Robin Hood: The power of compassion

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The story of Robin Hood is hundreds of years old, and has been retold in multiple forms. Each new rendering reveals something about the culture of the audience for whom it is intended. That’s what makes this latest cinematic rendition particularly interesting.

Of course, it uses contemporary technology. The computer-generated graphics create dramatic explosions, and apply slow-motion bullet-time effects to arrows in the battle scenes. Of course, it sets the classic struggle for justice and liberty into a contemporary context, where the people are vulnerable to political manipulation because of their fear of violent religious extremists.

However, what is particularly interesting about this latest rendering of the classic tale is not the form in which it is delivered, nor the context in which it is set. Rather, it is the motivation of the eponymous hero that is most illuminating. This Robin Hood (played by Taron Egerton) is driven by a deep-seated compassion for people, more than a desire for retribution or the restoration of honour.

This is evident from the early scenes in which Robin of Loxley, reluctantly fighting in the crusades, risks his life to save a wounded fellow soldier, and then risks his reputation to save a young unarmed prisoner of war. It is carried forward into his mission to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, and to remove the tyrant who is oppressing the people.

Whatever we think about this film’s cinematography and scripting (and some critics have been somewhat scathing), this characterisation is worth considering. Why do the filmmakers think that compassion as a motivation will be attractive to audiences in our culture at this time? What does that tell us about what it means to be human? And what might that suggest about the source of that humanity?