I abhor violence. As a rookie police reporter years ago I saw the damage guns, knives, broken bottles, metal pipes, hands — humans — can inflict. From the terrifyingly premeditated to the unfortunately accidental, those images still have the power to shake me to the core. They will never leave me.
I don't, however, believe the movies are to blame for these acts. As good as Hollywood is at reimagining the intrinsic brutality that roams our streets, burrows into twisted minds, plays havoc with our world, nothing I've seen in movies comes close to what I witnessed firsthand.
Perhaps that is why movie violence doesn't offend me. I may be unsettled by it, but no matter the saturation level, I rarely turn away.
I want to ride the superhero roller coaster. I want to cheer as the bad guys bite the dust. I like the line between good and evil sharply drawn by a super sleuth like James Bond or blurred by an everyman like
Whatever else the movies make me feel — horror, hubris, humor, humanity at its best and worst — I know it's real life, not Hollywood, that's the killer.
You can't tell that to the politicians or the talking heads on TV. They see in Hollywood an easy, highly visible — and disturbingly simplistic — target after tragic events like last summer's slaughter during a showing of
When bullets tore through bodies in
To denounce movies for the violence of our times, when unimaginable atrocity has been with us since the dawn of mankind, is at best misguided, at worst damaging.
Hollywood is not the reason for the wreckage made by madmen with guns. The troubled will always be with us.
To fault films for forcing us to consider that humans commit atrocious acts, that evil exists in far too many hearts, is to blame the messenger. It's classic displacement theory. "Zero's" Beltway brouhaha echoes the backlash that hit
I'm not suggesting filmmakers have no responsibility for what they make — they do. But that responsibility is to the art as well as the audience. Within the mayhem, there is nearly always a message. Movies are our cautionary tales, fictional reminders of the true nature of humanity's baser basic instincts. And moviemakers — by that I mean every name above and below the title, for it takes a village — are the seers, the interpreters, the illusionists, the entertainers.
They are not the instigators.
The topic has been a hot button for so many years that we don't even know how to discuss it rationally anymore.
Consider 1994's "Natural Born Killers," a provocative, satiric indictment of mass media's glorification of savagery and the way violence so often overtakes the TV news cycle. The controversy
One question that always surfaces in the debate: What possible good can come from any depiction of the horrific on screen?
Let's start with the obvious. A good deal of movie violence is designed as a way for us to experience it vicariously. Whether the topic is war, high-flying superheroes, cops and robbers, comedy or Freddy Krueger — films are packed with plots whose main purpose is to deliver payback.
That is why "Taken" had such mass appeal. It was easy to empathize with
For the vast majority of moviegoers, fantasy, fairy tales, the hyper-realized worlds of comic books, even the darkest of parables, offer a safe escape from modern problems — not an excuse to create more. If anything, playing with metaphorical extremes is a platform for the medium's artistic possibilities — exotic character designs, extraordinary special effects, all the arsenals of technology and no earthbound restrictions. It's exhilarating to watch Peter Parker scale buildings, Clark Kent leap them, Batman zoom around them. Even as the buildings crumble and the bodies of their adversaries pile up, the consistent take-away is that there are repercussions for breaking the rules.
What tends to get lost in the rhetoric is how many film classics have risen from the machinations and the muck. The list of the legendary is long, but I can't imagine a film library without
Tarantino — arguably Hollywood's current blood-splatter expert — always strikes me as his own creature when it comes to brutality. There is an excess of the red stuff in virtually every movie he makes, but that very excess is what turns it surreal.
In his Oscar-nominated "Django's" final showdowns (yes, plural),
It is when movies turn realistic that the brutality is the most difficult to watch — and to forget.
Why not encourage filmmakers to make it less gruesome, less graphic? To me, this is the scariest proposition of all.
Why should any of that be softened? None of it is pretty. It takes more than a few blows on a face for skin to give way to bones and viscera. When gunshots end a life, bones shatter, blood pools, the dying cry out. I don't want the impact squeegeed away. Revenge, and justice, is too often written in pain. I don't want Hollywood to clean up the mess. I don't want it to silence the screams.