The Guest: A Recurring Theme in Contemporary Media

May 15, 2008
By Chris Brady, Braintree, MA

Often in the mediums of literature, cinema, and television, a recurring element is when a character makes a righteous decision, but is nonetheless defeated in the end because of it. This theme holds true for the central character, Daru, in Albert Camus’ literary work, The Guest, as it does for Captain Miller in Steven Spielberg’s epic, Saving Private Ryan, and furthermore for the character Bodie Broadus, in David Simon’s critically acclaimed series, The Wire. All three of these characters, although very different people, are in not-so different environments and make not-so different decisions about what they feel must be done. The actions taken up by the three characters are nothing short of honorable and, in my opinion, inarguably the right decisions, yet these noble choices ultimately seal their fate.

Daru, the protagonist of the story, The Guest, is a schoolmaster living in French Colonial Algeria. He himself is French, but does not agree with society and wishes to remain neutral in the colonial conflict. He does not see himself as better than the natives being oppressed by the French. For this reason he isolates himself from society and lives in solitude. Regardless of his non-affiliation with the French, Daru is thrust into the conflict. He is given the order to escort an Arab prisoner, guilty of murdering his cousin, to prison. While awaiting the journey to prison, Daru play host to his prisoner guest. He shows decency by treating his guest with the same respect he would treat anyone. He talks with talks to the Arab, eats with him, and even sleeps in the same room. Daru’s conscience is torn between following society and leading this man to prison, or letting the Arab free to do what is right for himself. Daru chooses the later and trusts the Arab to do the correct thing and turn himself in, rather than fleeing. Respecting Daru for being a kind, generous, and empathetic host, the Arab does indeed turn himself in. Upon returning to his school house however, Daru is greeted with a cryptic message upon the chalk board. “You handed over our brother. You will pay for this.” Daru, alone in his desert, realizes his impending doom. Even though he treated his guest humanely and with decency, and even though he put his guest’s fate in the Arab’s hands, he was going to die. The misinterpretation of the Arab going to prison was going to fall unjustly on Daru alone.

After a brief firefight, the medic in Captain John Miller’s squad has been fatally wounded, and the Nazi soldier who has inflicted that wound is being held at gunpoint, awaiting execution. The entire squad wants to see the Nazi pay for his crimes, but as compassion gets the better of Miller, he orders his men down. He allows the Nazi soldier to live and sends him off to turn himself in to the first Allied battalion he comes across, just as Daru gave the Arab the responsibility to turn himself in. Even so, Miller’s act of compassion is wrongly rewarded with death. The Nazi soldier, instead of turning himself in to Allied troops, is picked up by fellow Nazi’s and is put back into circulation. At the climactic finale of the movie, Miller and a couple of others in his squad are gunned down by the very Nazi they let live. It appears fate has a cruel, unsympathetic sense of humor. Miller’s life snatched away for no reason other than he had done what was morally right.

Born into urban decay and neglected by society, Bodie Broadus began drug trafficking at the age of thirteen, in the war zone that is the Baltimore, Maryland drug market. As the HBO series, The Wire, progresses, the viewer watches Bodie grow up in the microcosm of a Baltimore neighborhood, forgotten by society. As he grows, it becomes evident that Bodie is the epitome of a soldier. He sells his drugs, follows orders, remains loyal to his crew, and never talks to the police. Despite being a drug dealer, often times volatile, the viewer can see that Bodie is just a kid and that he did not choose this life but was born into it. As the police topple the drug empire to which Bodie belonged, he is left as an independent dealer, as a new, ruthless drug kingpin, Marlo Stanfield, claims the throne. Bodie watches Marlo’s tactics with disgust; tactics that seem nothing short of evil. Talk to the police… murdered inside a boarded up row house. Won’t give up your drug corner… murdered inside a vacant house. Kill a crewmember of Marlo, or even say bad word about Marlo for that matter … murdered in a vacant. After two of his friends are killed by Marlo for seemingly no purpose, Bodie turns informant. Talking to a police officer he knows and respects, Bodie says he is willing to inform of Marlo’s crew. “It’s like he’s killing people just to do it. Not ‘cause they snitchin’, not ‘cause it’s business, just cause he can/ Marlo… his kind… they got to fall, they got to!” Bodie, the consummate soldier, makes the righteous decision to inform on Marlo Stanfield, in hopes that this callous kingpin will fall, avenging his friends and stop the ongoing pointless killing. Bodie, seemingly foreshadowing his own death, remarks “This game is rigged man”. Marlo, acting on a tip that Bodie was seen getting into a car with a white man, assumes Bodie is snitching, despite having no real proof. He orders Bodie’s death as a precautionary measure. On his drug corner, Bodie is ambushed by three of Marlo’s soldiers. He won’t go quietly, like the others in the vacants, and begins firing at the two oncoming soldiers. Emerging from an alley, the third soldier creeps up behind body and fires a round to his head. Bodie lies dead on his corner. Despite taking it upon himself to do what is right and end the reign of a soulless killer by talking to the police, Bodie is gunned down before he can do any damage to Marlo’s empire. The senseless killing continues on uninterrupted. Bodie died because he tried to do what was right, just as Daru and Captain Miller were dealt an unfair fate. He found bravery and abandoned his own creed to bring justice to those who deserved it, and that alone sealed his fate. Regardless of what some movies may depict, the good guys never win. None makes this clearer than The Wire.

As seen in all three mediums, literature, cinema, and television, the theme of “the good guys always win” is not always prevailing. Daru, who felt compassion for his fellow man and released him to make his own choice, will be killed. Captain Miller, who abided by the rules of war and his own conscience allowed his prisoner to live, yet in the end was killed by the man he spared. Finally, Bodie Broadus, the epitome of a soldier turned against his own creed to bring down a ruthless murderer, yet, for his honorable actions, was gunned down alone on his corner. These three characters found the courage to go up against society, their own conscience, and their own creed to do what was right, and nonetheless paid with their lives.

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