- Anoop Raj K (M.A. Economics, II Year)
'Sight and Sound' (from British Film Institute) magazine's April 2009 editorial (by Nick James) attacked many contemporary masters of cinema - Quentin Tarantino, Lars von Trier, Gasper Noe - for intense, realistic and at times exaggerated, invariably disturbing depiction of violence in their recent films. The violence depicted on screen included scalping heads, genital mutilation, graphic scenes of abortion, and 'matter-to-fact depiction of sodomy, rape and murder'. Cannes Film Festival is one event that captures the flow of world cinema, and the editorial piece was a comment on Cannes '09 as well- where the latest films of these directors competed for Palm d'Or, the greatest honour at Cannes.
Why do these directors put the audience through this ordeal? Violence on screen- is it merely a shock tactic effectively employed or is it meant to convey something else? Another piece written by J. Hoberman, on a lesser known director's film — Brillante Mendoza's 'Kinatay' (which won the Best Director prize was filled with horror and gore) suggested that the director might want to put the audience in the victim's shoes: to convey how brutal violence could actually be. Michael Haneke, one of Europe's major filmmakers, made a film recently named 'Funny Games', and the audience were made to endure a film on two psychotic youngsters torturing and murdering a French middle class family.
Interestingly, a lot of studies on contemporary cinema argue that many of these films capture the psyche of individuals and societies under the threat of war, terrorism, or even racial tension, even though these films do not make any such direct claims or references. An article on Hollywood during the 'George Bush years' (came on BFI's website) suggests that Gotham city in 'Dark Knight' should be taken as a city under the reign of terror, thereby representing an American metropolis after 9/11.
A reading of such viewpoints suggests that violence on screen could be a response to the actual violence happening in the real world- be it war, terrorism or organized crime, and kind of depicts the horrors that might be unimaginable to many, but exists in reality.
To add here, most movements in cinema emerged as a response to political and cultural events - noir cinema during WWII, Neo-realism in Europe after the war, Nouvelle Vague in France and New Hollywood in US in the 1960's. This new trend in cinema might as well be the beginning of such a response.