I abhor real violence, but I generally like it on screen. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing the bad bastard cop it? It’s cathartic. Where else but in the movies do we have moral license to thrill to the grisly kill of some evil mother who had it comin’? Poetic justice sure as hell ain’t nowhere to be seen in life; it’s a comfort to see it enacted in fiction.
There doesn’t have to be a moral justification for screen violence, though. In horror movies and splatter flicks, for example, you expect slaughter of the innocents, and it’s delivered in full – but the gore is so over the top, so obviously gratuitous, it’s cartoon-like. Easily handled, easily dismissed.
Then you get a sort of inversion of morality where villains are celebrated as violent anti-heroes: Hannibal Lecter, Freddie Krueger, Dexter. Monsters with permission to scare and shock with ghastly acts. That’s their function. We like ‘em like that.
And of course, there are obvious instances where graphic and shocking violence is simply intrinsic to the realism of a film – war, crime and gangster movies, for example. I don’t have a problem with that.
Where I do have a problem is with extreme violence that does not serve any function but to turn your guts, to repulse, to traumatise. I’ve encountered very few movies that cross the line like this. In fact, only two come readily to mind: Michael Haneke’s abomination Funny Games and this latest effort from Michael Winterbottom, The Killer Inside Me.
Both films feature psychopath characters who subject their victims to horrifying sadistic acts culminating in gruesome murders. Neither make any real attempt to get inside the killers. Neither spare the audience. The interesting part – the why – is neglected, while the how is focused upon in merciless pornographic detail.
In The Killer Inside Me, Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), a psycho Deputy Sheriff in a small Texan town, murders a local prostitute (Jessica Alba) by smashing her repeatedly in the face with his gloved fist. It’s not a frenzied attack. Rather, she – and we – are subjected to blow after coldly and carefully aimed blow, each delivered with horrendous force, and calculated to reduce the victim by degrees to an unrecognisable mess of bloody pulp, shattered bone and broken teeth. There is no motivation for the attack. It is sickening, gruelling to watch, and ultimately, unjustifiable artistically.
Earlier, our man Lou treats the same woman to a savage pre-coital thrashing with his belt that leaves her arse black and blue and bleeding through the welts. Then he says sorry! THEN – get this – she tells him not to apologise and initiates sex, evidently real turned on by his brand (sorry) of foreplay. But that’s not all!
It transpires that she somehow survives Lou’s attempt to murder her. Horribly disfigured by his beating, just out of hospital, she staggers into his arms and whispers that she loves him! To which he responds by shoving a knife into her guts. The ultimate penetration, I suppose.
There’s more. More gore, more killings, another woman beaten to death – this time, Lou does in his fiancée (Kate Hudson) – and none of it serves any purpose other than to demonstrate that we’re dealing with a sick fuck here. As if that point hadn’t been bludgeoned home already. The closest we get to a why is some photos Lou discovers tucked away in a Bible of his mother naked and bound, with welts on her arse. Oh, so there you go – her boy’s ‘issues’ are genetic! Fuck me.
Why would a talented director like Winterbottom shit in the face of his audience like this? Is this movie an outlet for his own raging misogyny? Whatever, I don’t get it. And I resent sitting through it. Save your crap for your therapist, matey.
I was talking along these lines to a friend over coffee on Saturday. He brought up Funny Games. Like me, he hated it. He went so far as to claim it left him feeling violated. I know exactly what he meant.
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