One of the most important things I’ve learned about movies would be this:
“…there is a huge difference between portraying evil and condoning it.”*
What does this quote have to do with the issue of violence in movies?
There is a difference between portraying violence, and indulging in violence.
What do I mean by “…indulging in violence”?
On the whole, I thought the movie Jurassic World was “Meh.” The movie was turn-your-brain-off escapism. Nothing to write home about, and not deserving of the amount of money it made at the box office: Over one-and-a-half billion dollars.
One of the reasons I am lukewarm about Jurassic World is one scene. Chances are you know which scene I’m talking about:
If there is one thing I hate in a movie, it is content that seems to be there just for the sake of being there — content in a movie for no other reason than shock value.
Others have said it better: Zara’s death is needlessly graphic.
Zara’s death serves no dramatic purpose. The kids don’t talk about it. Claire doesn’t go “Where is Zara?” when she meets up with the kids. Disturbing, since Zara’s last words to her were something along the lines of “I’ve found the kids!” After her death, everyone forgets Zara. You could keep the shot were Zara is snatched up and carried away by a pterodactyl, leaving her fate to the audiences’ imagination, and the movie would be no different.
To move on to another movie that leaves a bad taste in my mouth whenever I think about it: The 2005 remake of King Kong.
I use to love this movie: It use to be my favorite. Which makes my eventual realization about it all the more bittersweet.
What was my “eventual realization” about King Kong?
The violence in King Kong is gratuitous: Much of the violence is there just for the sake of being there.
The original King Kong had an excuse when it came to violence: No one had ever seen anything like it before. The movie was, in a way, the Avatar (2009) of its time: A vehicle for special effects. The new King Kong doesn’t have the luxury of being new. Everything it does — CG dinosaurs, and creatures brought to life through motion capture, to give two examples — has been done before. (Jurassic Park and The Lord of the Rings trilogy come to mind.)
Why do I think the violence in King Kong is gratuitous?
This is why:
There is no reason for so many people to die.
Why doesn’t Herb stay on the ship?
Once many of the crew head off to rescue Ann, what does Herb contribute to the story that, say, Preston, couldn’t? Carry the camera’s tripod? I see no reason why Preston couldn’t have done that. Herb is an elderly man. He’s the last kind of person who should be heading off into the jungle. But why does he do it? For no other reason than to die:
Another example of gratuitous violence in King Kong:
Why doesn’t Kong swat the sailors off of the log, killing them instantly? Why, like a sadist, does Kong turn the log over, and over again, the sailors hanging on for dear life, when it would be faster to just swing his fists at them? Because then we wouldn’t have moments like the one where a man watches helplessly as his best friend falls to his death:
Thinking about Jurassic World and King Kong makes me appreciate movies Evil Dead that much more. In Evil Dead, the violence serves a purpose. It is not violence for the sake of violence.
That’s the reason why, for example, this, in terms of making us empathize with the characters and moving the story forward…
…is a more effective use of violence than this:
The violence in Evil Dead is graphic. But it means something. There’s a method to the madness. A point to it all. That point being: This is what happens when you don’t heed a warning.
It’s not a fair comparison — comparing an R-rated horror movie to two blockbusters — but I stand by what I think:
A movie that features, among other things, a woman cutting her arm off, a woman cutting her tongue in two, and a man getting his hand split open with a crowbar, effectively utilizes violence.