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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Movie violence

My recent viewing of Kick-Ass got me thinking about movie violence. I've been trying to solidify my thoughts about it, and here is what I've come up with so far:

I have no problem when filmmakers depict acts of violence. Nor do I have a problem with filmmakers depicting acts of extreme violence. I don't even have a problem with filmmakers depicting acts of sadistic violence. What I do have a problem with, and this goes for Kick-Ass in a most exceptional way, is when filmmakers depict sadistic violence and then positively reaffirm it for the audience. 

There is plenty of sadistic violence in Schindler's List, but it is a beautiful, brilliant, good film about the horrors of what man does to man. There is some sick sadism in A History of Violence, but that film is ultimately anti-violence. There are plenty of sadistic villains in the James Bond films, but such a thing is designed to put the audience against the bad guys and for the good guys. Even when Bond himself turns ice-cold in his use of violence, it never makes the audience feel good about it. If anything, it makes me slightly afraid of the hero.

What Kick-Ass does is show a little girl brutally slaying a room full of criminals, with which I would not necessarily have taken issue, but for the ones she kills who aren't even putting up a fight, and the expression of glee on her face as she does so, and the way the audience members around me seemed to be enjoying it. Put all these things together, and it makes me sick.

(Criticisms such as these are also why I think Crank is one of the filthiest movies ever made and is one of, if not the worst movie I've ever watched.)

I'm still not sure how I feel about Kick-Ass as a whole. There is a lot about it that I really appreciate, but I can not and will not get on board with thinking there is anything good about treating sadism so lightly.


Steven Allen Moore said...

In some sense I agree with you; the audience seems to revel in the premise of a little girl brutally murdering henchman after henchman. however, I disagree that the violence in kick-ass is intended as positive experience. The premise of kick-ass is what if comics book heroes existed in the real world? The answer is that they would be ugly (morally speaking), brutal, and vulnerable. Even when the hero is wrapped up in a adorable package (a little girl), she would have to be almost animalistic to survive. I think the violence is there to remind the audience of the fantasy inherent in our hero stories, where violent confrontation IS glorified. I have more thinking to do about this, but you've got my gears rolling.

Richard Nichols said...

I tend to agree with Steve, I think point of the brutality and sadism in the film was to de-fantasize our view of comic book (and movie) violence. I walk away from watching something like The Matrix thinking "That was awesome, I wish I could fight like Neo." I left Kick-Ass thinking about how horrible gang violence and drug mobs are.

And while I thought Hit Girl was totally awesome and, well, kicked ass ("I think I'm in love with her, dude"), I as well found her first fight scene quite disturbing. As I think about it now, I think it might have something to do with the fact that she was killing undeveloped characters. That is, we had never seen that room full of "bad guys" really do anything bad. I think in most other movies there's somehow an element of justice or revenge, and we feel the bad guys deserved to die so we are ok with - or even celebrate - their death.

So I guess what I'm thinking is that by having such an un-humane portrayal of violence, this movie actually made my viewing of it more humane.