A Knuckle Sandwich to Chew On

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transformers.JPGPlugged In has passed the halfway point in my 584-part series on film and faith (well, it seemed that long while I wrote it), and this week’s installment is all about on-screen violence: what it is, what it does to us when we watch it and whether it’s ever appropriate.

Americans (speaking in broad generalities here) have always been pretty comfortable watching violence on-screen. Perhaps its because our country was born in the midst of violence, forged in the fires of the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Perhaps its because our traditional heroes have often toted muskets and six-shooters. Regardless, we like things that go boom, which in a nutshell explains why Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen made $400 million. Western Europe (again, in broad generalities), which thinks nothing of featuring bare-breasted women on billboards, often stands collectively aghast at America’s cinematic penchant for violence. Or so the stereotype goes.

Then again, Revenge of the Fallen made another $450 million overseas, so maybe they’re not as horrified as we (or they) sometimes think they are.

But I guess I’d like to throw it open to you and hear what you have to say. Does violence have a place in movies? Why? And when? Can you explain the disparity of attitude between how Americans react to violence and how Europeans do? Or is there really a disparity at all?

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Greg71:

I hated the Dark Knight. The only way you could enjoy this movie is if you rooted for the Joker and/or love anarchy. It was disturbing to hear people in the audience laughing at the Joker's lines. I shouldn't have been surprised, since it was the Joker's movie.  Batman was brought down to the Joker's level and failed to be heroic. I was very disappointed because I really liked Batman Begins.  Transformers: ROTF is about a bunch of fictional alien robots. As far as violence goes, there's nothing graphic with the people in the movie, and most people aren't offended by watching giant robots, who obviously aren't real, duking it out. As for the story, language, and crude sexual content, that's where it really jumped the gun for being a movie about kids' toys.I watched Passion of the Christ on DVD because there was no way I was going to see it in the theater. I had to press the stop button several times. I do not have much tolerance for graphic violence. I appreciate that it really makes you think about Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. I would have fainted had I tried to watch it through its entirety in a theater, however. I think the violence could have been toned down without losing the message.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Superheroine:

I guess it depends on whether the violence is meant to thrill or as part of the story. As you pointed out, the various horror films out there rely on large helpings of blood and gore, but there is often no lesson intended. As gatsbyfollower said, Passion of the Christ is a good example of violence used as a teaching tool: It is used to illustrate just what Jesus went through on the cross. To take it out or tone it down would cause the film to lose much of its power.

As with most issues, there are many, many shades of grey, however. Is the violence in The Dark Knight (namely, the pencil incident) really necessary? I would say...yes. It's brutal, to be sure, but the violence is essential to the theme of good vs. evil. The Dark Knight is mostly a story of evil on the loose, and without the violence, that theme would be far less evident. The violence is used to show the Joker's depraved mental state and, by extension, what happens when evil is set free to do what it wants. It's meant to make you squirm. Now, does that mean everyone should see it? That's another question that should be left to the viewer to decide.  

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  gatsbyfollower:

This is one of the several topics that has always fascinated me when I try to determine what movies I should see.  I wouldn't be able to gain anything (good or bad) out of a movie on a war that had no violence.  But then, do I really want to see the violence of the first few MINUTES of Saving Private Ryan?  Ultimately, I believe that while certain kinds of violence (looking at you Jigsaw) seem like they should never be acceptable, sometimes violence can be a powerful force that can accomplish good in some audiences.  Passion of the Christ is an excellent example.  I had always "known" about what Jesus went through, but too many children's illustrations (as well as many classical paintings) left me somewhat dull to his sacrifice.  That dullness lasted about 15 seconds into the beating scene.  It was a powerful reminder that this was the most difficult thing in the world for Him, but He did it out of great love, so He endured it.  With that said, if I had children, I would spend quite some time deciding whether to even bring a teenager to that movie.  Once again, just as you don't provide "stars" or "final suggestions" (which I am thankful for) in the name of parental responsibility, I think violence is one of those things that mature (adult) Christians need to decide for themselves what is acceptable for both themselves and their families.