*** Disclaimer: I use both the graphic novel and the movie for this new way of seeing SIN CITY. So If refer to an event you don’t remember, check one or the other of those sources. For the sake of brevity (too late?), I keep to one storyline, that of Marv and Goldie, known as “the Hard Goodbye”. One last thing, I haven’t asked Frank Miller’s artistic opinion about any of this; best to consider this a “what if?”. In the end, if it clicks for you, then I feel glad to have shared something meaningful to me. Onwards. ***
One can watch the entire movie Sin City, without having a single moment of reflection. It doesn’t ask you to do any deeper thinking than you feel inclined to – the action rushes by fast and furious, the characters barking and purring lines, one after another.
Yet something stirs, underneath the surface. Something worth a more thoughtful look, for Sin City (the derogatory slang for “Basin City”) really contains two worlds: a world dedicated to Sincerity, and another to Cynicism.
Throughout Sin City, you see the same repeating visual message, over and over: bricks, bars, cages, gates. The Prison that we all live in, the Prison of our culture. And yet within the Prison, certain beings refuse to give in, refuse to cease making their beautiful drama of life, love, fury, and death.
The character Marv, a man somehow both ancient and in the prime of his life, a walking wall of muscle, embodies an intentionally anachronistic kind of masculinity. He comes from a primordial time when male purpose sat clearly in the open: to protect and provide for the goddess (our wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers, and the earth herself).
[I see Marv as] Conan in a trenchcoat… – Frank Miller
He drunkenly wanders the line between those two cities, unable to find the entrance to Sincerity, unwilling to submit to the world of Cynicism and Lies, lost, alone, without any meaning to his days. And then it happens.
…she falls against me…dripping with that angel sweat of hers…the perfect woman. The goddess. Goldie. -Marv
The goddess touches him, asks him to protect her, shares her divinity with him, making love at the heart of the center of the universe, the origin point of the big bang, surrounded by the infinite darkness preceding creation.
Afterwards, upon waking, he realizes something terrible has happened. The goddess has died in the night. Someone has killed her. The snake has entered the garden created by the union of the god and goddess. But Marv can find no wound, no sign of damage. Almost as if she did not receive a physical wound, but a spiritual one.
And he spends the rest of the story trying to get back to that blissful origin point, back into the embrace of the goddess. And the only way there, lies on the other side of redemption. He can only get back there, by protecting the goddess after the fact. By redeeming his failure and protecting what remains of her – her daughters, her sisters. In our culture, after the first sunrise of the Universe, men wake up having failed already. Upon waking, into their laps and before their bleary eyes, they receive the bitter gift of this culture: a world created upon the enslavement of the goddess, a world choking and poisoned, where (in America) one out of four women is sexually assaulted, in a long tradition of patriarchal vengeance upon the bodies of those who remind us most of what remains ever outside of the full control of our science and machines: the earth mother herself.
When his eyes go dead the hell I send him to will seem like heaven after what I’ve done to him. I love you Goldie. – Marv
Before he had met the goddess again, and reunited with his original purpose, before she had touched him with her sacred power, the simple, everyday, miraculous power of her body, he had lost his way, lost his moorings, forgotten where he had come from.
…hell is waking up every god damn morning and not knowing why you’re even here. Why you’re even breathing…but I’m out. I know exactly why I’m breathing. I know exactly what I’m doing. – Marv
She had saved him. She gave him his purpose back. He had failed in saving her. She had died for him. Now he would die for her, but only after redeeming her death.
First, he obtains the aid of priestesses of the goddess, his parole officer who can get his elixir of confidence (anti-psychotic drugs that seem to have no more than a placebo effect) from her girlfriend the psychiatrist. Only women who love women will help him out at this moment.
Then he gets more support, from his mother, sneaking into her house, retrieving his pistol from his childhood room. He has named his handgun Gladys, after a nun from his primary school days. Another woman who will support him. His mother discovers him, worried.
Mom, I feel better than I have in years…I met a girl. Her name’s Goldie. She’s really nice. – Marv
Marv continues on to set a trap, by going to Kadie’s, yet another safe haven for him: a joint of “booze and broads”, run by the transvestite (a man who embraces the ways of women) Kadie, never seen, but who has extended a permanent welcome to Marv…yet another source of the Goddess’ help.
After some bloody detective work, he manages to obtain a confession from a priest: the all powerful Cardinal Roark has his hand in this somehow. This goes all the way to the top of the rotten patriarchy: the Church, the twisted and enslaved masculine power under the corrupt Cardinal, a power opposed to the ancient protector spirit of Marv, has murdered the goddess. The Church denies and stigmatizes everything having to do with the goddess, with any wisdom women have. And Marv stands on the outside of things. He finds himself the outcast. The Church has all the power.
Marv: It can’t be that big.
Priest: Find out for yourself! …and ask for yourself if that corpse of a slut is worth dying for.
Marv: Worth dying for. [BLAM!] Worth killing for. [BLAM!] Worth going to hell for. [BLAM!] Amen.
He follows a lead that the Priest gave him. It takes him to a very bad place, and almost destroys him. He meets somebody wholly new, somebody dangerous of an order above and beyond the everday cruelty of Sin City’s patriarchal powers. He meets Kevin, the Consumer of the goddess. And Kevin has powers that Marv didn’t even know existed.
…Impossible…nobody can sneak up on me…nobody…my fingers die…I go blind…nobody’s that quiet…nobody except the one who snuck into that hotel room two nights ago…”…It was you, you bastard! You killed her! You killed Goldie!” – Marv
With the face of cherub, the whirling and untouchable Kevin smiles his way through beating Marv unconscious. Blackness.
Marv wakes up locked in Kevin’s cellar, his trophy room. Several heads sit mounted on the wall. Women’s heads. Lucille sits nearby, also trapped.
He eats people…It’s girls he eats as far as I can tell… – Lucille
Marv has met, and temporarily lost to a force completely alien to him, a force that even the Church fears. The new power of young men who don’t just deny women, don’t just beat them, don’t just consider them second class humans. We’ve done that for long millenia enough. But these new ones do something altogether new: they consume them, with a smile, with an inexhaustible hunger, with angelic youthful faces, with a matter-of-fact everyday sociopathy that leaves Marv stunned. He didn’t even know you could do this to women. He’s seen them beaten, caged, humiliated. But eaten?
He didn’t just eat their bodies, you pig, he ate their souls! He loved them in a way that was absolute and clean and perfect! – Cardinal Rourke
And truly, Kevin’s masculinity has a catlike quietly, he rakes with his claws, all serpentine speed and grace. He does think he has consumed and stolen the dark powers of the goddess, and wields them savagely. He worships female power in a way no-one would wish themselves worshipped, like a vivisectionist awed by the complex, functional beauty of a cat’s exposed organs, using the knowledge gained “for the greater good”.
After escaping Kevin’s hellish cellar, Marv must head to Old Town, the sanctuary of the goddess, to get the help and knowledge of the women there. He sees Wendy, Goldie’s sister. Of course, you can’t kill the goddess any easier than you can kill Life itself. Wendy stands for the continuation of that goddess in the face of her spiritual suffering. As daughters of this same goddess, at first Wendy and the others don’t trust him – they believe the lie of the Police and Church, that Marv killed the goddess. What greater trick than that, if the Patriarchy can convince the daughters and sisters of the goddess that the ancient warrior, scarred and intimidating, with his antique protector ethic, killed the Divine Female. Yet it doesn’t stick. Sincerity wins through. The goddess runs Old Town as best she can, and her sincerity saves her daughters from killing their champion. Wendy, Goldie’s sister, realizes she almost made a terrible mistake.
Wendy: You sat there and took it—when you could have taken my gun away from me any time you wanted to—
Marv: Sure, but I thought I might be able to talk some sense into you. And I probably would’ve had to paste you one getting the gun—and I don’t hurt girls.
Marv feels terrified at the task ahead of him, as he gathers his wits, with the help of Wendy and the daughters of Old Town.
[looking at his reflection in a mirror]…Feel the fear and get past it…go ahead…shake like a junkie…you’ve got some people to kill, and if you do this right…you’ll go to your grave a winner. – Marv
With renewed conviction, Marv faces Kevin again, the Warrior against the Soul-eater. Because Marv now no longer doubts Kevin’s power, because he understands Kevin exists, no matter how alien, he fights fully aware, and though savaged by Kevin’s claws, he pulls him in and embraces him, clicking on the handcuffs.
Yeah, that’s right…get up close and personal…I can take it… – Marv
No longer denying that this alien thing in front of him is a man just like himself, Marv has beaten Kevin. Marv now understands what before he could even imagine.
Try to hop around now you bastard. – Marv
Looking at this poor soulless thing with the body of a Man, Marv does the only merciful thing. He disassembles him, piece by piece, like a robot.
Marv deals Kevin the killing blow at last, the cherub smiling peaceably all the while, his empty pleasantness ever reflecting the unfillable hole inside him. A thousand goddesses would not have sated his need, trapped by the addiction for something he could never get. Perhaps Kevin finds relief in his death, at last freed from his helpless sociopathy. Desperate in his lonely emptiness, completely estranged from the Mothers and Sisters and Girlfriends to whom, from his training growing up in Sin City, he could only see as objects of his unattainable satiation. He could only receive the goddess’s love and blessing when she gave it willingly, not by consuming it. By hiding this from himself, Kevin has lost himself to all that matters in this world, more completely and perfectly than any of us. And his mentor, the Cardinal, envies him terribly. Such perfect meaninglessness.
Finally. Roark. Patrick Henry Roark. – Marv
Marv takes it all the way to the top. Confronting Cardinal Roark, he learns the Cardinal had taken him under his wing, at first shocked by Kevin’s eating (something new to even him!), but then finally seduced by it, seduced by Kevin’s perfection of the absolute annihilation in himself of the capacity to live, feel, love, or see any speck of the goddess left in the world…like a true scientist of this mechanistic age, the world now appears a dead thing to him, for playing with and finally consuming.
…in time, I began to envy him…I could no longer stand to the side, while he touched heaven. – Cardinal Roark
In a strange kind of feedback system, the Patriarchy of Sin City gives birth to a creature it has never seen, but then learns from it to become more and more terrible, consuming ever more completely the goddess, violating too the soul of the Divine Male until nothing remains but tatters. Until nothing remains but Marv, the last scrap of the ancient warrior left.
…it’s beautiful Goldie…it’s just like I promised only better…and when his eyes go dead the hell I send him to must seem like heaven after what I’ve done to him… – Marv
Caught with the Cardinal’s dead body in his hands, gunned down and then resurrected on the operating table, charged with all of Kevin’s (and Roark’s) crimes, thrown into a cell on Death Row, after all his work, all his waiting, he finally receives, in death, his prize: a reunion with the embrace of the goddess. Through confusion, and fear, and pain, and violence, Marv has clawed his way back to a reunion with Goldie, on the heart-shaped bed at the center of the Universe. And the explosive power of that reunion starts it all over the again, as they once more create the Universe for the very first time, in the infinite darkness before sunrise, every single day.
So many layers ask for a telling here: the Marv in us, will save the Goldie in us, if we ask him. He will fight the Kevin and the Roark, the part of us trained by our culture to eat women’s souls, to hate them yet worship them. Actual men can also “save” actual women by honoring the goddess, the Goldie, in these living, breathing women all around them. By refusing to consume her. By coming together with her at the center of all things, on a heart-shaped bed, before time began, and create the universe again.