Saturday, January 19, 2013

Open letter to violence in the movies.

Dear violence in the movies,

Here you are, vexing me again. In saying so, I don't mean to be confrontational. I don't have a problem with you most of the time, because you're in movies I don't much want to see, splashy and aggressive and nonsensical. When I say, I want to see all the movies, I usually don't mean the movies where you sashay around, lurid and vulgar, the "entertainment value" that completely repulses me.

 No, it's only at this time of year, when the worthy movies show up, the movies that address violence as a theme, the ones that want the viewer to think about violence, and thus implicate the viewer in the violence. These are the movies in which you vex me, violence in the movies.

Violence in the movies, I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decide whether I am up to watching these worthy movies with violence as a theme. Moreover, I also have to think about when and with whom I will see them. More than one person's aesthetic and moral sensibilities are at stake. So I read and read and read some more: what is the tone of the worthy movie? Does the worthy movie and its director use violence for its own sake? And what's the frame of reference for that? is it a metacommentary? is it a sick, slick invitation to the viewer to enjoy the violence? Or does it ask the viewer to soberly contemplate this conundrum? Or does it do both?

Moreover, how should one think about you, violence in the movies? For you are not violence itself, just like reading a book with violence in it does not, in itself, constitute a  violent act. Why does represented violence bother me? I ask myself: am I, in fact, bothered by violence in the movies, or more by the sense that I should be bothered? (No, I am bothered by it. I know I am. But the fact that I question my own physical response to it--that's exactly how vexing you are, violence in the movies. You make it so I barely trust myself.)

I have thought, examined, and read myself into knots about these films, violence in the movies, and all because of you. You are like the secret of that little couplet of Robert Frost's:

You are gnomic and impenetrable and infuriating, violence in the movies. I can't bear the thought of not seeing a film I want to see, just because the film is violent. I can argue myself into and out of my own responses. I have, in fact, loved certain violent films, loved and cherished, or at least respected, them. So why these? Why these films, violence in the movies: why are they so knotty? Why do they tie me so in knots?

Soon I will see these films, violence in the movies. I just can't not see them. But the spectre of you will continue to haunt me,  before, during and after. I guess you just can't not be that spectre. Maybe that's what you're for.



  1. I too struggle with certain kinds of violence in films--certainly the "lurid and vulgar" which tries to entertain. I read and read and read before I finally saw Pulp Fiction yrs ago; still unsure if it was worth it beyond knowing the film as a cultural reference. Clearly it was an amazing film, yet it left/still leaves me feeling dark and ill.

    But I plow ahead--saw Zero Dark 30 Friday night and will most likely see Tarantino's new one. I worry that Zero Dark serves as one big promotional add for the CIA even if though I'm sure that wasn't Bigelow's intent. I was left feeling conflicted.

    In particular I was disturbed by (of course) the torture but also the last scene where a woman is killed who clings to (presumably) her husband. The film whizzes by this scene, never explores if the her death was justifiable, never pushes us to even think twice about the death.

    As you say I can't bear not to see them simply because of the violence, but also unsure how to fully process the violence.

  2. As always, I love how smart your posts are. Thanks.



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