Finally! A Role Model for Architect Vigilantes

It’s been years since I’ve seen any of the Death Wish movie series, so I was pretty excited when Charles Bronson’s leather-like face appeared on my TV screen this past weekend. Death Wish 2, the perfect movie for a Sunday hangover.

Early on, before any of the death wishing starts, we see Bronson in his office…but wait, what’s this?! It’s an architect’s office! This element of the movie seems to have been lost on my younger self while I was busy becoming desensitized to graphic violence. Now though, the violence is almost irrelevant, and I find myself glued to the chair in hope that we see one of his buildings…

Shortly into the film, after his daughter is murdered, Bronson’s client kindly informs him that “the building can wait,” and our hero seeks solace in the mountains. Plotting revenge while chopping wood, we see him for who he truly is – the Howard Roark of ass kicking. Although, as I would soon learn, calling him Howard Roark might be a bit too generous. Sure enough, at one point we’re shown renderings of his design, an unfortunately proportioned office-park monstrosity complete with “sculpted angels blowing horns.” No! Bronson! Surely your tortured soul can create an edifice to provoke fear and inspiration! A building so potent in its heart-felt purity, it can reform any criminal who walks through its doors! …Alas, it is not to be, and I suppose I can forgive him this indiscretion. His mind is, of course, on other things. It’s like the old saying goes, “mediocre architect, gifted vigilante.”

Once the revenge-killing starts, I realize that although his buildings may lack substance, Bronson is a very hands-on urbanist. He doesn’t waste his time with conceptual plans, polemical statements, and impractical theory! He fixes his city the old fashioned way – with his wits, fists and a pawnshop-bought handgun. An admirable strategy? Yes. A successful strategy? Oh yeah. We find out in the movie that after granting death wishes in New York City, crime dropped by 50%. Now, that’s some serious progress.

The movie boldly explores the dichotomy between his day and night life, showing his client relations suffer, unfortunately (but understandably), as a result of these late night excursions. Somehow though, he manages to get revenge, evade the cops, make the client happy, finish the design, and after receiving critical acclaim, he accepts an invitation to a new building party.

2 Replies to “Finally! A Role Model for Architect Vigilantes”

  1. Maybe it’s not the point of the first & second “Deathwishes”, but to me, maybe the reason he is an architect (other than perhaps being based on real life events?) is that he is taking revenge on urban life. Something to do with building things while other things (crime, urban blight, etc.) are falling apart. He’s defending the past, like an architect focused solely on old buildings. He’s a living anachronism.

    Maybe not. But you totally made me remember the Bill Murray movie, Quick Change, which ends up being about people robbing a bank and how they do it, but has a subtle message about destroying architecture, and, perhaps, our past.

    I think the movie was based on a book, but I can’t remember which one.

  2. Pretty insightful commentary. Death Wish 2 truly is a great movie on so many levels…

    I only wish that the manifestation of his struggle against crime and urban blight could have taken a more aesthetically pleasing form.

    Quick Change….I completely forgot about that movie. Bill Murray in a clown suit…is that some kind of metaphor? Regardless, it’s added to the netflix queu.

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