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The Violence Vice
[Opinion] Why violent femmes and vigilantes crowd our flicks these days
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
Published 2008-07-30 08:44 (KST)   
Something is happening at the movies. It didn't just happen of course. We have been heading in this direction for some time. But is the level of violence at the movies justifiable?

The violence meter has spiked ever upward thanks to the likes of Quentin Tarantino ("Pulp Fiction," "Kill Bill" 1 and 2, "Planet Terror"), "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith," the "Matrix" trilogy, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and increasingly violent femmes. Think of Lieutenant Ripley in the "Aliens" series, Sarah Connor in the "Terminator" series, Beatrix Kiddo in the "Kill Bill" double feature, Trinity from "The Matrix" and the darkly beautiful Kate Beckinsale in the "Underworld" series.

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It may not seem like a strange transition, but strong, violent women playing action heroes is a stark departure to the conventional noir of not so long ago.

I think it was while watching "Wall-E" that I realized to what extent noir is back. Did anyone notice the beatings "Wall-E" took despite surviving several short-range nuclear detonations?

What Noir?

So what is noir exactly? Noir tends to be crime fiction that features, according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, "hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings." The new noir isn't necessarily focused on "crime" fiction per se, since crime (or dystopia) is a basic part of the mythos. But bleak settings or situations are very common. And cynical characters are par for the course; just think of the late Chris McCandless ("Into the Wild"), Jason Bourne, John Rambo, the Joker and John Connor.

There is no doubt that movies have become darker. The Oscar winning "No Country for Old Men" is a prime example, as is the Oscar winning male lead, Daniel Day Lewis in "There Will Be Blood." There's a lot more from 2007, consider the following titles:

- "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"
- "American Gangster"
- "Gone Baby Gone"
- "Atonement"
- "Into the Wild"
- "The Breach"
- "The Bourne Ultimatum"

Now consider these 2008 titles:

- "Cloverfield"
- "The Happening"
- "Rambo"
- "Choke"
- "Quantum of Solace"
- "Deception"
- "The Spirit"
- "Australia"
- "The Dark Knight"

And in 2009:

- "I, Lucifer"
- "Number 13"
- "Angels and Demons"
- "Terminator Salvation"

At face value it might not seem so, but what all these flicks have in common is a disturbing level of darkness, they reflect a gradual dystopian creep. There are fresh, colorful, happy exceptions to this, such as "Juno," "Kung Fu Panda" and "Speed Racer." But the box office hits are illuminating. People want to see dark, violent scenarios in realistic settings. Is it a form of psychological preparation? Are we psyching ourselves up for some anticipated -- and imminent -- austerity? Quite possibly.

Even in random movies such as, say "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," it's not hard to think of a particularly violent scene that goes on and on and on and on. It's no surprise then that James Bond has resuscitated himself as a toughened, balls-of-steel, hard as nails bleeder who bashes his way out of increasingly unlivable scrapes.

The Reasons Behind the Mythos

In The Daily Telegraph (U.K.), Jenny McCartney writes convincingly on this topic. While I agree that the level of violence in everything from Harry Potter to James Bond to Batman has gone up alarmingly, I believe McCartney misses the reason for this. The reason is The Real World.

Movies, like art, are a mirror of the real world, and while some movies "make" or "inform" the zeitgeist, more particularly -- in my opinion -- reality forms a palate for cinema to dip into. Even our escapism is becoming more bleak (think "Wall-E," "The Dark Knight" and the "Harry Potter" series).

Society to Blame

Unlike McCartney I don't believe directors are at fault for putting violence in movies. Our society is at fault for allowing itself to unravel to the extent that it has. The fact that more people want to watch these violent scenarios is merely a reflection of where movie realism is resonating with the real world. It is difficult not to believe that the world is tipping ever closer to a world war scenario, along with many other bleak possibilities, including pandemic flu, hunger shortages and worldwide social disorder (riots, etc.). While the average person might call these imaginations "doomsday," the truth is that subconsciously it is neither illogical nor farfetched given the rapid declines in world economics.

"The Dark Knight" fully embodies the dark dystopia that many fear, and hence it is no surprise that this viscerally real movie has reigned at the box office. The Superman and Batman characters emerged just prior to World War II, and were among the only franchises to continue afterward, in adapted form. Interestingly, superheroes have become darker and simultaneously, more popular, as audiences seek clearer distinctions of good and evil, and justice, even if only voyeuristically.

"The Dark Knight" embodies a mythos that resonates with many: that there is a growing craziness and disorder that is threatening to break loose. We all sense now that criminal elements (or terrorism) are becoming harder to contain.

There is also little doubt for people in the great cities of the world that even in a general sense blue skies are turning grey, and the silver lining we have believed all things to be imbued with, happens to be a growing deception. The spirits in suburbia are low; we know now that not even our machines can save us. The problem is that we have become too much like machines ourselves. And the way we respond to our growing helplessness, our growing frustrations, is to lash out -- at worst. At best, we might go and watch "The Dark Knight" more than once, to bring ourselves closer to facing our fears.
For more about the writer, visit www.nickvanderleek.com.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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