Hellboy II: A Commentary on Anthropocentrism By Nic Klebusits

As a child, the allure of Hellboy captured me. A giant red humanoid with a huge fist and an inclination to fight against evil was all I really needed to get on the Hellboy bandwagon. The movies Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army captured the image of Hellboy strikingly well. Yet, in truth, Hellboy is not just a giant red monster, bent on destroying evil, nor is the message behind the Hellboy movie series and comics so black and white. Specifically, Hellboy II, made in 2008 and directed by Guillermo Del Toro, shares ideas much deeper than what one might expect. The main commentary of the film centers around the idea of Anthropocentrism. Anthropocentric can be defined as considering human beings as the most significant entity of the universe. Del Toro expresses two main problems with anthropocentrism in the film, the “othering” of individuals, and environmental negligence.

In professor Broom’s story to a young Hellboy at the beginning of the film, he states that all living beings lived under Aiglin, the father tree. This aspect of the story serves to symbolize a system in which man and all other living beings were able to cooperate under equality. In other words, man, elf, and all other lifeforms were comparable parts of a structured, harmonious existence which allowed all to live peacefully. This is a direct contrast to an anthropocentric system in which all life answers to and provides for man -- a system which, after the beginning story, has taken hold of society in the film. The heros of the BRPD, who are, in their respective ways, other than human, serve nothing but humanity through their actions. Whether it be Hellboy’s killing of the last elemental -- a giant plant monster -- or the overarching plot of movie, in which the heroes must defeat prince Nuada, only humanity’s needs are met while the needs and desires of the “others,” like Red’s desire to be “a regular person,” are brushed aside or considered to be lesser. This distinction between the interest of humanity and the interest of “others” is brought out by Prince Nuada when addressing Hellboy. He says that Hellboy has, “more in common with us than with them.”

https://x4ashes4ashes.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/hellboy-ii-the-golden-army/
Nuada (top picture) and Hellboy even have the same yellow eyes!! http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/hellboy-ii-the-golden-army-2008

One overarching theme of the anthropocentric view, according to Eileen Crist of Virginia Tech University, is a sort of “hierarchical order” or a “moral order” which has lead to the “sanctioning of man’s use of everything underneath him” and the dehumanization of anyone that is perceived as underneath him (ItnlForum). Not only has the “Civilized conqueror” orchestrated the destruction of many natural resources and environments throughout history (more on that later), but he has also labelled indigenous people as lesser beings, animals or savages, and enslaved and killed them in the name of humanity or “civilized society.” From the servitude of millions of Africans, to the current reservation system in the United States, the track record for the “civilized man’s” relationship with indigenous people is very poor. Red is also subjected to a type of slavery. He is locked away in the basement of the BPRD against his will and serves humanity with no compensation. His main desire, to interact with people, is rejected by Washington D.C. because, like any good government secret (in film of course), an outing of Red would not be in the best interest of humanity.

However, it is not just Washington that seeks to other the heroes of the BPRD. In fact, the very society that Red wanted so badly to interact with repudiates him and his friends under an anthropocentric context.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=926TK1aUbHQ&t=6s

In the above scene, Jimmy Kimmel makes a key distinction when he talks about Red on his show. He asks, “but, is he really on our side?” and the phrase in the bottom left hand corner of his screen reads, “whose side are they on?” He separates humanity, “our side,” and the heroes of the BPRD and brings into question which side “they” are on, othering them despite the group’s consistent benevolence to society. This clip of Kimmel is juxtaposed with a news interview of Hellboy where he says, “all I want to be is an ordinary person.” Red is a creature whose message and actions are misunderstood, or plainly neglected by the creators (humanity) of his very human disposition. Humanity fails to see that Red has no desire to disturb its existence, and quite clearly wants nothing but to be human himself. Of course, in the eyes of humankind this cannot be, after all, “[he’s] ugly.”

Again, this nonsensical othering reveals its ugly face in the movie after Red saves numerous people from the wrath of the elemental:

Much like how Red is excluded by society based on his Red skin, huge stone fist, and beady yellow eyes -- all non-human characteristics -- his relationship with Liz is also frowned upon. As seen in the above newscast, their relationship is viewed as something out of the ordinary, something outside of the context of the anthropocentric world view. Thus, its morality is brought into question. Similar to the othering that happens to homosexual couples, throughout history and in modern times, Red and Liz face undue scrutiny for their love.

Professor Crist's ideas are again relevant here. She includes an explanation of an ideational displacement, which criticizes and others for actions and practices that are “nonhuman” insofar as they run in countenance to the preeminent cultural “human” paradigm that runs through civilization (IntlForum). Red and Liz, as well as interracial or queer couples, face the discrimination that they do because their relationships are ideationally displaced. That is to say, because their love is recognized as a contradiction to the ideal human love, and thus viewed as nonhuman and lesser, its very existence within society is attacked.

Aiglin, The father tree https://youtu.be/4oFxksTDJnQ

Another aspect of the film that one must consider when watching is its criticism of anthropocentrism through environmentalist sentiment. In looking back at professor Broom’s story, the viewer finds out that the elves and the humans have made a treaty in which the elves must stick to the forest and the humans to the cities. This sets up a relationship between the elves and the humans that serves as a parallel to the modern connection between humans and the environment. The elves are a forgotten race that is dying in the face of neglect from the humans. This is meant as an analogy for the deterioration of our environment due to our own neglect, as in the case of Canada and its oil pollution in which humans have neglected to counteract man-made changes to a natural environment. However nature does have the ability to fight back against this sort of neglect, such as current heavy rainfall and flooding due to a warming planet. This aspect of the environment can best be symbolized by prince Nuada, the film’s antagonist. Unlike his father, King balor, or his sister, Princess Nuala, he is not docile, and indifferent to the dying of the elves and plans to fight back against the humans before his race is lost. Much like climate change can be viewed as the ugly head of an otherwise compliant environment, prince Nuada serves as the one elf who is willing to fight back against the neglect from humankind.

The Elemental- A forest God https://www.pinterest.com/pin/215821007121078382/

An additional symbol of the environment, the elemental, is killed by Hellboy to begin what can be recognized as the second act of the movie. This killing, which benefits society, as the elemental is a giant plant monster which would have probably wiped out the entire city of New York if left alive, is considered to be worse for the world by Nuada. He reasons that the elemental is the last of its kind. Yet, all Red must do is “shoot it in ze head” -- so eloquently put by BPRD investigator Krauss -- to kill it and wipe out its species from the planet altogether. While this sequence speaks to the idea of the fragility of nature, it also provides the audience with another criticism of anthropocentrism: What might be considered ideal from an anthropocentric standpoint is not necessarily ideal for the world, or even for humanity itself. Though, in theory, an anthropocentric view of the world seems ideal for human survival -- i.e. we ought to take care of the planet because we have to live on it -- much of modern society, despite a general “pro-people” mindset, still fails in their assessment of environmental protectionism (Quinn et. al.). Moreover, according to Quinn et. al., “the anthropocentrism associated with many of our actions has also been identified as contributing to the declines in biodiversity and depleted health of our ecological systems.” This idea has been prevalent in the scientific community for some time (Quinn et. al.).

In this case, beauty is created through the death of the Elemental http://musingsfromanotherstar.blogspot.com/2014/10/hellboy-lovecraft-child.html

An explanation for this resides in the convoluted anthropocentric view that society holds. According to Dr. Crist, “amnesia about the living world is the existential condition that we have reaped for the supremacist exercise of power.” This amnesia that she speaks of allows us to forget about the environmental implications of creating coal based jobs or allowing thousands of species to go extinct a year. Furthermore, it grants humans the ability to ignore the the consequences of those environmental implications on humanity and forces us to view only the short term positive effects of unrelenting expansionism and environmental compromisation. Since these short term positives seem to be “pro-human,” society has no problem accepting what might be killing us and the environment in the long term and, much like the killing of the elemental, or prince Nuada and the elves, as Nuada says at the end of the movie, “the world [is] poorer because of it.”

Maybe we don't really know what we want.

Two main problems associated with an anthropocentric society are expressed in Hellboy II: The Golden Army: the othering of people viewed as "sub-human" or savage, and the negative impact on the environment. Perhaps it is enough for humans to abandon their anthropocentric view of the world and allow for a more ecocentric worldview to take its place. On the other hand, we might find that the damage done is already too much, whether it be done to the environment or to groups of people long thought to be less than human, for us to fix completely. Either way, with this knowledge, I find it important to stick it to the man who thinks that nothing can ever change.

Works Cited

Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Universal, 2008.

IntlForum. "Eileen Crist: Confronting Anthropocentrism." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 2 December 2014. Web. 28 March 2017.

Quinn, Frances, Jérémy Castéra, and Pierre Clément. "Teachers' Conceptions of the Environment: Anthropocentrism, Non-anthropocentrism, Anthropomorphism and the Place of Nature." Environmental Education Research 22.6 (2016): n. pag. Taylor and Francis Journals. Web. 4 Apr. 2017.

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Created with images by perry_marco - "hellboy_II_the_golden_army_1"

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