The Equalizer: Cathartic Violence in an Unjust America

Equalizer

Maybe The Equalizer is just a violent guys vigilante revenge flick.
But I doubt it.

I saw this a week or so ago. But it’s been on my mind a bit because it was such a good story. It got me thinking about vigilante movies and why they are so emotionally moving.

The story is about Denzel Washington as Robert McCall, an ex-CIA killer, who has gotten out of the Company, and is trying to live a normal life as a blue collar worker at a Home Depot like company. He lives alone and has OCD, which makes him a little too orderly, but without losing his friendliness for people. Denzel meets a young hooker, played my Chloe Grace Moretz, at the diner where he reads a book. Of course, he is an honorable guy and tries to inspire her to leave her world and live a better life. He tells her something to the effect of “We can do anything we choose to do to make our lives better.” She is abused by her pimps, who are Russian mob and so Robert tries to “buy her freedom.” He goes to the headquarters of the Russian mob and offers them all the money he has, $9800 to let her go. They laugh at him, and then attempt to put him out of his misery.

They should not have done that.

Robert kills them all, which starts a hunt by the big boss of those bad guys, and well, you know the rest. It’s all very formulaic. But it’s fantastic. I have written about revenge movies and vigilante violence as being immoral in posts on The Punisher, Walking Tall and Sin City, and my most detailed in reference to A Time To Kill. In Man on Fire Denzel’s character learns that he can only save the innocent with self sacrifice not revenge, which is also an ironic challenge to vigilanteism.

But what makes this a great moral movie is how they play Robert’s approach. He is not a vigilante killer who goes around and kills people he thinks deserves to die outside the law. He actually offers evildoers a face to face opportunity to right their wrong or to repay their victims. He confronts them with their sin and challenges them to repent. Then he only takes them out, when the bad guys, who obviously laugh at him and never repent, then try to hurt or kill him. So he is actually acting in self defense, which is completely legal and morally justifiable.

At one point we see that Robert is reading Don Quixote, and he says something like, “it’s about a knight in a world without chivalry,” which is clearly the theme of this movie. We have lost our heroic chivalrous nature because of our corruption.

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It got me thinking: Why are vigilante stories so powerful? Why do they draw us in with such a strong cheer for the hero? It’s not because we just like to see violence. I believe it is because they are cathartic in giving us stories of justice in a society where justice is blocked by corruption. When our own society becomes so corrupt and unjust, normal law abiding citizens become so saddened and frustrated with the evil that goes unpunished. We long for justice that is not being served. So vigilante movies (And again, The Equalizer is not the immoral vigilante type) serve to satisfy that desire that evil will be punished.

And then I realized why this movie is so timely and resonant. Right now, we live in a society of widespread injustice and increasing polarization. Liberals say we have an unjust racist society, conservatives say we have a society that is peddling false racism as a dog whistle that creates reverse racism and justification for racist knockout games, flash mobs and riots. Liberals say we are denying global warming, conservatives that we are denying Islamic terrorism. Liberals say we need Big Government because we are so unjust, conservatives say we have a corrupt unjust Big Government with a president who is violating the constitution with Executive Orders, and using the IRS and FBI to persecute his political enemies and influence elections. Liberals would say our laws are unjust regarding immigration and gun control, conservatives would say we have a corrupt Department of Justice and a criminal racist Attorney General who violated the laws he swore to uphold with racist policies, defiant non-enforcement and criminal conspiracies like Fast and Furious. Both sides warn of increasing militarized police.

What do you think?

Maybe The Equalizer is just a violent guys vigilante revenge flick.
But I doubt it.

3 comments on “The Equalizer: Cathartic Violence in an Unjust America

  • I like this movie. Although Robert, the main character, is already a retired agent but he cannot stand on the wickedness brought around on his place by the russian mafia. Many people were affected. Even the local police was force to corruption or face death if they fight. When Robert realized that Alina and other whore was forced against their will to sell their body and been badly beaten, he decided to end this wickedness. It is really a good story for a heroic act. Although it is not reveal exactly what happen in the past aside that he was an agent and her wife died, I highly recommend this movie. I give 5 star on this. Thanks.

    Reply
  • It truly is a great movie. Denzel Washington is an incredible actor and stars in some of my favorite movies like this one, Man on Fire, and the Book of Eli. Either he sometimes picks movies where his faith can show or he makes it fit into some of the movies but he is always believable in his roles.

    Vigilante or revenge movies are my guilty pleasure and I think it’s primarily from what you surmise. We look to see justice enacted on evildoers and swiftly and violently.

    Reply

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