The Crow has been a longstanding cult hit amongst comic fans, and the film brought the story to a much wider audience. A lot of buzz generated around it was perhaps due to the tragic death of actor Brandon Lee, who was sadly killed during filming because of the mistaken use of live ammunition. To suggest that this is the only reason for the success of The Crow though would be a huge injustice.
The film begins with the deaths of Eric Draven and Shelly Webster, a couple who were going to be married the following day, on Hallowe’en. One year later, a crow is seen by Sarah (a young girl that the couple used to look after), pecking at the tombstone of Eric’s grave. The mythology within the story dictates that the crow carries the souls of the dead. Given that the deaths of Eric and Shelly were so painful and tragic, the crow brings the soul of Eric back, ‘to put the wrong things right’.
So begins Eric’s quest for justice and revenge. He stumbles from his grave and goes to his apartment and there, his memories of Shelly and that night return. In his deranged rage, he also cuts himself on some glass and is miraculously healed. We learn with him that, while he may feel pain, he is invincible. Painting his face in a very hard rock KISS-esque style, Eric leaves in search of the four men who killed him before raping and killing Shelly.
The story behind The Crow is similar to any number of revenge stories. There is nothing particularly profound about the desire for revenge. The Crow’s take on it is quite interesting however, in that Eric seems to see his mission as necessary and fatalistic. In a way, it is – Eric cannot rest in peace until the crow returns his soul, which it won’t do until Tin Tin, T-Bird, Funboy, and Skank are killed. More than that though, the film conveys a sense of resignation to the quest. It won’t bring Shelly back, it won’t right any wrongs that were inflicted on either of them, and it won’t make him feel better. By all accounts, it’s not a good idea, but it’s what Eric must do so he does it anyway without regret or remorse.
I think the Gothic setting and style of the film were what brought me to this story in my teenage years, but since then I’ve grown to appreciate it more, alongside the graphic novel. While the revenge arc is the main aspect of the narrative, we care more about a lot of the substories. One of the more touching scenes in the film occurs after Eric kills Funboy, and tells Darla that she must go and see her daughter. Sarah. Darla attempts to make breakfast for Sarah and we see a vulnerable Sarah lash out, having not trusted her mother for a long time. When Darla gives up, Sarah quickly reaches out, afraid of losing her mother again, hoping that maybe something has changed this time. Small scenes like this show us that while Eric’s revenge in itself might not necessarily be productive, punishing horrible and evil men can perhaps yield some benefit.
The climax of the film occurs when Sarah gets kidnapped by Top Dollar, the man who was ultimately responsible for Eric and Shelly’s fates. In a firefight, the crow is shot, stealing away Eric’s invincibility. Eric is also wounded, and he and Top Dollar meet on the roof of the church. Defenseless, Eric grabs Top Dollar’s face in his hands, transferring all of Shelly’s pain to him, causing him to fall to his death.
For me, it is this moment that defines The Crow. The pain of the preyed-upon is not inconsequential, and it is not weak. It is a powerful force that dethrones the city’s mob boss. It’s not a romantic view of pain; the flashbacks of Shelly in the ICU are distressing at best, crippling at worst. But it speaks to us of the power that pain has over us, and how pain can often be employed for good or ill. The Crow tries to nudge us in the right direction in this regard:
“If the people we love are stolen from us, the best way to have them live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever.”
– Sarah, The Crow