To keep up with my Film Studies, I often like to do a misé en scene of my favourite films. The film I’ve chosen to pick a scene from is ‘The Punisher’ (2004). A remake of the 1989 original which starred Dolph Lundgren as the titular character. The 2004 remake sees Thomas Jane as The Punisher, reliving the anti-heroes grim origin and Frank Castle’s development into the brutal comic book hero Marvel fans have come to love. The film is taken from Castles point of view, from the moment of his retirement right up to his transcendence into a justice dispensing hero. It is genuinely tough to pick a scene from this film as it is my all time favourite film. I believe the best scene to talk about would be when Frank returns to his Puerto Rican home after the massacre of his whole Family (which is very dark and grim indeed). In this scene we finally see Frank, who is battered and bruised, having failed to defend his Wife and Son, become The Punisher. Before I delve any further into analysing this scene I’d like to go over what happened up to this point.
Frank Castle had been working as an undercover agent with the FBI, posing as a Russian arms dealer. Frank, going by the alias Otto Krieg, meets with Mickey Duka, a lackey under the employment of The Saints, the most influential family in Miami and by far the most powerful. Along with Mickey is Howard Saint’s youngest son Bobby Saint, who wanted in on the deal. Otto meets with the two men and the deal is interrupted by the FBI, Otto gets shot (or so we think), Mickey ducks for cover and when the dust settles Bobby is dead. This sets into motion a series of events which leads to Frank becoming The Punisher.
The Saints step out of the jeep and confront Frank, who is trying desperately to load the shotgun. Frank is beaten and shot, blown up and nearly drowned after the Saints leave him for dead and return home. Finally we reach the penultimate scene. A local witch doctor finds Frank’s broken body and nurses him back to health over a period of 6 months.
Analysis of scene –
The Witch Doctor and a bearded Frank return to his broken home. Frank, holding himself up using a walking stick supplied by the Doctor, stares at his home, riddled with bullets. The Witch Doctor waits as Frank slowly examines the wreckage of his house, room by room, all to an excellent score composed by Carlo Siliotto which is very poignant. Frank discovers a picture of him and his Wife and Son and we see him slowly clench his fist to the side of the picture frame, in complete rage. Frank now knows that he must act outside the law. It instantly cuts to Frank rolling up a rug full of weapons, breaking a glass cabinet to get his Father’s pistols and finally leaving his home for good, walking towards the Witch Doctor. Frank discovers a t-shirt his Son had bought him a few days before the reunion, buried in the sand, bearing the white skull. Frank raises the t-shirt to block his face and finally lowers it a few seconds later, his face instantly looking more determined, with an unmistakeable fire of revenge in his eyes. He throws his walking stick towards the doctor and thanks him, the first words of the scene. Frank continues to walk away as the doctor turns to him and says “Go with god” to which Castle quickly replies “Gods gunna sit this one out” as the score changes to a tense stroking of a cello and a horn, almost like a military march. This change in music signifies Frank’s transcendence into The Punisher. The change in music can be seen here at this link, 3 minutes and 5 seconds into the track.
From here it cuts to Frank gathering weapons from a storage unit and checking them in a new apartment, further adding to thought that he has left Frank Castle behind for a newer or better identity. It also shows Frank taking a quick shot of whiskey, most likely a reference to him becoming an alcoholic, to try and forget the pain the Saints have caused him. The scene ends with a crossfade of Frank looking down the barrel of an unloaded sawn off shotgun towards the camera and then proceeding to lock it back up by using the motion of his hand.
Propp’s theories –
First I’d like to discuss Propp’s theories of fairytales in terms of The Punisher. The hero is obviously Frank Castle, the villain is Howard Saint, the donor or helper would be the Witch Doctor who nurses Frank back to health. The Princess is a tough one, it could be Frank’s dead Wife in a way, Frank always wanting to return to her. Or it could also be Joan who Frank later meets, the strange thing is that Joan falls for Frank but Frank rejects her offer of love as he is still loyal to his Wife. The helper or even the donor could be either Mickey Duka, as he gives Castle important information about the Saints or Castle’s two neighbours: Spacker Dave, who withholds information about Frank from the Saints, for Castle’s sake and his friend Bumbo. The dispatcher could be seen as Frank’s dead family, making him quest for revenge against the Saints or Frank himself being his own dispatcher, angry that he could do nothing to protect his Wife and Son. The false hero could also be Howard Saint, only trying to do the right thing after his son was murdered by the FBI, we slowly realise that he is in-fact the villain of the story after he gives the order to kill Frank’s family, to keep his Wife happy. There is definite character archetypes present in this story.
Interdiction – Frank is warned about the repercussions of Bobby Saint’s death.
Violation of Interdiction – Frank ignores these claims and sets off to Puerto Rico with his family.
Reconnaissance – Howard Saint learns of Frank Castle.
Delivery – Howard’s lackeys provide him with the whereabouts of Frank.
Trickery – there is none present in The Punisher.
Complicity – again this does not apply to The Punisher.
Villainy – The Saints attack Castle’s Family.
Mediation – Frank is wounded and left for dead.
Counter-action – Frank recovers and plots revenge.
Departure – Frank leaves his old house.
First function of donor – Mickey Duka helps Frank with information. Or witch doctor helps Frank.
Heroes reaction – Frank heads to the Saints building in Miami and steals their laundered money.
Receipt of a magical agent – again, this happens earlier in the form of Frank finding his Son’s T-shirt.
Guidance – Mickey Duka helps Frank go about his revenge.
Struggle – Howard sends multiple assassins after Frank.
Branding – Frank suffers multiple wounds, loses his car etc…
After this only three more of Propp’s functions apply to The Punisher, albeit not in order:
Punishment – Frank punishes Howard Saint, making him kill his best friend and his wife using dis-information.
Victory – Frank has now exacted his revenge.
Transfiguration – Frank ascends to the role of anti-hero ‘The Punisher’.
Tzvetan Todorovs’s theories on film –
The Punisher, in terms of Tzvetan Todorov’s theories on film (idea that every story has a preset structure) fits in nicely.
Equilibrium – Frank Castle retires and plans on spending the rest of his days with his Family and a simple desk job.
Moment of Disequilibrium – Howard Saint learns of Frank and plans on gate crashing his family reunion.
Disequilibrium – Frank’s Family is slaughtered and he struggles to rebuild his life, leading to him wanting revenge but he ultimately becomes The Punisher as a result of Howard’s reaction.
New Equilibrium – Frank kills the Saint’s and quenches his thirst for revenge/avenges his family, at the cost of becoming The Punisher/not being able to join his family in death.
In conclusion, The Punisher fits nicely into multiple theories of film and media, especially Propp’s theories and Tzvetan’s theories. Essentially The Punisher is a story about two men, both wanting revenge for the loss of a loved one and both directly influenced by their spouse (or manipulated in Howard’s case). It is important to note that Bobby’s death was not directly Franks fault as Frank did not physically harm Bobby Saint. Essentially it is about two men reacting to each others actions: Cause – Bobby Saint is Killed. Reaction – Howard wants Frank dead. Cause – Frank Castle’s Family is murdered. Reaction – Frank sets out to gain revenge against Howard.
The Punisher fits the role of a classic revenge tale, the hero or heroes family is hurt or physically harmed and then the hero sets out for revenge. Although Frank is not really a hero (more of an anti-hero) he is still the one that audiences root for, essentially Frank Castle is what the normal male aims to be; a family man who will defend/avenge his family no matter what the cost. I believe The Punisher has a hidden message among it’s tale of revenge and sorrow ; Family is everything. Finally, in my opinion, I believe that The Punisher is a great film and one that truly stands out in the Marvel world. It is beautifully shot and written and Thomas Jane is excellently cast as the brooding anti-hero Frank Castle. The film also featured a fine performance from John Travolta and is an excellent portrayal of a life like version of The Punisher.
IMDB : The Punisher – (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0330793/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1)
Youtube : ‘Gods gunna sit this one out’ – (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0i6AzoNu8cg)
Wikipedia : Vladimir Propp – (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Propp)
Slideshare : Tzvetan Todorov – (http://www.slideshare.net/AshaPadhiar/film-theories-10731508)