Do you like to watch an epic battle with a jaw-dropping choreography, seeing the manly hero succeed to his rightfully earned position?
What about ships clashing against each other in another war scene, man against nature, fighting each other and a storm at the same time?
Now, what about an emotional battle, this time, between two women, who both have done wrong to each other, being honest and hurtful and vulnerable at the same time? Do you think there is a fragile beauty in that?
And, finally, what about the silent violence of the victim who cannot fight back anymore? The death of an anonymous soldier? Or a rape victim?
Although many might not want to admit it, today’s consumer of movies and television has a deepening fascination with forms of violence.
The chosen visual experience can manifest on-screen in physical as well as emotional nuances: watching Ragnar Lothbrok chop limbs with an axe in a bloody historical battle during an episode of “Vikings” can be as satisfying as seeing Blair Waldorf emotionally shatter a younger teenage girl on “Gossip Girl”. The ability to live through someone else’s negative emotions, whilst remaining on the safe side of the screen – having nothing bad happen to ourselves, and staying physically, emotionally and even morally intact because the enjoyment of another’s perish is merely fictional and thus not vicious in any way – should give today’s viewer a unique opportunity to reach every kind of emotional harmony imaginable.
Alas, this is not the case as explicit violence has been portrayed in vast amounts, and the best series these days seem to be the darkest deal with murder, rape and emotional abuse. Series like Sons of Anarchy, Vikings, Bloodline and Big Little Lies deal with different forms of violence and are in their core dark, gloomy, reflexive, and wildly popular.
These series are not worlds where hardship has to be endured from time to time to go back to a harmonious family life, the gloom of one’s past is constantly hovering and being revealed step by step in flashbacks or just happening daily. The whole tone of those series is one of fearful expectation; the air is laden with adrenaline. We are waiting and expecting something violent to happen and shake the individuals as well as the community.
There is a theory in literary science that reading such passages in literature makes the reader invest emotionally, and since it is fiction, gives the justification of being satisfied when someone finds misery of an untimely death. It is not really happening, and it is not really happening to me, so I am capable of living out my potential fears on a fictional platform, thus purifying me spiritually.
Is it the same logic when experiencing those things visually? I would strongly suggest yes – and add an aspect I have come across more and more in films and series these days.
The difference between epic, dramatic fighting between two halves is usually underlined by suitable audio. But the helpless surrender of one being destroyed by violence is silence.
Without wanting to spoil anything you haven’t seen yet, there are scenes of women enduring physical violence in the movies Nocturnal Animals, the series Bloodline and Big Little Lies, which I am thinking about now explicitly – but certainly many more if one continues the thought – where the visual effect of the scene is being intensified even more through a sole concentration on that visual aspect. Without having any other sense to draw back on, one simple is forced to look and only look, to have the visual carved into one’s mind.
There are as many comparisons to this, in my eyes, new trend – take the rape scene in the 2002 movie, Irreversible, directed by Gaspar Noé, starring Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel, for example: it has a very disturbing visual combined with a very disturbing soundtrack. There are several reports of moviegoers leaving screenings after getting physically sick after the first twenty minutes. In the movie Brown Bunny, directed by Vincent Gallo, starring Chloë Sevigny and Vincent Gallo, a scene where Sevigny is raped, has no sound, but the movie has no sound altogether so this style element is not specific for the scene of violence.
So is the audial aspect of violence now being removed to intensify or to soften the imprint of extremely violent scenes? Or is it just to underline the victim’s not having a voice, not having the opportunity to voice herself (since they are mostly female, I dare to gender this sentence, but there are scenes of violence endured by men as well) to speak out or fight back?
One theory seems as valid as the other.
In conclusion, though, the general handling of such themes and scenes seems to have multiplied and intensified on one hand, we are now reaching a time where on one hand the necessity – to overcome daily horrors in reality, one needs to katharse through fictional worlds (the popularity of fantasy literature and criminal novels is a strong argument for this point) and on the other hand the normality of violence (terror attack in Paris/London/Berlin – daily news in the times we live in) is becoming more present with each day.
Do you feel like scenes of violence are aesthetically pleasing or give you a sense of horror but a sense of satisfaction at the same time? Don’t worry. It’s natural. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Fill the silence.
What are your favorite series at the moment? Do you feel the world of TV getting darker on a non-fantasy level? I’d love to hear your opinion.