Claymore: Choosing Death Wisely

Claymore Recap: Clare has traveled in secrecy to the Holy City of Rabona. Her assignment is to quietly engage and defeat a powerful yoma who has been preying on the priests of the city cathedral. If she is discovered in the course of her assignment, the human guards of the city will put her to death as an abomination.

Claymore, Episode 4: Clare's Awakening

Episode 4 opens with Clare taking a serious blow from the yoma; a blow that she could have avoided, but she took upon herself in order to save the lives of the two human guards who had been chasing her. This sacrificial act doesn't kill her, but her survival is more a credit to her own powers of healing than to the people whose care she must endure. The soldiers call her a demon and sneer that "humans should defend humans"; the priest, in his fear and disgust of the Claymore bodies has decided to provide us a very clear example of Worst Aid in bandaging Clare's uniform rather than her actual body.

In many ways, Episode 4 is about dying well and for a good cause. Clare urges the human guards to run not so much because she values their lives above all other considerations, but really because any death they die at the hands of the yoma will be a wasted death -- they aren't powerful enough to hurt or hinder the monster in a meaningful, fight-critical way. Watching the series, I come to feel that Clare and the other Claymores are not opposed on principle to suicide attacks or the trading of a life in service to a cause, but they abhor meaningless gestures and wasted life.

If you're going to die, the unofficial sentiment seems to be, at least make it count.

Clare recovers from her wounds enough to decide that a showdown is in order. She can't afford to play cat-and-mouse nightly with the yoma, and since her secret is already out among the guards and her caretaker, they might as well call an all-church showdown. The priests are brought to the main hall for examination, and the guards are posted in a circle around the suspected priests; Clare has given them clear orders that when she finds the yoma, she will hold it motionless in position while the guards spear both her and it. The guards are skeptical at these instructions, but decide to follow her orders if this plan will rid them of the yoma.

A real question here -- somewhat robbed of tension by the medium of the message, since we can be fairly confident Clare won't die this early in the series -- is whether or not the plan will rid them of Clare.

Clare has already taken several stabs through the torso at this point in the series, so we know that a spear through the chest isn't necessarily fatal to her, but she has also been cautioned by her handler that she has vital organs, too, and if those organs are pierced, she will die. Quite a few spears to the torso, from various different directions, seem very likely to cause a critical, life-threatening injury, particularly in her weakened state. This consideration is, perhaps, why she has told Raki to remain outside the hall -- she may be keeping him from the demonstration in order to keep him as far from the monster as possible, or she may simply be shielding him from watching her die at the soldiers' hands.

From what we know of Clare, I think it is very likely that she is willing to die in this exercise to flush out the yoma. Certainly, her entire existence at this point is to kill or be killed in battle, and she has accepted this with at least outward serenity; her battles thus far seem to be conducted with the knowledge that she may die in the process and the willingness to accept that if it is a condition for success. Dying here in order to take the yoma with her may be an act of desperation for a warrior too weak to otherwise effectively fight, but it does feel like a logical decision for her.

When the battle with the yoma begins, it is noteworthy in that it echoes the previous battle between Clare, the yoma, and the two guards. Clare orders the guards to get out and not waste their lives, but the guards have evolved their thinking since the last fight and have figured out a way to sacrifice their lives meaningfully instead of meaninglessly. Instead of uselessly attacking the monster head-on, they irritate and distract it in order to protect Clare and in order to maneuver the monster into a position of weakness for her to strike. "You can use our lives however you see fit," one of the guards calls to Clare, and he means it -- she is their commander, and they are her pawns in this fight.

It is interesting that once their usefulness in the battle becomes clear, Clare accepts their willingness to be useful. She doesn't try to protect them and she doesn't urge them to run in the same way she did before -- she accepts their offer to sacrifice themselves. The situation isn't different, and the guards are certainly no stronger than they had been the night before; the only difference is their willingness to be merely useful rather than their insistence that they be heroes.

There are a lot of fighting scenes out there where the hero sacrifices himself for his friends or his loved ones, and this is all well and good. But less well-sung are the support characters who give their lives in a calculated choice to weaken the monster, maneuver it into position, or otherwise simply wear the creature down through attrition. Indeed, usually such sacrifices are revealed as useless gestures in order to heighten the dramatic tension: not only did Bob die, but Bob died in vain. And now the hero has to defeat the uber-powerful creature all by himself! This overdone twist sours the poignancy of the sacrifice because in retrospect it seems foolish and poorly reasoned -- if only Bob had been smart enough to realize that his suicide charge wouldn't work.

In Claymore, I love that the usefulness of the second-stringers isn't cheapened with tricks or twists. The support characters die in service to a greater goal, and that is poignant enough without making the sacrifice meaningless; the protagonists work tirelessly in order to protect and serve humanity, and that is heroic enough without them having to shoulder all the burden themselves without the help of their support characters. In Claymore, people die -- but the subtext is that the death is a good one, if one's death is chosen wisely.


aravind said...

Spoilers for Cowboys and Aliens!This really interesting to read just having come back from watching Cowboys and Aliens with my parents and brother. At the very end of the hostilities, the genocidal aliens are flying off in their ship, with the intention of reporting to other genocidal aliens that humans have certain biological weaknesses and their planet has lots of gold for mining (read: let's go kill all humans). Our last surviving, friendly neighborhood alien, however, sneaks aboard their ship, and detonates a bomb, killing what appears to be hundreds of the genocidal aliens along with herself (and destroying their ship).My parents very clearly interpreted it in the terms you have with Claymore - it's a shame the friendly neighborhood alien had to die, sure, but she sacrificed herself for a very clear goal which was hardly in vein as she saved millions (perhaps billions) of lives in exchange for at most a hundred and her own.I agree with that way of looking at it I guess, but my immediate thought was that what she did was essentially no different from a suicide bombing. The natural extension of that comparison, moreover, was that Americans (or at least wealthy "Western" countries) are the genocidal aliens (albeit less cartoonish), and I don't think I can necessarily fault certain corners of the Islamic world for getting that impression. In any case, that phenomenon of understanding self sacrifice within the context of furthering a cause definitely seems a very relevant issue in the current world.In any case, I find it really remarkable how Americans (like my parents to some degree) can on rare occasions understand this principle (even if not agreeing with it) in the abstract of a silly summer movie but not understand it when it's used by other militant forces in the world. I've read numerous books explaining terrorism (long story short, I like the really depressing classes my college offers), and they often seem to take the position that Americans don't see suicide bombings as operating with that same logic - of self sacrifice to further the struggle - but just see "crazy, angry Muslims hurting everyone and themselves". (I don't know, just my very rambly two cents)end spoilers

aravind said...

Ugh, that had nice, neat little paragraphs that disappeared when I posted. Sorry.

Ana Mardoll said...

Disqus yanks the paragraphs out 1 in every 20 comments, I have no idea why. o.O (Fixed, I think.)

I think this is very interesting, and it's something I've noticed myself. I'm not going to say "I agree with suicide bombing" or some such thing, but I do think it's *understandable* as a tactic. Even moving away from more recent events, if you look at American treatment of, say, Japanese fighter pilots in WW2, there are a lot of "kamikaze" jokes about how essentially such tactics are "crazy", "stupid", or somehow animalistic.

It almost seems like a failure to humanize the other side? As Americans, we do understand and honor the concept of self-sacrifice -- I just saw Battle L.A. (dreadful movie) and a wounded officer decides to blow himself and the aliens up, and it's a very touching moment. (See also Aliens, and Vasquez.)

However. Typing that, I realize that in both those cases, the person dying was too wounded to carry on and they made their inevitable death meaningful (i.e., blast their enemies) from a tactical perspective. I can't think of a movie case where a character commits suicide in service to a cause AND wasn't destined to die soon anyway. So there's that.

But I do think the failure to understand suicide bombers who are bombing *US* comes down, potentially, to a rather normal hurt-confused-upset-scared response and the ensuing failure to humanize the other side because of the cognitive dissonance that could entail. I know at least one VERY smart person whose opinions I usually agree with, who just insists that suicide bombers just "hate successful people". The fact that they refuse to acknowledge that the issue is way More Complicated Than That is difficult. 

Ana Mardoll said...

If the aliens had already begun the occupation of earth and then she
decided to blow herself up to kill a handful of their soldiers when
there could be no reasonable expectation that that would in any way make
a difference to the overall effort to liberate and/or the people on it,
I don't think that would be seen as heroic.  It would be seen as
futile.  It would be seen as a needless, without purpose, wasteful, and
quite possibly cowardly.  Because instead of engaging in the long hard
struggle of trying to free the planet, she would instead be wasting her
life to make a point.  She'd be leaving the hard work to those who

Would it? I'm not sure...

We recently saw another alien movie -- can't remember the name, it too was pretty dreadful, aliens were harvesting humans for brains -- and the human race was pretty clearly doomed because the alien technology was just too much for the humans to fight. BUT! The hero did find out that a "tainted brain" (too long to get into) could take control of an alien body and wreak a lot of internal damage in the space ship before being captured/killed.

If you look at an exchange rate of 1 human to 100 aliens, I can definitely see self-sacrifice being meaningful as an attrition game. If there's no other way to meaningfully fight the aliens except to send up "tainted brains" to the space ships on a suicide mission, wouldn't that be a meaningful use of death? I think it would be seen as heroic, if nothing else. The point here seems to be that taking out a "handful of soldiers" is not a meaningful impact, but why not?

From a numbers perspective, if a soldier on a "proper" battlefield can take out 10 aliens before dying (on average), and a "tainted brain" can take out 100 aliens before dying, then which tactic is more useful in a "no other possible compromise" situation?

Note that this carries over badly to real life because in real life there ARE other possible compromises, but from a OMG THEY WANT TO EAT OUR BRAINS perspective, I think it essentially boils down to a brutal numbers game. :(

Ana Mardoll said...

Skyline, unless there is more than one where the aliens want our brains in that manner.  It was pretty awful.

Yes! Thank you! It's been nibbling at my brain all day.

Glimpses of brilliance, served with a sauce of dreadful inanity. The movie, I mean, not your post. Your post is very good, and I think we're on the same page -- that essentially it boils down to a very specific situation where the sacrifice is measurably meaningful.

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