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The Final Conflict

Posted by estevennewby@yahoo.com on March 23, 2013 at 11:00 PM

I once heard someone refer to fiction as an entertaining dialogue of ideas and themes. We see how an idea emerges, explore its antithesis, and watch how they resolve themselves. All too often we find these story elements duking it out in a final contest of strength and validity. This would be our classic good guy pummeling the sneaky bad guy. Why does this dynamic emerge so often in our culture’s fiction? Why do we have so few stories involving the other way ideas and their counterparts can come together: the synergy? Are we adverse to instances in which the characters transcend the struggle?


Maybe those are silly questions. But in prep for this blog post, I had a struggle of my own finding pop-culture examples of stories that don’t actually involve the supremacy of one idea over the other. Here are two: In The Dark Crystal, we find that what we at first take for the final battle between the Mystics and the Skeksis is in fact a reunification of the two forces each represent. Both are half of the sundered Urskeks. We see this again at the close of the Matrix trilogy, where Neo and Smith merge, after lots of kicking, bashing and an epic-temper tantrum, thus balancing the equation.


There is a vastly different psychology underlying this merging of elements, than what we find in the stereo-typical story climax composed of a battle of wills (and usually to the death). In the more ubiquitous approach, these problems tend to be regarded with in the same contempt we would have toward a pile of dog-droppings on the living room rug. The problem, perpetuated by the antagonist, is as an intrusion into our otherwise orderly world. It is the essence of a symptomatic response. Whooping one bad guy after another is the equivalent of cleaning up dog-droppings after dog-droppings, without attempting to deal with the cause of the problem. This is fine if cleaning up messes is all we’re really into, but it only creates bigger, more complex messes. To stretch our overly-burdened metaphor just a little further: If we just keep cleaning up our dog’s Oopses from the living room (and never attempt to address the matter of why the dog is doing his business inside), we may not notice that all his dog pee has done extensive damage to the subfloor beneath the carpet. Likewise, if we invest all our energy in stamping out one criminal after another, we wind up with sneakier, more deviant criminals. I suppose that’s why the bad guys are always tougher in the sequels.


Stories are mirrors. They’re reflections of the culture who tell them. If we tell a story a certain way enough times, we start to believe that’s really how the world works. The world is full of good guys and bad guys. I’ve heard this echoed many times, and not just from authors. From arm chair philosophers. From neighbors. It’s the justification for war, for why certain politicians must or must not be elected. There is no grey area. In our stories, we so often see clear-cut, if flawed, good guys, and their irredeemable counterparts. Seldom do we wonder where the characters we’re following stand.


There’s a story I hear a lot of people telling today, whether it’s true or not remains to be seen: We as a people are heading for a final confrontation of our own. Maybe it’s Patriots against Tyranny, or Conservativism verses Liberalism. The march of technological progress verses environmental and cultural sustainability. Maybe it’s Democracy against freedom-hating Terrorists in the Middle East, or a conflict foretold in the pages of scripture. Whatever the dichotomy, battle-lines are being drawn. The question we must ask is what kind of a confrontation will it be? To the death, or to the transcendence?


Categories: film & book

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