'Darkman' vs. 'Marathon Man'

Posted: Oct 03, 2002 12:00 AM
I don't normally look for deep messages in movies, aside from "The Godfather," which contains most of the lessons anyone needs in life. But the contrast between "Darkman," starring Liam Neeson, and "Marathon Man," starring Dustin Hoffman, is interesting, especially in light of the current debate on Iraq. In "Marathon Man," Dustin Hoffman plays a university student studying for his Ph.D. His brother, a U.S. undercover agent played by Roy Scheider, is killed by Lawrence Olivier, a former Nazi looking to reclaim jewels stashed in a New York bank. To make a long story short, the last scene opens with Hoffman holding Olivier at gunpoint, forcing him to swallow his own jewels. Olivier swallows one and then says, "You'll just have to shoot me." When Hoffman hesitates, Olivier states: "You won't do it. You don't have it in you." Hoffman doesn't do it, so Olivier pulls a blade on him. Hoffman tosses the jewels down a flight of stairs; Olivier runs down the stairs trying to save the jewels, trips, falls and impales himself on his own knife. In "Darkman," Liam Neeson plays a scientist who is permanently scarred after a corporate strongman, played by Colin Friels, orders Neeson's lab to be blown up. In the final scene, Neeson and Friels duke it out on the framework of a skyscraper, 650 feet above the ground. When Friels slips, Neeson catches him by the foot and holds him upside down. Friels begins laughing. "You let me die, you become as bad as I am -- worse!" he scoffs. "You can't. I know you too well. Dropping me, it's not really an option for you. It's not something you can live with." Neeson drops him. Splat. Neeson mutters: "I'm learning to live with a lot of things." Believe it or not, the contrast between the two endings sheds light on the partisan battle that has erupted concerning congressional approval of an upcoming attack on Iraq. Like both Olivier's Nazi and Friels' corrupt businessman, Saddam Hussein is a vicious brute who needs to get it, one way or another. The question is whether we'll dither around and hope for him to impale himself, or whether we'll drop him 65 stories to the concrete. Those who oppose this war want to dither. "You don't start out by putting the gun to their head and saying we're going to shoot you if you blink," snorted Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Idaho), who later impugned President Bush's honesty, saying, "I think the president would mislead the American people." "There is no evidence that I have seen that indicates there is an imminent threat," wailed Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). "They don't want to be having knocked on the door during prayer and say, 'Open up this building in five minutes,'" said Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.). "They want to be treated with some dignity and respect." Dignity and respect? Did I miss something here, or has Saddam Hussein ignored U.N. resolution upon U.N. resolution demanding the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq? And even when the weapons inspectors were allowed in the country, wasn't Hussein simply playing cat and mouse by shuttling his weapons of mass destruction from building to building? Isn't this the dictator who used chemical weapons against his own people? Who fired Scud missiles on Israel, a non-combatant in the Gulf War? Since when are we supposed to "respect" vicious dictators? Then, there are those in Congress who want to go get Saddam. "I'm not willing to wait until something happens to this country," stated Sen. James Inhoff (R-Okla.). Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) called the Iraq naysayers "spokespersons for the Iraqi government," which is undoubtedly true -- Hussein's demands are being voiced by appeasement-minded government officials. The lawmakers who continue to ask for "just one more chance" for Saddam to let in weapons inspectors are playing with fire. In "Marathon Man," Olivier pulls a knife on a pacifistic Hoffman, and only by luck does Hoffman avoid his own demise. If America appeases Saddam, it is only a matter of time until he pulls a nuclear weapon -- and we can't rely on Saddam to fall on his own knife. Granted, this war may not be pretty. It will probably involve civilian casualties; it will certainly involve heavy use of the military. Saddam thinks we won't be able to live with the consequences of an attack on Baghdad. We're learning to live with a lot of things.