Those of you Christian blog readers may have read the popular Christian book, Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. In it, he puts forward the theory that the reason men love war films so much is because it’s tapping into their innate desire to be involved in the battle against Satan. These films bring out the warrior in them.
Actually, this is utter rubbish, and I find it even more offensive when it’s given a Christian sheen. I’ll say it now – the average male (Christian or otherwise) likes war films because he likes watching violence. The more violent, the better.
Sometimes, the violence is disguised by giving the hero a “cause” (such as a war to win, or an evil bad guy to fight). But more and more nowadays, we’re seeing the rise of the “revenge” movie. This is where a bad guy does something evil, and so the hero doubles or even triples the carnage to get payback. (Kill Bill and Sin City would be the two strongest examples of these type of genres.)
Combine that with the fact that the realism and gore levels of films have been getting stronger over the years. There have always been some violent war films, but the turning point was probably Saving Private Ryan. For the first time, we not only saw people get hit by bombs and shot, but we saw their intestines hanging out. Their limbs blown off. Originally, it was meant to shock us – to show us that war is not for kids, but really gross stuff.
But you know what? All we’ve done is overall raised the gore level for films. Horror films, dark thrillers and war films now all have disembowelment, dismemberment and beheadings. It’s par for the course. Why? Because men (I don’t think there’s so many women out there) want to see violence. There’s an aggressive streak in us that’s being fed by this.
Now, I must confess at this stage, that I like a bit of an action film/battle epic as much as the next man as well, and there’s certainly something attractive in visceral displays of violence. But I’m not sure that’s a good thing. We look back and wonder how the Romans could turn out in the thousands to watch people get killed in the arena. But, as humanitarian as we are in this day and age, we’re as keen to watch violence as the Romans were. We excuse it because it’s not happening to real people – but, seriously, did the Romans excuse it because gladiators and Christians weren’t considered as real as citizens of Rome? They probably did.
Anyway, I should say, that I’m not against all violence in films. And it can be used to great effect (especially in a well-made horror film). But the thing that worries me is that violence is losing it’s horror and becoming increasingly mainstream.
Which brings us to A History of Violence. I was attracted to borrow this DVD because the reviews when this film was out were quite strong in praising it. While reputedly violent, it was apparently quite a strong film.
Having now seen it, I can certainly agree that it’s violent. What gets me, though, is what all the reviewers saw in it. It’s certainly a well-made film, and I don’t fault the acting jobs of Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, etc in this film. But what’s the point?
Either a) this film is meant to be an ultra-violent crime story or b) it’s meant to be an indictment against violence. If it’s a), then it’s all been done before. If it’s b) then it fails miserably, because this film revels in its violence. If it’s hoping to shock, then I’m sorry – it just gives us the level of gore that we’ve come to expect and want in this type of film.
The story, for those of you who need to know, is that Viggo Mortensen works at a little diner in a country town in America. One night, two psychopaths show up and hold the place up. Viggo shoots both of them. He becomes a hero, but then Ed Harris shows up, playing a one-eyed mobster who reckons that Viggo used to be the gangster that blinded his other eye. Is Viggo a former gangster or an innocent man caught in the middle?
I’m not going to tell you, but I didn’t feel that this film went anywhere different from other similar films. In the end, violence won the day.
1 1/2 out of 5.