July 20, 2005

Sin City only has one story which frames the entire structure: the man who keeps searching for something real and true, the woman who provides it, and the consequent destruction of one or the other by the environment which must reject such possibilities out of hand (lest people begin to hope).

Building on this hypothesis, I suggest that the stories of Marv and Dwight are alter ego "fantastic" reflections of the Hartigan core: each describing one possible thematic continuation from where Hartigan's story "stops", each exploring a different "what if" which turns out to be an inevitable dead end, within a social structure that (in the interests of its own survival) cannot allow even the possibility of hope, and uses its direct agents of "law" and "order" and politics to penicillin-remove dangers to its survival.

In the core story, Hartigan tries to protect a young girl from an extreme pedophile with political power (once removed). As he is waiting for the police to come, to protect her (as police should do): his own partner shoots him.

Fantasy #1: Twisted Failure/Revenge as Hope

Marv wakes up confused, after his angel has been killed. Just as Hartigan will be later (anticipating Hartigan's reality?), Marv is set up for the crime that has just brutally assaulted the female image of his own soul. Hope flirts through the possibility of revenge: not only the personal lash-out, but also perhaps the possibility of keeping whoever was responsible from doing it to others? Marv's pursuit of the blood trail leads him to the cannibal who eats people alive, a literal and very visceral dream image which reappears later, more abstractly, in Hartigan's understanding of "freedom": allow the system to eat your soul and you will be released. It is an insane image, disconnected from any conventional human reasoning: and while pursuing it, Marv's only tie to sanity (the parole officer who supplies his medication) is shot in front of his eyes. Marv finally ends up executed, eaten up, by the system ... precisely because he had attempted to pursue a rationality, a possibility of hope that the system cannot allow if it is to survive.

Fantasy #2: Twisted Success/Personal Empowerment as Hope

In trying to protect a dancer-prostitute from a gang, Dwight pursues the woman's tormenters into an inverted power structure, a world where the women (who, elsewhere, are de facto property) make their own laws and are quite capable of enforcing those laws themselves. Hope flirts through the possibility of personal empowerment: but it quickly becomes clear that power which does not reside with the existing agents of the Sin City society can only ever be an illusion. The "inverted" world turns out to be exactly the same as anywhere else. Its women hold an illusion of power -- but only on sufferance, so long as they do not attempt to exercise it against anyone representing "real" power. The woman Dwight is trying to protect knows the danger, but he cannot hear the warning until it is too late: and so once again, an agent of societal law, a hidden cop, becomes the agent of destruction of hope, a betrayal (of identity) betraying the possibility of hope as a whole. Power cares nothing for its surroundings except insofar as its identification of potential obstacles (potential limits on absolute exercise of power?). Thus truth, honesty, decency become the antitheses of freedom: hope that is known can be eradicated. The only hope for the women's continued freedom -- on sufferage -- is to hide the truth; as Hartigan will later hide the truth of who writes him the letters.

Success: Escaping the Shackles

Parallelling the hidden thread of hope; parallelling the earlier farmhouse quest: but the audience now has been shown that to follow either of these paths through is ultimately a dead end. There isn't anything personal in it, it just so happens that the system demands nothing less than to consume one's soul. And the power that maintains and supports that system can always uproot and overcome truth ... so long as the trappings and expression of that power are acknowledged to be relevant. Holding that key, Hartigan is able to identify and exercise his own moment of true power by destroying any dynastic hopes for his nemesis; and then he utterly abrogates any power the society can hold over him by taking his own existence out of consideration. Alone of all the characters, he has re-discovered hope -- by giving it to another. ("Death is your gift.")

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