I’ve been watching Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix. I like it, despite the fact that it has some pretty bloody scenes in it. Actually, it has some really bloody scenes in it. In fact, if you know me, and you see me suddenly jump back from my laptop, squeal, and avert my eyes, it’s probably because I’m watching Daredevil.
And as you may or may not have seen from my filler post earlier, I like applying literary criticism to the stuff I watch. I blame my fantastic American Lit professor…and this book:
We had to read it for American Literature I. If you want an accessible, cleverly-written way to gain a better appreciation of books, movies, and just narrative in general, I recommend this read.
Before we can analyze Daredevil, however, I should give you a brief synopsis of the show: Matt Murdock is a blind, small-time lawyer in the New York slums of Hell’s Kitchen. As a boy, Matt was hit by a truck carrying hazardous materials. Though he recovered from the impact, the toxic waste blinded Matt But toxic waste did what it does in comic-book-land, and now all of Matt’s other senses are supernaturally heightened. Plus he has a new “radar” sense which lets him know the proximity of nearby objects. When not lawyer-ing, Matt uses these abilities to fight crime in Hell’s Kitchen as the vigilante Daredevil.
Dare-DEVIL? HELL’S Kitchen? Yes, you noticed, and you’re very clever.
Now let’s narrow in. In “Cut Man”, the second episode of the series, we discover that, like most superheroes, Matt has daddy issues. His father, small-time boxer Jack Murdock, met his end shortly after Matt lost his sight. Bribed to take a fall in the ring, Jack instead chose to fight his hardest, and win. As a result, Jack’s employers put a hit on him, and Jack was shot in an alley outside his home.
“Cut Man” gives us several flashback scenes to this effect, including the moments right up to Jack Murdock’s final fight. We’re given a shot of Jack in the hallway outside the ring, wearing a robe of yellow and red (which, incidentally, were the color of Daredevil’s first costume in the comics).
I’m pretty sure Matt will never wear yellow, but it’s a nice nod to the source material.
At first Jack looks scared and uncertain, but then a smile breaks across his face. The camera switches to a wider shot of him walking down the hall toward the ring. He claps his gloves together. He’s ready. There’s no turning back now.
The screen floods with white and the scene changes to a young Matt listening to the fight on TV. My theory is that Jack’s entrance into the ring basically symbolizes his entrance to Heaven. He knows that he’s signed his death warrant by deciding to fight his hardest, but he doesn’t care. By doing so, he’s earned money for his son and respect from the spectators.
In fact, the last time we see Jack alive, he is standing in the locker room after the fight, bloody, but victorious. Hurriedly unwrapping his hands, he pauses to hear the people cheer his name. Mur-dock. Mur-dock. Mur-dock. He has arrived in Paradise.
Jack’s heaven-scene ends with the sound of a gunshot. A young Matt discovers his father’s body in an alley and the flashback ends.
Grown-up Matt, now fighting crime as a vigilante, has a similar hallway decision scene. In this scene, Matt enters the hideout of the Russian mob to rescue a kidnapped boy. An establishing shot of the hallway reveals familiar hues of yellow and red, present but…grimier. The red is a neon exit sign and the yellow is the sickly off-white walls.
When Matt enters the hallway, he wears no robes. His outfit has been torn from a previous fight, and though his hands are wrapped like a boxer’s, it’s clear that Matt’s on his last leg before this fight even begins.
But, as with Jack, we know he’s made his decision. The hallway proves to be more of a gauntlet, as Matt physically beats up every mobster in his way to get the room at the end of the hall, where they’re holding the boy captive. Like his father, he enters the door, and we don’t see much of the room behind it. What we do see, however, is a glow, very different from the heavenly lights in Jack’s scene.
The room inside glows red. I think the colors of the two doors bear deep symbolism: Jack chose death and went to Paradise. Matt, on the other hand, continually enters living Hell to rescue the innocent.
This concept reminded me of the original Apostles’ Creed, which states that Christ literally “descended into Hell” before rising from the dead. This makes Matt a kind of Christ figure, taking on punishment and saving those who need it. The scene’s meaning deepens when you realize that Matt has only come for the safety of one young boy…who has been crying for his daddy this whole time.
This nuance gives us a clue as to why Matt does what he does. He’s not just saving others. He’s saving himself.