old man" with a vengeful mission.  In Melville, of course, it's the whale, but in the film's story the whale has two forms, the Roark family the synoptic one, the Yellow Bastard the particular one.  The particular one in both cases is crotch-centred, Hartigan careful to take away the Bastard's weapons ("both of them") with the "cannon" he can barely lift, and Ahab's weapon the harpoon launched from the whaleboat's "conspicuous crotch" (see Chapter 63 for the nautical explanation).  Melville's chapter "The Candles"-- from which that last quote was taken, and which itself owes much to King Lear and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner-- strikes me as one of the main presences behind the film's story, though appropriately modified into a context of macho mock-stoicism.  Sure, Ahab's often hiding in the arras behind American versions of the (anti-)hero, but in Sin City his mark is plain and played, with surprisingly knowing results.  There are other connections, too, of course; see, for example, Marv's (Mickey Rourke's) insistence on sending Goldie's killer to a Hell that will seem like Heaven after what he's done to him, which recalls Satan's deeps and lower deeps in Book IV of Paradise Lost (c.f., esp., ll. 73-78), though the phrasing has largely passed into clichéed parlance since.  I'm thinking, though, that a myth critic could have a field day with Sin City.  Any ambitious takers out there?  Me, I'm more inclined just to try to find the time to read Moby-Dick again.
    P.S.  If you're curious about the source of this entry's title, just surf this way to a truly great poem.

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