Violence in Film

By Hugh Brophy, UK

Roughly 400,000 humans and 1,000,000 animals were slaughtered under the Coliseum’s roof for the amusement of cheering spectators, an occurrence, which seemed then the norm but is now frowned upon and regarded as barbaric. We as a society have convinced ourselves that this lust for blood is completely washed from our systems and we could never appreciate the murder of so many people like the Romans did. Yet now violent films sell ticket after ticket and cinemagoers crave destruction and death on larger scales than our Roman counter parts could even imagine. Have we really evolved into a more civilized people or are we still driven by basic human desires? One of the most prominent figures in violent cinema is director Quentin Tarantino who has won two academy awards for his screenwriting in the movies “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained”. Tarantino draws a definite line between violence in real life and violence in movies saying “, in movies, violence is cool. I like it” In the Observer 1994. Many of Tarantino’s movies, similarly to gladiator battles are very minimal in story, held together by intense, bright red ultra violence and some dark comedy. Tarantino himself comments on this in his 2009 film “Inglorious Basterds.” In the movie, which takes place during World War II, a propaganda film is shown in which a young Nazi soldier defends a barrack from allied forces. The German spectators cheer as the soldier repetitively mows down American and British troops. We, as an audience, show some condescension towards them for being entertained by such a simple, gory spectacle, however this smugness turns quickly to shame as we realize the subtle irony. Due to the success of Tarantino’s films and many others of a similar nature it is safe to assume that human’s have a natural propensity towards cruelty. This is most likely a product of evolution because aggression serves as a very useful trait in survival and thus would be selected for. Cavemen who were inclined to fight would easily obtain mates and food and thus pass on their hostile genes. Those more pacifistic cavemen would not enjoy the same benefits and therefore be unable to pass on their genes.

So, is it morally wrong for people to enjoy watching violent movies? On one hand one may argue that it is not, unlike gladiator battles no one is really injured, of more, because it is human nature, wired into our brains, taking pleasure from violence is no more wrong than our urges to eat or reproduce or even breathe. On the other hand one might say that we as a species should have evolved past our basic primal instincts and not be so hasty in satisfying urges and that for people to enjoy watching movie violence they must also enjoy real violence, for instance, if a gladiator fight was shown in a cinema today, despite the death involved it would still contain the same elements and thus be as entertaining as similar movies. Overall, the reason violence is such an appealing theme for filmmakers to tackle is because it is accessible to the masses. With today’s powers of CGI a pulse raising fight scene is easier to make than an interesting story that can actually cause audience members to feel more complex emotions than blood lust. When used appropriately in films such as those by Tarantino and Scorsese, it can be exciting and add to one’s enjoyment but all too often directors lean to heavily on it and end up with a glut of boring gore.