"How did I escape? With difficulty. How did I plan this moment? With pleasure."
That is a quote from the greatest novel about the nature of righteous revenge ever written THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO.
Dumas's epic tale of Edmond Dantes and his quest for revenge reverberates with readers over a hundred years after it was first published because revenge, like love or hate is one of the great universal desires. Every man woman or child has at one time or another contemplated or actively sought revenge.
"Beware the fury of a patient man." John Dryden.
There are philosophers, clerics, life coaches and "woke" individuals who will tell you that the best revenge is living well. They pontificate on the futility of vengeance. They will tell you to dig two graves or some other pithy statement. And in the larger scheme of things they're right. We should rise above the petty animalistc need to see the faces of our enemies awash with tears as everything they hold dear is reduced to cinders.
But for a moment let's pretend that we are not so enlightened. For the crime writer revenge is on the Mount Rushmore of character motivation along with love, hate and greed. It's the visceral expression of rage and the literal repudiation of helplessness. For the crime writer, to paraphrase Gordon Gekko, Revenge is good.
"I will hurt you for this. I don't know how yet but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy and suddenly you joy will turn to ashes in your mouth and you will know the debt has been paid." George RR. Martin.
Crime fiction is littered with novels about relentless fury that becomes unrelenting revenge. Murder on the Orient Express is as close as Christie ever got to hardboiled but it's a masterful tale of revenge as the cold dish of yore and the lengths one will go to exact that pound of flesh. The solution to the mystery is of course fabulous but the motivation for the crime is heartbreaking. Mr. Ratchett got off easy if you ask me.
Now for something completely different Sweet Sweetback Badass Song , often cited as one of the first blaxploitation movies is also a nice and nasty tale of revenge. Melvin Van Peebles imbues Sweetback with a hard won dignity as he seeks revenge not only against a couple of crooked cops but against a society that treats him like little more than a beast.
"They're all dead. They just don't yet." James O'Barr The Crow..
One of my favorite modern takes on the idea of dark justice is Adrian Mckinty's Dead May I Well Be.. Mckinty combines a tale of illicit love with a story of grim and implacable revenge. The scenes of Michael Forsythe, an Irish gangster, crawling across the Mexican desert the only thing keeping him alive his desire to kill the crime boss who betrayed him will leave you breathless.
The idea of revenge is taken to the Nth degree by the comic book character The Punisher. Frank Castle becomes the walking embodiment of Nemesis when he sees his family brutally murdered by the Mob. The Punisher is both a thrilling adventure and a cautionary tale. Frank is so consumed with vengeance and punishing the guilty he becomes a bit of a benevolent serial killer. The skull he wears on his shirt doesn't represent the deaths of his enemies so much as it represents the death of his soul.
"Your knife my back. My gun your head." Final Episode, Asking Alexandre
The Hunter by Richard Stark is one of the great minimalist tales of revenge. Parker's partner and his wife tried to kill him and stole his cut of a robbery. Parker is quite perturbed by this so he goes about getting his money back and killing those who have wronged him. The story has a cool clinical atmosphere and the inevitability of Parker is like a force of nature. He is the rain washing away his adversaries. He is the sea swallowing up their lives.
"If you hurt that lady you'll never be dead enough." Danny Costanzo Running Scared.
Two films that have stuck with me for a long long time that explore the toll vengeance takes on all of those involved are Oldboy and Unforgiven. In both there is not catharsis. There is only pain and violence and blood. The guilty are punished because we are all guilty and no one escapes unscathed. As William Munny says. "Deserves got nothing to do with it."
"Fool that I am" said he" that I did not tear out my heart the day I resolved to revenge myself." The Count of Monte Cristro
In the end for all the toe curling satisfaction that revenge can bring as we live vicariously through imaginary characters seeking redress of imagined slights the truth is in this drab and plain reality revenge and the seeking of it rots us from the inside out. It twists us into vile things that cannot be trusted with our own emotions. In the real world the best revenge is better left to karma.
That being said you hurt someone I love and there is no Hell deep enough to protect you from me.
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