A Rhetorical Reflection on Warcraft (Film)

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Recently, I saw the film Warcraft. It is a game-based film directed by Duncan Jones. The film stars a long list of people, Travis Fimmel, Paula Batton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbel, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky and Daniel Wu. It depicts the events of the first Warcraft game, which was released by Blizzard Entertainment in 1994. The plot focuses on the exodus of the Orcs who are fleeing their dying world, Draenor. They open a portal to the peaceful realm of Azeroth, and clash with the humans and other races that live there. Throughout this clash, members of both groups realize that there is evil magic infecting key characters on both sides of the conflict.

My initial response to the film was that of a typical video game nerd. It was fun to see the characters, settings, and magic of Blizzard’s world on grandiose display on the movie screen. It is clear that Jones and his crew put a lot of work into the ensuring that the actors playing the CGI Orcs were able to express the emotions clearly. This gave both sides of the conflict emotional depth that resulted in a fun Fantasy romp. Even so, as one can see from the list of stars, there was a lot happening in the film. Despite my knowledge of the lore, I was shocked at how many narrative perspectives the movie was trying to maintain. There were so many things going on at once that no character really had time to fully develop. I can only imagine that this breakneck pacing and constant switching would be even more difficult for someone unfamiliar with the characters and the story.

What fascinated me most though, was the resemblance of the film’s portrayal of “tribal” conflict. There is a powerful sense of “Us v. Them” in the film that provides the primary enemy that must be defeated. Though there are clear “bad guys” who are infected by the demonic fel magic, the true enemy is the mistrust, fear, and lack of communication and listening between the Orcs and the Humans that exacerbates the problem. This struggle is made more difficult by the members of each “tribe” who make it their business to ensure that neither group has the time or space to try to understand one another.

There are many examples of this oppositional moral framing comes in to play. Specifically, how the Orc shaman Gul’dan appeals to the ferocity of his fellow Orcs by empowering them with magic and making the case of Orcs who threaten the strong Us v. Them mentality look weak by comparison. This is expressed most clearly in the expository dialogue during Gul’dan’s unfair fight with the “human-loving” Durotan.

One could write many pages exploring these momentary examples that continue throughout the film. The viewer sees endless examples of the stark differences between the peaceful and diplomatic cultures of Azeroth and the proud fierceness of the Orcs of Draenor. Yet, both groups are concerned for their survival, for the families, for their land, and for the future of their race and culture. The viewer’s all seeing eye enables them to see these deeply human concerns as they are  expressed by stereotypically “good” and “bad” characters on both sides of the battlefields and courtrooms.

We would all do well to remember this all-seeing vision the next time we argue with someone on social media or in person. Regardless of our differences, we may be surprised how often we have the same goals as those we rally against.

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