They say humans aren’t inherently evil. They argue that people learn their malevolent behavior at the hands or influence of another, or through the systematic brainwashing of (or reaction to) the world around them. People can’t be born bad, yet we often argue that they can be blessed with talent, insight, or specialized physical ability. No, evil is left to the specious and supernatural, a place where wicked little children kill their rivals, bad seed style, and the maladjusted take to machetes and murder as a means of making sense of their darkest inner fantasies. There is barely room for the misguided, or in the case of some, the mean-spirited and manipulative.
The notion of bad, and the byplay between right and wrong come to the fore in the two films that arrive at number five on the Sight & Sound list of the Greatest Films of All Time. On the director’s side is Martin Scorsese’s mesmerizing Taxi Driver, the tale of a disillusioned loner who becomes a social vigilante by way of his affection for a teen prostitute. Within the overall collection comes F. W. Murnau’s amazing Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. There, a callous gal from the city twists a poor country farmer into plotting to kill his wife. His reaction to such a challenge changes his life forever. Oddly enough, in each case, the threat of violence (or the actual arrival of same) propel the characters forward. Equally intriguing is how faith in humanity is restored once the true villain is vanquished and morality makes a case for its continuing purpose.