Tuesday, September 4, 2012

On Art and Violence

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianity
by Ben Howard

I don't really like violent movies. To be more specific, I don't really like blood. And when I say “don't really like” I mean it makes me nauseous and like I'm about to pass out. I have fainted one time in my life, it was during a talk about donating blood at school. Fell out of the desk and hit my head on the floor. Lots of pain. That's how much I don't like blood.

Keep that in mind when I tell you that I really enjoyed the movie Lawless that came out this past weekend. If you haven't heard of this movie, well then I think the vast majority of the country is right there with you. The movie is based around a group of brothers who sell moonshine during the Prohibition Era and the main plot of the movie centers of their encounters with a new deputy tasked with shutting down all the moonshine operations in the “Wettest County in the World.”

It's an incredibly beautiful, but also an incredibly violent movie. The Appalachian setting of the movie evokes a pastoral sense of calm and peace and the period setting evokes the same feelings you get when you stair at a yellowed photo of your great grandfather as a young boy. It's real life, or at least it used to be.

The beauty and nostalgia of the film form a stark backdrop for the repeated graphic representations of violence. In one particular scene, Forrest Bondurant, played by Tom Hardy, walks out into a beautiful fresh snow only to be assaulted by two men who restrain him and slit his throat. The viewer is left with a long, drawn out shot of Forrest silently grasping at his bleeding neck while the beautiful white snow slowly covers the ground around him.

I wish I could say that this movie ultimately condemns the violent acts of its characters, but it doesn't. It's a film that ultimately glorifies revenge and ends with a little down-home spinning of the happily ever after narrative.

You can contrast this view of violence with a show like The Wire, where violence is shown to have destructive effects both on the offender and the victim alike. Main characters receive their comeuppance and beloved characters transform into monsters when they begin to wield the gun. All of these acts are performed against the grit and grime of urban decay to make the ultimate statement that while violence is a way of life, it is not a way out.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this issue as well. Can violence be portrayed artistically or beautifully? And if it is possible to do this, does that artistic portrayal undermine the brutality of the acts being perpetrated? Which story is right? Violence as revenge to attain peace, or violence as the inescapable destructive force?


When he isn't reflecting on the artistry of violence, Ben is wearing hipster sweaters and staring intently at things. Just like Tom Hardy. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87 or contact him at benjamin.howard87 [at] gmail.com.

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