Violence and Sentimentality in the Movies: Which is More Dangerous?

Home Alone

Richard Brody at The Front Row has this interesting reflection on violence and the movies/media in general:

“There does seem to be a great deal of research on the question of violence and of quantity of viewing; but very little, if any, on the subject of treacle. I do worry about the effect of violent films on children, but I worry just as much about the emotional debility, the sentimentalization of kids who watch only child-friendly works. In general, children watch much too much television and see far too many movies in which everyone smiles too much and talks as if they’re on sugar highs—or, simply, where there isn’t enough ambiguity or mystery. The oversimplification of life into tangy bite-sized morsels is as much of a danger, for individuals and generations, as stoked aggression.”

I’m fascinated by the critique of sentimentality – and while some may legitimately suggest that I am guilt of such over-egging the emotional pudding myself, I think it’s entirely appropriate.  At the same time, the way we tell stories in which violence plays a significant role requires sustained attention.  My starting point: Is there a qualitative difference between the violence of ‘Inglourious Basterds‘, ‘The Dirty Dozen’, ‘Lethal Weapon’, ‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘Home Alone’ and ‘Cache‘?  Of course there is.  What’s the purpose of movie violence?  What are its effects?  Can it be cathartic?  Can it nurture more real-world violence? And I’ve come to the view that the human race can no longer afford representations of the myth of redemptive violence for entertainment’s sake alone.  If you’ll join me in the comments section, let’s talk about why.


One response to “Violence and Sentimentality in the Movies: Which is More Dangerous?

  1. I was talking with a professor of mine at a University I went to last year and the topic came up about violence in movies. She mentioned the differences of content taboos cross-culturally. The example as it pertained to movies, was in the UK sex/nudity is much more tolerated in films. However, violence is looked at in a much more serious and conservative light. In the US however, violence is considered nothing of consequence, but rather sex and nudity receive the brunt of criticism when movies are looked at and commented on in the media.
    I was very frustrated and troubled recently, after watching a movie (that was the 1st part of a largely disgusting franchise which purely exists not to make any true comments on anything or send any sort of message worth trying to fish out of the mess of the movies, but rather just cashing in on the bloodlust we’ve acquired over the years, especially in younger and younger people). I was frustrated because I know so many people who are so thrilled when another installment comes out or movies come out that are like this, because they’re wicked awesome. I heard someone say, “You’ll really like it if you like blood and gore.” It’s comments like this, which frustrate me to no end. We’re shocked and baffled when school shootings, mass murders, gory killings, rapes, etc. occur. But essentially, in America (I can’t speak for other countries because I’ve never really been outside the country) we’re conditioned from a young age to be entertained, engrossed, taken with, and excited by violence.

    So… violence in the movies. I think at times it’s legitimate to portray when there’s an actual moral point being expressed through it. We do live in a broken and fallen world, and there is evil and there is horrible stuff which happens in the world. But at the same time, there is also good in the world. There’s hope, redemption, and healing. It’s wise to express concern when it comes to polar ends of a spectrum, in this case self-indulgent intentional exposure to violence v. complete ignorance of violence.
    It’s not a bad thing to recognize we live in a broken and fallen world. But at the same time, making this the focus and epitome of your thinking is very dangerous. Recognizing there is evil, but not indulging and getting wrapped up in it… Anyways, that’s my two cents. Have a good day, sir!