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Scarred Action Heroes

“Jack Reacher,” “Django Unchained” & "Looper"

Scars are a part of life, a record of trauma and survival. Consider them a memory of pain, damage, but also resurrection.  Like a phoenix from get the point.  Yet rather than providing emotional uplift, scars at the multiplex are used instead to identify villains.
From Frankenstein’s monster to Darth Vader, movie scars stigmatize rather than eulogize. Since treatment of scars is no slam dunk, those in the real world who are unlucky enough to have endured skin injury are often stuck with an unwanted permanent defect.

Recent blockbusters suggest that there may be, as Gandalf famously noted in “The Lord of Rings”, a “turn of the tide.”  In “Jack Reacher,” Tom Cruise is in action mode as a former military cop turned vigilante detective.  When audiences first learn of his character, they are shown quick shots of his tightly muscled trunk, covered with scars. Blurry chest scar noted to the right. Is he a nightmarish serial killer, a la Freddy Krueger?  An adversary bent on world domination, such as the diabolical Dr. Evil?  No, his scars reflect his military service in the Middle East and so represent action cred rather than accessories to dread.

“Django Unchained,” features Jamie Foxx as the eponymous slave turned bounty hunter.  Our introduction to Django is from behind, as he is led in bare, shackled feet along a Texan dirt road.  His back is covered with welted scars from a lifetime of whippings.  He has facial scarring and a small facial brand, an “R” for being a runaway. These scars don’t cause the viewer to reject Foxx, but instead reinforce the desire that Django attain his revenge.

Scars play a novel role In “Looper,” a time travel noir:  They are used to communicate over the decades.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a hit man who kills criminals sent from the future.  One day, his 30 years older self, “Old Joe,” appears in the time portal, looking remarkably like Bruce Willis. Gordon-Levitt fails to kill Willis, who escapes, scurrying through Gordon-Levitt’s era.

Since Willis failed to bring a cell phone from the future and prefers to avoid Twitter, Gordon-Levitt instead sends messages to Willis by carving memos into his own arm, which pop up as legible scars on Willis’ arm.  This is a cool concept, though doesn’t make a lot of sense if you consider the logistics of time travel.  Our point is this:  These are heroes rather than hoods with scars, which breaks movie tradition.

We wouldn’t wish scars on anybody.  But until there are more effective treatments than topical scar creams (most don’t do much), lasers (take away some of the redness), cortisone injections (help flatten thick keloid scars), scar revision (cutting scars out and replacing them with more cosmetically acceptable scars), at least changes in movie rules are making some scars cool.

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The Evil Albino

“I wish I knew how to quit you.”

The classic movie line was uttered by star-crossed lovers in “Brokeback Mountain.”  It could be just as easily be stated by film makers and a notorious stereotype, the Evil Albino.  This stock film villain was featured in 68 films until 2006, when producers gave the character of the pale skinned, white-haired, red eyed murderer his highest profile yet in “The Da Vinci Code.”  A successful media campaign, illustrating the prejudicial aspects of this character, appeared to put him into retirement. Six years passed without a cinematic sign of him until the producers of the “Hobbit” resuscitated his career as the Pale Orc Azog.  Hopefully, this doesn’t herald the return of evil humans with albinism, a trend the world can do without.

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