Back in the day, good and evil was easy to see. If you watched a typical Hollywood movie, it’s very easy to see which guys to root for. After all the bad guys almost always wore all black outfits and had black hats. On the other hand, the good guys were the precise opposite; they were in white shirts and white hats.
A lot of people would probably be rolling their eyes at this because it seems like such a basic comic-book morality. They would point to the fact that this, in no way shape or form, reflects how life is normally lived. I would agree with them, life is messy. In equal measures, somebody who is moral in certain segments of their lives in their inner dealings with certain people, can turn out to be the very embodiment of evil in a different context.
If you read Hannah Arendt’s book on Adolf Eichmann, she demonstrated that evil is banal. In other words, every single day, there’s tremendous evil being done, and it’s done in a matter-of-fact, bureaucratic and automatic way. A lot of these old movies with this black-and-white comic book morality completely missed this. This highlights the big dilemma we have. On the one hand, you want some sort of moral clarity. On the other, you don’t want to simplify things so much that you make people blind to how evil truly looks like in real life.
That’s why most movies actually fail with this because instead of grappling with this dilemma, they just end up throwing us in a gray moral age. Put simply, it’s just easier to make things gray. Everything else leads to good, or everything else is just as good as others, and there’s really no absolute objective truth. As comforting as this may be in certain contexts, as well as in crafting a script, this does open a can of worms.
If you’re going to say that there is no such thing as true north as far as morality is concerned, then what’s preventing you from celebrating evil, and then training people to just basically turn a blind eye or develop learned helplessness when exposed to it? Nothing is sadder and really more pathetic than recognizing evil play out in your mind, but choosing not to do anything about it because you feel morally conflicted. Unfortunately, that is exactly the kind of complicated and awkward stance such gray moral posturing or positioning leaves us at.