August 09, 2009

Devil's Advocate

In my childhood my dad never knew how to treat me. Lots of men simply don't know what to do with a child when it cries. Of course, they can say (which they usually do) something like: stop crying,otherwise you will not get a candy. My dad followed a different path. He learned, that the only thing which makes me calm is to tell a story. Not suprisingly, fairy tails resouces he remembered dried up fairly quickly and so, he started to narrate movie plots for me. This is how 10 year old child knew almost all details of 'Indecent proposal', 'Basic Instinct' and was convinced that Steven Seagal is a worth mentioning actor. 'Devil's advocate' was, or actually, is the film I recall with some sentiment, then. It is not that I became piromaniac then but I still want to boil holy water by putting my finger therein... 

Let's settle one thing from the start - the title is misleading. The film in its two main plots doesn't need law to be what it is, it wouldn't change a lot if the main characters were e.g. economists. Kevin Lomax, the main character, needs not to be a lawer to make winning his obsession and devil, played by Al Pacino, to crave for antychrist. Mary Ann Lomax (Charlize Theron) could have been lonely in the relationship with her successful husband whatever profession did he perform, and so, could have been Kevin eager to betray his wife when he meets sexy lawer, if he wasn't a lawer. Nearly all the main problems in the film are not rooted in law and its performance but in difficoulties in relationships.

Law chamber and a court are just the background for never satisfied ambition of a young perfectionist, battlefield for desires. Why law then? I'd say: because it suits the popular idea that to win a case, a lawer needs to be specially gifted. Not everyone can be a lawer - it requires some inborn skill, tendency to manipulate others to conduct the ceremony of bullshit. This, on the other hand, is widely associated with some evil forces and so, a lawer is considered to serve rather evil than good. Furthermore, a lawer plays with the truth, sieves the doubt, ruffles minds, which are mainly demons' 'vices'. Moreover, in this film I see the reference to Dante's image of hell. Hierarchical structure of law chamber resembles floors of hell - more immoral cases you win, closer to devil you get. Modern law chambers work like corporations: you need to win, no matter the truth, to climb up the leather of promotion.

Nevertheless, the film shows one very important ethical problem, namely: is the defender's job to win the case or to do morally right thing? Of course, those two don't need to exclude each other but often they stay in opposition. Kevin says: "Lose? I don't lose! I win! I win! I'am a lawer, that's my job, that's what I do." With this approach a lawer can fullfill his ambition, be as competitive as he likes and no-one will blame him for his vanity. It works like a moral schield, he does need to spend time and burn himself emotionally to think about the amount of input he needs to bring into the case. On one hand, it speeds upproceedings and makes client-defender relations easier because purely professional, but on the other side, don't good lawers then have too much power on the justice administration? If they win a case without much moral consideration they become just robotes, machines to produce innocent people. However, isn't formalism inscribed into every profession? It would be just too hard make a spiritual connection with every client and also, isn't it judge's job to make a judgement? A lawer should start from tabula rasa,no bias and with the presumption of innosence. In addition, not getting too emotional about cases makes you get rid of guilt: yet, you never know if someone is really guilty or innocent and so, you don't mind so much being wrong. Nevertheless, although from the calculation formalism prevails with non-formal, emotional approach towards defended, the film shows that the right thing is to be moral and follow the will of the crowd who wants a pedophile to be sentenced. Eh, Hollywood... Perhaps it is somehow educational to indoctrinate people with the concept of lawers worshipping the 'higher good' but would they be happy if their lawer in their own case say "I will not defend You, it is not my job to serve the accused when I think society would not like it". I doubt people would be glad to hear it themselves, but when it comes to collective justice administration they prefer that lawers mirror the popular views and not represent the individual.

The other thing about this film (I have mentioned it before) is how it presents the profession of lawers. The best scene to ilustrate the demeaning character of the film in this regard is the one when John Millton asks Kevin Lowmax why, he thinks, is he 'that fucking good'. Later, he explains that it is not the skill he acquired, not the things he learned, but the inborn quality received with genes that made him win. This pretty much reproduces the stereotype that lawers need to bad guys not shaped by social circumstances and morality but led by internal drives which tell them to fulfill their need of power. What's even worse, a lawer (or actually: lawers, because John has also a daughter who takes commercial cases, as opposed to criminal, Kevin's cases) is a devil's child. Not only his lawer. Not only a subordinate with the possibility to change his mind and walk away from the darkness. The are connected forever which dramatically changes the situation and de-equibalances hell-heaven relationship. Hence, a lawer is somehow obliged towards evilness, defender needs to be a badass. Although, at the end, Kevin rejects father's proposals, he needs to kill himself for things to get better. It leaves the viewer with the impression that a lawer will not escape the dark side till he's dead. Unpleasant. 

It would be strange if the good wouldn't win in the film but I'd prefer it to win in more realistic manner. The film is generally cheesy and doesn't reach very deep. It delegates, however, devil to only one area of life - law, which is helpful if we think how many other issues could have been degradeted by him. He could have whispered into people's ears and suggest to committ sins. Instead he 'just' jurks off judges. 

Are law chambers the habitat of devil? Maybe, but it is all about free will then.    

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Sue

    I’ve become quite interested lately in the way parents entertain/distract their children when they are bored or upset. I visited a castle recently and there was a couple with their little girl who was about three (certainly no older). I think it was rather ambitious of them to embark on viewing a large castle with her but they were obviously extremely interested in the castle and were studying everything in great detail. The little girl was getting quite upset and lying on the floor crying and holding onto her Mums leg in an effort to get her attention. Her mother started to divert her attention by asking how many elephants she could see in a carving. This helped for a short time but she soon got fed up so her Mum started reading to her from the information cards and the little girl appeared to understand everything she was saying, though some of it was in very complicated language. At this point her mother gave her the card and said “What else does it say about this room?” and the little girl began telling her in a sort of gobbledygook language as if she was reading from the card. This kept her amused for ages while her Mum interspersed with exclamations like “Gosh, that’s amazing!”

    09 Aug 2009, 20:58

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