For those who do not remember this fact, before Will Smith became the film star that he is today, he first had a successful run as a musician. He then translated that success into a role on the hit television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996). This is when people seem to begin to remember him. It is understandable. I can think of few shows that defined the 1990s more than that one. All while he was on the show, he kept making albums. He got his start by taking on the moniker that leant its name to the show, The Fresh Prince, along with his mixing partner, DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jeff Townes). Let me know if any of these titles sound familiar: Rock the House (1987), He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper (1988), And in This Corner. . . . (1989), Homebase (1991), and Code Red (1993). That is their full discography, by the way. Between this and the show, Will Smith was to go on to have a successful solo career, culminating with his biggest selling effort Big Willie Style (1997). On this record there is a little song that, even if you have not heard it before, you will recognize the title, “Men in Black.” Of course, this is the same year that the movie of the same name came out, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Appropriately coming down from space, Men in Black takes us to the American dessert near the Mexican border. You know the area, right, where extraterrestrials like to hang out seemingly waiting for the next Burning Man? At any rate, government types pull up to a border patrol officer who has stopped somebody trying to make it into the United States. They are the aged Agent D (Richard Hamilton), and the slightly less aged Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). When one of the occupants of the van turns out to be alien (the outer-space variety) and attempts to attack one of the bystanders, Agent K is forced to shoot the alien because his partner was too slow on the trigger. While the clean-up begins, with the secret title organization they represent performing the messy duty, Agent D says that he has had enough of this life. Agent K then pulls out a device from his pocket with a flashing light on the end that, when triggered, erases a person’s memory for an adjustable period of time. This also means that there is an opening as Agent K’s partner. This is when we are introduced to James Edwards (Will Smith), an undercover officer for the New York City Police Department (NYPD). He demonstrates his fitness by relentlessly chasing down an extremely fast and impossibly high jumping perpetrator. This person also carries a ray gun, has strange eyes, and jumps to his death rather being taken into custody. News of James’ feat reaches Agent K, who goes to interview James about what he saw and heard, which includes a warning about some kind of impending doom. Agent K is the only one who seems to take James seriously, and in as just a deadpan tone eventually reveals that he is part of an organization that monitors extraterrestrial activity on Earth. James has trouble believing this until Agent K takes James to a pawn broker in town named Jack Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub). They are in Jeebs’ store to question the apparent dealer in hawked goods about the weapon James saw his perpetrator carrying. When Jeebs feigns ignorance, Agent K blows his head off in a burst of goo, which then immediately grows back. Hence, Agent K is telling the truth. Even though Agent K erases the memory of this event from James’ mind, he offers the young man the chance to join the Men in Black, handing over a business card with an address to appear at the next day. After beating out a number of possible candidates in a sham series of trials, James learns of the catch of joining their organization. To do so, he must give up every attachment to his former life, basically having his entire existence erased. After thinking it over for a night, James agrees to become Agent J. What he is not eager for is all the rookie hazing that goes on, despite it happening anyway. Aside from what goes on in the office as they have fun with Agent J with all the strange aliens that pass through in a sort of customs style gateway, he is also given all the messier jobs. The big case they are handed, however, is the appearance of a “bug.” The first they hear of it is a strange report from a remote farm of a lady named Beatrice (Siobhan Fallon Hogan), who claims that her husband is not her husband. As it turns out, the “bug’s” spacecraft had crashed into their barn, and to blend in, had taken her husband’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) skin in order to attempt to blend in with humanity. This concerns Agent K because bugs have an intergalactic reputation for invading planets and subjecting them to widespread destruction. Agent K decides to head to the morgue where he believes bodies of the bug’s victims would begin turning up. There, they meet the city coroner, Dr. Laura Weaver (Linda Fiorentino), examining the expected cadavers, including one of Gentle Rosenburg (Mike Nussbaum), who turns out to be a space alien upon closer look. The bug arrives there, too, because it is looking for something called “the galaxy.” It turns out to be a bauble on Gentle’s cat’s collar, and the bug wants it because it contains enough power to fuel its conquests. It thus snatches the cat, and Dr. Weaver to feed to its millions of children, and heads for defunct space ships from the 1964 New York World’s Fair, disguised as exhibits. Luckily, Agents K & J get there in time to stop the bug and rescue Dr. Weaver. It is then that K tells J that he had actually been training his replacement. It ends with Dr. Weaver becoming Agent L, and J’s new partner.
Men in Black works because it is a buddy-cop movie with their suspects all being aliens. The film has a lot of fun with this concept, and it is a treat to watch. As a Catholic seeing it, one might say that it complicates the notion of a God-centered universe, not to mention the affect that life on other planets has on this concept. I am going to set that argument aside for now as there is no way for me to conclusively make my case. Faith can be like that, sometimes. What is more interesting for me is the decision that James must make in order to become a Men in Black agent. It is even more extreme than the choice a person makes to become a cloistered monk or nun, or a hermit. The Church still has those, by the way. At least in these scenarios, everyone with whom you were close can still remember you. Sometimes, the stresses of this world get to be too much, and thankfully the Church offers an avenue for people that would rather serve God in a more hidden way. There is nothing wrong with such a path, and even if you do not believe in God, I am sure there are some among you who can picture such a life and see the attraction. Having your entire existence erased is another matter entirely, and apparently it proves to be too much for even the stalwart Agent K in the end. Clues to this decision are offered earlier when Agent J catches his partner looking at satellite feeds of who we are led to believe is a former lover of Agent K’s. Presumably this is where he goes after he leaves the Men in Black. We are all on one side or the other in such a life, and going back and forth between them is difficult, if not impossible. This is why the Church, and the movie emphasizes the importance of thinking carefully before you enter this life.
If you have not seen Men in Black, then you should see it. There are brief moments of innuendo, but nothing over-the-top. As I mentioned a moment ago, it is a fun movie that keeps a light tone with moments that make you think throughout its run time. It also asks the question as to whether or not, if such things were real, you could give yourself over to such a life. It may seem glamourous, but it is not the easy decision it may seem on the surface.
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