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After more than 17 years, I watched Conan The Barbarian for the second time.
The first time I saw it with my father I was just a child. Last week I remembered the film. I also remembered how Sundays were all about getting up early, going to Church with my dad, buying the newspaper and spending the morning watching old movies and programs. El Zorro, He-Man, Cantinflas and old Vicente Fernández films were always in front of us. Then Conan showed up on TV and blew my mind.
Little could I remember so I decided to re-watch it. What I found were not only memories, but also lessons for these times.
Conan, who had been deprived from his family by raiders who killed them serving Thulsa Doom, a thief/sorcerer later on cult leader, went on a painful journey to avenge his parents and people, in which he learned duty at the hands of survival and rewards for slaughtering his enemies.
“What matters is that two stood against many […] So grant me revenge, Crom!”
The importance of family and the love for one’s people finds its way to the story’s soul, constantly reminding us of what Conan’s destiny is. No matter the drunkenness, the wandering, the doubt, a man must understand one fundamental rule: duty is to be fulfilled.
“Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women!”, said Conan when asked about what’s best in life. In that phrase, we can see how a man must act: to fight, to win and to be remembered. A man should not care about others to be himself. He should seek what he wants and surpass his lifetime teaching the younger through the myth the things he achieved that others couldn’t.
Conan never dismisses these characteristics, even when he loses his woman by the snake arrow of Doom. “He is Conan, The Cimmerian, he won’t cry. So, I cry for him”, said his Sanchoan friend, Subotai.
When arrived at Doom’s temple, Conan looks at his enemy’s zealots living in some kind of flowery effeminate borderless commune. Contempt is all he can give. For them, no one is a foe there and everybody shall be a friend. But as Schmitt said “if you refuse to name your enemy, he will name you” —and Conan had. So, in order to get to Doom, he fools one the priests by acting sensitive and confessing to him that he’s “afraid and shy” only to knock him out and steal his clothes. No place for baizuo in Conan.
Throughout the film, power seems to be ultimately pure raw action until Conan meets Doom again. Then things change when he sees how Doom can manipulate anybody that answers to him to the point of literally throwing themselves to death. “Steel isn’t strong, boy, flesh is stronger!”, his enemy proves. “What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? […] I gave you that strength and that desire in your heart”, he continues.
Those two phrases explain what power is really about: to control or to be controlled. It is not power, but the wielding of it the true goal. As the prince of his cult, Doom tortures Conan à la Passion of Christ, shows what power he can wield, constantly calls him “my child”, slowly bending his will of power up until the end of the film.
The pomposity and hedonism shown inside Doom’s temple also tempt Conan and his companions who call “paradise” the drunk orgies they see, proving aesthetics —even nihilistic— work as good as any policy or piece of legislation.
It’s in the end, just before Conan beheads his life-long enemy that power manifests when Doom almost puts a spell on the hero and manipulates the truth to his favor. With the final beheading, Conan proves that power can only be fought with power and not with the idea of its reduction. Elites, Mosca also proves, can only be fought by other elites, in a clash were the stronger prevails.
Fortunately, Conan was also the better. By being so determined, duty-centered and now free, Conan showed the way to Doom’s former zealots, who dropped their torches and left, following his example.
The Secret of Steel and Sun and Steel
In the first scene we can see Conan’s father telling him about the riddle of the steel. Its philosophy, later revealed by Doom, consists mainly on action, not thought. Power, in its density, traps mind and soul with everlasting lust, whereas control frees them with proportion and timing.
Still, proportion and timing are not theoretical, they’re natural and intuitive, they’re force and momentum. And Doom made Conan trap himself in the theoretics of good and bad for a moment, but he went for the head, because otherwise he would stop being himself.
The afirmation of life comes with action, not thought —that’s one of the core messages of Mishima’s Sun and Steel. Conan knew how to vessel that energy to a greater project and it made me think of the nation.
“To change the silence of death into the eloquence of life, the steel was essential” is read in Yukio Mishima’s Sun and Steel. One could say that to avoid the silence of history to become the vivacy of destiny, a nation is essential. A nation must always be proactive, inventive and cohesive writing its fate so others don’t. When nations act, contemplation rarely partakes in the process.
Conan The Barbarian shows us masculinity, power and patriotism represent a useful trinity in favor of life against today’s nihilistic war on masculinity and the nation state.
Rafael Valera, Venezuelan, student of Political Science, political exile in São Paulo, Brazil since 2017 // Rafael Valera, venezolano, es estudiante de Ciencias Políticas y exiliado político en São Paulo, Brasil desde 2017