Monday, January 19, 2009

No punch without show

Seeing a film last night called My Brother Is an Only
, I was once again struck, if that’s the appropriate
word, by the movie convention that physical violence
is easily and swiftly recovered from. In this case a
young man was beaten and kicked by several others;
we saw the boots going in, the fists flailing. Yet apart
from a little blood at the corner of his mouth he walked
away apparently unharmed. Later, in another scene, he
was punched so hard around the midriff by a much
bigger, stronger man that it was impossible to believe
several ribs hadn’t been broken. We heard the gasps
and cries of pain as each blow landed; I could almost
feel them myself. Yet a minute later the beaten-up guy
was running full tilt down the road, not even clutching
his side. Call me naïve, but while movies these days go
to great lengths to simulate acts of violence realistically,
they skate over the consequences in a dangerously
misleading way. Dangerous, because the unintended
effect is to trivialize violence, even legitimize it. If you
or I were beaten like characters in films often are, we’d
have broken bones, broken teeth, shattered faces, at
the very least we’d be sore and creaking for days
afterwards. Maybe in fantasy films like The Matrix we
can suspend belief in the absurdly excessive violence
that by rights ought to reduce Keanu Reeves and Hugo
Weaving to a pulp several times over, but My Brother
Is an Only Child
is a straight film, a realistic drama:
watching such films, you’re expected to take everything
else as real, so how come the violence is exempt?

Over time, this soft-pedalling of the effect of brutal
physical violence insidiously conveys the idea that such
assaults don't really hurt that much and can easily be
gotten over. All I can say is: don't try this at home.

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