Monday, January 12, 2004

The Anal Movie Critic, Guest Edition

I’ve often used this space to critique films from a politico-economic perspective. But here’s my brother Neal’s take on “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” from a linguistic perspective [note 1: the adolescent-girl speech pattern is deliberate] [note 2: warning, spoiler alert]:
Like, you know what would've been cool? When Eowyn is trying to get a can of whup-ass open on the master Ringwraith? And he says, "You fool! No man can kill me!", and then Merry sticks him in the calf with his sword? And he drops Eowyn, and she pulls off her helmet and her long golden tresses fall down upon her shoulders? And she says, "I'm no man!" and shoves her sword right into his helmet?

Like, he should have said, "Foolish girl, to think you can overcome me with your silly word games! Don't you know that when I said 'man' I didn't mean 'male'; I meant 'human'! Now you die!"

Yep. If they'd been speaking a language like Latin (with 'vir' vs. 'homo') or ancient Greek (with 'aner' vs. 'anthropos'), they wouldn't have had this confusion.
Of course, word games have a long pedigree in literature, as my cousin Todd recognizes in his reply to Neal:
Yeah, and if Macbeth had said, "Macduff, you dumbshit, Caesarians don't count!"
(Actually, I think he means Caesarians do count [as “of woman born”], but you get the idea.)

Another, more recent example comes from the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A prophecy says that Slayer will face the Master (a very powerful vampire) and die at his hands. Well, it turns out the writers of these prophecies had a different definition of death -- one that doesn’t account for modern resuscitation techniques. Buffy faces the Master, and he chokes her to death. Minutes later, a friend revives her with CPR, and she comes back to kick the Master’s ass. I like this story better than the others (“no man” and “of woman born”) because the linguistic ambiguity results from a historical change in what it actually means to be dead (at one time, what happened to Buffy would indeed have been considered death), as opposed to a linguistic ambiguity that would have been apparent even at the time the prophecy was made.

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