Thursday, 1 November 2018

The Dark Love Story: Why The Crow Is A Perfect Romance

Last week, I watched The Crow, which is one of my all-time favourite movies.  It's full of tragedy, romance, and quotable lines.  Since it is Hallowe'en, I thought I'd take a moment to examine why it works as a romance even though the primary couple is murdered in the first few minutes.  (This is gonna have spoilers and if you haven't seen the movie then I highly recommend pausing and having a watch because it is just that beautiful.  Trigger warnings for rape and violence.)

Eric Draven and Shelley Webster are a couple in love, planning their wedding when four men break into their apartment and kill them both.  A year later, a crow brings Eric back from the land of the dead and he hunts down the men who hurt and killed Shelley.  And not just those directly involved, but the pawn shop owner who accepts stolen goods, knowing that his clients have hurt or killed their original owners, and the organized crime kingpin who ordered Eric and Shelley's apartment block cleared and holds the city hostage through violence and arson.  When they are all dead, Eric returns to his grave where Shelley is waiting for him and they fade into the afterlife together.

While I realize the "kill the girl to motivate the hero" trope is problematic, this particular example has always swept right past my conscious mind to hit me right in the feels.  Eric isn't looking for anyone else.  He is utterly devoted to Shelley and comes back because he can't rest due to the injustice of what's happened to them.  It is never directly said, but it is implied that if the city had been less corrupt, and those who attacked him and Shelley had been held accountable, he wouldn't have needed to return to life.  The original comic was written by James O'Barr after his wife and young daughter were killed in a random shooting.  O'Barr was also injured and spent a long time physically recovering from his injuries.  He's said it was like coming back from the dead and The Crow grew out of a need to give himself closure.  For me, that's enough to make the difference.  The story is coming out of a place of authentic pain rather than a quick plot twist to provide motivation.

The story is, on the surface, a story of revenge and justice.  Eric heals instantly from his injuries, can wield martial arts and weapons with a superhero's ease, and is fearless in the face of those who have used terror as a weapon.  But it isn't a "fists solve all problems" story.  Eric absorbs memories from objects and people.  He takes the memory of 30 hours of Shelley's pain as she struggled to survive in the hospital from the cop who stayed at her side and transfers them to the crimelord, allowing him to truly experience the suffering of his victims.  Eric's abilities were the inspiration for my own first hero, Michael, because I've always thought the power to experience things through others' eyes would be one of the most incredible superpowers.  

There are plenty of people who enjoy the movie for its action (and I am one of them) but there's also a deeper story, an urging to take the time to connect with our loved ones and enjoy the moments we have with them.  Eric says "Little things used to mean so much to Shelley, and I always thought they were kind of trivial....  Believe me, nothing is trivial."  His love for her is the defining element of his character and shown beautifully in the cinematography choices.  The current day scenes are almost black and white in their starkness, while the flashbacks that tell the story of Eric and Shelley's love are soft and warm and full of colour.  Those are the most important parts, not the necessity of doing what needs to be done.

To qualify as a romance, a story needs to focus on the relationship between the hero and heroine and have a happily ever after.  Although The Crow is dark and deals with tragedy of the most devastating kind, the visual and emotional emphasis on the flashbacks are why it has continued to endure when other stories of revenge-action have faded from the collective memory.  And although Eric and Shelley are both dead, they do end up together and happy, presumably to exist in peace beyond the reach of the pain of the mortal world.  So I am happy to shelve it as a dark romance.

There was talk a few years ago about possibly doing a remake.  I don't think there's a way to reasonably improve the original but I've always felt there was potential for other stories of other lost souls returning on dark feathered wings to make right what once went wrong.  (And yes, I was a fan of the short-lived TV series.)   If someone was going to remake The Crow, I would hope they would do it as an extension of the mythology.  I'd love to see a story about a mother or wife returning to wreak the same kind of vengeance on those who hurt her family.  But in the meantime, when I feel like the world has lost its hope and that justice seems to be more of a punchline than a goal, I remember the story of Eric and Shelley and remind myself that no matter how dark the clouds are in the moment, it can't rain all the time.  And I hold the final words of the movie close: Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever.

If you'd like to check out Michael and Dani's story, Revelations, the first book of the Lalassu series is currently on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee.  Michael uses his ability to sense emotions and memories through touch to work with developmentally challenged children and when one of them is kidnapped, he plunges into a world of secret superpowers that he never knew existed.

Or you can have a look at last week's blogpost: October's Hidden Diamond: Rosanna Leo and the Vegas Sins series.

Or just take a look at the blog homepage.

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