Theater of Cruelty

Glorification or consequence

In Hannibal Rising, cannibalistic killings are elevated to righteous genius, but what we need is brutal film violence that shows the consequences of violence.


[essay] To understand violence, we need cinematic reminders of the brutal consequences of violence. We do not need to see how two assassins in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction blow out the brain of a passenger by accident, and that the biggest problem this causes is removing blood and brain mass from the car. What we need is the scene from Michael Haneke's Benny's Video, in which a 14 – year – old boy shoots a girl with a butcher 's pistol, and in growing despair spends three minutes completing the murder. We need the scene in Nicolas Winding Refns Bleeder, where a man kills the fetus in the stomach of his pregnant cohabitant. We need the rapes and fatal abuse that follow in Claire Denis' Trouble Every Day and Gaspar Noé's Irreversible.

We need to see and feel the suffering the victims are inflicted on, and we need to see violence done by key characters we feel need to understand. We need all this to see the consequences of violence, thus preventing film violence from telling us that violence is unreal. Today's widespread desire to watch fictional, violent acts and admire fictional murderers on film, without any basis in what violence is in real life, is causing viewers' ability to reflect on the nature of violence to wither.

Paradoksal debatt «Our society love murderers / Love war / Love bloodshed / Love the scene of an accident when someone's dead / We love violence / We can not turn away / The Colosseum / Throw 'em in the arena and watch the lions eat' em ».

All readers will not agree with the excerpt from hip hop artist Ill Bill's song Death Smiles at Murder. But still, the text says something about the essence of the peevish curiosity and morbid fascination of our films, crime literature, popular music, TV shows and computer games showing violence, murder and murder. Film has been the most culturally accessible medium of insight into cruel and sick minds, and the vivid imagery's invitation to audience empathy and antipathy has made the film an art form that often bathes in contemporary moral acid baths.

Debates about the representation of violence on film appear at irregular intervals, most recently after the Norwegian Film Authority's setting of a 15-year limit for Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. The cinema director in Fredrikstad, Olav Kjeldsen, chose to refuse 15-year-olds to see the film, which despite cinematic quality is a particularly brutal journey into a universe with extreme graphic violence. Although Kjeldsen himself speculates when he claims that Gibson made Apocalypto only to make money on speculative violence, Apocalypto is a film that should have an 18-year age limit. This is by the way the only absolute limit in Norwegian cinema censorship, and cinema directors and distributors have the financial motive to want as few films as possible with a limit of 18 years. The Norwegian Film Authority's regulations allow distributors to decide which films should have an 18-year age limit, and Kjeldsen has made a non-profit-seeking choice by setting his own limit. After all, he refuses to show the film, as Oslo's Ingeborg Moræus Hansen did with the controversial Crash and Alone Against Everything.

The paradox of the debates is the indignation films that combine realistic and consequential depictions of violence with a graphic, dirty and raw brutality, meet with – an indignation Moreæus Hansen's ban exemplifies.

In their eagerness to emerge with postmodern coolness, film critics and debaters show a high tolerance for inconsistent, ultra-cool gla 'violence, but also an uncritical fascination with glorifying and romanticizing fetishizing murderers. Already in the introduction to the review of Tarantino's Kill Bill: Volume I, Dagbladet's Inger Bentzrud wrote off the value of the debate about the violence in the film: "Protesting against the scenes of violence in this film is like having objections to Askeladden cutting off the troll's head," she wrote. In Aftenposten in December 2005, Kjetil Rolness 'professor Arne Johan Vetlesen commented on young viewers' increased tolerance limit in the following way: «Seeing the difference between fiction and reality should be a sign of a healthy soul life. To react with the same disgust to depictions of violence as to real acts of violence – and to demand that everyone do the same – is a sign of confused moralism. One must, of course, condemn real violence on a different level than one criticizes Tarantino's masturbating slaughter scenes, and Rolness is wrong if he thinks that condemnation is the point of film criticism. The danger is that by getting used to unreal film violence, you also experience real violence as unreal – you do not take the consequences of the violence into account. The unreality applies not only to violence, but also disasters from disaster movies. When several newspaper editors described the experience of the tsunami in December 2004 as "unreal", one must stop and think for a moment.

Needs dangerous violence. The defenders of the Gla 'violence claim that the younger generations "understand" the violence in films such as Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, Guy Ritchie's Snatch and current cinema Smokin' Aces. They believe that the distance the young people view the violence with is so extensive that they can laugh at the meaningless violence, which is always perpetrated by gangsters, assassins and psychopaths with both clothes, appearance and lines intact. In Aftenposten in July 2002, Maria Fürst said that she reacted with disgust to the Japanese film Battle Royale, a film that some lost souls believe is a socially critical film. Fürst wrote that she preferred the violence in Pulp Fiction, and criticized critics who had not understood that Tarantino's violence is ironic. The attitudes Fürst reveals are the result of getting used to a false type of visual violence. This is alarming, morally speaking.

The point is that violence on film should feel nauseatingly real and repulsive to watch, as in the aforementioned Irreversible and Alone Against Everything, Michael Hane's Funny Games and Piano Teacher, Francois Ozon's Les Amants Criminels or Matthias Glasner's current The Free Will. In the book Violence in the Arts, John Fraser claims that artists who treat violence in an honest way, rub the viewers' noses in the unpleasant, and hold up a mirror where the viewer can contemplate the inherent cruelty and bestiality of human nature. These are the artists who bring the violence into reality, by shocking us to a higher insight into the effect of the abuses. Gaspar Noé and Michael Haneke are such artists, Quentin Tarantino is not.

Noé and Haneke have understood what violence is, and create non-consumable violence that rebels against the consumer society's slick, harmless depictions of violence. Violence always has victims, but in most films the victims are stupid, boring or unimportant to the story – in film theory called stick figures. Fraser sees a tendency for these characters to be consumable, and writes that violence against these characters feels appropriate because they are established as "natural" victims. That they are killed or subjected to violence is just fun – something it is not worth investing empathy in.

In other problematic films, the inconsistent violence is perpetrated by infallible heroes, and the violence the heroes use is defined as revenge on enemies by Democracy, the rule of law or the Family – and happens to God on the avenger's side. These are movies with action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, typical blockbusters made to make money on entertainment, and playing on the audience's most basic, moral strings. The TV series 24 presents a similar type of violence: Jack Bauer tortures first, asks afterwards. And get answers.

The noble cannibal. Even more problematic than this gla 'violence is the tendency in our culture to elevate murderous characters to the status of noble geniuses, updated by the latest film about the fictional cannibal and serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal Rising. Lecter is a construction by the author Thomas Harris, a former journalist with crime in the United States and Mexico as a specialty. Harris has written four books on Lecter; Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising. Before the movie The Night Warmer, Hannibal was an obscure, popular cultural figure. But when the film won five heavy Oscars in 1992, interest in the serial killer exploded, and now he is a popular cultural phenomenon.

Peter Webber's recent film Hannibal Rising is a precursor – so-called prequel – produced after the original original, and in the film Webber and screenwriter Harris Hannibal lift even higher on the wings of hero status. The film depicts the traumatic experience Hannibal had as a child in his native Lithuania in 1944, an experience that gave Hannibal an unquenchable thirst for murder and an insatiable appetite for human flesh. In Hannibal Rising, the fetishization of Hannibal is total, and the serial killer is portrayed as a rational and noble avenger. It seems that Hannibal only kills people who deserve to be killed, and the film not only asks us to admire him, as the other films have done – it also asks us to sympathize with him, and see the killings as just.

Righteous are also the murders of Dexter Morgan, the protagonist of Canal +'s new TV series Dexter. Dexter works as a forensic expert on blood spills in the Miami police, but a compulsive homicide, which he developed as a child, leads Dexter on nightly killings. Dexter finds and seeks out pedophiles, rapists and serial killers, who are either unpunished or, according to his legal opinion, have received too few sentences, and murder the criminals in ways that elevate the act of murder to methodical art. Dexter restores the justice system unable to create, and his sympathetic, yet sociopathic personality traits, invite a view of this fictional killer as a true hero.

Consumer complicity. Viewers are as guilty as the industry that produces the cultural products, for these fictitious representations would not have been produced if no one had paid to see them. The latest trend in the film industry has been to film the stories of reality serial killers. As early as 1986, John McNaughton created Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, loosely based on Henry Lee Lucas' senseless ravages, but in the 2000s has biographical films about Albert Fish, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Aileen Wuornos been produced on assembly lines. These films have far from expressed a need to glorify these mass murderers, and rather more towards dark dirty realism. When one compares the ingenious features attributed to the murders in Seven, Copycat and the Saw trilogy, with the way the aforementioned serial killers operated in reality, one understands that the latter films create voyeuristic joy of experiencing a fictitious insight into a disturbed but brilliant mind. .

But sometimes the industry goes a long way: The spinoff product Tartan Video sold in connection with the release of Matthew Bright's Ted Bundy on DVD is a glaring example of the consumer society's cynical link to popular culture. Tartan launched a t-shirt with a picture of Bundy on the front, while the back presented "Bundy's American Tour", with the date and name of Bundy's murder victims – as if it was a concert tour this very real killer had embarked on. It's also not very funny that the t-shirt manufacturer has launched a shirt with the caption «CALM DOWN! Let's not turn this rape into a murder ». When the desire to make money overshadows any consideration for the world's countless rape victims, one must not be a moralist to react.

Rape is an effective way to counteract the unrealization of film violence, and the audience's condemning reactions to the rape in Irreversible – an unusual number of cinemagoers left the hall – show that the habit of sophisticated violence has made many people unable to stand to see violence designed to repel. Free will can create similar reactions, with its two gruesome rape scenes and a long playing time used to follow the rehabilitation of the notorious rapist Theo. When Theo shouts "shut up, or I'll kill you" as he is about to rape his first victim, it is so disgustingly disturbing in all its realism that taking advantage of the situation to make a t-shirt becomes distant in all its nihilism.

The nature of violence. The films about Hannibal reflect people's inherent evil and potential sadist, inherent instincts that people with normally developed mental abilities hold captive by morality. When we see romanticized serial killers kill on film with icy, artistic precision, it is therefore a reminder of our own normality and moral superiority. But the animal features of man can – and should – also be put into a framework where violence is experienced as so raw and fatal that it affects us even after we have left the hall. It is the romanticized bestiality that creates the distance to violence in real life, and it is this that gives us an unreal feeling in contact with real violence. That is why Hannibal Rising does not say anything about the nature of violence, while The Free Will tells everything. Which movie do you choose?

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