Oscar Watch: What's Up With All The Violence?

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I love movies and I’m always thrilled when I read about a film made for adults.  It’s a sad fact of life that the big-budget productions, issued in the summer, all feature superheroes with super powers or Will Smith saving the universe –films intended to appeal to teenaged boys, unless they’re made to appeal to pre-teen girls with dreamy, pale-skinned vampires and pumped up wolfmen.

But by fall, the studios start bringing out serious films made for adults, because it’s the build-up to the Oscars. (The nominations will be announced tomorrow.) Most years I can't wait to see the films -- I loved last year’s surprise Best Picture The Artist (a black and white silent film set in the 1920s?!), and 2010’s winner— The King’s Speech and I absolutely loved 2008’s winner— Slumdog Millionaire. Who can resist a happy ending and a big Bollywood dance number?

Sadly, this year it’s looking as if I won’t be buying tickets to most of the probable nominees for Best Picture, because I have this built-in protective mechanism which keeps me away from exceptionally violent films. And I’m not alone. I think a lot of people don’t want to see strung-out scenes of violence and torture. But this year, all the “serious” films seem to be over the top for violence.

Yesterday, The New York Times reported:

“A chain saw finally pried the inhabitants of Middle-earth out of first place at the North American box office…'Texas Chainsaw 3rd' (Lionsgate) beat projections and took in an estimated $23 million for No. 1 (‘Massacre’ was dropped from the title after the Colorado movie shootings.)  Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’…ended up second, selling about $20.1 million in tickets.”

Django Unchained courtesy of Columbia Pictures

This year films on Oscar's short list have so much gore, violence and torture, I just don’t think I can put myself through it.

I did see Lincoln which I liked -- Daniel Day-Lewis will get the Oscar for best actor, and he deserves it.  Les Miserables, although it’s been criticized for the unrelenting suffering in extreme close-ups, is also a film I want to see.  I adore the Broadway sound track and tend to sing along at top voice when I’m driving – but only when I’m alone, because I wouldn’t want to submit anyone else to my singing. That would be another form of torture.

Which brings us to Zero Dark Thirty a film about the killing of Osama Bin Laden.  The subject fascinates me and I was eager to see it until I read that the first half hour of the film is devoted to scenes of torturing a man by waterboarding. I know that a half hour of torture is more than I can sit through. 

When I was seven years old in Minnesota , my very religious grandmother would  take me to Bible movies, which often involved torture—Samson and Delilah  among others.  During the torture scenes I would run out of the theater area and huddle in the foyer to the amusement of the lady selling tickets.

Next up? Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino. I liked Pulp Fiction which had no shortage of violence.  But all signs point to Django being gratuitiously over the top. The latest New York Magazine said of the film:

Connoisseurs of ‘wet’ gore will be especially delighted, given that every bullet generates a whoopee-cushion’s worth of red sauce.  The only violence that’s not a kick is done unto slaves, who are whipped, torn to pieces by dogs, and, in a particularly ugly moment, driven to slaughter one another for sport….It’s manna for mayhem mavens.”

Does that make you want to rush out and buy a ticket?

I think that filmmakers believe that every time they make a movie they have to surpass the last one in shocking the audience, either with sex or violence.  Consider all the great films in which the sex happened off camera (and was much sexier because of that). And think of Psycho, which terrified a whole generation out of showering.  Nowhere in the shower scene of Psycho do you see knife slicing into flesh or even a naked body, and yet the murder is so much more terrifying because of what you DON’T see.

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