Setter’s ‘Spectives: Will You Take That Violence Offscreen, Please?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613If Sophocles wrote Oedipus Rex today, I’m sure he’d have the doomed king pluck out his eyes onstage amid a free-flowing stream of fake, ketchup-colored blood.

It’s the sort of thing we’re seeing in the movies of this era. Lots of onscreen violence. CGI corpuscles. And plenty of slow-motion fights, allowing us to leave no “cool” move unwatched.

I think I know why this is happening. It’s not to call attention to the evils of violence, as some may have proposed years ago following the decline of Hays Code limits on cinematic vices.

In the movie Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan noted why he thought the Scorpio killer would murder again: “He likes it.”

That’s what’s going on. Audiences enjoy onscreen violence. And they always have.

It’s not necessarily worse than having the bloodshed occur offscreen. It certainly depends on the context … and the movie. But many films these days are taking advantage of humans’ primal desires—without providing opinions other than “Doesn’t this look cool?”

I’d like to see more than that.

There has to be a reason for every action in a picture, especially when it concerns a person getting hurt. We have to ask: Why are we seeing this? In Ran, the brutality conveyed the horrors of war. In Pan’s Labyrinth, the ruthlessness of a villain and his regime. Yet in 300, what are we looking at? The glories of stylized Sparta? How awesome it is to see a bunch of macho guys slice up ancient Persians in athletic ways?

Sorry, that’s not a valid perspective.

I’m not saying we should feel bad for enjoying a violent film—if it’s good enough. And a bloody movie needn’t be pro- or anti-war to justify its gore. Yet there should be some context to warrant its depiction; it can’t just be cosmetic, as 300 is. Humans don’t just want Titus Andronicus; they want Macbeth. We need substance with our violence.

The popularity of 300 may suggest otherwise, but that movie’s appeal won’t, I believe, last as long as, say, Ran‘s. The difference is in filmmaking—plus, in part, the outlook on violence. Something I wish more pictures today had.

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