The world of cinema has repeatedly come under fire for the use of violence and gore over the past decade, but the recent contribution from Quentin Tarantino has once again pushed the debate to the forefront of the public spectrum.
There are certain discrepancies between genres, but if we take the main contributors – horror and action – we’re only in the first half of February and already this year we’ve seen the success of films such as Texas Chainsaw 3D, Gangster Squad and Zero Dark Thirty. The question as to whether violence in motion pictures is really necessary has created much debate in the media about audience reception and relevance to viewing experience, but these popular titles suggest that we as a general audience have been desensitized by years of viewing titles such as the Saw franchise. Arguably, the twisted psychopath at the heart of Saw is much more disturbing than the backdrop of slavery portrayed in Django Unchained – so why has such a media storm been created by this particular offering?
The way Django (and many other films, especially Tarantino’s other works) shows violence and death in such a gory and over-the-top fashion is, whilst being a cinematic technique used by many, a strong example of the aestheticisation of violence typically found in horror and action movies. In a recent interview with Channel 4 news Tarantino was asked about the link between movie violence and real-life violence; his response, “Don’t ask me a question like that. I’m not biting.” shows his frustration – there is no confirmed correlation between screen and actual violence, despite a reasonably vocal negative public reaction to certain scenes or actions.
A common rebuttal to the suggested influence on the audience is that some events require the depiction of violence and/or death to give the situation weight within a plot. The argument that the violence and death are necessary is perhaps more than tangible in this case, given that the backdrop of the storyline is the issue of slavery – historically a brutal and violent period of history. Surely to do the topic justice there needs to be an acknowledgement of this?
Whether it is a good or bad thing, no-one who has seen the film can deny the violence included is a defining characteristic of the film. To suggest that Tarantino pushed this too far is to confuse the issue, however; it’s whether it was a valid technique or not. Given critical reviews, it most definitely provoked a response from the viewers, surely the desired effect from the cinematic presentation of such an issue – should we the audience be protected from the violence of slavery through the cinematic medium when it is taught in classrooms?
Yes, there is a definite difference between describing and viewing it, but that’s what age ratings on movies are for. Giving the film an 18 rating is definitely necessary, but if the amount of violence portrayed in Django Unchained is more offensive to the viewer than the slavery it is highlighting, I think that says more about the viewer than the film.