Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Is Evil really Good or is Good really Evil? How DreamWorks tackles this issue in Megamind - by Alex Griffiths

Animation:  Is this a modern medium of philosophical thought? Within Plato’s Symposium, Apollodorus expresses that philosophy is the only enjoyable subject; is this so the case, that even within children’s entertainment there is this requirement for philosophy to encroach?
Children’s film and literature (I’m sure most mediums) are filled with extremely powerful messages and moral guidelines. The lists are endless from Dr Seuss raising questions about the theory and nature of knowledge to Jacqueline Wilson embedding deep moral issues and guidance. Even big friendly authors such as Roald Dahl are at it!  But to return to film, DreamWorks, Pixar and Disney all fill their movies with powerful thoughts; Look at Wall-e as an example, a robot who’s function it is to clean up the planet due to human consumption providing huge topical environmental issues regarding the destruction we are causing to this planet, thus allowing insight to the instability and the fragility of our world. Not to mention the connection and empathy that is created within the robot, leading to such questions as what is it to be human and what sets this robot apart from humankind.
These large film industries are providing deep philosophical questions to become digested, disguised under comical scripts and loveable characters. Entertainment aimed at children provides vital education. This returns me to Apollodorus’ immense delight in philosophic discourse and his belief that other sorts of talk, especially that of wealth and "money-bag friends", not only annoys him but creates a sense of sorrow within him because others believe that this type of talk is of value.[1] I have to agree with him, and so does the entertainment industry. Within morality, a base guideline can be seen throughout history. Look at religious texts as a whole.  Does it not provide guidelines to a prosperous way of life - if not in this one, then in ones to follow? To tie this together, evidence of this thirst for moral codes can be seen throughout all children’s literature over the years from Grimms' nursery tales to Aesop’s fables.  This thirst provides evidence that morality is needed within society and human nature as we always are striving towards it. Without it the world would become pure anarchy, and society as we know it will break down, thus the importance of teaching children basic principles from a young age is important.
As titled, this is a review of Megamind, so I will look into the philosophical nature of the film, thus contextualising the idea that the industry provides deep thought and insight into what could be argued as higher thought into a relatable medium. So let’s start with the beginning…the very beginning:
The opening scene is of two planets at the brink of destruction, when baby Megamind and MetroMan are seen flying to earth. MetroMan begins his life in luxury and Megamind finds himself in prison. The two main characters grow up together, yet despite MegaMind’s efforts to fit in, he only gets more secluded, until he ‘learned a very hard lesson: good receives all the praise and adulation while evil is sent to quiet time in the corner. So fitting in wasn't really an option.[2]
The comical nature of the film allows for the depth to be the underbelly of the scene. What is, on first glance, portraying comedy and a base for the story line, actually in fact is asking and providing a springboard to deep abstract thought. The above quote is part of the opening spiel and provides an introduction of the two leading roles of the film. But what is so powerful is that it is playing on the notion of destiny. It sets forward the question of whether we can choose the lives that we lead, and if this choice can be changed or whether such matters are predestined. The film continues to look upon this paradigm of destiny, yet always relates it to the juxtaposition of good and evil. Other issues are raised within the film, such as the notion of what happens to the balance when evil beats good. Megamind (Will Ferrell) in this instance becomes bored. Could we take this notion to a present reality away from the abstract of animation as a thought process; what would it be like if good conquered evil? Looking briefly at Christianity, with heaven described as a place of eternal bliss and happiness, void of evil, would this be as Megamind describes…boring? Another issue that I find problematic when trying to identify what is evil, is that if there is no such thing as evil than surely there can be no concept of good. Existence would just become existence and therefore extremely mundane with potentially no purpose. Megamind brings light to this issue by showing that from the super hero to the super villain there is a mixture of characteristics showing that no one is wholly good or evil.
The notion of good and evil that I find particularly problematic is defining what it actually means to be evil. If arguing it is people’s actions, surely this is subjective; not only just within opinion yet also culture and time have a great impact. Throughout the film, Metro Man (Brad Pitt) plays the super ‘hero’.  Within the eyes of the citizens, he is a treasure; the man of the city.  But when looking through the introduction of the film and watching the two characters grow up together, he can be seen to be supressing Megamind and forcing him to become evil. Can it not be interpreted that Megamind was just trying to gain the same respect that the arrogant Metro Man was receiving.  Therefore could it not be that through Metro Man’s actions of always trying to one up and revel in his own glory that he forced Megamind to become evil? So even from the onset of the film it provides insight that ‘good’ has the capacity to create evil. The playing on the ideas of good and evil throughout the film show the lack of clarity and contrast defining what it is to be good. It shows that perhaps one cannot just be evil, only certain actions or perhaps characteristics can be. There is a real emphasis on the problematic idea of labelling something either way. 

Alex Griffiths is a second-year History and RPE student. He has his own blog at:

[1] Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Symposium 173c, Vol. 9 translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925
[2] Megamind, dir. Tom McGrath, DreamWorks, 2010

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