In my previous post, I mentioned that Dwight McCarthy – who has been portrayed in film by both Clive Owen and now Josh Brolin – is my favorite character from Frank Miller’s Sin City.
I’m sure most people would rank Marv as their favorite, and I can’t say that I blame them; Marv is cool.
Dwight, like Marv, is a violent maniac, but there is a bit more to him than that, or at least, Dwight himself hopes that there’s more to him than that, and he tries – and pretty much always fails – to be something more than that.
Marv, on the other hand, knows exactly what he is, and doesn’t try to pretend to be anything else. He’s made a certain amount of peace with himself, and that’s part of what makes him cool, in a Popeye “I am what I am” sort of way. Plus he’s just a badass.
Of course, Dwight is also a badass, which is par for the course in Basin City, but he’s a different kind of badass than Marv. He’d have to be; after all, he’s not a seven-foot tall mass of unstoppable muscle.
To put it in terms of a different genre, Marv is a barbarian marauder, while Dwight is something more akin to a White Knight or paladin.
At least, that’s how Dwight views himself. To the extent that Dwight is just as crazy as Marv, he’s crazy in a very different way. In one of Dwight’s stories he’s captured by a couple of thugs who confiscate his twin Magnums, and one the thugs says something along the lines of, “This guy thinks he’s Lamont Cranston.” (For those who don’t know, “Lamont Cranston” was the secret identity of pulp and radio hero The Shadow.)
The thing is, he was right. Dwight does think he’s Lamont Cranston.
Not quite literally, of course, but that’s a pretty apt description of how Dwight thinks of himself.
Much has been said – much of it negative – about the slavish devotion to the source material that was on display in the first Sin City movie. However, there were a couple of minor tweaks that were made that helped put the character of Dwight into even more stark relief than the bold black and white artwork of the comics.
In the adaptation of “The Hard Goodbye,” which is a Marv story, we first meet Dwight when Marv walks into Kadie’s Club Pecos. Marv’s actions are accompanied by his voiceover right from the start, but as soon as he enters Kadie’s, the camera shifts over to Dwight and Dwight actually steals Marv’s voiceover.
Granted, in voiceover mode, Dwight is talking about Marv, but the manner in which he steals focus tells you just as much about Dwight as it tells you about Marv, if not more.
That particular monologue about Marv is lifted from another story – in which it’s just part of Dwight’s overall narration.
The other change also involves a voiceover. All of the Sin City stories rely heavily on the protagonist’s voiceover narration – which was function of Miller using captions in the comics rather than thought balloons, which was part of the overall application of the crime noir approach to storytelling – but there’s a scene in Dwight’s story “The Big Fat Kill” – a scene directed by Quentin Tarantino – in which we find that rather than using a voiceover that clues us in on Dwight’s innermost thoughts, Dwight is actually narrating his actions, to no one, out loud.
Coupled with the fact that he’s having an imaginary conversation with a dead man, that little detail speaks volumes about his mental state.
So what is it about Dwight that makes him stand out for me? I find that I can relate to him in a way that I can’t with most of the other Sin City characters. Like Dwight, I’ll never be a seven-foot tall mass of unstoppable muscle, and like Dwight, I have a particular view of myself that, at times, is at odds with reality. Even if I don’t necessarily think of myself as being Lamont Cranston, or a White Knight, there are times when I’d at least like to do so.
And certainly I’m at least as self-centered – I would be just as inclined to steal someone’s voiceover. I’m not as violent or homicidal, of course, and I don’t go to anywhere near the extremes that Dwight does, but there are times when I would question my mental stability, and I am more than a little inclined towards obsessive behavior.
But there’s a bit more to it than that. In “That Yellow Bastard,” Dwight appears in the background in at Kadie’s, sitting at a table, whining about a woman (Ava from “A Dame to Kill For”), and trying to drown himself in a bottle.
The Dwight we see in “Dame,” which takes place after the events in “Bastard,” despite the publication order, Dwight is a very different person from the one we see whining about the sorry state of affairs his life is in, a state of affairs which is largely the result of his own actions.
In any case, this Dwight lives something of a monkish existence, having given up the sauce, quit smoking, and mostly spending quiet evenings at home when he isn’t working.
Admittedly, Dwight, who does work as some sort of PI, has a job that is a bit more exciting than mine, but when I first read the comics, my life was very much like Dwight’s – it still is, with the exception being that I started smoking again – and it was like that for very similar reasons.
This self-imposed monastic existence as all about control, about never again becoming what he had once been, and at the heart of it was a fear of any loss of control, because the slightest amount of wavering, the tiniest loss of control, any microfracture in the façade of self-control would let the monster out.
There’s a scene in which Dwight is driving home, refusing to give in to the demands his Mustang seems to be placing on him to let it cut loose and show him what it can do.
I think about all the ways I’ve screwed up and what I’d give for one clear chance to wipe the slate clean. To dig my way out of the numb grey hell I’ve made of my life.
Just to cut loose. Just to feel the fire. One more time.
I’d give anything.
He hits the accelerator, then immediately slams on the brakes, and jumps out of the car.
No. Damn it. No. Never. Never.
Never lose control. Not for one second. Never.
Never let the monster out.
I know that desire to give up control, and I know that fear. I lived with it for a long time, and it was probably at its strongest at the time I first met Dwight.
That fear has largely left me now, but it will never go away completely, and even though the “monster” I’ve kept contained is quite different – I’m not resisting violent, homicidal tendencies, after all – there is a need to keep it where it is.
So…yeah. Dwight. He’s a twisted, funhouse mirror kind of reflection, but I do see him as a reflection, and that’s why he stands out for me.
I should also point out, however, that while I like Dwight because I find him relatable, he is decidedly not a good person, and I wouldn’t want to emulate his behavior. Beyond being a murderer and generally a homicidal maniac, he has a propensity for smacking women around. Part of that, of course, is just Miller’s problematic misogyny, and there’s usually some narrative “justification” – sometimes it’s just a matter of being “justified” because Dwight said he’d do it and he meant it – but we don’t always get the exact details from Dwight as to what kind of "monster” he was keeping at bay. However, I do think we get a glimpse from Ava. While she’s a terrible person, and not in any way shape or form a reliable source of information, and she’s using her wiles to manipulate someone, when she’s laying it on thick and playing the damsel in distress, I don’t think she’s lying when she tells a cop that Dwight was abusive when they were together, particularly given that we see that Dwight has no qualms about hitting women. That, of course, is metatextual analysis, and I don’t think Miller’s intent was for Dwight to have been abusive, but that’s where the signs point. (I also suspect that Miller might argue that Dwight wasn’t abusive because Ava deserved it, which, ick.)
So, despite my fondness for the character, I do see problematic elements, but that’s hardly surprising given the author and the setting.
For my part, I don’t gloss over those elements, or ignore them, but, on balance, I still find reasons to like Dwight as a character, even though I don’t necessarily like him as a person. After all, in the revival of Battlestar Galactica, my favorite character was Gaius Baltar, and he was pretty much the worst person ever. He was, however, a fully-realized character with depth and understandable – if horribly twisted – motivations, hopes, dreams, and fears. (Plus he had that whole “character you love to hate” thing going for him.)
Anyway, BSG, and the nerdiness of it, provides a good segue to this slightly less serious bit.
I mentioned that there were only three other people in the audience at the movie the other day.
To be more specific, they were three neckbeards.
As I said in a text exchange with the (former) Boss Lady, “Audience consisted of me and three neckbeards. So in other words, four dorks. Me and *sigh* my people.”
Because speaking of trying to maintain control to prevent yourself from being what you truly are, more than I struggle with my more Dwight-like tendencies, I also have to contend with keeping some of the worst aspects of being a geek from coming to the fore.
Granted, a good 90% of that is just bathing regularly, but even so, I don’t always manage to achieve the level of control that Dwight did in containing his inner monster.
During the movie version of the Dwight scene mentioned above, I found myself thinking, “Never let the neckbeard out.”For fuck’s sake, one of them was even wearing a fedora. *Shudders*