A whole spate of DC and Marvel movie adaptations has recently come out this summer. It is not surprising to see the amount of hype that surrounds these titanic blockbusters. And with the recent arrival of Detective Comics’ Suicide Squad, we are given yet another fast-paced action movie. My overall rating would be pretty high, as there was a genius balance between narrative and exciting sequences. However, there two major disappointments, which I will explain at the end. I had been waiting for this film to come out, and as I watched it, I find a wealth of profound prompts to write on. So, for today’s post, we will explore the philosophy and psychology of the villains of Suicide Squad. Specifically, we shall discuss the rights and wrongs of objectifying prisoners, the ethics of redemption, and the morality of religion and higher/transcendent power (Spoilers ahead).
The one behind Task Force X is a government agent by the name of Amanda Waller. An ambitious and determined agent, she will do whatever it takes, no matter the risks, to accomplish a task. Her great breakthrough consists of recruiting the worst of the worst to do the government’s dirty work. In the case of the DC universe, there are plenty of contemptible and expendable criminals to take advantage of. This is controversial at most, and it brings us to the question of whether or not we should risk prisoners’ lives for dangerous missions. To answer this question, we must first analyze Waller’s motives and her tactics and then the situation and rights of the prisoners. Beginning with the first inquiry, what is Amanda’s main goal and how does she ultimately reach it? We are under the immediate pretense that Waller is supposedly doing us a favor. Her goal is very clear from the start: she wants to protect her nation. How does she plan on doing that? By risking dangerous criminals’ lives to deal with threats. At first glance this seems pretty smart. Not only are we under the protection of trained and specialized mercenaries and serial killers, but, if they die, it lessens the criminal population, thus lowering crime rates, right? Wrong. Note that we are dealing with cold-blooded killers who kill primarily out of either satisfaction or payment. As we will discuss in the following paragraph, these are people, too. They may have killed people, but they have the right to live just like us. Nelson Mandela once explained, “A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” By this merit, we should respect the criminals and treat them like normal humans despite their misdeeds. Again, we are dealing with human beings, not animals. How does Amanda Waller make them do it? Why she makes deals with them, of course. She mercilessly makes them do what she wants them to do against their free wills by threatening to kill them with the bombs she implanted in them. These prisoners have no free choice and must do whatever is asked of them, for their life is at stakes. At one point in the movie, I thought Amanda was dead and thought to myself, “Would Waller’s death be justified?” After some thinking, I have concluded that killing Amanda Waller would be justifiable. Think about it: Amanda is a manipulative and apathetic person who will stop at nothing. Waller even says self-admittedly, “[Because] getting people to act against their own self-interest is what I do for a living.” She straight up murders half a dozen of innocents in one scene. This side of Amanda is no better than the criminals. If Amanda is not killed, furthermore, think of how many more people she will manipulate and get killed. It would be utilitarian to kill her, for think of many deaths you could prevent by ending her existence.
We spoke of how a criminal’s right to life should be respected as with anyone else. But this raises another question: Should these villains be granted redemption? Let us look at the situation one more. A select few convicts guilty of countless murders are forced to carry out missions that will surely result in their deaths. I said that these killers are humans, too, and that they should be able to live. On the other hand, we have to ask ourselves whether we should—or can, for that matter—forgive these people for what they have done. Each of these villains, we have learned, has killed numerous people both innocent and guilty. I would like to focus on two of these criminals to decide whether they should be redeemed or not. First off, we have “El Diablo,” a man who happened to be tragically endowed with pyromancy. Right off the bat, I admired this character. Diablo never asked for this to happen to him, it just did, and he had to suffer with it. Immediately, we can give him some sense of salvation. This reluctant hero… I mean villain of ours stubbornly refuses to use his powers lest he cause more death and destruction around of him. Here we have a self-conscious man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like all of us, he too has emotions, and when his anger gets the best of him, he cannot hold it back. After accidentally killing his beloved family, he shrinks into penance. This is a truly human struggle. El Diablo realizes he creates harm and genuinely wants to be forgiven. In the end, El Diablo, like a courageous hero in a movie, sacrifices his life in the name of his family and his faithful team. This man had to suffer all his life, and he gave up his own life to save those around him. El Diablo, I conclude, has been acquitted of his sins. Next we have Floyd Lawton, AKA the sharp-shooting mercenary Deadshot. Give him a large sum of money and he will kill anyone you ask. This is a man who deserves no sympathy, for this man will take the life of another for cash. But deep down, this man is also a respectable human being. In his flashback, we see Deadshot nearly kill Batman, but two things stop him: his daughter and his rationality. Let us further examine these two aspects. Deadshot is, you must realize, a parent, and not a bad one. We all have a weak spot somewhere. Deadshot has some humanity beneath his murderous habits. He is also a concerned parent who will do anything for his daughter. Deadshot could have easily escaped his arrest and could have died serving Waller, but he listened to and cared about his daughter. One of his conditions for joining the mission was being able to see his daughter. This is a man who values family above everything else. The other thing that makes Deadshot an admirable man is his self-control and rationality. On one occasion, Deadshot could have killed Batman; on several occasions, Deadshot had the opportunity to shoot Amanda or Captain Flag when their backs were turned; and on another occasion, he could have easily aborted the mission and gone back to his life of crime. However, in each of these situations, which could have resulted in more killings, Deadshot managed to hold back his impulses and act coolly. While he may not hesitate to pull the trigger on a mission, he is able to maturely act without impudence on important occasions.
Finally, we have the characters of the Enchantress and Incubus, who, in my interpretation, are symbols of the death of religion in the modern age. The book All Things Shining, by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, tells of the declining supremacy of religion and mythology in the 21st century. As a result of this loss of guidance, we have become autonomous individuals who have lost our values and have thus ushered in an age of nihilism. The Enchantress is something like a goddess who is most likely descended from a civilization with a heavy reliance on shamanism. Viewers of the film even compare her to something like that of a Mayan deity. Her brother, Incubus, is released into the world like a ‘god among men,’ having been trapped in an ancient artifact for nearly seven millennia. There is an important conversation that occurs between siblings that supports my claim. The Enchantress says (I do not have the exact quotes), “The humans have turned against us.” Incubus responds, “But they worshiped us? We were gods to them.” It continues darkly with, “Now they worship machines, so I will build a machine that will wipe them out.” Nothing like a god’s wrath, huh? It is true, indeed, that we have entered a new age of idolatry. No longer do we invest our faith in an omnipotent being, we now worship technology and all the powers it has. The foundation of our society has been built upon science. Everything from the creation of the universe to human behavior is governed by the laws of physics and biology and psychology. The gods have become obsolete in our industrial times. We no longer need a higher being to tell us how things happen and how we should behave. Dreyfus and Kelly wrote in response, “The gods have not withdrawn or abandoned us: we have kicked them out,” and, ”Ask not why the gods have abandoned you, but why you have abandoned the gods.” We have not fallen out of favor with the gods, the gods have fallen out of favor with us. At this revolutionary point in time, we have realized that there is no need for deities like the Enchantress or Incubus. In the ending of the movie, before our protagonists fight the gods, the Enchantress tantalizes, “Why do you serve those who cage you?” She then begins offering the villains anything they could ever want. Here the gods have realized that they are not needed and are trying to convince the homo sapiens to come back to them. “Why do you worship those who do not care about you instead of worshiping us, the gods, who can give you anything you need?” is what she is really trying to say. God is trying to reassert its dominance, it is trying to regain its relevance in a world gone technological and without faith. To combat their imminent obsolescence, they offer a final deal. After Incubus is killed—I am still not quite sure how a man-made explosive is able to kill a literal god incarnate—the Suicide Squad manages to get the Enchantress in her vulnerable state. She is one bullet away from death. As a final defense mechanism, she suggests she can bring back Rick Flag’s girlfriend. Flag sees through this illusion and kills her, giving a whole new literal meaning to Nietzsche’s proclamation that “God is dead […] And we have killed him.” This inevitably leads to the figurative and literal death of religion.
In conclusion, we have gone over several controversial ethical issues ranging from the usury of prisoners to the tragic downfall of religion. We have found that murderers are humans deep down and deserve redemption, that the government should not use prisoners as means to an end, and that religion will eventually become trivial. Beneath this action movie derived from a comic, there is a deeper, more profound lesson, as there is in every film. Because you never quite know what you will encounter, you could unknowingly stumble upon a philosophical moral quandary waiting to be solved.
Personally, I was very disappointed that 1) Deathstroke did not make an appearance and 2) I felt that the Joker was as disappointing Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens. He sadly did not get enough screen time.
 Dreyfus and Kelly, All Things Shining, pg. 222
For further reading: All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly (2011)