Samuel Brace on ‘non violent’ violence in cinema…
Violence is rampant in the cinematic space. And it’s not just in films made for adults; it’s also a main marketable feature of movies that target children. Of course, the world is an extremely violent place so therefore one can’t overly complain about such acts being present in our feature length films. However, it seems to me that it’s not necessarily the amount of violence that currently permeates the medium but the way in which violence is presented, and how it’s depicted to young and often impressionable audiences. My supposition being that the violence we see, especially in movies where children are admitted, is immoral because of its casual, unrealistic, and uneventful nature.
I think it’s fair to postulate that this will have, and has already had, serious ramifications for society, and it is a quandary worthy of serious debate by more serious persons than I. But for the sake of this article, perhaps you’ll indulge me, and allow me to put forward the thesis in the following way. We’ve all seen films and summer blockbusters (superhero movies being one of the main perpetrators), where the violence seen on screen has very little consequence attached. For example, when someone is shot, there’s no blood, when someone is thrown off a building, they get right back up, when a city is destroyed or a car chase enacted, the bodies aren’t there to be seen. The innocents, the casualties, the horrific result of such violence shrugged off as a non event. Therefore, is it not axiomatic that the more innocent members of the audience are left with the impression that violence is really no big deal, that punches don’t hurt, and that life isn’t fragile? If this is in fact the case, as I think it certainly is, then surely this will have some worrying repercussions for those involved.
On the other hand, if violence is depicted as actually being violent, if the viewer sees a man bruised and broken after a scuffle, if blood flows from wounds, if the altercations seen on screen leave one feeling uncomfortable, well… that surely has another effect entirely. And so it should. Violence should be uncomfortable, inflicting damage on another human being is a terrible thing, and surely we should be teaching our youth and society at large that there are serious repercussions for such acts – not just in terms of punishment for the perpetrators but how violence impacts the victim and those around them. So, is it, or is it not, highly immoral, or at very least irresponsible, for such non violent violence to be depicted in our favourite ‘family friendly’ blockbusters? I would argue that it certainly it is, whether one believes anything should be done about it is another question entirely.
The antipode of this, of course, is cartoonish, over the top violence that diminishes such horrors in a different but equally distressing way. When blood flows in a fashion that detracts from the seriousness of what has occurred, when there is so much gore and viscera as to almost lessen the impact of the deeds committed, where the carnage wrought is too much for one soul to comprehend (a film such as Kill Bill comes to mind in this regard), a similar, if not equal diminution of morality certainly transpires. Such depictions aren’t nearly as dangerous, of course, as the inverse, these films are made for adults after all, and if a parent allows their child to witness such a picture, the resulting consequences are on them and them alone. Therefore, I think it’s fair to say that a film such as Brawl in Cell Block 99, with its extreme violence (even though it’s at times unrealistic) is a far more moral depiction of such violence than that which is illustrated in your typical Marvel cinematic adventure.
With all this being said, I think it would be unfair of me to say that I don’t enjoy such films alluded to in the above asseverations. In this regard, I am unquestionably part of the problem but this doesn’t mean I haven’t noticed the issue at hand and I should hope my argument isn’t lessened because of it. Some ‘family’ orientated blockbusters are more virtuous than others of course. Star Wars, for example, while not being a bastion for morality, does a much better job than say, entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Star Wars franchise, films aimed at a similar audience to that of the Marvel adventures, contains some truly disturbing imagery, depicting acts of violence with tangible consequences. Hands are cut off, heads decapitated, and the image of Anakin’s body being burnt alive is certainly an uncomfortable one to behold. One can hardly accuse the franchise of ignoring the horror of the significant violence, death, and destruction showcased in its movies.
Of course, not all films are consistent. There are more than a cluster of motion pictures that fluctuate between morally showcasing the horrors of violence and also showing no regard whatsoever for the damage wrought. The Bourne franchise seems to me to be a good example. These films – in full disclosure ones of which I am deeply fond – will show at one moment a chain of brutal violence (blood and all), and the next a car chase will ensue where there is clear and obvious mass civilian casualties, but the film chooses to take zero time to show or reflect on the scores of lives ruined and destroyed by our hero’s daring getaway. Of course, some such decisions are made for the pacing of a movie – you can’t very well linger on every loss of life without pulling the whole movie to a halt. However, it seems to me that there is a compromise to be had, and that these films could perhaps make it clear to all those in attendance what a catastrophic impact the protagonist has had on the innocent citizens around him. This being said, Bourne doesn’t claim to be a noble man, he’s an assassin after all, but surely that doesn’t mean the film should ignore such flagrant loss of life.
It appears to me, that where one comes down on this entire discussion, will be deeply connected to the extent one believes movies impact our culture, and the level of responsibility pictures which allow the admission of children, and those of impressionable minds, should accept. This isn’t to say you can’t enjoy your screening of the latest superhero movie, but perhaps you’ll look at the violence depicted through a slightly different lens, and be able to discern for yourself whether the film is doing an adequate job of portraying the consequences of the action scenes it has constructed for your amusement.