Filmmakers have been using violence in their craft since the birth of the medium. Whether it be boxing matches, shootouts, or elaborate fight scenes – violence is no newcomer to the film scene. But at what point does the violence become too much? It is debated time and time again how necessary it is and what impact violence has on an audience.
On the one hand, sanitizing and dialing back violence and its repercussions “protects” the audience by not exposing them to the gruesome details that would have actually resulted.
On the other hand, by showing the reality and gore of the violence shown on screen it gives opportunity for the audience to understand just how cruel and extreme the outcomes of these actions are.
In this post, I am going to look at the difference in violence portrayed in films that are released for wide audiences and in those that are portrayed in restricted (R-rated) films, as well as discuss to what extent the filmmaker is responsible for showing accurate violence to their audiences.
TONING DOWN VIOLENCE
Probably the most important films to focus on when it comes to sanitized violence are superhero films. These are some of the most celebrated and widely viewed films in recent history, and they are also some of the most violent. The problem is the violence and its results are dialed way back in order to reach a wider audience. It is because of this that these films are seen by virtually all ages.
This is one instance where violence in film can become an issue. When you have an impressionable young audience seeing literal heroes being celebrated for their aggressive and violent acts, it plants a seed in the mind that they, too, may be seen as heroic for resulting to violence to solve their problems.
Even worse, the violence seen is not portrayed realistically and nearly brushed over as a casual occurrence. If young viewers, especially, do not understand the repercussions of their acts. They do not realize that when Captain America kicks someone in the head – realistically – they will bleed and most likely have some form of brain damage as a result.
By not making these repercussions clear and apparent, young viewers see it as just another act that works against the “bad guys”.
Moreover, particularly in the MCU movies, heroes such as Iron Man and Black Widow kill their enemies all too often – shooting them with guns in Black Widow’s case, and various rockets and energy blasts in Iron Man’s. But, again, the fact that these characters are literally ending another’s life is brushed off and rarely given a second glance. Even if the audience does realize the character most likely died as a result, the characters show no remorse so neither do they.
It is important for audiences to realize that this is a fictionalized world, and that the results of the violence portrayed in these films are not realistic. This is why discussing violence in films is so important. Especially for young and impressionable viewers.
While not as widely viewed due to MPAA ratings and restrictions, there are those films which portray violence in all its realistic gore and glory.
Sticking to the superhero movie genre to start – films such as Watchmen have no gripes about showing the reality of its violence. In one scene in particular, two members of the title group beat up a group of thugs in an alley. When one of the heroes breaks a man’s leg, the audience can hear the snap of the bone break as they are shown the contortion of the leg.
It is not easy to watch – probably because it is so real. But after the initial shock, you cannot help but think how “cool” and impressive the act was.
Another film often criticized for its intense violence portrayals is Django Unchained. This film has several acts of gun violence, climaxing with a huge shootout. With each gunshot the audience sees blasts and sprays of blood from the wounds. Ones that would probably actually result from being shot.
This is where another issue of violence in film comes up. The issue of further desensitizing an audience to violence.
By showing a realistic and brutal portrayal of violence, audiences may become used to such acts and their results. If you knew what to expect exactly when you broke someone else’s leg – would that make it easier to do? You have seen, heard, and experienced the act in some way already. The only difference would be you performing the act as opposed to watching it be performed in front of you.
WHAT RESPONSIBILITY DOES A FILMMAKER HAVE?
Violence in film is a tricky topic to tackle. And ultimately, it comes down to what the filmmaker wishes to show the audience. Being a creative medium, film allows its creators to express what they want, how they want. Whether the filmmaker wants to show realistically brutal violence and its repercussions or sanitize it so that it can be seen by a broader audience, the filmmaker has a right to their story and how it is told.
As a filmmaker, you should be aware of the effects the violence you are portraying can have on an audience, though. It is important to understand the different ways you can portray the acts, and know the pros and cons to each option.
Violence in film is not going anywhere anytime soon. The least a filmmaker can do is understand the impact their portrayals may have on the intended audience. While it ultimately comes down to the perception of each individual audience
member, the filmmaker should know and be ready for both
the best and worst case scenarios as a result of what they show.
WHERE WE ARE TODAY
Violence is an entertainment source for us as an audience. It is an unfortunate truth, but a truth nonetheless. People have been using violence as a form of entertainment ever since the days of gladiators and the Coliseum.
The use of violence has fluctuated over the years, and even though we no longer watch live death and murder, the very realistic portrayals in film can deliver a similar effect.
The use of toned down violence is another way entertainers have learned to use violence in entertainment, while also being able to reach a wider audience.
And while it is the choice of the filmmaker which method to use, it is also, then, their duty to at least understand the repercussions that may come as a result of their portrayal. It is for this reason, in addition to many others, that it is extremely important to discuss and understand violence in films, and the effects it can have on an audience.