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Monday, February 11, 2013


Self sacrifice is often considered one of the most selfless acts any person can commit. The death of one for the lives of many, it involves someone looking past themselves and considering the people they could save while giving up the one thing that they can never get back. Of course it means less in worlds with resurrection ie comics or Shonen but still, it is one of those things that is expected of any hero following the archetypal journey. Yet it is not always entirely selfless, and sometimes actually hurts those around the person more than they would have otherwise.

For this I will look at several case studies. The first is Django Unchained. There will be spoilers, and spoilers of plenty. During the end of the film the two protagonists have been pulling off a con on a plantation owner named Candy and it has been found out, so Django and the dentist whose name I actually forget have to pay a large sum of money to get his wife back instead of the little they wanted to play. As they are leaving Candy insists they shake his hand to add insult to injury, but it is the last straw for the dentist. He takes out his pistol and shoots Candy, even apologizing to Django as he does it. He knew he would die for it, and does almost immediately afterwards, so it is a self sacrifice of sorts.

Throughout the entire film this man had shown his hatred for slavery and in general anyone he considered evil and Candy fit in both categories. Eventually it just got to him and he couldn't resist killing this evil man even though he knew it would cost his life. He also knew that it would hurt Django, and almost resulted in his castration and loss of his wife, but because of his principles he couldn't resist, and so executed Candy. Because of the enormous shootout that resulted from this action it was clearly a selfish act, almost killing Django and his wife, all because of killing one man. Here the sacrifice actually loses more lives than it saves, but the morality of both parties comes into question, as well as how much any given life is worth.

The theme of sacrifice also pervades the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's not a film, but whatever, it's close enough. Buffy herself constantly fights to maintain a normal life despite being the Chosen One. For centuries this had prevented the Slayers from being normal in society, and they had lived at the fringes friendless with only a Watcher to give them some companionship. Buffy however functions differently, going to high-school and finding a small group of friends who endure with her for many years, because she declined to sacrifice so much of her life.

Living this life cost her however, as she lost friends and companions, as well as having to save them on a near weekly occasion. Eventually she ended up sacrificing love to her cause, as there was not enough time and it hurt her too much to lose boyfriends. In the end of season 5 her sister has been used as the key to begin an apocalypse and a massive vortex of energy is close to swallowing up the entire world. Buffy stands with her sister staring at the approaching doom and knowing that the sacrifice of her sister would end the coming Apocalypse. She refuses to do this however as she has lost nearly everything by that point, and no longer wants to live with all the pain and suffering that comes with the world, basically shouted to the heavens in the musical episode.

In the end she sacrifices herself in one of the few really selfish actions she does in the show. I'll explain here, it is selfish because she it the Chosen One. Normally when a Slayer dies another one arrives so there is no real change, but Buffy already died and changed the cycle so her new death does nothing except lose the world a huge bastion of good in the fight against evil. Demons constantly feared Buffy and she help to avert numerous plural of apocalypse over the series. She was one of the few reasons the world still worked as it did but she grew tired of it. The whole Slayer job doesn't have a great life expectancy and Buffy managed to die twice before her 21st birthday.

The other option for her was to let her sister die. Her sister was created to birth and destroy the vortex, killing her would have ended the cycle and let the world continue like normal but Buffy couldn't live with that, and so sacrificed herself leaving her friends to deal with the consequences. This involved them trying to fight off vampires and demons rather unsuccessfully, and trying to fool the world that Buffy was still around, because without her Sunnydale would sink into darkness, and the world would soon end. She loved her sister too much and so died for her, letting the world fall to hell if it liked to. Her sacrifice was the most selfish thing she could have done.

There are numerous instances of similar things to this happening, with self sacrifice leading to nothing but pain and suffering for those who survive. Some people just wish to go out in a blaze of glory because life is too tough, and they simply can't bear to live. It is interesting how a culture that frowns on suicide so much is so accepting of a 'noble sacrifice', even when it dooms so many people. Maybe it's the fetish for heroism that does it, but modern culture seems to love the sacrifice, especially when it saves a number of people, it is considered a fitting end to a story, and that is sad.

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