‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ as conceit

In schools we are trying to help young people to to develop the skills and desire to serve their communities. We hope they will avoid simple caricatures, and seek to develop a deep understanding of people’s histories, beliefs and motivations. We hope they will enjoy learning and take on the challenge of improving things in a sustained fashion. We hope they will be creative, and not conceited.

Ugly.

Matthew Vaughn’s latest film Kingsman: The Secret Service carries within it all that is ugly about the edges of Epicurean thought.

As I exited the cinema I had the overwhelming impression that the response I was supposed to have was that the director is really brave and clever. Violence used as a comic art form. Violence for the connoisseur. A redemptive Pygmalion of violence.

And the purpose of the film? Repeat after me: All admire Matthew Vaughn.

Perhaps in a world where we can now view real Isis violence online, or can conceive, oh too easily, that it might come from someone else’s ideology to our city, Vaughn might think that we need some violent catharsis in in our cinemas. Perhaps to help us cope. To relieve the stress.

Yet this film is a Hamlet of violence. There are so many people that the viewer is supposed to hate that the film just ends up equivocating about the value of being human altogether. Consider the various groups upon which one is permitted to lump one’s scorn:

  • Students of prominent British universities
  • Working class men
  • Middle American church goers
  • Politicians
  • Scandinavian social progressives

And, in the end, when the prodigal son saves the world by mass murder, his reward is (spoiler alert) anal sex with a princess. Well done Matthew! As the Principal of a school dedicated to building agency and equality: ‘thanks’ for depicting sexual power over young women’s bodies as the prize. Oh, and yes, she is blonde after all.

Yes there is a code of treating each other with dignity among the kingsmen. They are knights of the Round Table. In the first half of the film this notion shows lots of promise. But in my cinema the audience was silent during the carnage in the church. I felt like Vaughn wanted me to be entertained by Rwanda in the 1990s, like he was saying maybe the Hutu broadcasters of hatred had a point.

Contrast the actual approach of forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda with the visceral ugliness of Kingsman.

I believe Kingsman is on the cultic edge of Epicureanism. In the West now a significant proportion of our television shows are about us living the good life: eating for flavour and pleasure, building for status and style, the pursuit of our happiness now.

We want to depict our little dramas over food choices and house building as worthy of large emotive responses. Let’s all cry when someone is voted out. These things are within our control. Our televisions show little of the world’s actual issues. Who has heard of the Assyrian Genocide? Who has heard of the Justice Mission? Poverty and exploitation are for occasional consideration on SBS.

Even with China’s growth, we know that only a relatively small portion of the world shares the possibility of this ‘good’ life. Thus we have huge issues world wide with immigration, violence and political instability. Vaughn’s answer: make a new art form that enables us to cope with the violence. Make the violence a form of entertainment.

And have the people the Director doesn’t like getting it in the neck. Don’t try to understand the huge variety of thought and contribution of religious people: just have them smash each other. Don’t appreciate the research coming out of Cambridge and Oxford – just vote them out of The House.

Yes, I know, I am reading it too literally. It is a farce. It makes fun of itself. The joke is on the person who watches it too seriously. The joke is on me.

That’s OK. Then I say I would love to see us creating art that firstly seeks to understand the bigger issues we face, and secondly, seeks to assist us to serve each other to address them.

Oh yes, and I recognise escapism has a place. But  Kingsman is a perverse escapism.

And finally, if there are ‘A’ List actors, doesn’t that mean that a chief purpose of the film is so that we can admire them? Doesn’t the choice to have them mean that the film is ‘OK’? Its values are mainstream. They are beyond the hatred ascribed to other groups. Where is the film where the ‘A’ list actors all slaughter each other for being greedy?

I confess to being angry about this film. Perhaps my response is what Vaughn wants. Better to get a response than to get boredom.

Well I won’t be rushing back to one of his films.

I have to conclude that Kingsman is really a form of filmic conceit. It creates us as a chattering class. Its purpose is to make us smug that we can be so clever as to create such art.

In that way it is the opposite of a good education. It creates caricatures, it has little to no nuance. It is its own admirer.

 

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