Netflix's “Bright” and the Power of Innocence
“For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.” (G.K. Chesterton)
Just to be completely up front, I thoroughly enjoy the fantasy genre. The fantastic imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien introduced me to an entirely different world and worldview, the darkness of Mark Lawrence captured my imagination, and the ethereal feeling of loss found in Brandon Sanderson’s novels hit me right in the gut. I am also a fan of dystopia. Lord of the World, The Hunger Games, The Giver, and McCarthy’s The Road are just a few that I’ve read in recent years. With that being said, when I first viewed the trailer for Netflix’s Bright I thought that perhaps it might turn out to be an adventure story, but similar to a dime novel. I admit that even when I began the film, I didn’t want to enjoy it. It has its cheesy moments to be sure. However, as the story unfolds, I found myself locked in and absorbed in a movie that combined Lethal Weapon, Flannery O’Connor, and the ability to present the human condition through fantasy and dystopia.
Bright offers an alternate present where humans live in fear of orcs, elves, fairies, and many other fantasy creatures, but revolves around the lives of two police officers: a human named Daryl Ward and an orc named Nick Jakoby. To be sure, the movie aims to treat the issue of race relations, and I found that treating a sensitive subject with a little less sensitivity than is expected was a reminder of films from the 70s and 80s such as Coming to America and Blazing Saddles. Though at first glance the film was based around this subject, I found that there was actually more depth to the story than perhaps was originally intended. This unintended depth is often an occurrence in fantasy and dystopia. What I found to be the true message of Bright is that innocence, particularly the innocence of the soul, is that which can save the world.
Much like any gritty cop movie, Daryl and Nick are constantly bickering and giving each other a hard time, most often Daryl making the jokes at Nick’s expense. Early in the movie one begins to see the soul of Nick, hidden in the forbidding body of an orc, as someone who is genuine and truly wants to help, no matter the species. Daryl on the other hand has a history of dealing with criminal orcs and was even shot by one. Without giving away too much of the film, Daryl and Nick’s relationship is tested throughout the story, and in a small way, deals with macro-problems in their microcosmic world. As the story unfolds, Nick and Daryl come upon a magic wand and an elf-girl named Tikka with the rare ability to handle the wand. She is trying to protect it from an evil elf who wishes to use the power of the wand for her own ends, and relies on a group called the “Shield of Light” whose apparent aim is the safety and protection of the good in the world.
There were three moments that stood out to me from which I believe comes the real message of the film.
First, as Daryl and Nick are dealing with an onslaught of people who want the wand, Nick nearly dies to try and save other people’s lives and Daryl asks, “Why die for a world that doesn’t care about you?” As you learn in the film, Nick isn’t accepted by orcs as he comes from a line of cowards, and he certainly isn’t accepted by humans as they don’t trust orcs. So Nick finds himself stuck between two species who he innocently wants to serve and protect. Ever since he was a young child, all he wanted to be was a cop, yet the very people he hopes to protect, and even put his life on the line for, hate him. Nick, in his innocence, sees the world as it really is, an objective good, regardless of species, that is worth his life to protect. This is the power of innocence. He is not a simpleton who doesn’t see the evil in the world, but rather—through the actions of mercy and justice colliding with one another—one who has the power to change the situation within his own grasp.
Second, Nick once again acts as a suffering servant and is unwilling to give up the life of Tikka to a gang of orcs who desire the power of the wand. He is offered a place at the table, a people to call his own, yet he is undeterred from the moral good and is willing to give his life. Nick is shot and tumbles down into a deep tunnel. Touched by this act of charity, Tikka uses the power she contains and resurrects Nick through the wand, asking for the protection of the Shield of Light. Once Nick comes back to life, the orc gang realizes that an orc prophecy has come true and decides to bend the knee to the orc who fulfilled it. The very person who the orcs despised became the savior of the orc race, and through his death and resurrection he brings the desire for peace to his people. I think it’s quite obvious that this is a reflection of the Greatest Story ever told, and while many might state that the death and resurrection myth has been retold throughout mankind, Christ’s is the only myth that is ultimately true.
Third, there is a moment when Tikka, who is now drained and dying because of the use of the wand, is brought to a tree, under which lies a pool of water. Tikka explains that the Shield of Light will regenerate her life through the water. She tells Daryl as he carries her to the pool to “have faith,” ultimately in the Shield of Light. Once she is placed in the water, the evil elf that desires the wand blasts both her and Daryl out of the water to try and stop the process. The elf bends down to slowly kill Tikka and whispers, “What are the orc and man to you?” Tikka, with these incredible powers, ought to treat them as slaves, yet she nearly gives her life for them. And Tikka simply responds, “They’re good.” While there is certainly much to unpack here, is this not a reminder of the baptismal waters, which lie at the foot of a tree (the cross) and offer a regeneration of the soul? Is it not recognizant of the demonic powers whispering into our egos to treat those smaller than us with disdain, even when the good is worth our very lives?
Again, I’m not sure if the writers had these motifs in mind, but it is certainly apparent to anyone remotely aware of the Christian thing. I may not recommend this movie to a younger audience as there are some mature images, but I would say that anyone who watches it ought to try and see the deeper message that it contains. Ultimately, the story proclaims the truth that innocence of the soul has real power. Power to overcome our biases. Power to save that which is good. Power to remind the world that it needs a savior. While many might mock the person who operates on such a level, what Bright portrays is that pure innocence can become a beacon of light and love in a world so in need of it.