Civilizing the savage man

leoRevenant“Revenant” is a gritty and terrifying western about Hugh Glass, a 19th Century frontiersman, left for dead after a mind-chilling, grizzly bear attack.

Glass crawls and limps, near death, bleeding from open sores, suffering unremitting pain, across hundreds of miles, to find and to kill the man who abandoned him who was charged with keeping him alive; Leonardo DiCaprio gives an Academy Award-winning performance as Glass in Alejandro Inarritu’s amazing movie.

It’s a primal story of survival, devotion, relentless cliff-hanging danger, disaster, betrayal, torment, violence, revenge, and human savagery.

This is a vivid rear view reflection on a society with little use for law or custom.

This is a world, both primitive and elemental, played out before sweeping scenic panoramas so wild and untamed that life is continuously at risk, both from the natural surroundings but also from the savage man.

Aristotle wrote that, “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separate from law and justice he is the worst.

In the movie, Revenant, man is at his worst.

Revenant is an excursion into savagery and teaches the value of law and civility.

Revenant means “a return,” derived from the French, revenir, to return.

We have presidential candidates, however, that brag they want to strap on a side arm or mount a Winchester long rifle by the front door, in other words, return to those savage times.

This past Sunday, Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio explained, with gusto, why he bought a rifle on Christmas Eve: “I have a right to protect my family if someone comes after us” and then Marco, the paranoid, in a moment of embarrassing, proudful inflation, added, he was “including ISIS” among those who might “come after” his family.

How many more inexpert home-bound gun slingers will shoot a boy sneaking home late, or scare officers to fear a troubled youth they shoot instead of helping, or turn a domestic dispute into a wake because a spouse who made a sudden ambiguous move that might mean he had a weapon.

We have an overage of testosterone among our so-called “leaders,” urging the citizenry to arm and war.

We have the law so that we don’t hit or shoot each other.

The law is, at its best, a system of legal duties.

Oliver Wendell Holmes described the system as, “a prediction that, if a man does or omits certain things, he will be made to suffer in this or that way by judgement of the court; and so of a legal right.”

In other words, you have a right to be free, but this is a freedom with responsibility, and you are punished if you violate that law.

We have an epidemic of people across the nation who “know better” than their duty under the law.

We have presidential primary candidates in the Republican Party encouraging masses of people to ignore, disrespect, and disregard the law.

They pander to the lowest common denominator, to the savage in man.

In the theatrical tour de force, “A Man for All Seasons,” William Roper says to Sir Thomas More, “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”

More responds with a question, “Yes, What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”

Roper says, “Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”

More says, “Oh, And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast. Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

Let Senator Rubio cower in fear in his foyer with his newly bought rifle.

But let’s the rest of us improve and adapt our delicate framework of law and civility under siege by the savage in man.