Cinema is the most important art form of the last 100 years. What is shown on the screen has a great impact on society. What people see on screen affects their emotions in many different ways. For instance, people are moved by a tearjerker, frightened by horror films, and laugh out loud in comedy films. In the same way violence on the screen also affects people in many different ways. The way violence affects people depends on how the film makers portray the violence. Violence is shown in many different ways depending on the genre (e. g. Comedy, War, Western and Sci-fi).
I feel that film violence can change a person’s reaction depending on what genre it is and therefore directors are forced to make sure that they present the violence in the way it is intended. People react in different ways depending on how violence is presented. Film-makers control very carefully how they portray violence, but frequently this is socially irresponsible. This is especially so when children and young people are exposed to it. Comedy violence is always shown in a very light hearted way. Comical and rather cliched music is usually also added to the light hearted take on the violence.
This is done to make the audience less worried about the violence and pain, therefore allowing them to almost enjoy the violence, mainly due to some added comic effects. Good examples of comedy violence are some less serious Bollywood mainstream films. These are made, normally, purely for the viewer’s entertainment rather putting across thought provoking ideas. These types of Bollywood films can be referred to as Masala movies. Other forms of comedy violence are the highly entertaining children’s classic ‘Tom and Jerry’ which consists of the short and simple plot of Tom-the cat trying to catch Jerry-the mouse.
In every episode Tom is in some way beaten up by Jerry in a very harsh way. But, once again the music and character expressions that are used help to tone the violent nature of the programme. ‘Laurel and Hardy’ also show violence in a funny way, again using the comical music technique and the ‘silly’ facial expressions. They beat each other to a pulp, but always get back up again. It is not to be taken seriously. ‘Dumb and Dumber’ is another film that does this. Ordinarily one person hitting someone else with a stick would hurt but no suffering is shown, once again due to the nature of the film.
However this can somewhat be deceptive to children of a young age. Children are subjected to this amount of violence, but they appear to come out without harm, therefore showing that the directors and producers have done a good job in lightening up the violence. But, does this make violence acceptable and has violence become a part of our society in which we live in? Violence in science fiction films is treated in a number of ways. For instance, in space travel films, like the ‘Star Trek’ and Star Wars series, all the action features explosions in space, and fights with laser weapons.
The audience accepts that this is not ‘real violence’ because the worlds in which the films are set are not real. The audience is encouraged to suspend belief, and accept things like time travel, black holes, alien beings and space ships travelling at incredible speeds through time. Therefore the ‘violence’ is not meant to be taken seriously. There is no blood and gore. Frequently the villains are robots incapable of suffering when they are ‘killed’ or blown up. For instance, in ‘Star Wars Attack of the Clones’, all the villains are robots.
Light sabres are used to slice off robotic limbs, and bombs blow them up into smithereens. And yet, there is no suffering. There is no human element in the violence. This is pure entertainment, for family audiences. There is another type of Sci-fi film which features humans in jeopardy. These films show human suffering and therefore the violence is ‘real’ and there is a different response from the audience. In ‘Independence Day’ (1995), planet earth is invaded by aliens who destroy the White house, New York and the Statue of Liberty.
This is a very political film, and in some ways it was a foretaste of real events to come on 9/11. Human beings rally together and mount a counter-offensive against the invaders. The audience empathises with the characters who give their lives in the fight for human survival, and the film is very patriotic in tone. The casualties are human, and they suffer greatly. In the film ‘Aliens’ (1979) the enemy is an incredibly disgusting reptile-like space monster attacking humans in a closed space. The human characters are killed in very bloody ways, as the alien tears them apart.
The violence is horrific and disgusting. The audience feels revulsion. There is no doubt at all that the audience understands the consequences of violence, and the suffering it causes. The audience is also much closer to the gore, with the use of extreme close-ups, suspenseful music, and a terrifying monster. More recently, new sub-genres have grown within the Sci-fi field. There are Superhero films like ‘Batman, X-men, Superman and Spiderman’. The violence in these films is pure fantasy, and very cartoon-like (and in fact every one of these films has a spin-off cartoon series).
But in every film the hero is very human with real feelings that provide a moral centre to the action. This positive element is missing from another sub-genre, ‘The Matrix Trilogy’. These films feature a whole different world, like a video genre. In the third film The Matrix Revolutions, we see a scene where the three heroes face a number of enemies. They appear to be very mysterious, with their faces and in particular their eyes covered. The emotion from their eyes is hidden by black shades almost representing these enemies as beings serving no other purpose but to kill.
The scene becomes alive with bullets as the two sides shoot at each other. Quick zooms, in and out, and very clever quick edits, give the illusion that the room is filled with bullets, therefore making the characters movements that much more spectacular. A low pumping bass in the background is in time with the array of bullets darting around showing the scene to be a choreographed work of art. It also enhances the intensity of the bullets as they ricochet of the walls. But, the action has been glamourised so much to a point that the enemies do not feel or say anything when they die.
This is violence that people do not take seriously enough. Somebody who has been shot at point blank range is most definitely going to scream out or be in extreme pain. This is the problem with ‘The Matrix Revolutions’. This appears wrong as it shows real people being subjected to this amount of violence without consequences which could also have a knock on effect on society today. None of the characters ever get injured, or suffer any wounds. The villains are killed, and disappear. There is no suffering. Cinema is usually the perfect way of showing people reality and what life is really like.
In the film ‘Saving Private Ryan’ the harshness of war is captured intensely. The opening half an hour has been described as a ‘cinematic tour de force’ and ‘one of the finest 20 minutes ever committed to a film’. It shows the most gruesome and violent scenes ever shown in a ’15’ rated film. The sequence of violence begins with American soldiers stepping off their boats into a blaze of German fire. Point of view shots from the German gunners show the carnage on the beach as they mow down wave after wave of American soldiers. Men dive for the bunker for their lives as army shouts are bellowed out.
Strong language is also used to emphasise the extreme situation that the American soldiers are in. Steven Spielberg wanted this scene and the whole film to be as real as possible to show people the horrors of war. Coming out of the film many people would feel that they know about the harshness of war, but would also feel sad and dejected because of the carnage that they have just witnessed. However the intensity of violence that is shown in this film is so extreme that in any genre it would be too much. Secondly, the fact that this film was given a ’15’ rating by the BBFC makes it available to a much younger and less mature audience.
Another war film ‘Where eagles dare’ presented a different side of war to the audience. It showed war being like one big adventure rather than the real tragedy of it. This was a bad decision by the directors as it tried to show war as not too bad or not that big a deal. It also shows many Germans getting shot, but with no suffering shown. This film ignores how sensitive it should be towards this extreme violence and instead tries to portray it like a ‘James Bond’ mission. However this does not work as the violence is too strong and the storyline is more serious than ‘James Bond’.
There are a number of films which have scandalised society by the extremity of the violence depicted. Quentin Tarrantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ was much criticised for having a scene in which a policeman’s ear is sliced off, whilst the assailant dances to music. Oliver Stone’s film ‘Natural Born Killers’ featured two young people going across America murdering people. This led to a number of cases where young people copied the screen violence by shooting people. Another example was when three young men dressed up like the hero from the ‘Matrix’ films and went on a shooting spree at a High School in Columbine in America.
This is very worrying, and shows that screen violence has very serious repercussions. People all over the world watch films therefore cinema is a powerful medium. Film-makers have a great responsibility to the audience to present violence in a way that does not glamourise it. They should show the tragedy and suffering, which is a consequence of violence. Frequently, film-makers fail miserably in their duty to depict the truth, and this harms the impressionable young who do not understand the damaging effects of violence.