Enjoying Violence

By Patrick Appel
Writing about Mumbai, Suderman tackles our cinematic understanding of terror:

Hollywood exploits these sorts of events for their inherent tension, repackaging them as exciting and thrilling adventures rather than ugly massacres. It usually makes me queasy and unsettled, to some extent, because I’m an unabashed fan of violent entertainment.

I’ll admit: I love onscreen gunfights and shootouts, the more over the top the better. I’ve waxed ecstatic over the bullet-ridden 45 minute finale of John Woo’s Hard Boiled, which includes one of the highest death tolls of any movie in the last few decades (the sequence is set at a hospital, and at one point, the film’s bad guy walks into a room full of hostages and mows them all down with an automatic weapon).  Watching a sequence like that in a movie is exciting and fun; watching a similar scene in real life is deeply disturbing. Part of me thinks this is a problem; action movies train us not to react with horror to these sorts of events. But I also wonder if it isn’t natural, a release of some sort, a way to indulge violent urges without resorting to real violence, or a way for human beings to understand the daily, life-and-death struggle for existence long before movies, human stories revolved around death and violence, and often involved heroes who slayed all those in their way. For whatever reason, we, as a species, seem to be drawn in by narratives of calamity, destruction, and bloodshed.