I love action movies. Recently, though, I’ve really started noticing the destruction. I’ve started thinking about the impact on the rest of the people, wondering who gets to clean it up, who was in the car that flipped and spun into the oncoming truck. My mind tracks forward into the emergency rooms and onto the weeping families. I’ve wondered if perhaps it hits home a bit more because after increased bombings in many countries and the global connectedness we now share, it is no longer destruction that is limited to the ‘other’, to war, or to fantasy.
This is one of the reasons I love Captain America: Civil War. The whole movie, for me at least, focuses on choice and responsibility; whether to save the world you have to risk destroying it.
It begins with Wanda making a mistake that kills innocent civilians in Lagos in the fight to contain a biological weapon. This is closely followed by Tony Stark being confronted by the mother of a young man killed in the collateral damage of the fight against Ultron in Sokovia. This affects Tony greatly, leading him to tell the rest of the Avengers:
“he wanted to make a difference but we’ll never know because we dropped a building on him when we were kicking ass.”
He is not the only one to feel guilt. Wanda feels the responsibility of the deaths of innocents in Lagos deeply. A line that really struck me was when Steve says to Wanda:
‘we have to find a way to live with it, or maybe next time no-one gets saved.”
This brings up the idea of sacrifice – both in terms of collateral damage and sacrifice in terms of their peace of mind.
The movie then focuses on responsibility. This is something that I don’t often see addressed in big action movies where the excitement is in the bangs and the chases. The Avengers are forced to consider signing the Sokovia Accords, which would put them under a centralised international control. The debate over this reveals some great perspectives on personal and collective responsibility.
Tony argues for a higher power to give them limits.
“If we can’t accept limitations, we’re boundary less. We’re no better than the bad guys.”
I think we need to see this in the context of the actions he’s taken since becoming Iron Man. He is a man who used to take no responsibility or thought to where the weapons his company made ended up. When he became Iron Man he changed – He got rid of the arms manufacturing branch of the business, he was able to sacrifice himself for the good of the world, he saw the impact of his company’s actions in Avengers: Age of Ultron, while still going ahead and doing things without even the blessing of his team. He’s a complicated man and I think he knows that, for him, the security of someone else taking the responsibility by imposing limitations is welcome.
Captain America’s response shows a very different interpretation of responsibility:
“If someone dies on your watch you don’t give up. We are if we’re not taking responsibility for our actions. This document shifts the blame.”
He sees the Sokovia Accords as something that not only limits their actions but limits their responsibility. He’s happy with neither. This makes sense as he points out to Tony:
Steve: If i see a situation pointing south I can’t ignore it. Sometimes I wish I could
Tony: No you don’t.
Steve: No, I don’t.
This was seen before he even became Captain America when it was highlighted how he couldn’t let bullies continue without confronting them, even though he was tiny and weak and became their target.
The recurring theme that if you CAN do something you MUST do something is echoed when Tony recruits Spiderman. Peter says:
‘when you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.”
Jean Paul Sartre’s idea of absolute responsibility for one’s actions and how it relates to choice is something I have written about here. He argued that we have a burden of responsibility for our lives because we have individual freedom of consciousness, meaning that we can choose the way we feel, the way we behave, the things we do, even within a restrictive social framework. When you choose to be a bystander, when you could have done something, the responsibility for that lies on you. When you choose to not step in when you are the only one who could have done something that responsibility levels up.
Having a choice, having a conscience, means we need to act when we can. It also means we need to take responsibility for our actions – both good and bad.