I really like Netflix’s take on Daredevil and have been waiting–maybe too long–to write anything about my binge view that first week. The series is gruesome in the unflinchingly dark psychology of its murderous Kingpin (bone-chillingly brilliant Vincent D’Onofrio)–and probably too explicit for some–though in my view, it stops short of glorying in his violence. It is pretty darn smart in its pacing, maybe one of the better uses of the all-at-once-available season I’ve seen.
It is also doing something interesting with how it depicts its hero’s body.
Last night I was talking to one of the graduating Fellows I work with at Trinity Forum Academy, a gal trained in on theologies of the body and I couldn’t help but direct her to the devil of Hell’s Kitchen as a worthy new entry in pop representations of bodies and their meaning. Like most superheroes, Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil is imbued with special bodily powers. Sure he’s blind, but, well, not really. He sees what is explained repeatedly as “the world on fire” and along with his altered ocular perception, comes hearing so fine-tuned he can gauge heartbeats, smell so acute he knows what you ate yesterday, and touch so keen that he has to–just has to, ladies–sleep on silk sheets.
And all that is before the crazy ninja-level stalking and fighting skills.
Daredevil (Charlie Cox, formerly damn-I’m-charming Owen of Boardwalk Empire) has a superiorly-endowed body, no doubt. But unlike the Man of Steel, or conventional representations of almost every superhero save the arthritic-knees of the Dark Knight in Christopher Nolan’s final installment, Daredevil sure bleeds a lot. A whole lot. Like almost bleeds out. Twice.
Stir in a heavy but not entirely heavy-handed dose of Catholicism–our vigilante protagonist is still in the habit of making confession–and something interesting is definitely going on. I wouldn’t argue that his wounds make Matt Murdock Christlike or that they even work visually as stigmata. I just don’t think that the directing goes there in how his body are shot (nor how the church icons are, for that matter).
Still, I do think that the physical punishment and pain that the character takes on and that we in the audience see repeatedly in the form of lacerations, limps, and bruises, do important visual and emotional work to remind us of the cost of his vigilantism to his humanity. It’s a cost he weighs for his souls but one he also feels the weight of in his body.
Dude gets beaten up mercilessly. Plus no one seems to have told the guy about Kevlar: He doesn’t end up in a “super suit” until the final episode of the season. At the end of every implausibly great looking fight scene–and they abound–there is a plausibly human Matt Murdock suffering the after-effects.
It might be penance for being a vigilante. It might be the price of saving others. It is definitely a reason viewers have to connect to the humanity of this character far more than we ever have with, say, rich playboy Iron Man or the similarly rich but sullen Batman. Or Thor who is, well, not human at all to start with.
Matt Murdock bleeds a lot. And it helps countervail the fetishization of his thin waisted but muscled physique when the audiences’ lust or admiration is interrupted by frequent vulnerability and medicalization.
So I dig the choices Netflix et al. have made to keep this player in the Marvel universe perhaps uniquely human despite his superhuman senses. I like how they’ve kept us close to him–rather than just close to objectifying him–by showing us his body’s fragility alongside its capacity.
Will he bleed enough for me to connect with Daredevil the same way in season two? Does it make me a sadist to be a little more nervous for the survival of his character now that his body will less injured?