Movies always have a point, it isn’t an explicit point, but movies do make a decision of how to portray humanity in a display of what is good and evil. I recently watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier and I am struck by its portrayal of good and evil. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, the way it keeps one in suspense, the pace of action, and even the plot (which can sometimes be a rarity in these sorts of movies). However the movie did leave me thinking about the nature of government and how good and evil are perceived by people in the West today.
I believe that the central point of this movie is the purpose of governments. I propose that there are two main government archetypes that also define what it means to be good and what it means to be evil in this film: (1) government exists for the preservation of liberty or (2) government exists for the creation of order and right behaviour. In the movie we find that good good government supports the right of individuals to choose both right and wrong, and that evil means we wish to impose a vague sense of order, as set by the few on others. For us living in the 21st century this is a very important question. Was Snowden (reflected in Black Widow setting lose the darkest parts of SHIELD for the world) right? Or is the NSA justified? In the West, especially those who are younger, take Snowden’s side because we believe, implicitly, that governments should be liberal in how they control the lives of people. However, so many others would believe that order is more important, that people cannot necessarily be trusted with finding their own good. Captain America left no middle ground. The members of SHIELD were made to choose between the destroyers of the middle way, led by Captain America, and those who wanted the extreme of order, HYDRA.
Many of us, though preferring individual liberty over imposed order, fail to find fault in the actions of Captain Amerca and we enter into the realm of ethics where we apply inconsistent principles towards what people do on screen. For example, HYDRA agents are in the wrong because they are intending to impose order through force and death, but Captain America’s use of lethal force is right because his actions increase liberty for all. So killing the few so that all might have peace is wrong, but killing the few so that all might have more liberty is right. What makes Captain America implicitly justified? What makes liberty more important over peace? In this case, we view people that would harm a concept of liberty to be inherently in the wrong. Thus, it is because he is killing those that would impose a vision of society through force that makes the actions of Captain America justified. So regardless of wrongs that Captain America does in failing to follow orders and in using excessive amounts of lethal force by assuming all on the ships are evil, we find Captain America still to be good. So, perhaps ironically, both sides forward a sort of consequentialist ethics that treats the final result as the most important part of what we do and not the process by which we get there.
As a Christian I find myself somewhat outside of this dichotomy as both end up failing humanity. Why? Because orthodox Reformed Christianity teaches that people will always, in the end, prefer the absence of good over good itself. People have a tendency to be in rebellion towards God; they have concupiscence and so liberty is an option that is bound to fail. However, imposed order by higher powers also fails as the call to follow Christ is individual and not able to be imposed and both of the proposed purposes of government fail. However, for Christians, liberty should cease to be about choosing what one wants (recognizing that what we want is usually the lesser good); rather, liberty is choosing what is right over over a loose conception of freedom by following the call of Jesus Christ to surrender. So in one odd sense, Christianity chooses the latter model that the movie advocates — individual liberty is paramount in that we have to choose to do right having been given the ability to, but Christianity becomes a choice to voluntarily embrace the first option and create order by submitting before Jesus and confessing that Jesus is Lord. Christian freedom is not anarchy; it is instead the acceptance of higher order in a society that increasingly prefers individual choice.
Captain America has themes which strike directly at the heart of what it means to be human and what it means to be Christian. There is a story of redemption mirroring the Christian view of Christ’s role where Bucky forms the archetype of humanity, having entirely lost himself, and Captain America plays the role of the redeemer bringing back Bucky to a sense of humanity. However, the greatest message is that of the nature of freedom and government. There is also a message that there are only two options: order by force, or liberty of individual choice. Christianity, however, says that both of these options are false and the real option is that of voluntary surrender before Jesus Christ. This is the message of Christianity, that being unable to run ourselves, we give ourselves before a King who imposes an order we cannot understand, but in which we can find peace that transcends understanding.