Graphic Violence in Movies

The last two movies I reviewed on this site (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Saw: The Final Chapter) definitely rank among the most graphically violent movies I have ever seen. While one was more straight up, blood and guts, the other depicted sexual violence by completely depraved individuals upon those more helpless. It was how the respective movies treated their violence that makes me have mixed feelings about violence in movies.

On one hand you have The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. For the first half of Lisbeth’s story, she winds up in the care of Nils Bjurman, a corrupt lawyer who was entrusted with keeping an eye on Lisbeth’s finances as she was deemed legally unfit by the state to do so herself. We see Lisbeth having to subject herself to forced oral sex with Bjurman in order to get to her own money. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Bjurman later brutally rapes Lisbeth. With the latter scene, I distinctly remember feeling like I was unable to do anything besides helplessly watch as Lisbeth got violated; the comically awkward scene from Rob Roy, this very much was not. While it was comforting to see Lisbeth was able to exact revenge, how she does so was no less disturbing.

On the other hand, Saw VII, as with the preceding movies in the series, involved people being stuck in traps and having to solve a puzzle in a certain time limit or else they will meet a grisly end. Saw VII saw the main character basically being unable to complete a single puzzle except for the first one; here he was supposed to rescue others caught in the traps. The first rescue involved literally fishing a key from a woman’s stomach up her gullet. The catch was that the machine she was strapped to would kill her by drilling holes in her neck if it detected she was screaming too loudly.

In the case of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the rape scene was an important part of Lisbeth’s character development, and that and the revenge scenes were about as bad as the movie ever got. On the other hand, Saw VII was the last of a series of movies that revolved around the trap concept. As you may figure, the traps got more and more grotesque as the movies progressed.

The Saw series almost makes a good case as to why the advancement of special effects technology was not entirely a good thing for the art of filmmaking. The rape scene in Dragon Tattoo accomplished its mission of really disturbing the viewer. At the same time, Saw was aiming to entertain people who just like extreme violence in their movies. And it’s with the current level of special effects technology that Saw could bring these grotesque traps to life on the screen.

If you want me to be perfectly frank, I thought Saw VII was completely degenerate trash that had no artistic pretense whatsoever. You know there’s a problem when (in the case of the first Saw) you watch a commentary by the film’s writers, and even they’re laughing their butts off at the gaping plot holes they left about. If the screenplay was submitted as an assignment for a school or college class, I think that not only would the instructor give it a less-than-stellar grade, but he would also recommend the writer for a psychological evaluation. Personally, I think it says something about you when you write a movie just so you have a weak excuse to write about someone with power drills run through a character’s neck. If you read my review of the movie, you would know that Saw VII didn’t bother with anything as petty as a plot.

Quentin Tarantino, on the other hand, did prove that graphic violence is not always a bad thing. Kill Bill was also a very graphically violent duo of movies. However, Quentin Tarantino showed the violence in a very visually appealing way. My favorite part was the entire climax at the restaurant at the end of Volume 1, where she fought Gogo Yubari, the Crazy 88, and finally O-ren Ishii. All three of these fights were shown in very visually appealing ways, where it was much easier to dismiss what you were seeing as being “just a movie” as you are mesmerized by the beautiful red the blood was. The most uncomfortable I was with a violent Tarantino scene was when The Bride gouged out and stomped on Elle Driver’s (only) eye in Kill Bill Volume 2. Once again, what he had which was totally absent in Saw VII was a true artistic vision, and the gore was simply there to support the great story he had written; it worked the other way around in Saw VII.

Ultimately, I’m fine with graphic violence if I know it is there to serve a purpose. Lisbeth’s rape in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was critical character and plot development, and Tarantino used violence as an aesthetic way to illustrate his great writing. However, Saw VII more or less felt like a porn film for gore junkies with the bad acting and the plot just being a bad excuse for people to meet really sickening deaths.