Everyone wants to focus on the fruits of their labor and everyone ignores the elephant in the room; When those same ambitions spoil. There is such a thing as being too driven. A lot of successful people for countless reasons will report being so consumed by their goals that they harmed people in their way. They were willing to live and die by their principles. This is something called a martyr complex. A martyr is someone who is willing to suffer persecution when their ideals challenge another group, and they usually do at the hand of said group. Postmodern culture glamorizes this trait so much that the end result does justify the means. There are different ways of course ambition can turn sour. Each one is more dangerous than the last. Before moving forward there will be spoilers for a few movies. We’re square now because I warned you.
Man v. Self: The Tortured Artist
Your name is Nina, your story is the movie Black Swan directed by Darren Aronofsky. The prima ballerina in your dance company is being forced to retire. The artistic director is opening a new show for the company, swan lake with a twist. This creates an opportunity for a then-rising star to leave the corps and to be a principal soloist and the face of the company. Nina is one of the most disciplined dancers, her movements are very precise, practiced, and in most views perfect. The artistic director loves that, the principal role is a dual performance. The Black Swan the part of the role Nina does not embody at all. That’s the opposing part of the role that relies on passion, lust, and imperfection. Nina does not know how to dance without being in absolute control.
For the remainder of the film, Nina very quickly descends into madness. She begins to hallucinate, suffer from illusions of grandeur, jealousy and isolates herself from her mother. In the end, she unwittingly kills herself for perfection. But our tiny dancer is more than poised to die because it was …
Why in god’s name was she okay with dying like that? Her entire life orchestrated to get her to the point of absolute perfection. Why does it feel like our dreams aren’t worth pursuing unless we are the best? Why doesn’t anyone even defend a modest life? Why do we have to give our lives to a single objective and be world-class in those marks?
Martyrdom is grotesque and archaic. It is the easy way out, to spiral into insanity for a goal. But if Nina kept her sanity she would be a far more impressive dancer than she was the way she died in the story. It is this lack of insight that makes her character dull amidst the dynamic tragedy of her blighted tale. To go on, I love this story Nina is one of my favorite cinema characters. That’s because it’s relatable. Her naive commitment is a slippery slope so many people face and are saved from, Nina was not as lucky. Nina teaches us that the best performers die, the smart ones break a leg instead.
Man v. Man: The Villain
Now we move on to the villain. The Villain in movies is usually the most ambitious person in the film. They are trying to live out some principle standard envisioned by them and will do all sorts of bad shit to make that happen. The villain of all villains
That rights Anton the Don Chigurh from 2007’s No Country for Old Men by Javier Bardem. So, my prenty film snobs know why this man is unmatched. But that’s for another blog post. Let’s talk about why his ambitions spoiled.
Anton is a hitman sent to retrieve a briefcase with money for the cartel. Anton does not get the chance right away however because of another savvy individual (Llewelyn Moss by Josh Brolin) in the desert. Makes off with the briefcase and now Anton has someone to hunt.
SERENDIPITY 2.4 MILLION DOLLARS INA BRIEFCASE
So Anton has two goals now to kill the individual that took the briefcase and … Get it back duh.
“If you want to know what a hero is made put them under pressure”
In the worst way, Anton is the grim, stoic, alien adjacent, mad man, killer, persona. His character is relentless and feels no remorse for the people he kills. On top of that, Anton has an amazing threshold for pain. He survives a car accident and his ulna or radius (one of his forearm bones) is peaking out from his skin and he is able to limp away from the accident. Proceeds to kill nearly everyone that sees him. The only people he doesn’t kill are those who guess correctly in his coin flip. Anton will approach a victim ready to kill them, and he for whatever reason is compelled by the victim. He’ll tell them something like not all hope is lost, throwing the coin in the air he says “call it”. A correct call and he reasons that it is fate keeping them alive. Incorrect gives him the clear to finish what he started.
Anton kills people, blows up a car, gets hit by a car, but ultimately he is unsuccessful and kills the widow of his original mark(Josh Brolin). Again I’ll say it, there is such a thing as having too much ambition. What makes a poison is a dose. Even though a character like Anton has no moral compass and only seems to understand killing. He is robbed of feeling any sympathy because he’s got shit to do. That is the exact problem his task completely dehumanizes him. He operates as if he is second and the task is first.
Anton is completely void of any emotion. Except a few that hustle culture loves.
Man v. Nature/Society: Corrupt Big Business
Polytetrafluoroethylene is a long chain chemical called Teflon. Formerly used to make cookware. These criminals (not actual criminals because they have enough money to stay in court forever, therefore they are never PrOvEn GuIlTy, the American justice system is a flop… anyways…) at Dupont manufactured the dangerous chemical knowing that it would harm people. In the movie Dark Waters, starring Mark Ruffalo as Robert Billot, a plaintiff lawyer who sues them for a farmer(William Tennant by Bill Camp) who knows Ruffalo’s grandmother in the film. Mr. Tennant has 190 cows die on his farm in West Virginia. His cows began to become aggressive, their teeth turned black, caused strange tumors, and a slew of other issues. His cows drank water from a stream contaminated with unregulated chemicals from the Dupont factory up the creek.
Phil Donnelly’s played by Victor Garber character was an executive at the Dupont company at the time this film is set in. Phil gets out of character when Ruffalo asks him “what is PFOA?”. Next, the company intimidates all the local lawyers to prevent being sued. They never report to the EPA that the chemicals they were using were harmful resulting in the deformity of unborn children, the men working having a Teflon flu, blackening teeth, poisoning local water, testicular cancer, you name it. They did everything for as long as they could to keep it all secret. Because they were making too much money to stop. If they stop the cost of retributions outweighs the cost of knowingly harming the public. Their ambition spoiled like sour cream sitting in the sun at a tailgate BBQ.
No one defends the modest life anymore. There is constant competition, comparison, and GrInD. But it’s all for nothing. Nobody is happy. We live in one of the loneliest times in history. All of our connections made electronically only drive us all further apart. Life shouldn’t just be a string of accomplishments. Ambition, in too high of a dose like anything, can be poisonous. However, a 9 to 5, with a small apartment, movies on Tuesday, in a Nissan, sometimes you cut your own hair… That’s something to defend. There’s nothing wrong with striving for more. In fact, you should pursue a better life and self-improvement, but the end does not justify the means. So however you find yourself on top remember you would not be a loser if you chose a modest life.
Uncapped ambition will spoil things.
Special Thanks to my underpaid editor who doubles as my best friend. I love you Elizabeth.