Friday, October 3, 2014

The Equalizer: Gotta Be Who You Are In This World

Robert McCall is a nice guy. He challenges people to succeed with "Progress, not perfection," and he doesn't shame them for their failures. He befriends people whom others reject or ignore, like an overweight employee and a young prostitute named Teri. He's a great boss, a good neighbor, and a voracious reader of classic literature. He's also - unbeknownst to them - a mix of Repairman Jack, Jack Reacher, and Liam "I Have A Very Particular Set Of Skills" Neeson.

One night, during one of the frequent times his path crosses with Teri's at a diner, Robert asks her why she hasn't pursued a music career.
"You and I know what I really am."
"I think you can be anything you want to be."
"Maybe in your world, Robert. It doesn't really happen that way in mine."
"Change your world."
If only life were that simple. When it becomes painfully clear that her world will kill her, he decides to change it for her. The bad guys drag other people for whom he cares into the conflict, and he unleashes a one-man war of vigilante justice. In spite of his anger, he gives those deserving of judgment a chance to do the right thing. He might do justice, but he offers mercy. Most of them refuse it. It's a bad call on their part, because Robert is going to make sure they reap what they sowed. He stays true to his life philosophy: "When somebody does something unspeakable, you do something about it, 'cause you can."

He's a vigilante knight in shining but tarnished armor, fighting for good in a world that believes his kind of noble warrior only appears in fictional books. Teri sure doesn't think men like him exist when she meets him. She believes by the end of the movie.


In spite of its flaws,* The Equalizer lingers with me. "You do something about it, 'cause you can." None of us have Robert's ability to fix those kind of horrible situations, but we all know of bad circumstances around us in need of redemption: women who are used up and discarded by men; children who are abandoned by parents; people who are broken, confused and without hope. All of us know of things from which we cannot - or at least should not - walk away, no matter the cost.

There's a great scene at the beginning of the movie when Teri asks Robert what happens in"The Old Man and the Sea." Robert tells her that the old man catches the fish. She asks, "Why didn't he just let the fish go?" Robert replies,
"Old man's gotta be the old man. Fish has got to be the fish. Gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what." 
It's not fatalistic resignation. It's also not parroting some asinine version of, "You are beautiful just the way you are!" Robert was pointing out that we are all made for a purpose, with a role to play. We gotta find that purpose and live it. It's an acknowledgment that we are made for some things and not others. That's why Robert wants to see Teri leave prostitution; it's also why he has to fight to help her.  

I've recently read some articles about what it means to be a man. A lot of virtual ink gets spilled as people yell (in caps) at each other about what makes a man a 'real man'. You know who the real men are? They are the ones who long for goodness and mercy to rule the day, but are willing to put on the armor of justice and righteous anger as they battle corruption, abuse and exploitation. Real men fight with pens, hugs, laws, songs and movies, in classrooms, businesses, schools and families. Sometimes the fight is violent (as can be seen in what's happening with ISIS right now), but most of the action happens when we volunteer at a shelter, or speak a timely word, or offer a tearful prayer, or adopt a kid, or show a woman what it means to be valued and loved.

As the movie winds down, Robert gets a plaintive message online: "I'm in trouble. Can you help me?" He pauses for a moment then responds simply, "Yes." We gotta' be who we were made to be. That's how all of us can change the world.

* The Equalizer contains a lot of violence and swearing. A clear view of the darkness can help us more fully appreciate the light, but be aware that the darkness swirling around the evil in this film is deep. Even Robert is not above reproach. He reminds me a little of another strong fictional hero,  Jonathan Maberry's Joe Ledger. Like Ledger, Robert has to become a Warrior to do what Warriors do, and when he does he tiptoes on the edge of the abyss. But he never loses sight of who he is meant to be, and he always comes back. 


  1. Washington, as always, holds the attention, finding in McCall a vulnerability that goes beyond the script's lip service.

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