I saw two of the summer’s hottest hits last week and while each has its special “charms,” they have something strikingly in common. They have a post-modern and, perhaps more to the point, post-moral character

The films, “Inception” and “Salt,” were without question skillfully done, each with effects to die for. Death, indeed murder, was as routine as breathing; superhuman stunts were totally beyond any reality but superb technological achievements.

Each made a cheap, failed pass at empathy. Inception hero Leonardo DiCaprio remembered that he had to get back from I’m not sure where to his children – he claimed unconvincingly that that was his real purpose in life. Angelina Jolie had a commitment to her adoring and, one was made to think, adored husband – on their anniversary. But the test of her true character is that she could watch him being murdered without flinching. And she was spy and counterspy with equal commitment to – well – killing. It didn’t matter whom she was killing.

I think I’m pretty naïve when it comes to films of this kind. By what criteria beyond the technological are we to judge them? Is there literary virtue in human characters who have no moral or affective capacities at all? Is there aesthetic value? Is there nuance?

On the one hand, I think they feature two truly psychopathic “heroes” who give chilling affirmation to the ethical code “whatever it takes.” On the other, I wonder if they are more like robots or animated figures than psychopaths. In a word, I’m stumped.

At the Movies