Posts Tagged movie violence

We need another villain

cinematic villainsI’m looking for a good villain. I’ve had enough of relatable bad guys that need to be empathized with as well as feared. Maybe it’s just leftover angst from the Presidential Election, but I’d like to see a character whose two dimensionality I can point out without making me look like a bad person.

What the public needs is someone they can love to hate. Someone whose iPod has a playlist of children crying. Someone who keeps a cat around just so they can maniacally pet it in a revolving chair. Someone who looks good (and by good, I mean bad) with a mustache.

In the world of nerd literature, definitely the best place to look for archetypal bad guys, the opposite is the trend. As writers strive for more depth, characters wearing both white and black hats become more realistic.

That’s great most of the time, but sometimes it’s just fun to watch Captain America punch the Red Skull in the face without having to consider the Skull’s perspective.

Giving a character a detailed set of motivations makes him or her more relatable, but it also makes the character less evil. Audiences were supposed to view the army Voldemoort raised in the final Harry Potter film as the ultimate force of darkness, but it looked like a mob of homeless people. You’re supposed to fear the Army of Darkness, not empathize with it because social stratification left it with no other viable options!

A good work of film or literature needs complex characters, but sometimes readers and viewers need absolutes. Everyday life is a gray blob, we face choices that are morally ambiguous and often inconsequential outside of the moment. Even when someone commits a genuinely bad act, there is usually a reason behind it.

We forgive people’s bad vibes, and wonder if we’re making the right choices, but we often don’t know anything for sure. A little fictional certainty once and awhile is a good thing. Shakespeare had it right when he created Iago.

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In Skyfall, James Bond fights for Queen, Country, and Aesthetics

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Skyfall, or you did see it, but only in an alternate quantum universe, this post may ruin your day.

Skyfall posterSkyfall was a great way to mark 50 years of 007, and not just because it was a great movie. In this author’s opinion, Skyfall ranks among the best Bond films ever made, but it also shows why this franchise has persisted for 50 years, and why it deserves to keep going. The world of espionage is becoming more efficient, but also less interesting, and that’s why we need Bond.

In Skyfall, all 007 wants to do is shoot his enemy in the face, but said enemy, a rogue former MI6 agent named Raoul Silva, prefers hacking over high explosives. The new hipster Q is also convinced that digital espionage is the wave of the future.

Silva points to a room full of servers and says they are all he needs to commit acts of terror, while Q brags that he can do more at home in his pajamas than Bond can do in the field.

This new attitude isn’t just a writer’s way of triggering sentimentality, either. Cyber warfare is a developing tactic in the espionage world. The Stuxnet worm, for example, has done a better job of slowing down Iran’s nuclear weapons program than any human spy.

That all may be true, but that doesn’t make it interesting to watch. Anyone who has seen previous Bond films will sigh along with 007 when Q hands him nothing but a gun and a radio. An Aston Martin with machine guns might be less realistic, but it’s also much cooler.

No one wants to spend two hours watching someone furiously type on a keyboard, either. Q could probably do 007‘s job remotely using a drone, but he would lose the interest of movie audiences along the way. Bond remarks that, eventually, someone has to pull the trigger. He’s right, if for no other reason than that it creates more drama.

Since Skyfall is, after all, a movie about James Bond, Q and Silva are forced to relent. Q lets Bond take M to Bond’s ancestral home in Scotland for protection, and Silva surrounds and destroys it in spectacular fashion.

That ending has little in common with the real world of espionage. In fact, almost nothing in Bond’s 50-year career of boozing, womanizing, and killing has. Nonetheless, Bond’s defense of good old fashioned bullets highlights an important  issue in the way the world is depicted in the arts.

The digitalization of life is making it harder to depict the real world in an interesting way in fiction. While its true that many aspects of life are mundane, depicting life lived through the filter of digital technology compounds that mundanity with artificiality.

The science-fiction subgenre Cyberpunk has grappled with this problem, and the response is often to dial up the fiction. The business of hacking is jazzed up with augmented reality interfaces, like the dream world of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, or the uber-Internet “Metaverse” of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. The protagonist of Snow Crash, appropriately named Hiro Protagonist, is also a swordsman. That helps.

Like the Bond films, no one ever accused Cyberpunk of being a totally realistic depiction of hacking and computer programming. Both use a real-life activity as the basis for good fiction, but the more time people spend sitting in front of computers, the less likely it will resemble the reader’s world in any way.

It’s important for fictional stories to give their readers something to relate to, but we may be pushing the boundaries of what we can do with the reality we have. Pulling a trigger will always be more interesting than clicking a mouse.

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Putting movie violence in perspective

Welcome to Gomorrah, aka the 21st century American movie theater. It’s where you can see an action hero massacre people with a motorcycle-mounted Gatling gun, right after having sex with a blonde 20-something and her mother. Parents would howl in protest if they weren’t so indifferent.

However, even the industry that brought you Machete and The Expendables has its limits. Today’s movies are actually less violent than ones from the 1970s, in one respect.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the blockbuster Swedish murder mystery novel-turned film, features a violent rape scene, and an equally violent revenge rape scene. I couldn’t remember seeing anything like that in recent memory and, needless to say, found it pretty disturbing.

My mother did not. She didn’t see the film, but she did not think rape made it any more violent than any other recent R-rated movie. “They used to do that all the time in ‘70s,” she said.

David Fincher may have just exceeded the limits of modern Hollywood depravity. The 1970s were, indeed, a time of dark, grim films like Taxi Driver, something the more sensationalized sex and violence of modern Hollywood takes a step back from.

Two other books that were (relatively) recently turned into movies, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman and Watchmen had rape scenes that were eliminated for the film versions. On the small screen, Denis Leary was criticized for including a rape scene in Rescue Me, even thought the show aired after 11:00.

So the next time you fret over bringing a child into the gun-toting, over-sexed culture of 21st century America, remember, it could be worse. It could still be the 1970s.

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