Once in a while comes a small film that is the centre of a zeitgeist. Is this it? Probably not but maybe it should be. I love the concept of the superhero and like many kids I read comics picking the heroes that I felt reflected my ideals even before I knew I had ideals. I rejected the ones with superpowers as the result of radioactive spiders, genetic deformities or aliens from outer space. It was always the vigilante or the person driven by revenge. This could be anyone. This was a person and a switch flicks and they no longer relied on the system, in fact much of the time the system was the enemy. Well I grew up, I realised the system was us and lost touch with the hero. Later in life I bought a mask and started getting folk to wear it and would photograph them. I got them to create a whole character around just them and the mask. A character that reflected them, whether it was their pets, their love of music or their distaste for insects. I wanted to, at least for a moment get in touch with what made us super.
Defendor touches this. It has the feel of a superhero film with its swipes and its driven by a brilliant score by John Rowley. The film is a vehicle for Woody Harrelson who gives his best performance since… well since Cheers. He plays a Arthur Poppington who is on the slow side, who dresses up in a costume, using weapons like bees and marbles to right the wrongs of his past by transporting them to the present. He teams up with Kat played by Kat Dennings that is in many ways is an archetype side kick but she doesn’t even know it. She is a crack addict, street whore who like Defendor dresses up, but she dresses up for business. She takes to lodging with defendor in his friend’s workshop, which he uses as his lair and charges him dollars a day to give him information he thinks he needs which she uses to buy drugs.
The reasons for why these people do what they do is complicated and is in many ways something difficult to explore in 90 minutes, one line goes a long way to explain it though. Defendor asks Kat why she does drugs and she asks him why he dresses up as Defendor. He says because as Defendor he is not afraid, not stupid and he is a million times better than Arthur. Kat says when she smokes that stuff, it is the same. There are many of the archetype hero characters in this film, the villain, the police ally, the bent cop but like Kat they actually don’t know they are playing these roles. In fact I feel we the audience are watching a movie and not too sure much of the time we are watching a superhero movie.
What makes Defendor a hero is the things his Psychoanalyst diagnoses him with, FAS, ADT, Depression, Delusional Megalomania, unable to anticipate consequences, serious lack of common sense, socially immature. His weaknesses are his strengths. To me this film highlights something in all of us. An ability to make change, to do little things that make a difference, to do what we think is right despite always being told we shouldn’t or worse we can’t.
5 years ago I wanted to capture a bit of the hero in all of us. Maybe highlight our ability to do something despite us being told again and again we can’t