The Psychology of X-People
By CHRISTIAN MOERK
IN the beginning, superheroes didn't have quite so much human baggage.
True, most of them started in strap-hanging form like the rest of us; there was Superman's workaday alter ego, Clark Kent, or the last iteration of the Green Lantern, whose human identity, Kyle Rayner, was an unsexy freelance artist. But they quickly outgrew mere people problems, even as the supervillains around them loomed just as large and otherworldly. The Joker and Green Goblin were regular fellows at birth, but soon became evil archetypes with few human traits to confuse our need to have good and evil duke it out in comics or, more recently, on screen.
Later, however, the superheroes got more complicated.
Tim Burton crossed a line with his 1992 dystopian fetish-fantasy EDITOR'S NOTE: OOO...'DYSTOPIAN FETISH-FANTASY'. OOOOO.....WELL PUT. (AND DOESN'T THAT MAKE YOU WANT TO GO OUT AND IMMEDIATELY DRESS IN BLACK LEATHER?!) "Batman Returns," in which hero and villain were equally human: We wept for Danny DeVito's Oswald Cobblepot because his parents abandoned him to become a misshapen Penguin. We pitied and lusted for Michelle Pfeiffer's Selena Kyle, because her repressed sexuality could only be released after a 50-foot drop that turned her, as Catwoman, into a representative of full-blown sadomasochism.
Now comes the third X-Men film, 20th Century Fox's "X-Men: The Last Stand," which is replete with mutant superbeings whose problems — give or take a few deadly energy bursts — are a compendium of psychological and sociopolitical woes only too familiar to the rest of us.
To sort through all the sources of their angst would take a college seminar, if not a Woody Allen dinner date.
Here are at least a few of the very human problems that the director Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour 2") and the writers Simon Kinberg ("Mr. and Mrs. Smith") and Zak Penn ("X2") tackle in the film, which opens on Friday:
AN ELECTRA COMPLEX
It is not giving away too much to say that Dr. Jean Grey, a k a Phoenix, played by Famke Janssen, has issues. And not the least of them is a controversial condition — conventionally called an Electra complex, the flip side of an Oedipal complex — in which some young women become unnaturally attached to their fathers and yet often wish to kill them in order to assume their power.
"Jean developed a dual personality," Professor X (the unfortunate father figure played by Patrick Stewart) explains at one point.
Indeed. According to the movie's writers Grey's fixation took them on a trip from classical mythology to clinical diagnosis.
"She's absolutely someone embodying Greek goddess, but also a human, grounded in Freudian terms, a victim, a schizophrenic," Mr. Kinberg said in a recent telephone interview from Los Angeles.
In a separate phone interview Mr. Penn acknowledged, "There's no question that there's an Oedipal drama played out." He added that Grey's psychological deterioration took its toll on the filmmakers, who were divided as to whether she would ever be well enough to rejoin the good mutants in their country refuge.
"There were a lot of extremely tense arguments of how far we could go with the Jean story," Mr. Penn said. "Some people really didn't want us to have her come back to the mansion. It was as tense arguments as I've even been involved with on a movie." EDITOR'S NOTE: I GUESS IT DEPENDS ON WHERE EACH OF THE WRITERS WAS IN THEIR OWN THERAPY...AND WHETHER OR NOT THEIR THERAPISTS WERE JUNGIANS OR FREUDIANS OR WHAT HAVE YOU....AS TO WHERE THEY CAME DOWN IN THIS ARGUEMENT?
THE EUGENICS DEBATE
"Mutant cure shots available here" reads a sign on the outside of Mr. Ratner's editing room on the Fox lot. And as anyone who has followed Web chatter about the movie knows, the ability to cure mutants isn't necessarily a good thing. Or a bad thing.
Instead it's a terrible social dilemma that entangles the X-Men and their adversaries in questions that would befuddle the shrewdest of medical ethicists.
It might be wonderful if a "cured" Rogue, played by Anna Paquin, could finally touch her lover without destroying him. But maybe Wolverine without his claws is just another hairy guy. EDITOR'S NOTE: HUGH JACKMAN? JUST ANOTHER GUY? DON'T THINK SO, BABY!
Is it better if mutant Goths — urged to "be what you are" — destroy the cure? Or should we hope their more wholesome mutant adversaries — though wary of dull normalcy — will save it? As in life, the questions outnumber the answers, if not the action beats.
RACE AND TERROR
Lurking deep in the tortured soul of this "X-Men," as with its predecessors, are questions about the way society treats its racial minorities — those who are born looking different — now compounded by the geopolitics of a mounting war against mutant terror.
It is probably no accident that Dr. Hank McCoy (Kelsey Grammer) is a shaggy blue mutant in the halls of the government, trying to mitigate the excesses of authority from within. (Think of an increasingly embattled Secretary of State Colin Powell holding the hawks at bay.)
Responsible leaders can hardly be blamed for striking back at a deadly threat from the equally blue Mystique and her ilk, as they do in "X-Men: The Last Stand." But is the president truly fighting evil when the worst mutants are carted off for their cure? Or is he lashing out at an entire ethnicity?
Mr. Penn said he doesn't see a hidden reference to immigrants, Arabs or any distinct ethnic group in his film. But he allowed that his thinking about the Department of Homeland Security may have influenced the script.
And as to the ruminations about a besieged society's way of dealing with the Other, he said, after a moment's thought, "You may have a point."
In the wake of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" plays and mini-series, it is difficult not to see a metaphor for the plight of young gay men in a subplot that involves Warren Worthington III, aka Angel.
Young Worthington, played by Ben Foster, on discovering that his own mutant gift is a pair of large, feathery white wings, tries to hack them off. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO....ANGELS ARE GAY, RAINBOWS ARE GAY....UMM, WHAT ELSE?!! NEXT SOMEONE IS GOING TO INFER THAT THE WHOLE BRITISH BOARDING-SCHOOL SYSTEM IS GAY! (SNICKER....)His shocked father, played by Michael Murphy, sets off on a quest for the cure, which his son and other mutants may not want. The filmmakers thus add another layer of psychological drama to a movie that is meanwhile pretty busy setting up battles between fire and ice, and testing the stability of the Golden Gate bridge.
Even if the X-Men themselves are too busy saving the world to seek expensive therapy, more earth-bound crew members, Mr. Kinberg said, may have benefited in unexpected ways.
"This is stuff that everyone working on the movie pays people in Beverly Hills $185 an hour for," he noted. "And I thought, 'Why don't we get rid of it through our day job?' "EDITOR'S NOTE: AND I REST MY CASE! (BOY MY MOM COULD HAVE MADE A MINT IF WE'D STAYED IN CALIFORNIA WHEN SHE SET UP HER SHRINK PRACTICE).