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Taken (2008)

Ernst Jünger praised a young Social Democrat, even though he himself was not a socialist, who single-handedly faced down the Gestapo in his doorway with a revolver—and shot several men dead. Jünger said that this spirit—the man in his doorway with an axe—represented the true Nordic spirit of old, the spirit by which if the king impinged on your flocks you would gather your extended family and ride out to confront him. The image is somewhat humorous, Jünger was a slender man and it is comical to imagine him as a berserker in his doorway with a giant double-headed axe. Nonetheless, he was on the right track; and he said that in spirit the young Social Democrat was more traditionally virtuous than the nominally ultra-Nordic Hitlerite government with its bureaucratic shock troops.

I noted yesterday that the French, unlike the young Chechen who killed Samuel Paty, lack virtue. Yet strangely enough among the most quasi-virtuous films in recent years comes from France. Taken (2008) is a French-produced English-language film. The plot: a grizzled CIA operator, Liam Neeson, has a teenage daughter whom he adores—the spoiled little wretch lives with Neeson’s ex-wife and her step-father in decadent luxury whereas the now-despised Neeson slobs around the proverbial shoebox apartment in his underpants and string vest.

The daughter is permitted to waltz over to Paris by her feckless mother, over Neeson’s objections, where she is promptly seduced, drugged, and kidnapped by a vaguely Middle Eastern criminal gang who aim to sell her into heroin-induced prostitution. Neeson then engages in a one-man rescue mission to track his daughter down, something he is well-equipped to do thanks to his CIA career. The film features an iconic telephone monologue directed at the silent kidnappers by Neeson in which he tells them to hand over his daughter or he will relentlessly track them down and make them pay [click].

In real life, the father would fly out to Paris and there would be multiple televised appeals and a police search and media speculation and articles about how “we only care because a rich blonde girl went missing abroad and yet thousands of black girls go missing in Paris every year etc.” People favour Taken, so much so it has spawned multiple sequels, because it displays masculine virtue so unlike the passive approach that is normative today. Neeson acts to defend his family, uses the skills he has acquired to do so, and demonstrates a capacity for lethality and guile combined with a tenderness and protectiveness for his family.

However, there are problems with Taken. What did the boy who killed Paty hold sacred? The Prophet Mohammad, the sacred totem for his tribe. What does Neeson hold sacred in Taken? His daughter—daddy’s little girl. This reveals the problem: Taken is a secular story about how men should worship women and sacrifice for them no matter what. You should accept that you will be relegated to the shoebox apartment post-divorce, while your wife alienates your children from you. Yet, if it all goes disastrously wrong, you should still be prepared to jump into the breach and save the situation. So Taken is a fantasy for women—the slightly sicky daddy-daughter romance (Freud had little to say about this, strangely)—and also a means to pervert virtue to serve the feminine.

Genuine virtue is about your own autonomy; and it is about that autonomy as expressed in a wider tribal context, the tribe being bound together by the sacred. Mere material possessions—a woman is a mere material possession—are not sacred objects, even if they are protected. Put briefly: the virtuous Neeson would never have had to traipse out to Paris to go kick-ass on the Ayrab prostitution ring if he had killed his wife’s new husband and dragged the ungrateful daughter and mother home by their hair—the divorce being really a little tantrum to get his attention. Yet that is a film for another time, and another place.

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