Upon watching Wolverine save his love interest from the grips of the Yakuza in his 2013 stand-alone movie, I realise how brutal the effect those retractible adamantium claws would be in reality. Wolverine deals with an endless stream of tattooed men in the same manner that a pro-chef chops onions, and with the same amount of blood loss. Our hero moves onto his next victim before we see the damage inflicted, and the men, graciously, fall in angles so that we do not have to see their exposed intestines. Yet, this film is a 12A – meaning suitable for children aged 12 and over. However, people younger than 12 may also see a 12A so long as they are accompanied by an adult. This is understandable, since a huge part of the target audience for such superhero films is the teen/pre-teen market. This demographic probably made up a large proportion of its 416million dollar worldwide profit. However, should we be concerned about this portrayal of violence in films that 10-years-olds can see? Sanitising violence dilutes the shocking nature of such scenes, but stops people registering its consequences. Instead, we need to show violence in all its glory, but leave it to the 15 and above rated films, where the full scope of its impact can be appreciated.
Unsurprisingly, James Mangold’s comic book creation is not the sole culprit of the race to up the intensity of action sequences,while still keeping the age rating as low as possible. It is now a common occurrence to see sky-scrapers demolished and millions of lives on the brink to the sound of a Hans Zimmer score, in order to top the climax of its competitor franchises.
It is hard to even register, let alone sympathise with the invisible souls that make up the collateral damage in large-scale action movies, which lack in plot but make up in box office numbers. However, any ‘solution’ to this growing trend of mind numbing violence does not lend itself to feasibility either. Clamouring about the senseless levels of destruction, of both person and place, in Hollywood makes little change while billions of dollars are the real stakes at play. Tightening age restrictions on films doesn’t convince me either, as it gives in to the “Mumsnet culture” with film censoring to wrap the younger generations in cotton wool.
The issue does not lie in the fact that scenes of violence are becoming more and more frequent, with yearly on-screen death counts averaging at over 4000 in 2015, compared to c.700 in 1980. It lies in the violence being shown without consequence; it is bloodless brutality that gives the audience the wrong impression. The notoriously bloodthirsty director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Django Unchained) has made a name for himself through an aestheticization of violence in his films. He twists the horror into artistically pleasing material which is still disturbing to the viewer. Tarantino refuses to acknowledge any link between on-screen and real life violence and defends the film-going experience as solely escapism: “(The viewer) can enjoy violence in movies but find it totally abhorrent in real life…I do not think that one is a contradiction of the other.” Tarantino’s films are gory and often hard to watch, but he is more justified in his style because of his lack of censorship. He does not censor the impact of a gun-shot wound or head injury, so even an hour into the film the impact of a casualty is the same; thus it earns the 18 age rating. This demonstrates that we do not have to sacrifice filmmaker’s or artistic integrity to make movies acceptable for the public – they are not a contradiction of each other. Other examples are the films of director David Lynch (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl). His contributions are not so overtly violent for its own sake, a category that Tarantino’s might fall into. They are inherently character driven. Lynch maintains a strong emotional connection throughout the more shocking scenes. The similarity to Tarantino being that Lynch also includes the grisly reality to his gore, but Lynch believes that “the worst thing about this modern world is that people think you get killed on television with zero pain and zero blood…that’s a real sickness to me.”
Violence should be hard to watch. Casual violence should not be the go-to method to excite or entertain viewers. Lynch and Tarantino, as directors, are prime examples of embracing the reality of violence and its consequences, to create more hard hitting films. In the words of Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense through only a constant impression of its foreboding presence, “violence for the sake of violence I don’t think has any effect. I don’t even think the audience is moved by it”. A sentiment that I hope the next wave of crowd-pleasing directors take heed from.