Tuesday, October 13, 2009

BILLY JACK (Tom Laughlin, 1971, USA)

“We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know you can count me out/in”

-Revolution by the Beatles

Billy Jack attempts to find a peaceful focus in a world of corrupt Law, and in this political recipe of anarchy he must serve a cold dish of vengeance: a righteous morality that opposes due process. Billy Jack is the guardian angel of the Freedom School on an Indian Reservation, whose fists of fury must defend the innocent from the hate-mongers who hold power in the local town. The Sheriff is a good man but impotent to stop the tempest: when the law is at the mercy of money, its power tainted by the almighty dollar, then inequity replaces justice and violence subjugates peace. Director and star Tom Laughlin begins the film with the Deputy Sheriff and his rich cronies illegally hunting wild horses on the reservation, their meat worth 6 cents a pound for dog food. These beautiful animals are rounded up in a corral and held captive to be shot. Prosner is the contemptuous rich fat businessman who owns the town, and it’s obvious as he taunts his son that he is the film’s main antagonist. Beside him, the Deputy Sheriff wears a badge of tin, a meaningless shield that represents the prejudicial taint of this revolutionary era. Billy Jack struggles with his temper but he is reactionary, pushed to the limit by these mercenaries who hide behind unscrupulous ethics and consider themselves virtuous: they are rattlesnakes whose deadly social venom can only be survived by a victim who is bitten enough times to create moral anti-bodies. And that’s the metaphor for our protagonist who passes the test of the medicine man and becomes a warrior soul. Counterpoint to Billy Jack is Jean Roberts, the pacifist teacher of the school, and their conflict creates incredible friction: if you turn the other cheek you allow yourself to be victimized, or do you become the very thing you despise by resorting to deadly violence? Laughlin mirrors the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial in the guise of a Town Hall meeting where racism and conformity run amok, condemning the young students for their individuality and excersing their constitutional freedom of expression. The film offers no pat answers and herein lays the power, like a fist raised in the hot stagnant air, of the entire narrative. Jean is battered and raped and her abuser would have remained unpunished because of her passionate pacifism, but Billy Jack takes matters literally into his own hands and fulfills the Code of Hammurabi. Though the film wears its heart firmly on its sleeve, it asks questions rather than answering them, proving that morality is in the eye of the beholder. One thing is for certain, Billy Jack is not afraid of Death…Death is afraid of Billy Jack. (B)

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