The moral law within us is certain — as we are as well in our stronger moments — that there exist no benefits to revenge. What do we learn from harboring resentment and spite? What good does it serve to inflict upon others what we or our loved ones have suffered? We may lead decent, unfettered lives with nary an affront, and yet this old debate continues to burn as our petty justification of redemption. Now redemption is a great thing. Justice for all is what we all seek in one way or another, and its fairness not only makes being moral worthwhile, it also removes all other approaches to reality. For all the cruelty and evil perpetrated in the world, there will always be hope for those who want justice for others as much as they want it (most naturally) for themselves. We know that a true artist’s sincerest wish is the chance to fulfill his potential, a magnanimity that he extends to every downtrodden and miserable wretch in his vicinity. This is why the artist, perhaps the most pacific of all souls, enacts in his mind a violent revenge upon the responsible, searing them with his thoughts and banishing them to eternal cognition of their wickedness. And if you know anything about the literature of revenge, you know the name of Edmond Dantès.
The story is one of the classics, remade into plays, films, and rewritten as the thinly−veiled plot of more recent books. And like all such tales, its longevity can be attributed to its fundamental moral: the meek shall triumph over the blasphemous and inherit the earth. Or in this case, a large trove of loot buried in the earth. As it would do us little good to review the original book, a melodramatic farrago at times both charming and schmaltzy (the sure sign of a serial), we should instead turn to the most recent film adaptation. Dantès (James Caviezel) is an illiterate French sailor in the year eighteen−fourteen, as is his chum Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce). Students of language will immediately note that Mondego contains the French word for “world,” while Dantès reminds us of some lesser realm. More perspicacious readers will see a bizarre homogeneity in the fact that the first syllable of each surname contains the last syllable of the other’s first name. To be sure, the men are mirror images, but they are also two parts of the same soul, a device mentioned earlier with regard to this book. Mondego is so irrevocably evil and unscrupulous that no God or gremlin could hope to rescue him from speeding doom. And Dantès, who will rise from lowliest pauper to holiest prince, has much of the avenging angel in him, vigilantism which we are supposed to cheer on like the triumphant Jacobin trains. In this world there is no grey, no off−white, no mauve, no lilac, no azure. Only black, white, and the red of Dantès’s flesh as he is whipped every year on the anniversary of his incarceration.
There is more to this, of course. We have the requisite female (Dagmara Dominczyk) who loves one man but marries the other; the dying priest who cannot understand how to burrow out of a prison but knows the secret of El Dorado itself; the maniacal jailer who enjoys thrashing his wards and cackling; the disappointed father who does something particularly desperate when Edmond is convicted; the corrupt official who barefacedly ignores one man’s innocence in favor of his career; and the ingenuous teenage son who seems to remind us of someone else. I vaguely recollect some ridiculous attempt at symbolism involving a chess piece and a quip about all of us being either kings or pawns, but that’s for those viewers who think historical figures become historical by uttering such rot. Yet, despite its predictability (you will guess each intrigue one scene before it occurs), the film is a rousing, swashbuckling pleasure. Dantès’s redemption is as pure as the wanton betrayal of his friend Mondego, played with sadistic relish by Pearce in what must be considered the performance of his career. We also remember that the motto of the film, conveniently painted in bold on the wall of Dantès’s cell, is God will give me justice. And if He doesn’t, snarls Dantès, I might just take it myself.