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The Zoroastrian Dialectic in 'Observe and Report'

Many films are based on the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Several films focus on the idea of the Übermensch, notably (and most obviously) Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. Übermensch was a idea that Nietzsche proposed in his novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra, arguably one of the most influential philosophical works of all time, (and infamously an inspiration of both Wagner and Hitler).

Aside from Rope, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Being There are two other fantastic films meant to recount an aspect of the tale of Zoroaster. In each of these, a naive person or civilization is exposed to an event that opens their eyes and impels them to change themselves into something more than they already were, thereby they attain a new level of being and enlightenment.

A similar event occurs in Observe and Report, wherein the protagonist Ronnie Barnhardt, a mall security chief, is exposed (both literally and figuratively) to a series of eye-opening experiences. It's an interesting retelling of the story of Zoroaster. Throughout a series of misadventures, Barnhardt does achieve the status of Übermensch in a absurd happy ending. As such, the film is an effective commentary and rebuttal to the story of Zoroaster. Through parody tinted with absurdity the film provides an effective criticism of Nietzsche's philosophy.

It's a surprisingly deep film. Taken straight up, it's very confusing and a strange film, especially as one starring a big name comedian and released in the summer blockbuster season. Mostly ineffective as a comedy, and lacking an identifiable protagonist the film flounders as a by-the-numbers comedy. As a philosophical treatise, the film is spot-on; Barnhardt represents the failings in the Zoroastrian ideal: he's racist, sexist, homophobic, violent and yet unfoundedly self-confident.

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