Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hancock: Ray, a Drop of Golden Sun

At first blush, Jason Bateman's Ray is the cliche hero of this tale. But there's more nuance to his position.

So yeah, he's a liberal. Our first scene with him is begging a company's board to give their product to poor foreigners for free. We can tell he's not a huge fan of capitalism, and that he's pathetically ineffective, but he's not exactly rebelling in the streets. He asked the corporate titans for their pittance, and when he gets a no he goes back to his nice upper middle class suburb.

No one does hangdog sadsack as well as Bateman, precisely because he doesn't engender too much sympathy so you don't spend every scene with him mired in Arthur Miller style guilt.

He's also focused on appearance, particularly in a "the importance of symbolism" way. He's trying to kickstart an anti-capitalist movement with his little heart logo (often tilted askew just to show how hip and casual it is.) His original career is as a PR man, which can be faulted for being too superficial, but can also emphasize the importance of appearances (and actions) despite whatever internal belief you might hold. This may be relevant for a movie about "a black man who wants to do good but acts like a underclass buffoon."

(In the scene where they first meet, the crowd is upset at Hancock through causing a train derailment to save Ray when there were a dozen other ways he could have done it, but Ray focuses on "and if he weren't here, I'd be dead.")

The point is, he is also well-intentioned, but Ray is not perfect. He's not the pure savior who will rescue Hancock, but he is a flawed human being who will work with Hancock together to overcome the effects of racism and degradation.

For instance, we've already gone over the way "asshole" is used to dehumanize the hero. Ray does not stride in declaring he doesn't use that word. In fact he says:

RAY: My basic diagnosis of your fundamental problem is... Wanna hear it?
Hancock: No.  RAY: You're and asshole. I know. I call it like I see it though.

No character in a movie has ever said "I call it like I see it" and earned the audience's sympathy. Ray is not beyond the rest of his society's assumptions and perceptions, he's just trying to do something productive about it even while being caught in that trap.


His character is not... super interesting after that. Once Hancock goes to jail, he shifts from an active role in the plot, to mostly applauding Hancock's growth, and being an audience stand in for the confusion around the "plot twist". He has some good shots in the final, fairly horrific, confrontation, but mostly they say "Ray can help too."

But even as an archetype, Ray is useful. For a while after all, the movie has the highly symbolic trio of "white man, black man, white woman" trying to find their social status in relation to each other. The funniest joke is probably when Hancock (a freakishly strong flying god) is arguing with Mary (another freakishly strong flying god) and resolves "I'm going to tell Ray!" as their arbiter. Even when the black man and white woman possess immense physical power, society's constructions make them think they need to go to the white man for approval.

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