Blood Diamond: A Study of Good Disguised
Ayn Rand in her 1966 book, Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal, said about evil: “The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles.” (163) Rand’s statement relates to the absence of the “Rule of Law” in Sierra Leone as characterized by director Edward Zwick in the movie Blood Diamond.
The “Rule of Law” in its most basic form states that no one is above the law, and written laws are used to safeguard a population against totalitarian or mob rule. Zwick embodies the constant tension between good and evil in the character of the protagonist Danny Archer, as he interacts with various characters and situations in his beloved Africa.
Evil in a vacuum exists when chaos rules. In Sierra Leone, the “Rule of Law” has broken down or never existed.
The ruling government is corrupt and does not protect its citizens. Guerilla bands and militia, known in Blood Diamond as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), roam the countryside carrying weapons and killing, torturing, and kidnapping citizens to inflict fear and advance their agenda of evil and oppression. Sierra Leone is a country stricken by poverty and civil war, and its citizens are left to fend for themselves in a hand-to-mouth subsistence. This wretched way of life is in direct contrast to the richness of the land, whose land is blessed with diamonds. The RUF militia often kidnaps villagers forcing them to mine for diamonds in remote jungle rivers and pits. The mined diamonds are then sold to agents and the money then goes to fund the atrocious activities of these rebels. The precious stone is thus called “Blood Diamond” because the African miners often pay for it with their lives and they receive nothing for it in return and the diamond ends up funding the killings in Sierra Leone. In the movie, Solomon Vandy is one such kidnapped slave. One day he discovers a rare diamond and hides it but not before one rebel suspects him of doing so. Solomon is the character that unequivocally portrays the “good” in the film, and the RUF rebels clearly portray “evil.” The director places Danny Archer in the middle of this lawless vacuum, between the “clearly good” and the “clearly evil,” and it is Archer’s duality, as he navigates between these two extremes, that make the film interesting.
Evil is situational to a vacuum. In order to truly understand a person’s impetus, one must first understand a person’s history and the forces that push an individual to the threshold. Much of the dynamics of the characters of Blood Diamond are an ideal subject for Burke’s Dramatism. Danny Archer witnessed evil at a young age with the murder of his parents. He depicts the brutal murder when discussing his past with Maddy: “That’s a polite way of putting it, ja. Mum was raped and shot and uh… Dad was decapitated and hung from a hook in the barn. I was nine… boo-hoo right?” As a young man, Archer joined a mercenary group called the 32 Battalion under the command of Colonel Coetzee. Colonel Coetzee is a soldier for hire, and his morals were based on maximizing profit for himself. Coetzee does not seem to be an “evil developed in a vacuum,” rather he is an opportunist who has no morals at all, other than a desire for personal gain. It appears that he will take any side and kill any number of people as long as the pay is good. He also has no loyalty to his employer, his soldiers, or his former associates. Thus, Archer grew up exposed to killing, greed, and opportunistic behaviors. Coetzee trains Archer to be unfeeling in the face of a war in order to get the job done, and to be selfish in order to protect himself. According to Coetzee, and initially to Archer, selfishness in Africa is not an extension of evil; it is a requirement for survival. Solomon is the complete foil to this system of belief as he is willing to put his life on the line in order to save his son. The foil to Coetzee is Maddy Bowen, who fans the flame of goodness in Archer. She is a journalist who seeks to end the violence and killings in Sierra Leone by stemming the trade of “Blood Diamonds”, effectively ending the civil war. All of these elements come into play, defining the character of Danny Archer as a man who is innately good but is forced to be bad in order to survive in an evil land. Danny as the agent is making actions and decisions that are justified through the presentation of his past. Thus, the audience comes to a better understanding of his behavior by framing his actuations within the circumstances of his tragic past.
Is Danny Archer a man of morals or is he driven by pure greed? For the majority of the film, it seems Archer’s motivation is to get the big diamond that Solomon found and use it to escape Africa forever and start a new life. Archer trades arms with the RUF in exchange for diamonds. Upon hearing of a possible big diamond find, Archer uses his connections to free Solomon from prison. He promised Solomon that he will help his family and get his son back in exchange for the diamond. He is not above killing, lying, stealing, and using people to advance his own selfish interests. He lies to Solomon about wanting to help him save his son, he lies to Colonel Coetzee about helping him get the diamond, and he does not balk at killing people in the process. Archer is only helping Solomon because he wants the diamond for himself. The actions of Archer define him as a selfish man, and his motivations as evil. His greed is his main driving force, even in the face of his uncertain survival. He leverages Solomon’s goodness and devotion to his family and uses it to convince Solomon to reveal the diamond’s location. In one instance he lured Coetzee with the diamond in order to use the latter’s resources to find the diamond and force Solomon to reveal its location. Solomon on the one hand, leverages his knowledge of the diamond’s hiding place in order to get his family to safety and end their lives as refugees in constant fear of their lives. While both characters are driven by their own personal agendas, Archer’s motivation is purely for personal gain, while for Solomon it is his family’s life that is at stake.
As with most of us, Archer’s morals are created by his environment or the scene with which Danny, as the agent, acts. (Burke & Gusfield 135) He grew up in a war-torn land, surrounded by death and the dying. Under an opportunistic mercenary, he grew up to become a formidable soldier. From Archer’s point of view, his quest for conflict diamonds is not necessarily immoral because it allows him to survive in a forsaken land. What he fails to see or refuses to acknowledge are the far-reaching consequences of trading arms for diamonds. When describing Africa, Archer says, “Sometimes I wonder… will God ever forgive us for what we’ve done to each other? Then I look around and realize… God left this place a long time ago.” In a lawless land, there is no room for moral compunctions. God and goodness cannot exist in a land where evil is allowed to run over, and to survive is the only thing that matters, to the exclusion of everything else. Archer grew up in this God-forsaken land, and while he years for something better, he knows that he is helpless to do anything and thus gives in to the lawless lay of the land.
However, on deeper analysis and as the movie progresses, one begins to see that Solomon and Bowen begin to affect him. The love that Solomon has for his family and the idealism of Bowen begin to chip at Archer’s seemingly indestructible armor of indifference and selfishness. He reveals to Bowen the real secret trade routes of conflict diamonds, when he could have just made up something equally convincing. The element of redemption is placed within a war-torn and long suffering land. (Jasinski 188) Although Archer’s character is selfish and opportunistic throughout most of the film, there is a definitive change at the apex of the fighting over the blood diamond after Captain Poison and Colonel Coetzee are killed. The catalyst for this change is Solomon finding his son Dia, and Archer getting shot over the diamond. Archer’s change in attitude may be attributed to his realization that while indeed he has the valuable diamond in his hand, it has no value because he has been mortally wounded. Archer realizes that he will never be able to leave Africa or its troubles behind, and that what really matters at that point is that Solomon and his son get to safety. All of these, Archer comes to terms with as the three of them make their way to the airplane rendezvous with Solomon carrying Archer on his back. At one instance, Archer insists on seeing the diamond. He looks at it, and his face seems lit by an unflinching sense of clarity and purpose. As if all the tragedies of his life melted away in that moment. He then gives the diamond to Solomon and tells them to go without him. He stays to hold off the coming rebels in order to protect Solomon and Dia and ensure their escape. At one point, Archer calls Bowen to ask for help for Solomon’s family. He then says goodbye, peacefully dying while gazing upon the land that he loves.
In the end, Archer realizes that he has indeed found that one big diamond that would change his life. In the pursuit of the diamond he has found redemption. By sacrificing his life to protect Solomon and his son, he has been delivered from an empty and selfish life. In the end his death caused more good than Archer expected. Bowen’s story about Archer and Solomon as well as her expose on the trade of conflict diamonds gripped the world, and ended the trade of these costly and tragic stones.
Blood Diamond is a compelling study of “good” and “evil,” and the many of us who are somewhere in between. In the end, Archer is a martyr; he dies on that mountain in Africa, never achieving his selfish goal, but ensuring that Solomon and his family will have a better life. In providing valuable information to Maddy Bowen, he goes even further and was able to improve conditions in his native Africa, a land that he despised but also loved desperately. In the end, Archer’s duality is resolved and his selfish nature is revised. By one act of noble sacrifice, Archer became an unwitting hero, not just to Solomon and his family but to millions in his war torn land. His story, as told by Bowen brings to an end the civil war and strife that created shaped Archer’s character in the first place. Danny comes full circle and redeems himself and the guilt that has haunted him all his life by committing an act of selfless sacrifice at a time when it matters the most.
All of the elements of Burke’s Dramatism can be seen in Blood Diamond. Danny as the agent, acts depending on the scene or the situation. His selfish and selfless acts depend largely on what choice is most appropriate or even convenient. The act is therefore a response to the scene. The agent weighs the options and decides on the best course of action. In the end, all of Danny’a acts were going towards the direction of redemption. By doing so he redeemed not only himself but the beloved land that he inherently symbolizes. That is land of lawlessness, beauty and goodness can still triumph in the end.
Burke, Kenneth. & Gusfield, Joseph. (1989). On Symbols and Society. University of Chicago Press.
Rand, Ayn. Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal. Signet. 1986.
Jasinski, James. Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies. SAGE. 2001.
Cite this Blood Diamond: A Study of Good Disguised
Blood Diamond: A Study of Good Disguised. (2016, Sep 13). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/blood-diamond-a-study-of-good-disguised/