Death Wish (1974)

Death Wish is a second-amendment loving, pull-yourself-up-from-your-bootstraps preaching, take no prisoners kind of movie that champions eye-for-an-eye styled justice. Sadly, these kinds of stories sorely lack in the cultural zeitgeist of film today. Instead, moviegoers are reprimanded from desiring to see wastrels get their comeuppance. And instead of taking matters into their own hands, they are encouraged to soften or, as paraphrased by the movie itself, “They’re bleeding-heart liberals.” 

That was who the main character, Paul Kersey was; an apologist for criminals and their nefarious deeds — chalking up all social ills to nothing but poverty. His world is turned upside down when his wife is murdered and his daughter beaten and raped in a rather unsettling scene. That tragedy was the catalyst  that began to change his worldview. The transformation from excuse-maker to a gun-wielding vigilante who cleans up the streets of New York are cemented when he goes to Arizona for a business trip. A colleague of his teaches him about the beauty of guns and taking matters into your own hands; to defend the land, family, and that which you cherish. An NRA member’s wet dream. 

What truly makes this film stand out from the modern heroic stories is that Kersey does not mope, feel remorse, or even question whether or not what he is doing is the right thing. He is quick, clean, and exact in his doling out of justice. Kersey does not involve anyone who does not cry out for their destruction and revels in his Lex Talionis style of retribution. Hell, after he takes out the human garbage of the urban landscape for a few weeks he rewards himself by redecorating his home, eats good food, listens to swinging music and overall has an energetic new outlook on life. You know, the finer things in life. No brooding, sad, this-is-the-cross-I-bear mental masturbation that has become ubiquitous of “heroes” for the past several years. 

Even more refreshing is that the movie also shows how taking such an approach can embolden others to take control of their lives. Kersey develops a supportive following with one rather lively scene of an old lady telling her story of how she thwarted the efforts of some would-be muggers, to daytime news outlets: All with a smile of pride painted across her face. Kersey has the general support of the working class and even (albeit, in secret) some of the police force. The only ones who look down on his efforts are the snooty-liberal uppercrust of society, all of which are showcased as being out of touch with reality. Couldn’t make this film in today’s media climate!

Whether you love the message or view it as conservative clap-trap, it is undeniable: Death Wish is a Satanic film that extolled swift justice over injustice, and self-preservation being the highest law. After all, you should always look out for number one. 

[- D.A. Marshall]
Movie on IMDB

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