I just finished watching the movie Wanted. It is full of violence and vulgarity, and many will love it or hate it for that reason. But beneath the “action flick” surface is an incredibly profound parable, one that parallels a key theme and message of the Matrix films. [WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW, although I will try to be vague!]

The movie is about the feeling many people get of boredom and dissatisfaction with their lives. We long for someone to come along and tell us that we are significant, to redefine how we understand ourselves through just a few words revealing our true identity.

What both the Matrix and Wanted show is that, on the one hand, what is needed in order to save us from a meaningless existence is, above all else, desire and discipline. In all the great hero movies that have even a hint of realism, the main character doesn’t just go from ordinary to superhero. There is a need for a “repairman”, someone who teaches the individual the discipline needed in order to realize what they – what we – are capable of.

Wanted, like the Matrix films, also highlights a key danger. Those who mediate the message of our potential to change, to be something more, to find meaning, are also capable of manipulating that message and its power to their own ends. Neo discovered that his being “the One” was just another layer of control and manipulation. Wesley discovers that what was allegedly fate was in fact manipulation.

We all want to be significant, but it is only relatively recently that it has become the expectation that we will find that fulfillment from our jobs. Some of us are indeed so fortunate. But in bygone eras, one’s farming or cattle herding was simply a means of survival. If someone’s words made a huge impact, as for instance the words of Amos did, it wasn’t because he was a prophet “for a living” necessarily, but the sense of calling and the willingness to make the time to do something else as well.

The special effects and stunts are impressive, but to get caught up in them would be to miss the central message of the movie. If our lives seem dull, we long for excitement and adventure. Those who live daily on the edge, their lives in danger, regularly wish for “normality”. The ability to curve bullets or see life in bullet time won’t bring meaning or liberation from being controlled and manipulated. To take control of one’s life to the extent that it is possible, and to fill one’s life with meaning, it takes understanding, discipline, and committment – among other things.

A message may come to you that changes your life, that makes you aware that there is life-changing power that can improve your life and help you find meaning. But without digging beneath the surface and seeking understanding, and daring to question the uses to which the power of such a message is put, we may not escape manipulation but actually serve it.

“The truth will set you free.” It now seems ironic ironic to me how frequently in my more conservative days I felt terrified of changing my mind, of being confronted with arguments that might persuade me to think differently. Seek to add wisdom and understanding to the power, because (as someone else said) “With great power comes great responsibility”. Even a positive, life-changing power is not above misuse for selfish ends. Indeed, that sort of life changing experience is particularly open to such abuse, because, as the movie’s title hints, it is what is most wanted by so many people.

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  • Kay

    Hmmm …Count me in as one of the ones that hated this movie because of the violence and vulgarity. :)It’s more than that though. Other movies that were violent didn’t repel me the way this one did. The icing on the cake for me was the ending where the main character asked something along the lines of “What did YOU do today?” with the innuendo that those of us who have “mundane” lives aren’t really living. My husband and I looked at each other and I said “Well, we haven’t killed anyone. Guess that makes us boring huh?”I own and loved the first Matrix movie (the sequels not so much).

  • BSM

    I’d call this one a second tier Matrix. Overall I enjoyed it and the philosophical message. The song by Danny Elfman is now one of my favorites. Oh and the office keyboard scene captures the frustrations that many feel when trapped in a crappy job or after having experience a run a bad luck. I guess until that happens to you it just looks violent!

  • James, This was a pretty bad movie but finding a “profound parable” in it is just sad. This is a perfect example of how interpretation can lead you anywhere. I bet the writers of this junk never once considered such a parable. Where you see profound messages I see the same re-hashed button pushing tools of the movie trade. Movies are just feature length appeals to emotion. Who isn’t bored with their job. Who wouldn’t like a little more excitement? Yeay and lets kill some people along the way. James, you have spent WAY too long trying to find meaning where there is none and this is a spectacular example of the art critic who discusses at length the concepts and ideas of the painter of an abstract piece without realizing that it is not a painting, someone was just using the canvas to spare their carpet while they painted the walls. This is a little sad James. “Wanted” is a mindless Hollywood actioner which has as much regard for existential dilemmas as it does for the laws of physics. James, you could probably find the exact same message in almost all advertising aimed at men. Carpe Diem is a idea that strikes a cord. Thats it. You see substance in an orgy of style.

  • You may be right about Wanted. I suppose the question – whether we’re talking about the Bible or a movie – is whether an interpreter can figure out what the author intended, and whether such a question should be our concern.Be that as it may, I still find globs of paint scattered randomly on a canvas unimpressive, even if it is hung in an art gallery. 🙂 But finding meaning in seemingly meaningless circumstances might just possibly be a blessing rather than a curse, and if that’s something I’m “gifted” with then I’m not sure I regret! 🙂

  • James, I still find globs of paint scattered randomly on a canvas unimpressive, even if it is hung in an art gallery. 🙂 I have to agree. I always find works with solid content much more interesting. On an aside I remember being hugely unimpressed by the mona lisa not least because of where it is displayed. When you see that and then look at the impressive depiction of the last supper covering an entire wall, it is difficult to get too excited about it. But finding meaning in seemingly meaningless circumstances might just possibly be a blessing rather than a curse, and if that’s something I’m “gifted” with then I’m not sure I regret! 🙂This may be so within reason. I think the important ponit is that we can invent such interpretations if we want. They are just that though, inventions. It comes down to a matter of how interested we are in truth. I’m sure I could invent many messages that would fit with the story but it is a largely pointless activity. Sometime what you see is all there is. Being able to recognise that might also be considered a gift. 🙂

  • There’s been a lot of interesting work done on our overactive tendency to detect meaning and patterns, so that we find them even when they are not there. But sometimes they are there, and in the case of a movie, I think looking for meaning is appropriate, and even if you find more in it than the screenplay intended, at least it made the 2 hours you spent watching it more interesting/enjoyable.