Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Professional Terrors: Lawyers In Horror Films

 [Lawyers] can make the worse appear the better cause, as though they were fresh from Leontine schools, and have been known to wrest from reluctant juries triumphant verdicts of acquittal for their clients, even when those clients, as often happens, were clearly and unmistakably innocent.
                                                                                         Oscar Wilde, "The Decay of Lying"

So we're into October and what's the point of having a horror blog if you can't do a series for the month that practically birthed the horror genre? (Answer: not much) So in the spirit of horror's unofficial birthday month I thought it'd be appropriate to take a look at one of the most terrifying facets of growing up - getting a job.

You can take all the high school equivalency tests you want and whether they say homemaker, restaurant owner or janitor of a remote hotel there's some horror behind each one. In this inaugural Professional Terrors post we're going to look at one of the most reviled and sinister jobs in the world, The Lawyer.

Now lawyers can fall into several categories; the evil defender of evil, the do-gooder Erin Brockovich type (pre-informercials) or the boring clerical type who's soul dies under a stack of paperwork.  The notion of legality and responsibility is an interesting discussion that can lead to a lot of philosophical and sociological debate and theorems.  Laws are made to uphold the well-being of a society but what happens when those that enforce the laws are incompasitated by their own desires and will. Is any ruling ever truly lawful and non-beneficial? Let's take a look.

Jonathan Harker (Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1992)

Mr. Harker is a young solictor sent to the Carpathian Mountains to sort out the paper work of the decaying Count Dracula. Who could have predicted that this simple business trip would cause havoc on the streets of Victorian London and give rise to one of the most iconic figures in horror? Certainly not Mr. Harker, who remains one of the driest literary/film characters ever. He is simple, methodical and frankly I think Mina would have had a lot more fun with Drac than listening to Jonathan ramble on about estate law for the rest of her years.

Arthur Kipps (The Woman in Black, 2012)

Kipps is yet again a solicitor who stirs the malevolent ghost of The Woman in Black by meddling in her house and her affairs. The 2012 film (based on the novel by Susan Hill which also spawned a stage play) is concerned with the notion of who claims responsibility and the encroachment of new technology in a small town. The town which has dealt which tragedy caused by the Woman is deathly afraid of new arrivals who might disrupt their tentative peace. But the townsfolk are not aware of the paper work that death brings about. At the passing of the death of Alice Drablow Kipps must spend time in the house to investigate any paper work that may have been overlooked or forgotten. Of course he fails to realize that upper-class reclusive families liked to shove scary and incriminating letters around the house for nosy solicitors to find. 

Kevin Lomax (The Devil's Advocate, 1997)

Lomax is a hot-shot trial lawyer in Florida who after getting a teacher off of sexual assault charges against his young student is invited by Al Pacino (I'm sure he had a character name but let's face it, it's Al Pacino) to earn more money than anyone should at his fancy Manhattan law firm. Lomax offers a glimpse into the seedier side of the law, defending clients who have done a terrible wrong against society and being able to get them a not-guilty sentence based on technicalities or by simply yelling at a young girl. The Devil's Advocate falls somewhere between an extended Law and Order episode and an old-school Morality Play. Morality Plays were popular in the Medieval era and usually followed an everyman kind of character as he is confronted with various sins and temptations and eventually learns to pick a godly life over a sinful life. Lomax faces every over the top temptation possible and must ultimately reject his uncanny ability of cheat the system. 

What we can see through these characters is lawyer as anti-hero or a hero with a sinister task. While all three of these characters are motivated by money in some regard they must traverse to a realm of evil and by tresspassing into it disturb some kind of evil. While that evil does not necessarily impact them initially, through cause and effect they are blamed to some extent for the results of the evil.

No matter what realm of law the lawyer is in, their actions almost always affect the innocent whether it be children or their friends and family. The lawyers are forced to pay by watching those around them suffer. Their trauma also broadens to society once they become aware of who has trespassed. Through the use of the lawyer character these films examine the responsibility of those who must uphold the law but are dealing with internal conflicts throughout.

What is most interesting to me about lawyers in horror films specifically is that they are tasked to uphold contemporary laws and procedures. Through the course of the film they discover that they are grappling with older forces that have dire consequences that they cannot necessarily explain to those who they report to. It's a fascinating look at our current needs vs the needs of the old world that like to remind us that it is always there just on the peripheries, watching and waiting.

In summation...
The Laywer
Pros: Lots of money if successful
Cons: A lot friends and family die if you are successful
Bottom Line: More room in your fancy condo

1 comment:

  1. Great new series! Ever since I spent a year as a high school janitor I have be thinking there needs to be more horror films with a janitor as the protagonist.

    You picked Keanu twice though. Are you trying to tell us something?