Recently I’ve found myself in situations where I have to explain why I split hairs about my repulsion and attraction to different types of violence in movies. Some movies will leave me depressed and anxiety ridden for weeks, while others, with a similar volume of gut spillage will raise me to ecstatic heights. Most of the time I find myself unconvincingly blathering about why I love Starship Troopers, but hate District 9. Why I queasily dig Cronenberg, but will never watch a movie by that motherfucker, Michael Haneke. So I thought I would try to put some thoughts down about this. Let’s give it a shot!
I’m pretty wimpy about being dragged to a violent movie unless I’m sure the nature of the violence is in sync with my particularities. For example, I wouldn’t go out to see Drive because I’d heard that the violence was brutal and seemed out of place. I’ve since changed my mind about seeing Drive (still haven’t though), but you see how sheepish I can be about the potential of having a bad movie going experience.
It just occurred to me that this may stem from my days as a child, sitting on the floor with my eyes closed as my babysitter’s son watched all the Freddy Krueger movies. I can still hear those screams: The cries for help, with no help on the way. My imagination interpreted these screams as symbolic of the cumulative cruelty and compassion of Man equalling Zero. Zero being the horror of absolute indifference, which I’ve witnessed in real life from time to time, with utter astonishment and dread. Later in life I mustered up the courage to watch a few Freddy movies. I got a real kick out of Dream Warriors. So that helped me defeat my traumatic, childhood interpretation in a way.
What do I like about violence? Well I love violence: Violence acting as an affirmation of life and the desire to transcend material existence. The further we are ripped apart, the closer we come to the divine or at least to a revelation. Violence as an alchemical process or a means of displaying the power of Will. In real life, this kind of thing rings truer with sports than with actual death I think. I remember having brief touches of transcendence during my years of Judo competition. I don’t think the same could be said for a soldier watching his buddies blow up or having to kill a stranger, as having anything but a negative reverberations, but who knows. I’m not going to pretend like I know what can be built from that source. Well, that’s why we have movies and books, because we can take that idea of violence and use it to build the soul or diminish it.
Zero: Human beings are shit: Feel bad about yourself you soulless coward: I’m talking to you: The Viewer!
Oldboy was one of those movies with a few scenes of high-caliber, joyous, cinematic violence, sandwiched by heavy loaves of overindulgent throw-up. I enjoyed the scenes of him punching the wall, transforming his body; training his mind to fight and then releasing himself into the world. I like the part where he eats the squid and the hallway scene. Uh… where is this going? hm. I wonder if I’m making a point.
(Spoiler alert) I didn’t like the part where he cuts out his own tongue in a high-volume K-drama reaction to a trap set within the Material Universe. Why was I following this guy for an hour to watch him take a kiddy pool bath in his own shit? MAN UP Korean action star! This is where I see the failing of the writer as human being. I see the failure of the director to be a true human being, and this absorbs into my psyche and devalues my own life in a small way. I walk out of the theater feeling less alive than I felt going in. Does every story have to have an Odysseus ending for Jesse? No…but it would be nice!
My problem with certain grim action yarns like District 9 (+Old Boy to a lesser extent), and torture porn movies like Saw and Hostel is that their worlds are dead. There is no place for these characters to grow within the confines of what I perceive to be a Materialist ideology on the part of the writer. The victims are like screaming strands of hair, on a trip to the barber shop. Get it? Because hair is dead. What do such victims do in this kind of scenario? Nothing, but act out some kind of reptilian interpretation of mammalian behavior. So we get a lot of screaming and suffering but none of the resulting boons, because a spiritually dead entity can’t recognize boons. Especially a spiritually dead writer. That shit is a dead end! I live your fantasies every day dumb-ass. Try surprising me. Yeah I know the world is cruel. Why the fuck do you think I read comic books?
That’s not to say an Athiest can’t write transcendant narratives. But I would chance to guess the greatest of these are operating on some unconscious, ancient mystical memories. I’m getting off track.
I have a lot more to say about this but, I’m a busy dude. Maybe I’ll write a part two.