CAUTION: This blog post contains spoilers for the movie 8MM. If you plan on seeing this movie (and I don’t see why you’d want to put yourself through that, but it’s your life) then you may want to move on.
I have a serious interest in philosophy. I used to be a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society and have a few years worth of their excellent academic journal, Philosophia Christi, sitting on my book shelf. I had a chance to meet William Lane Craig once, though (regrettably) I didn’t get to talk with him. I reacted to that the way normal people react to celebrities.
Anyway, I stumbled into a great series of mini-videos from the channel 8-bit Philosophy, where they use classic NES characters and some original creations to explain bits of philosophy on a popular level. The specific one I want to talk about is What is Evil?
The most vile form of evil is, of course, the pure moral evil associated with a story’s antagonist. But it’s become fashionable in stories to create villains that aren’t purely evil. Numerous writing adages come to mind: The villain is the hero of his story. Or The difference between you [Batman] and me [the Joker] is one bad day. And my favorite: Good villains think they’re right; great villains actually are.
The last one, by the way, is the whole reason there is a raging debate on the Internet over whether Black Panther‘s Erik Killmonger is really a villain. (He is.) It also matches Arendt’s observations of Adolph Eichmann:
The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him. They were neither overly perverted nor sadistic. They were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal…. This normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together. [Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: Report of the Banality of Evil: 276]
Finally, it is the reason that one piece of crap movie has a stand out villain. In 8MM, morally bankrupt rich guy hires morally bankrupt film producer to kill a girl on camera after rough sex (a “snuff film”) for his own enjoyment. This film is discovered by the rich guy’s widow, who hires Nic Cage to uncover the truth.
Great premise, hooked me from the start. Failed on every level after that. This movie is another reason I can’t stand Joel Schumacher, as if anyone needed another reason after Batman & Robin. (Though, in the interest of full disclosure, I do like Flatliners and Phone Booth.)
The actual killer on the 8MM film is a masked man who appears in numerous porn films credited as “Machine.” He is the key that Cage uses to unlock the mystery. Machine works for big time producer Dino Velvet, and Cage eventually tracks Velvet and Machine down and has a confrontation with them. They burn the film, the only evidence linking them to the crime, and then Cage goes all vigilante on them, killing them both.
Through the whole movie, Machine wears his mask, even when Cage confronts him and Dino Velvet for the first time. He wears it during the second confrontation, when he has an extended hand-to-hand combat fight scene with Cage. At the very end, he removes the mask and what’s underneath is scarier than Velvet selecting a young actress to die. Scarier than a rich guy who would pay for a snuff film to be made in the first place.
Machine is… normal. He’s every guy you see on the street. You’d never look twice at him if you passed him at the grocery store. Machine had no malice toward that girl and meant her no harm. He was just paid to do a job, which he did. Just like Eichmann.
This is the banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt opines, and it’s scarier than actually seeing a demonic entity under the mask. In fact, it’s the only thing in this ridiculous movie that works.