Monkey Man | Third Space
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Monkey Man

Be careful comparing it to John Wick
Sat 6 Apr 2024

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⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ (out of 5)

Revenge has been a cinema staple over the ages; violent retribution is usually part of the package. Dev Patel (Lion) has decided to incorporate this element into his directorial debut, bridging the gap between Bollywood and Hollywood. Yet, audiences should be careful not to see a direct tie into the John Wick series, as this film delves into a spiritual aspect that differentiates it from the standard violent fare on offer in cinemas.

Patel directs this hyper-violent, vengeful fest and takes on the lead character named Kid. Initially, he looks like a desperate man searching for a meagre living. This comes in the form of playing the role of Monkey Man in an underground fight club that regularly takes the fall to fix matches for the venue’s owner. Yet, this humble role is merely a means for this young man to get access to this world of corruption and crime. He eventually gets a position in one of the most infamous nightclubs in the city with the express purpose of getting close to those who run the underworld and the city’s political system. This career choice exposes his ulterior motive of exacting revenge on the people who led to the vicious death of his mother and family.

Those who choose the careless comparison to the John Wick or Taken franchises will miss how this story goes to another unnerving level, unlike other revenge-fueled past films. Granted, Patel proves he has as much talent behind the camera as he does in front of it. This production does quality camera work to convey the chaotic atmosphere of this Indian cityscape. Throughout the frenetic violence and familial background elements, the direction shows the utter economic disparity within this community and the value of community. Monkey Man is a frenetic visual feast of culture and brutality. Two components that could make many make the direct link to other films, but these are where the similarities end.

The direct spiritual connections and unexpected social commentary differentiate this journey from others within this genre. From the opening frame through to the closing lines, the Hindu faith is interwoven within this story to make clear differentiation from other world faiths. The merciless, exacting revenge delivered by the lead character is written as if it is condoned and encouraged by the gods worshipped in this film. Along with this spiritual justification for these violent acts comes the whole discussion of gender identity. At the film's turning point, Kid is saved by a Hindu sect that worships Ardhanarishvara, a god who is half man and half woman. This storyline's unexpected and jarring component delivers a different element to the typical revenge narrative that feels unnecessary to the overall journey.

To merely compare Monkey Man to other films within this category diminishes the value of Dev Patel’s work. This young filmmaker’s mixture of cultural stylings, extreme violence, and spiritual beliefs makes this more than a Hindu John Wick. His creation manages to be both visually stunning and spiritually unsettling at the same time—aspects that can be celebrated, while on the other hand, should cause audiences to ponder what this film is truly saying about faith and justice.

Reel Dialogue: Which god do you serve?

One of the iconic moments in the film Tiger, the fight promoter played with convincing enthusiasm by Sharlto Copley, states that the crowd all serves god. He mentions the Hinduism, Islam, and Christian faiths. Still, the god he refers to is that of the Rupee or, simply, money. His observation is brash and caustic towards the world’s faiths, while exceptionally profound in its observation of the desires of mankind. Tiger proves that in this world, we must all make choices about what we truly worship.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” Matthew 6:24

Most people do not know that Jesus had much to say about money, not just how they should give to the church. His words dealt more with mankind's priorities, specifically that money cannot be the primary focus of our lives.

Not to be misunderstood, Jesus did not state that money is evil or that he was not anti-money. His teachings went to how it ranked in our lives over other things, specifically to God. The words in the above passage could be asked a question: Who is your God? No one may say it is money, but if it takes precedence over all other things, it has become your god.

Monkey Man shows the painful lesson that when you allow money to drive your actions and beliefs, you are not the master of your domain; money is the master. The only absolute freedom and satisfaction can be found in God. Money is a vicious master, while the God of the Bible is a gracious and loving one.

If you would like to discuss themes from Monkey Man, reach out to us at Third Space. We would love to chat with you about this and more.

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