Friday, June 6, 2014


I'm usually pretty good with TV/movie violence. I'm not saying that I'm an advocate of it, especially when it's gratuitous and for the exclusive sake of shock (I kind of felt that way about the new Rosemary's Baby and stopped watching), but on shows (usually cable) where it's an integral part of the story and moves the plot along, it can be a pretty intense, adrenaline-pumping draw.

I just watched the latest installment of Game of Thrones (season 4, episode 8) and was mentally—and physically—stunned by the visual fate of Oberyn Martell. I say visual because I knew essentially what happened to him from reading the books, but... wow. That's wow in a sickened/fascinated/I-don't-know-how-to-feel sort of way. I literally just stared at the credits without seeing for nearly a minute, trying to process. I don't think there's anything wrong with the scene—it's certainly not for everyone—but it succeeded in being terribly disturbing. What it also did, and perhaps more importantly, was create an indelible memory bursting with a dark cocktail of emotions. Of course the graphic display alone wasn't enough to do this, the show had done a good job of developing Martell from the beginning of the season, and it's that combination of investment and stark, unveiled violence that will make the character live forever in my memory.* Having been inundated with media for most of my life, there are probably many other examples of this, but right now, I can think of only two particular instances where I've had a similar reaction.

The first was to the climax of To Live and Die in LA. I saw that in the theater when I was in junior high and have never forgotten that scene or quite how it made me feel.

The second was to the climax of Seven. That one was a little different because, despite the very graphic imagery of the previous crimes, we never see the contents of the box. But because of the previous crimes, we have no difficulty accepting Kevin Spacey's word. The blood on the box and Morgan Freeman's reaction to what's inside both help.

There are lots of shows that have very graphically violent content. For some it's schtick. For others, it's a storytelling component that helps to forever leave a mark. There will always be those who will argue that such components are not necessary, but I'm not one of them.

Do you have any examples of your own you'd like to share?

*Some may say, and rightly so, that my reaction to and commentary on fictitious events reflect naivety, or an easy, sheltered, and even privileged life. That may all be true considering that really terrible things happen in reality all the time. I've never tried to hide the fact that I'm a big proponent of escapism and can only say that the world would be a much better place if all violence and injustice were just fabrications, diversions to keep us entertained.

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