Hi there again, folks. Hopefully you enjoyed Everything Wrong With Death Note Part 1; if you haven’t read it yet, check out the link here! If you weren’t a fan, or disagreed, hold onto those thoughts! I admit that I didn’t get to cover everything in my last article, which could have honestly gone on in perpetuity. But I’m back to wrestle with some of the more offensive elements of Netflix’s Death Note now, and I hope you’ll join me for this ride!
Last time I touched on the non-existent genius of Light Turner as well as the more major plot holes and inconsistencies of the movie. I also briefly discussed how L using the Death Note to kill Light (as we can presume he does) subverts everything that makes L, well, L, and therefore defeats his initial purpose at capturing Kira. It’s these and a few other points that I’d like to close on, proving ultimately how Adam Wingard completely overlooked the most important theme the original Death Note tackles: the definition of justice. But one thing at a time! The first thing I’d like to focus on in this article is that:
Death Note Doesn’t Translate On A Cultural Level
We see this already in the fact that Light went from being the number one student in the nation in both the anime and manga to being a “problem child from a broken home” in the westernized Death Note. The fact is that Americans don’t relate to perfection, at least until we perceive it in our leaders, it seems. We like our heroes flawed from the get-go. We’re a nation of would-be underdogs – we think – and someone who’s already at the top doesn’t test well with an audience like ours. Making Light a nobody would have worked with other characters in other adaptations, but ultimately subverts Light himself.
Part of the fun of Light Yagami was seeing that perfection fall. It was the cracks beneath the surface that showed how someone perceived as flawless was in fact capable of becoming a monster. With Light Turner, no one is really surprised at the depths of his depravity. He has a motive for becoming Kira, and yet despite that motive, Light Turner fails at being the ruthless killer that Light Yagami became with ease! Light Turner isn’t fun. In fact, Light Turner is actually kind of lame. He ultimately becomes Kira because he’s chasing a boner for Mia, who proves rather quickly that she has more balls than he does!
Then there’s the fact that, in this day and age, there’s no way a kid could get around a public school with a notebook that said “Death Note” on it. Say what you will, but school shootings are becoming all too common of an occurrence. I’m sure everyone my age or younger has been to school with at least one kid who got caught with a “kill list” at some point in their academic career. Remember what happened to that kid? Yeah, no one does, because that kid got expelled.
Furthermore, while Americans love justice – arguably a little too much – what we love more is our religion. If a real -life Kira popped up tomorrow, no one would be worshiping them as a new god. More than likely people would say that it was god, or someone “doing the Lord’s work” at the very least. That’s not to say that Light wouldn’t have been saved in that alley by a random blue collar worker towards the end of the film, of course. He very well might have been. But that doesn’t change that the power Kira was able to obtain in the manga and anime wouldn’t have been plausible in the U.S. simply because we don’t operate that way.
What I did love, however, was the (clearly) Reddit page dedicated to murder requests for Kira. That’s something that seems incredibly American. It was also one of the few moments where Light exercised some form of compassion and logic, not executing the names on that site due to the likelihood of the posters’ biases. Granted, that went out the window the minute he needed an out, which was probably the only time we got a glimpse at the Light we come to see later on in the anime and manga.
Whatever Happened to Justice?
This isn’t a hypothetical question. Justice was one of the major themes of the original Death Note. If you need a reminder, just flip or rewind back to literally any of the episodes or pages and progress until you see the word come up. With few exceptions, you won’t have to wait too long. Yet we almost never hear the word in the movie. In fact, with three viewings under my belt, I’d wager we don’t hear it at all. Yet wasn’t that one of the key points of the Death Note series at large? Two very different forms of justice battling one another, vying for victory in their own “ends justify the means” kind of way? These forms of justice are embodied, literally, through Light and L in the series, and later through Near and Mello. This is all suspended in Wingard’s interpretation of the series, especially as L “debates” on killing Light with the page of the Death Note obtained in Mia Sutton’s calculus book.
And let’s face it, we all know L killed Light.
It also sort of resets the bar on Light’s intentions in the first place, as his first and second kill are motivated by anything but a sense of justice. The first kill being a bully who was inarguably punished far beyond anything he ever deserved, while the second death is nothing beyond petty revenge (in a world where we all know no one would get away with killing a cop’s wife).
Ultimately, a major theme of the original subject matter goes up in smoke as Light starts with petty vengeance, attempts to vie for justice, but only ends up killing people to save his own skin.
That Ending Though…
I already talked about how Light could have saved himself by simply burning the page with his name in it instead of running to meet Mia on the Ferris Wheel to have her burn it. I talked about how Light’s ultimate stupidity and the lack of consistency murdered this movie more efficiently than an entry into a Death Note ever could, so instead I’d like to go out on a humor note. Well, to be fair, one funny note and one serious one.
First of all, let’s come back to the “kill this guy” reddit page, because this one really kind of tickles me. We get a close-up of that screen towards the end of the film that somehow never once got any new entries from the start of the film. Maybe Kira is a bad god after all, with all these unanswered prayers?
Regardless, we never know where these people are located. There’s no way to even track the posters because they’re all “guests” and “unregistered users” according to the site details. Yet somehow, in less than a few minutes they’re all at the pier, waiting to save Light just as directed in the Death Note? I find this hard to believe, harder in fact than an actual notebook with the capability of killing people. Yet given the stretches of imagination we’ve already been obligated to undertake, I suppose this should also come with a grain of salt.
Then there’s the finale. The grand finale. Those few glorious moments in which all the bad acting and all the bad music choices culminate into a slow motion fake-out fall to the death for Light Turner. This ending – this ending – made the entire film totally worth it, if for no other reason that it convinced me that Adam Wingard was making fun of us all from the very beginning. If you’re not convinced of that by the time Chicago starts playing, then I don’t know what to tell you.
Oh, and don’t forget the blooper reel that interjects on the credits in the end.
I’m ultimately convinced that this whole movie was Wingard playing fans from the beginning . Much like his interpretation of Blair Witch, he cares little about the lore, only about getting his own vision across, source material and establishing lore be damned. We saw it with the top hat (early referenced by Light’s father meeting his mother) and a few smaller examples. Pepper in some dutch angles and he might deceive the average viewer into thinking this thing had some depth.
Alas, western audiences are burned once again by thinking we might be able to have adult interpretations of our favorite overseas entertainment. What did you think of the Death Note film in the end? Did you hate it? Love it? Please feel free to shout in the comments below if you disagree, or feel I missed an important detail.