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The Greatest Violence
by Andy York

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Alright, let me start out by saying that these are NOT what I consider the most violent movies ever made. I also don't consider these to be the best movies to include violence. While I think all seven of the movies listed are very good, each one represents an interesting view point on violence in movies. That's what this particular column is about. I had originally planned on doing some sort of list on the most violent movies ever, but I found that making a list to do justice to the most violent movies of all time would be near impossible. When I make a list I compile my picks off the top of my head and then search around the net to see if there's anything I'm forgetting or have over looked. After a few minutes I knew that a top 10 list wasn't going to happen. I started thinking just how different the possible selections were. I started thinking about movies that condemn violence and those that glorify it. I started thinking about the differences and similarities. Mostly, I started thinking about writing a different column.

American History X

This is an interesting movie. I dare not say this is a "popular" movie, but American History X has proven to be a compelling experience for just about everyone I've ever talked to who has seen it. American History X deals with violence through racist extremists in the form of skinheads. Whether the violence is a prison gang rape, the murder of a misguided youth or the most famous, Edward Norton "curb stomping" a black gang member, it's all very in your face. The violence in American History X speaks to people of my generation better than any movie of its kind. Gentleman's Agreement or Do the Right Thing doesn't really register that well today. As we're seeing with Barack Obama's presidential run, our youth doesn't really care about skin color. American History X, for all its horror and tragedy, shows us that all hate is evil. The response I see from American History X and its violence is actually pretty amazing. No one I've spoke with enjoys the acts of violence displayed in this movie. We all understand and comprehend what we're seeing. For a tragic movie, there is something uplifting in its violence. These acts are never okay, and America's youth fully know this. Has any other generation been able to say that?

Robocop

I wrestled with which movie I would pick to discuss the idea of revenge. Man on Fire, Dirty Harry, Death Wish and a few others crossed my mind, but I liked Robocop with how it also adds the concept of futuristic violence. Robocop is the story of a good family-oriented cop who is murdered by a gang of criminals and is then selected to be the test case for being a machine-cop. He's blessed with near
invincibility and super strength so the audience gets to see some very satisfying justice served to common street thugs. Eventually though, the memory of his murder continues to surface and the machine cannot shake the feelings for revenge he has. We all take pleasure in seeing the half man/half machine destroy the evil doers. There's no doubt they deserve what the get and we don't have a problem with them getting their due. It's an amazing balance between revenge and justice. I've had the discussion with several people about the death penalty or revenge being justified, and I can never really lock on to an answer. I would imagine anyone who has really thought of the idea hasn't come to an answer lightly. Revenge is just such a hard subject to embrace as a rule, but watching it happen without having to commit ourselves to it is oddly satisfying. Robocop doesn't take on any of this really. There's no question that what Robocop is doing is perfectly fine from the film's point of view. These bad men aren't human, but evil. It's the film's success and my feelings of its quality that lead me to think many of us might just think revenge is okay. As long as we just don't have to say so.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

From futuristic violence to gory horror violence, right? Well, the first installment of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series wasn't really that gory. The violence in TCM isn't really about realism or grossing the audience out. It's about amazing the viewer through a story and acts that are as morbid and twisted as about any in film history. I wouldn't call this voyeuristic, but it allows the audience to see a disgusting form of murder and to enjoy it. TCM doesn't do this alone. These are the traits of the horror genre. For some reason we like seeing the absolute worst possibilities. I pick TCM for the fact that I don't know how much worse it gets than being chased by a man with a chainsaw who also happens to like to wear his victims' faces as a mask. That entire idea is horrible and disgusting. Yet, three sequels, a remake and a prequel to the remake followed this movie. As is the case with Jason, Freddy and Michael, we've embraced Leatherface as an icon in filmdom. We enjoy the disgusting displays his movies bring. We like the murder and violence that is associated with him. I don't why, but we just do. We like that horror.

Badlands

The original Natural Born Killers. Both films deal with people becoming desensitized to murder. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek play a set of poor teens that confuse every emotion they have. Martin Sheen makes the statement in the movie that, unlike cops who deserve a chance, bounty hunters are scum and should be
killed. It's the idea that murder isn't murder. That somehow killing a human is reduced to something less than murder. It's a mindset that I would imagine accompanies any serial killer. Badlands does draw inspiration from real life serial murders committed by Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, and you really wonder just how that mentality works. How does one get to the place where Sheen and Spacek do? We never learn how or why these two kids kill people. We just see the devastation it does to their victims and themselves. For all the movies I list that either glorifies or attempt to explain violence, Badlands does neither. We just see it happen and wonder how it's possible to do the acts we see. It's not rage or hate because the killers don't hate the victims. For some odd reason they just need them.

Straw Dogs

Okay, this is the worst movie on I picked. It's revered as a classic and I can understand that it was a violent film in a time when films were just becoming really violent, but it doesn't really hold up well today. It does touch on a use of violence that is fundamentally okay, at least in the American mindset. Straw Dogs is a story about a man who tries to protect his wife and home from intruders. I've seen people say that a person shouldn't have the right to kill a person who tries to break into their house. Straw Dogs really deals with the absolutely frightening prospect of people trying to break into your home and murder you. In the film Dustin Hoffman does all he can to protect what is his. The violence is not glorified in Straw Dogs, but desperate. It's the everlasting question of "you or them" put to the test. Straw Dogs doesn't support violence blindly, but simply that it's okay to save yourself. I can never imagine that being wrong.

Taxi Driver

Well, Taxi Driver may not be the most violent movie in the column, but it's the best. Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro teamed up in 1976 to tell the story of a socially isolated cab driver who begins to loathe the dirty world he'd really like to be apart of. With the recent school shootings we've had over the last several years, Taxi Driver is an amazing study into the mindset of someone who would do something so horrible. Travis Bickle doesn't attack school children, but rather a pimp or the epitome of the world he's come to want to destroy. The odd thing with Taxi Driver is that we don't hate Travis. As crazy as he becomes, we kind of like him. Its what Scorsese does best. None of his characters are just good or evil. Travis is, at times, both. While Robocop allows us to enjoy the abandonment of the lives of the people who have done us harm, Taxi Driver makes us consider that these
strange crazy gunmen are not the dark evil we might think. They are human beings as well. The highjackers of 9/11, the gunmen at Columbine and the sniper at Texas A&M were all human beings. That's what Taxi Driver shows. That these crazy people are just that, people. What they do is no doubt evil, but are they themselves evil? Taxi Driver attacks our idea that acts of violence on society is the act of a lone crazy person. We all know Travis. He's the guy at work that we all think is weird and make fun of. We've all been guilty of isolating a person in a social setting. So, maybe when these socially isolated people break out into violence it's not understandable, but that it makes sense that it might happen. Taxi Driver is far and away one of the best studies of violence in film history.

Die Hard

Robocop may glorify violence, but it has nothing on THE action movie of the last twenty years. There have been better movies in the action genre than Die Hard, but the movie's fundamental ideals are what make it the quintessential action flick of our time. You have European terrorists versus an everyman cop all filled with smart-ass comebacks. It's the macho ideal in the form of one badass beating the odds and winning the day that we love. Movies like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard are our dehumanization(not a word) of people, and it's cool! For all the talk about Grand Theft Auto and violence on TV, this is what the critics just don't get. People, aren't mindless drones. We're able to separate real life from shooting aliens in Halo and Bruce Willis kicking some terrorist ass. This kind of violence I'm sure appeals to people who want to commit murder, but it doesn't cause those urges. Oddly, in our nature is the realization that the ultimate victory is in the destruction of someone else. We like to see the destruction of an enemy. For all the people who freak out about this kind of entertainment, maybe they should stop to think, is it possible its better we watch this kind of stuff than do it? With all the death we enjoy watching, our civilization is the most advanced so far. Our people are, for good or bad, the most dossal. Maybe we should give a little credit to the entertainment that allows us to live vicariously.

**********************

For all the flack violence gets, reflecting on it has been nothing but positive. Sure, a few people might take it the wrong way. I would venture to say that so many more are able to comprehend it and allocate it for what it is, entertainment. Like it or not, we humans are entertained by violence. You can call it schadenfreude or what you ever you like, but as a culture we like violence. I know it's weird to say, but I like violence!

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Out of the Past
Every other Tuesday

Discussing classic films from City Lights to Apocalypse Now and everything in between and beyond.


Other Columns
Other columns by Andy York:

Top 10 Coolest Movie Characters

Stewart-Mann Western Connection

Academy of Irrelevance

Ride of Terror Showdown

A Guide to the Fiercely Divine

All Columns


Andy York
Andy is a life long movie fanatic. The first movie he saw in the theater was Back to the Future, Part 2 at the age of 3 and he has loved movies ever since.



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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Andy York by clicking here.


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