Thursday, March 14, 2013

GI Joe Retaliation: Storm Shadow vs Snake Eyes

These two are probably the most exciting characters for me this year (yea, they even top Thor's second appearance, Iron Man and the Mandarin, Capt Kirk and Kahn); I am really looking forward to seeing what Storm Shadow (the white ninja) and Snake Eyes (the black ninja, the good guy) do in GI Joe Retaliation and here is a clip of one of their fights:
If you haven't seen GI Joe from 2009, I strongly suggest you do so (there is time before the March 28 release). As a small boy who would become Snake Eyes, he went into the kitchen of a monastery/training facility where young Storm Shadow--a ninja in training--saw the other boy, accused him of stealing food (rather like Jean Valjean's crime in Les Miserables) and proceeded to kill the boy for eating noodles; they  have a fierce fight and Hard Master (the trainer) comes in and tells Storm Shadow they must "show him the path" and young Snake Eyes begins training and advances to become the "best pupil," of Hard Master,... just after this, Hard Master is stabbed to death and Snake Eyes sees Storm Shadow running away, totally guilty,... the problem is, the featurette clip below suggests that Storm Shadow was framed for the murder. What has torn Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow apart is Snake Eyes believing Storm Shadow committed the murder, after which Snake Eyes took a vow of silence, and herein lies the intensity of that relationship.
 Storm Shadow. In GI Joe: Rise Of Cobra, Snake Eyes stabs Storm Shadow multiple times, including in the heart, and then Storm Shadow falls into the Arctic Ocean and sinks, presumably dead. Technically, I think Cobra will revive Storm Shadow by using nanotechnology, which, as the first film demonstrated, can be used to heal the body on the molecular level, so it's not that big of deal to resurrect Storm Shadow physically (this is just a guess; we see Storm Shadow in water, and tanks of water breaking, which invokes Underworld: Awakening, but he was probably being "kept" int he water like a frog in formaldehyde). Symbolically, however, Storm Shadow being "resurrected" falls in-line with other great hero villains, from Halloween's Mike Myers to Jason and Freddy Kreuger. Why? We can't kill evil. These villains provide a physical shell in which the evil they align themselves with can dwell, but the "human" nature in them died long, long ago, making it possible for them to be taken over by evil, because if they knew how evil the evil was they were giving themselves to, even the worst person would not have consented to it. But the physical body, of Storm Shadow, for example, is merely the vehicle of some specific evil the film makers want to focus our attention upon, and attributes, like costume, name and weapons, direct us along the path of coming to know what evil they are so we don't become like them. Storm Shadow lacking self-awareness is apparent when, in GI Joe Rise Of Cobra, Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes have met for the first time since Hard Master's death, and Storm Shadow calls Snake Eyes "Brother." On the surface, it appears Storm Shadow addresses him thusly because they "grew up" in the same house of training with the same "father" in training (Hard Master who gave "birth" to them both and named both of them); however, it also seems that Storm Shadow incorrectly thinks that Snake Eyes is like him, and they are kin in spirit, that Snake Eyes is motivated by the same appetites Storm Shadow is and Storm Shadow would think this because, not having any greater motivations within himself, he can't see that any higher motivation would exist in another.
Your Master dies; why take a vow of silence?
Snake Eyes, still a young boy at this point in the narrative, realizes wisely that since Hard Master is dead, he must master himself. If you cannot overcome the enemy within you, you cannot overcome the enemy outside you. You can't know what a powerful exercise taking a vow of silence is unless you have done it for yourself (which I have on two separate occasions for Lent) because silence becomes a desert where all your demons are fully exposed, there is no where for them to hide, and then--when you clearly see them and know what they are--you can master them.
This isn't the path Storm Shadow takes.
Please click on image to view in greater detail. Left is Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) under water, center is Storm Shadow under water (possibly the moment he comes back to life) and to the right Cobra and Storm Shadow. Water, and what happens to different characters in or on it, will clearly be an important element throughout the film and I estimate this will be just one of numerous "motifs" we will see in one character and then later with another character as well because it's a great way for film makers to establish "links" between characters and symbols, a kind of visual commentary in guiding the audience's minds and reactions.
What does "Storm Shadow" imply?
He permits shadows to live within him (he doesn't look inside himself, but is always looking outside himself (like when young Snake Eyes was "stealing" the food, Storm Shadow should have been focused on himself not the slight of someone else, this is discipline which he does not have), those shadows--and the demons they hide within him--give rise to storms, and it was because of the storm of his anger at Snake Eyes being given top of the class that Storm Shadow could be framed for the murder of Hard Master because, in his angry heart, Storm Shadow probably wished Hard Master death (or at least harm) and and that emotional transference was sufficient for Storm Shadow not to stand up for his own innocence, because he wasn't innocent, even if he was framed for the physical murder, he wised harm on Hard Master.
We have all ready touched upon why Storm Shadow wears white and Snake Eyes wears black, but this is a suitable place to repeat it just to refresh our dialogue. White usually denotes the "good guy," the hero, because white usually asserts the virtue of purity, innocence (being free from the guilt of crime/sin) and faith; however, white is also the color of a corpse in the stages of decomposition, and a bad guy wearing white amplifies why he is (spiritually, metaphysically) dead, because he is dead to those qualities that make up the hero (we will revisit this theme when The Lone Ranger is released since the Lone Ranger rides a white horse and a white hat). The reason we associate black (the color Snake Eyes wears) with evil (like Cobra pictured below) is because we associate black with death and death is bad. But death can also be good. Priests wear black because they are "dead to themselves" and "dead to the world" and this applies to Snake Eyes who is dead to himself so he can serve the greater good by being a part of the Joes. This is Snake Eyes' identity, that he is nothing, but goodness and justice is everything, and that's an identity few--if any--can claim for themselves because that spiritual road is so difficult and long. Snake Eyes' vow of silence is silence with the world outside himself, but intense communion with his inner-world.
So what about Snake Eyes?
The ultra-villain of GI Joe is Cobra (pictured below), and it would be easy to mistake Snake Eyes for one of Cobra's henchmen, and the detailing of why Snake Eyes is the good guy (better than the "good guy," the virtuous hero) is the reason why I am so impressed with the characterization of this film and the film's faith in us they we will be able to forge the bond of understanding with this character). Snake Eyes and Cobra illustrates two angles of the same animal: the snake. A snake doesn't blink its eyes, and some of you may recall our discussion on Sherlock Holmes' (2009) Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) "winking" at Holmes when he's in the fighting pit and--because eyes symbolize wisdom because wisdom relies upon a person being able to "see" the true nature of something--Irene's wink reveals that she willingly "doesn't see" all she should (she lacks foresight) and doesn't "see" how dangerous Moriarty is to her (which Holmes warns her about). Snake Eyes, on the other hand, is the exact opposite: never "blinking" his eyes, he sees everything making him wise because the first step in overcoming your enemy is overcoming yourself, then knowing your enemy and their weaknesses.
On the other hand,...
Whereas the "absence of features" of Snake Eyes (his face is completely covered) concentrates our bond with Snake Eyes in his actions and commitments, the opposite is true with Cobra. We have discussed erasure elsewhere, specifically in The Cold Light Of Day and Zero Dark Thirty, and GI Joe Retaliation offers us a further example. We can say that Snake Eyes has "erased" his lesser, human identity so he can become the ideals he values, but Cobra's appetites have erased his humanity to he has no identity left (the shield over his face). What is so interesting about Cobra's costume is that the silver shield "reflects" but knowing that "reflection" (as in meditation and self-awareness) is a virtuous activity because it leads to self-knowledge, that Cobra's face reflects highlights what he can't do: he can't reflect on himself or come to any self-awareness so that he can achieve virtue (material appetites for wealth and power erode the appetite for justice, goodness, virtue, and we can only come to those virtues by seeing what is bad within us and committing ourselves to overcoming that). On the other hand, Snake Eyes also has a reflective, black shield covering his eyes, and we can say, in keeping with the great writers of spirituality, that in Snake Eyes' continuing death to himself (the color black) he is able to reflect on himself and continue dying to himself to keep alive the virtues that make him the hero.
...Cobra (pictured above) has no eyes, and his emblem (logo) behind him in red on the wall, shows a cobra snake with its mouth open. This choice is probably meant to inspire fear in Cobra's enemies, that he is a deadly snake about to strike with his venom, but it shows Cobra's own "appetites" rather, that his own mouth is wide-open to swallow up the whole world, just like a snake dislocating its jaw to swallow his prey.  Because of the appetites for power associated with Cobra, we can see that him wearing black truly denotes death in the greatest metaphysical and spiritual sense. He is the "wailing and gnashing of teeth" that conveys the nature of hell because the waling comes from those led by their appetites who could never get enough wealth, power, sex, or whatever, to fill them, so now they forever gnash those teeth. Remember, it's Storm Shadow who says, "Welcome to hell" in the trailer, and this is probably just the start.
This clip offers sufficient reason to see GI Joe Retaliation in 3D:
One issue that has come up regarding the film is why Bruce Willis is being included. As the "founder of the Joes," it looks like a going back to "the founding father," the historical awareness of where the Joes came from and a re-commitment to their identity and mission. Which leads us to the Joes in general: they are the best of the best, of the best, of the best, of the very best,... of the best. We are actually accustomed to seeing this "theme" in films, those who are the very best at what they do (Mission Impossible, for example, Star Trek, The Avengers, even in Identity Thief, Sandy Patterson is the "best" at his job) because only the best is good enough for Americans because we are always pushing the standard for what is acceptable because only the best is acceptable. A movie made about mediocrities, for example, would have to be a comedy because Americans wouldn't want to see a film glorifying averageness, we are above that as a culture and going back to their founder in Bruce Willis' character will remind Americans--at least as a subtext--about our free will in either choosing to be the very best we can be, and being inspired by the greatness of others, or choosing to be the worst we want to be, and making everyone else suffer for it.
Now it just so happens that the colors of the International Socialist movement are red and black, really, they are  (remember Hitler's Swastika flag?) and the colors of Cobra (which is reflected in Snake Eyes' and Jinx's relationship, the female wearing the red ninja outfit). I don't think, however, this is really going to be about socialism and capitalism, rather, that individuals using immense power are an even greater threat to world security. But let's ask ourselves, before this year, how many films showed the White House under "enemy occupation?" How many films can you name that showed the unbreachable White House--the home of George Washington and all our Founding Fathers--in the hands of enemies? How many? None? Neither can I, but now there is GI Joe Retaliation, Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down (which is going to be something like racists or Tea Party members taking over the black president and trying to remove him from office), but
Here is a behind-the-scenes look which provides a few nuggets we might want to collect. This is where we learn about Storm Shadow being framed for Hard Mater's death, and the weapons used in the fight sequence between the two above is described as "brass knuckles," (mentioned at 1:51 in the clip below) which we have seen in two other films, Lawless (used by Forest Bondurant) and Expendables 2.
It's the energy of the "storm" within Storm Shadow (his rage) which feeds his "strength" but it's not a strength that lasts, every storm eventually dies, regardless of the damage it causes, whereas Snake Eyes' inner-reservoir of strength should give him enough perseverance to wait out the storm and be standing as the victor at the end. Remember, Snake Eyes has the foresight to see that he could become Storm Shadow if he doesn't keep himself in check (like Luke Skywalker giving into rage and becoming Darth Vader) but Storm Shadow lacks the wisdom to see that he could become as great--or greater--than Snake Eyes if he let go of rage but in his lack of wisdom, he thinks his sin is his strength. These are just some of the reasons I am so looking forward to this film, I hope you are, too.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
Snake Eyes and Jinx fighting, but they are on the same team (I believe Jinx is wearing the yellow ninja outfit in the cliff battle clip above). These two together, because Snake Eyes is in black and Jinx is in red, should symbolically counter Cobra. We have all ready seen a female wearing red (Theodora [Mila Kunis] in Oz the Great and Powerful) so the team work exhibited by Snake Eyes and Jinx should give us greater insight into what Cobra is not, again, the characters are being connected by the repeating colors of red and black (and her wearing the yellow ninja outfit will have its own particular meaning in that part of the film).