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Dredd:
The Order in the Chaos

2,809 words

Dredd is an action movie and nothing more. Fortunately, the creators know this and it is a good action movie, an outright celebration of blood, guts, slaughter, and gore — and a large amount of it is in slow motion. And in 3D.

While such films are rarely the subjects of critical acclaim, they do have political significance. Action movies make the egalitarian Left uncomfortable. Most have no time for the nuances of social critique and moral ambiguity so beloved of the professors infesting Film Studies departments at our major universities. We don’t go to popcorn thrillers and put on 3D glasses to have our deepest assumptions questioned. We are here for escapism and stylistic violence.

As leftist academics well recognize, simplistic action movies tend to reinforce the deeper Aryan archetypes and motifs of Western culture, emphasizing masculinity, duty, and stark conflicts between right and wrong. A strong man takes up arms and defeats an onslaught of lesser beings, saving the community. By following these patterns, even (and especially) the most simplistic action movies can be the most subversive, and are duly recognized by our minders as “cryptofascist” and dangerous.

This is especially true with movies about law enforcement. While Radical Traditionalists have no illusions that contemporary police are anything other than the armed fist of an alien and hostile regime, most street cops spend their time dealing with a never-ending onslaught of black and brown crime. Even when heroes like Frank Castle (The Punisher) confront white mob bosses or the multicultural gangs that only exist in television and movies, both viewers and critics understand the implications of effective and forceful criminal justice would be racist and profoundly inegalitarian. It’s therefore not surprising that movies such as Death Wish or Dirty Harry are often condemned by social critics as objectively fascist and the sheer existence of films such as Harry Brown or Taxi Driver serve as warning signs of deep unrest and impatience with the festering rot of post-Western cities.

Dredd takes the tough cop model to its most extreme conclusion, positing a dystopian future where “street judges” operate as judge, jury, and executioner. While an earlier film treatment starring Sylvester Stallone was widely derided as a disgrace both as a film and to the source material (Rob Schneider costarred for God’s sake), Dredd is a stripped down reboot that stays true to the spirit of the character.

The plot is straightforward. Karl Urban’s Judge Dredd is a street judge, introduced to us while busting a truckload of (multicultural) junkies driving down the busy streets of Mega City One. Predictably, the chase ends with the deaths of all the criminals involved. Upon his return to headquarters, Dredd is instructed to supervise Judge Anderson on a training mission. Anderson is a marginal failure at the academy, but is being given another chance due to her incredible psychic abilities. Responding to the report of a triple homicide, Anderson and Dredd are trapped inside a “megablock” called Peach Trees, a gargantuan apartment complex housing hundreds of thousands of people. The leader of the criminal gang that runs the block, “Ma-Ma,” seals down the entire block and orders the two judges dead. They must fight their way out, through the Ma-Ma clan, every Peach Trees resident looking to gain favor with their criminal masters, and even four traitor Judges in league with the drug lords.

That’s basically it. Where Dredd succeeds is by communicating a great deal about the nature of Mega City One even with a low-budget, stripped-down style. Mega City One contains 800 million souls “living within the ruin of the old world” crammed in an urban sprawl that stretches from Boston to Washington DC. Everything outside is the Great Waste, irradiated from nuclear conflict. In what passes for an introduction, Dredd intones in a voiceover that the city is choking under its own weight, drowning on its own excess. Even as the urban landscape stretches on and on, director Pete Travis succeeds in creating an atmosphere of claustrophobia with all of these people crammed on top of each other like insects.

Mega City One is anarcho-tyranny in action. Drones fly overhead as dispatchers watching video screens track the population. Quick flashes show gangs terrorizing the population and throwing rocks at law enforcement vehicles. Only the Judges fight for “order in the chaos” from the Hall of Justice, a massive, fortified building with a stylized but simplistic eagle lit up against its huge façade. The population does not often encounter the Judges, as “Ma-Ma” initially brushes off their visit to Peach Trees as simply reminding the population that they exist. There is also an element of fear — a woman saved by Dredd early in the film squeaks “Thank you Judge” but seems almost as afraid of him as she was of the criminal.

The society itself is a cultureless wasteland. Fast food and pointless entertainment seems commonplace. People gather around scenes of violence taking pictures with their smartphones, and multiple murders within a shopping complex only briefly interrupts business until the blood can be cleaned away. Although the megablock (only one of hundreds or thousands) is named Peach Trees, nature is completely absent from Mega City One, and none of its residents have probably ever seen an actual peach tree. Unemployment in the Peach Trees complex is at 96% and the vast complex of stores and housing units has that combination of dilapidated poverty and mindless consumption common in the more vibrant neighborhoods of our own thriving democracy.

The corrupt Judge Lex, taunting Dredd as he attempts to kill him, sneers that treason against the “Law” and the “City” means nothing. “You know what Mega City is Dredd? It’s a meat grinder . . . and we’re the hands that turn the crank.” In the comic, bodies are utilized for food, and as Dredd refers to the corpse collecting vehicles as “Meat Wagons” picking up bodies for “recyc” we can assume this is also true in the film universe. Judge Lex is not just speaking in metaphor.

The gangs are appropriately multicultural and diverse, fitting for an overcrowded city where any form of organic culture has long since been eradicated. Even the crude identity of something like the “Latin Kings” can’t work in Mega City One. The Chief Justice is a black woman, just like in Newark, NJ, which has no real significance in the movie beyond the almost clichéd “black police chief” motif. Nonetheless, the movie manages to work in some racial subtext. Olivia Thirlby is a brunette actress with clichéd liberal opinions (she’s so daring and unique, she’s a bisexual civil rights hero!) but the movie transforms her into a blonde innocent pursued and threatened sexually by the more vibrant citizens of Peach Trees.

Wood Harris of The Wire plays Kay, one of Ma-Ma’s higher ranking black henchmen whose capture serves as the catalyst for Ma-Ma’s declaration of war. Because he knows the information Ma-Ma is desperate to conceal from the judges, Kay trudges along with Anderson and Dredd the entire movie, giving the filmmakers plenty of time to exploit Anderson’s psychic (and graphic) glimpses of Kay’s black on blonde sexual fantasies.

Lena Headey of 300 and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles steals the movie as Madeline Madrigal (Ma-Ma), a former prostitute who has worked her way up from the bottom, so to speak, to become a criminal mastermind. Ma-Ma controls the distribution of “Slo-Mo,” a drug that allows users to experience reality as if it were moving in extreme slow motion. While pleasurable when taking a bath or listening to music, Ma-Ma and her henchmen also use it for more painful ends, such as giving victims a hit before skinning them alive and throwing them from the top of a building. She runs the entire distribution and production operation from Peach Trees, which she is desperate to keep from the judges. If Kay leaves the building in custody, Ma-Ma’s empire crumbles.

Headey gives a fatalistic, moody performance utterly lacking in supervillain posturing and bravura — which is remarkable considering she spends a significant part of the movie threatening people with knives and mowing down an entire floor of people with a chain gun. In this world, this is what she has to do to survive and she simply does what is needed without sentimentality. At the same time, she almost yearns for death, and Headey somehow makes a character deliberately crafted to be ugly and sadistic even sexier than Cercei Lannister. Headey’s ability to make an utter monster charismatic, sympathetic, and even believable takes the film to an entirely new level, even if she isn’t given much in the way of dialogue to work with.

Mercifully, Karl Urban succeeds in giving the kind of portrayal Dredd deserves. The one-liners are flat and unemotional and the helmet (fanboys rejoice) stays on. Relying purely on his voice and his seemingly permanently gritted teeth and rigid jaw, Dredd mows through everything in his path while somehow conveying that he could break at any second if he lost control. He never does.

Mercifully, an utterly unnecessary kiss scene between Anderson and himself in an earlier script was removed as well. Anderson uses her psychic abilities to look into Dredd for a tantalizingly brief moment early in the film and senses “anger and control . . . but behind the control, something else . . .” before being stopped.

Why Dredd is so devoted to his duty and the law and to a city that seems to be rotting all around him is never explained, nor should it be. The mask is the key to Dredd — the simplest of comic book heroes, he’s also the most complex.

In contrast, Anderson wears no helmet, the beneficiary of the Hollywood excuse that a helmet interferes with her psychic powers. This allows both male and females of Thirlby’s own persuasion to gawk at her the entire film, but also allows her to show more emotion and sympathy. She’s the social worker judge, telling Dredd how she herself grew up in a megablock, how there are good people who live there, and expressing the requisite mild disquiet with a justice system that executes people where they stand. She lets one criminal go when she uses her powers to determine he’s been working under duress and unironically declares she wants to make a difference. Dredd intones, “Admirable,” but we can’t tell if he’s agreeing or mocking her. Maybe he doesn’t even know.

One interesting scene of a psychic confrontation between her and Kay suggests that there is steel underneath the pretty blonde head as she literally makes her black antagonist piss himself in terror, but it is left unexplored. Again, this actually works, as Dredd operates best by suggesting there is more going on than what is just in front of us.

It’s an action movie, so it’s not a huge surprise that the main villain is caught and her drug operation destroyed. It’s hard to say whether the world is a better place for all of that. Dozens, if not hundreds of people are killed throughout the course of the film, all so that unemployed and poverty stricken people can’t use a narcotic. That said, the blood is on the hands of the Ma-Ma Clan. The Clan’s actions and the general picture of Mega City One presented suggest that even if Slo-Mo were legal, the gangs would use something else to support themselves. As Anderson learns when she unwittingly meets the wife of a man she has “judged” and killed, even people with families and children in the blocks are gun-toting thugs willing to kill for money and power.

The film’s portrayal of ruthless violence, sadistic torture, and nihilistic destruction of entire communities (such as they are) belie any attempt to deconstruct Dredd as a critique of “law and order.” Dredd plays it straight, though the next film in the series promises to look at the more “disturbing” elements of the Judges’ supposed fascism.

While the Judges of the comic are not beyond the law, actually are somewhat accountable to the population at large, and do not administer a totalitarian society, the people do not rule themselves in Dredd’s world. The premise of Dredd is that freedom failed – they tried democracy and it ended in chaos. While left wing critics (and even some writers of the strip) may amuse themselves by “satirizing” American law enforcement by calling them fascists, it doesn’t have the effect they intend on the mass public. Characters such as Judge Dredd are popular precisely because of their fascist tendencies, a sort of double irony that speaks to Americans who don’t understand why the cops can’t just beat the crap out of the junkies on the corner.

Ultimately, the system of the Judges is not democratic nor really fascist, which, after all, are both dependent on mass politics. It is rule by an Order, a system more in line with Plato’s Republic than Mussolini’s New Roman Empire. The Judges hold to a supreme code (the Law) and the Order fights for order within the chaos, barely holding back the city from consuming itself. Nonetheless, even within the Order, there is corruption, as four Judges betray their duty in exchange for money. As Plato described thousands of years ago, mercantile and spiritual values ultimately cannot coexist within a ruling caste. As is mentioned throughout the film, the Judges fighting their own slo-mo defeat to bring order to Mega City One. Rather than simply a function of resources, there is a deeper conflict left unspoken at the heart of their decline. If an esoteric Order is fighting to defend a cultureless, swollen mass of materialistic proles, how can the Judges themselves keep from being corrupted, either by lust for “credits” or cynicism about a meat grinder? Why is Mega City One worth saving?

The two heroes suggest different answers. Anderson, who bitterly states she is not cut out to be a judge during her ordeal, ultimately becomes a street judge at the end of the film, marching out into the city in full uniform. Her experience suggests that she would say saving even one citizen from violence or making a difference to even a small group makes it worthwhile. This is the kind of motivation even modern people can understand and even Radical Traditionalists can say, without judgment, is “admirable,” if not practical or sustainable.

Dredd’s code is different. There’s “rage and control” and Dredd’s proclamations about “fighting for order in the chaos” and his disgust at this awful city and its criminals suggest that he believes in what he’s doing and envisions somehow an orderly metropolis redeemed from the filth. Ultimately, however, that “something else” that keeps him going is the unification of identity and duty. Dredd is not a social worker with a gun, but a Guardian who judges because, as in Plato’s Republic, it is his nature to do so. Driven by rage and his calling, Dredd is akin to Arjuna of the Bhagavad-Gita, who is told, “Fight you will, your nature will make you fight. Your karma will make you fight. You will fight in spite of yourself.”

When cornered with Anderson and told reinforcements are on the way, Dredd chooses attack rather then even tactical retreat. He upholds his ethos – fulfills his karma – even when it’s pointless or hopeless. Alone, hopelessly outnumbered, he flatly announces to Peach Trees, “In case you have forgotten, this block operates under the same rules as the rest of the city. Ma-Ma is not the law . . . I am the law.” It’s beyond reason, and beyond ego, but ultimately, what kind of life (higher and otherwise) exists in Mega City One is upheld by that credo.

So too with this world. Organic culture is ground into the muck of the soulless cities, animals on two legs somehow combine the worst vices of squalor and decadence, and the society is a meat grinder turning people into products. Only a credo and a commitment can allow even momentary transcendence, if not for the entire society, at least for those who choose to accept the challenge. Egalitarians may see Dredd as a satire of law enforcement, but adherents of Tradition can see it as one way men and women can at least attempt to Ride the Tiger of modernity. Perhaps it can be seen as a truly biting satire of a nightmarish mass society that may be inevitable in the face of ever increasing urbanization and social control. Most of all, as we view a society that is transforming into something even worse than Mega City One, perhaps Dredd can be seen as one of the more entertaining forms of inspiration, to walk out of the theater, ponder what defiance we can cling to in the midst of the ruins, and, wearing our own mask over our emotions, pronounce to this sordid society that Judgment Is Coming.

 

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9 Comments

  1. Andrew
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed the review, well written and thought provoking. The Aryan motif of the strong, superior warrior crushing the lesser scum really resonates with me, I think this is instinctual rather than cultural. I also appreciate the author’s insightful and skillful analysis of the West’s decay as reflected in the film’s themes. Guess I will add this to my list of movies to watch.

  2. Roissy Hater
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Yes, our society is headed toward oblivion. I would like to see someone put together a list of possible causes for this state of degeneration, outside of this being the result of a Yuga cycle or the product of political egalitarianism.

    Where are the strong souls, the rebels?

  3. john
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Dredd 3D is also one if not the biggest flop of the year only raking in about $6million dollars in its opening weekend coming in at number 5 or 6 with rather lacklustre competition.

    “Dredd takes the tough cop model to its most extreme conclusion, positing a dystopian future where “street judges” operate as judge, jury, and executioner. While an earlier film treatment starring Sylvester Stallone was widely derided as a disgrace both as a film and to the source material (Rob Schneider costarred for God’s sake), Dredd is a stripped down reboot that stays true to the spirit of the character.”

    The original film had several production problems dating back to when Hollywood executives tried to buy the movie rights in the late 1970’s.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX0xNTzBYsQ&t=9m45s

    The problem with Judge Dredd is that it is a product of its time with stark income inequality and ugly government created housing blocks, fears of crime and overpopulation with an authoritarian big government system in power to keep the relative peace before the era of the internet, free market system and a decentralisation of power due to advances in technology and US lead domestic and foreign policy initiatives through various NGO’s, Gene Sharpe/Soros Colour Revolutions and legislation like the Freedom of Information Act.

    Most people don’t even get there news from main stream sources with the major newspapers reporting annual loses and bankruptcy with internet access on virtually any device imaginable even blue-ray players.

    Zbignew Brzezinski a major US geo-political foreign policy analyst and Obama’s chief foreign policy advisor made this good comment.

    “The major world powers, new and old, also face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.”
    Zbigniew Brzezinski

    Due to all the high tech gadgets and increased standard of living people in developed countries are accustomed to a high standard of living and would rather live comfortably than raise a family and have children with population decline in virtually every European and Asian country even in Japan (which I think is grossly overpopulated anyway) that is one of the most high tech and richest countries in the world with a traditional high birth rate is facing a population decline.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPR98L6H-O8

    • UFASP
      Posted October 10, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      “The problem with Judge Dredd is that it is a product of its time with stark income inequality and ugly government created housing blocks, fears of crime and overpopulation with an authoritarian big government system in power to keep the relative peace before the era of the internet, free market system and a decentralisation of power due to advances in technology and US lead domestic and foreign policy initiatives through various NGO’s, Gene Sharpe/Soros Colour Revolutions and legislation like the Freedom of Information Act.”

      Good post. But how are any those factors (ugly housing blocks, fears of crime and overpopulation, an authoritarian government) mitigated by “the internet, U.S. lead domestic and foreign policy initiatives” and the like? Yes, certain advances have happened since the 1970s that sort of MINIMIZE the negative impact of those factors, but those underlying factors have not gone away and are still on the march. We still have a skyrocketing global population full of brown people (like in the movie) that elites force onto native Western populations. We still have “stark income inequality.” In fact, it’s more stark as non-whites are not so much moving up to white standards as much as white standards are being degraded to match negro and mestizo standards. We still have “public housing” (i.e. cheap housing for these brown people) breaking up white communities popping up everywhere. Our government is just as authoritarian as ever even if the realization that it’s not all it’s cracked up (thanks to the new media) to be has made people understandably more nihilistic. And the internet has only increased people’s awareness of crime and who is largely committing it on the whole. (At least among the few of us who can think and are capable of using the internet for investigation rather than for frivolous ends.) We are still inching towards a Brazilian/Blade Runner type of future that tends more towards the world of Dredd than something that is healthy or sustainable in the long term even if certain technological amenities have bought us time and even a sense of space.

      The movie is very relevant to our predicament.

  4. UFASP
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    This was a very enjoyable film and a very enjoyable read here. I actually ended up seeing Dredd by accident on opening day and didn’t regret it. (I didn’t even know such a film was being made.) It was very light on the stuff that would turn us off to a typical Hollywood piece of propaganda. Yes, there was a black female police chief and some liberal cliches that came from the mouth of the beautiful blond female lead, but trust me, it’s not bad. Dredd’s “awesomeness” really is allowed to shine and Dredd is someone any of us should be able to relate to on some level. And the world itself is just very interesting and fertile for all sorts of neat philosophical possibilities to explore.

    When he got a hold of the Peach Trees’ PA system and said “Ma-Ma is not the law; I am the law,” it really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The delivery was stone cold perfect and yes, badass. Every thing that is great about Dredd with none of the unfortunate cheese associated with the Stallone movie shined through in this movie. There is none of this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aaubVlhNK4

    Dredd is far too menacing in this film for that type of inadvertent silliness. (As Hood mentioned above, the helmet STAYS on.)

    It’s interesting to note how these dystopian movies like Blade Runner and Dredd can be viewed. The liberal walking out of the theater may be thinking “well, thank God we’re not THAT; what a great world this is” while the conservative sees the writing on the wall and can scarcely believe that such a critique of our modern society was able to be produced in liberal Hollywood let alone that the warning goes unheeded. Particularly interesting about those two films is the misery of the world is all the more palpably conveyed by the racial situation of those societies. It really does *seem* amazing how this stuff gets by. But again, liberals see a mixed humanity as some neutral or even good thing that whites can’t possibly resist so when they see the misery in such films, they’re looking for “social factors” while to race realists it’s as though the makers of the film are spelling it all out and making AmRen propaganda. In a way, it almost makes you want to scream: “Well, what are we going to do about this impending doom?” Liberals and conservative-minded people really are different animals who may as well be living in a different reality.

    Incidentally, here is a clip of Bowden talking about the world of Judge Dredd.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1bAhakT1P4

    (About 5:50 minutes into the clip he starts.)

  5. Maple Leaf
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/military-obituaries/7866571/Amedeo-Guillet.html

    Enough of the cartoons, how about real lives we haven’t heard of before.(as above) or (below)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_John_Philby

    Otherwise, great work!
    thanks
    Canadian

  6. guiscard
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    I guess the character is interesting enough but as a whole; between the Black female Police chief, the young next-gen female judge (who is the most talented eva!), and the former prostitute who runs organized crime… all i see is the same propaganda of ‘simple man’ who must be guided by the more enlightened among us.

    Having to celebrate these films is like backing a mainstream political party because they occasionally throw someone a bone.

    • UFASP
      Posted October 11, 2012 at 3:34 am | Permalink

      I’m not insisting that you see it or like it, but all of it sounds worse than it really is. The villain is great. She doesn’t overact at all. I don’t even think her character is any type of political statement. Just as there isn’t a Jew under every bed, there isn’t liberal ideology under every woman that is not in a kitchen or breastfeeding babies. The black police chief (which is obvious PC) is on the screen for like five minutes. It’s pretty easy to ignore because even her character isn’t all that preachy or obnoxious. And that’s probably why the movie is so refreshing as a whole. It’s one of the least preachy, moralistic movies I can ever recall seeing. Even a good “wholesome” movie with John Wayne comes across as an insufferable sermon next to this one. As much as I hate Hollywood, I have no qualms about supporting art that is genuinely good on some discernible level.

  7. rhondda
    Posted October 13, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    While I do not want to see this movie, So sorry. This really is a remarkable review.
    Nietzsche would be proud.

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