“That thing you thought was disposable cultural grist is actually Great” is an easy pitch to make, because it melds “tfw too smart to enjoy popcorn cinema” and “I enjoy bad movies ironically” into the self-actualizing synthesis of “aktschually, Liam Neeson jumping over a fence at two cuts per second is a masterpiece of impressionist filmmaking”. Nevertheless! Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Popular things are popular for a reason – it might be because it’s the cultural equivalent of stepped-on tourist coke that’s merely as close as you can get to an authentic 1970s masterpiece, but usually there’s at least a nugget of meaning.
“Taken” is written really, really straightforwardly on an objective basis, with absolutely nothing slowly becoming apparent. Within 30 seconds of a character being introduced, you know everything you need to know about them. The ex wife Lenore is a CUNT. Their daughter Kim is CHASTE and DOTING and LOVELY. Her friend Amanda is a SLUT. The first European they meet, an Albanian procurer, is a CREEP. And Neeson’s Bryan Mills himself is, of course, a DEVOTED DAD with a VERY PARTICULAR SET OF SKILLS.
So the question is, what are we doing here. Mills is not an audience stand-in; he is not “having a normal one” before circumstances force him to become who we are, a la Charles Bronson in Death Wish – he’s ex Green Beret, ex CIA, etc. So this is not a fantasy, but the opposite – a contrastive experience.
Sometimes, as in John Wick, the contrast is because the character is heroic, or anti-heroic – the fantastical elements elevate the aesthetic experience and we see them as in some sense an aspirational / cautionary / archetypal character, but not one meant for explicit audience projection. I would argue Mills’ character does not work in this way. Frankly, he is too inhuman to be heroic – improbably polite to his ex wife (who, just to drive the point home, is established as a “just sign the fucking papers” turbocunt), improbably focused on exactly the right thing to do, improbably competent at doing it, and so on. He’s not so much a character as a collection of particular skills barreling forward into the plot.
So Mills isn’t meant to be “you”, or “us”, he’s something else. A trite answer is “the United States of America” – impossibly competent and violent, flying to Europe to rescue its patrimony from the brown Muslim horde (recall that the movie came out at the tail end of the Bush years) and clean out the degenerate European aristos. The naive American girls don’t even recognize the danger – they think the swarthy “Peter” who insinuates himself into their cab and targets them is a suave Parisan, and Abby immediately plans to throw herself at him sexually (fortunately, she dies later as punishment). Only Mills’ embodied security state recognizes that Europe isn’t Europe anymore, but filled with predators, even before the inciting incident.
This reading is valid, but sexual and security politics don’t blend easily in the normie mind – our women are strong and independent, and if they want to screw around like Abby, that is a personal rather than political matter. The level of abstraction required to integrate the symbology here doesn’t make for enough visceral appeal to explain two sequels worth of popularity.
Another answer is that Mills is meant to be explicitly Not You. The point of being impossibly confident and skilled isn’t to aspire to that level of perfection, but rather to simultaneously place it out of reach and imply its necessity. In other words, unless you’re accustomed to deploying remedial car batteries, good luck keeping your daughter from sleeping her way through her study abroad semester. Learned helplessness is the goal.
This reading works because of the absurdity of the threat. The threat is not loss of virtue or the regrets that follow when one has tried out every bunk in the hostel, but rather being abducted, drugged, and auctioned off in an underground lair by Albanian gangsters. The problem is impossible, and so is the solution, and thankfully that’s the only thing you have to worry about – it amounts to nothing.
But discard Mills altogether, and what McGuffin are we left with: the daughter, Kim. The filmwriting maxim is “show, don’t tell” – but it’s more interesting when they explicitly show the exact opposite of what they tell. More room to maneuver, we could say. The first act of the film is Mills trying to “connect” with his daughter after a childhood of lengthy absences, and being worried about “losing her” – we know this because someone says it. But the daughter is nothing but warm and doting to her father, she is overjoyed at his gifts, she seeks his approval and tries to follow his advice (modulo the folly of youth), and so on. She is a virgin and scoffs at her friend’s vow to sleep with literally the first ersatz Frenchman she meets. She at least purports to culture and learning. Reciprocally, her father tries to fulfill every desire she has and wants nothing but the best for her. The sum of this is that the daughter’s fantasy from the perspective of both her and her father is that she is worth protecting.
If we unify these, the popularity is fully explained. Your daughter is great, just great, with a great life ahead of her, despite your past mistakes. The only thing that could go wrong is if she is TAKEN by Albanian mobsters – and what are the odds of that, if you avoid Eurotrash and stick to more wholesome endeavors like becoming a pop singer. If she gets taken hard enough, perhaps Uncle Sam will send a good old fashioned one man death squad to give her back.
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I’m confused, is the takeaway that we’re meant to project on the daughter, and that’s why it’s a great and popular movie?
(NB: haven’t seen it.)
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The message is, “Go to sleep, Boomer. We’ll take good care of your children.”
The speaker is the unfireable US cointelpro “community”.
I guess it makes sense that message would be popular with Boomers. Thanks for explaining.
The takeaway is always execute pedos.
I like that message!
Reblogged this on Calculus of Decay .
The father’s improbable set of skills is necessary to sustain the “action” half of the action-romantic plotline, but their improbability is tempered by ordinary suspension of disbelief. The violence makes the movie generally appealing, but the core of the story, his all-in intent to protect his vulnerable daughter-innocent from the predators of the world, is the narrative undercurrent with which the Boomer-Father target audience resonates. This other, “romantic” half is the emotionally salient fantasy that your daughter is the chaste traveler in Dusk World even as her friends are observably unlimited nasty sluts. “The goal” is not the communication of learned helplessness but the soothing reassurance that if your daughter were to leave home and find herself caught up in an unrelenting conveyor belt of cocks, which she herself definitely wouldn’t be at all responsible for, you would find it in yourself to reconnect your testicles to your bloodstream, disobey the lawl, manly extricate her from the crisis, and save your bloodline from the icy maw of the powers-that-be.
What? There were no pedos. But a movie where Liam Neeson has to rescue his son from being adopted by fags would be a much better film.
Most confused review evah.
It’s an IQ test tbh fam (fr fr).