Violence fountains from everywhere, for our lives are not always peaceful and calm. It is time for people to take it for granted. Another question is whether cruel facets of our lives should find their reflection in art, and mainly those kinds which are highly visual. The degree of violence in films is predetermined by various factors like the author’s position towards it (conveyed by auteur cinema theory) and the filmmaker’s aims. The dogmas of cinematic time also play a significant role, as well as the genre, for some of them are notorious for incorporation of cruel scenes with displays of weapon and abuse. This is what can give explanation to the nature of violence in the American movies Taxi Driver (1976), Blade Runner (1982) and Reservoir Dogs (1992). Film critics may suggest different interpretations of one and the same piece of cinematography. That is why Internet Movie Data Base would be a source uniting all the films in terms of genre distinction.
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First of all, it would be reasonable to describe each of them in terms of violence separately, and then compare them. The best approach would be a chronological one. Thus, the oldest film is Taxi Driver. 1970’s in moviemaking are called the last golden age in the history of American cinema. A lot of films of different genres, which later became classics, appeared in this period, including the ones featuring quite blatant violent acts. Martin Scorsese with his creations belongs to the so called Movie Brats (Dirks). Taxi Driver, classified as drama/thriller is a story of a Vietnam veteran who decides to clear the streets of New York from all kinds of human filth it has accumulated. On the one hand, his motives seem to be rather noble and justifiable. But on the other hand, there are scenes revealing violence focusing on which cannot be objectively explained. Thus, they serve for practical reasons of the filmmakers. Some of them (choosing weapon or cold-blooded murder of a shoplifter, for example) are aimed at displaying the character’s development: the rage of the protagonist finds its manifestation in his actions. Bright and loud bloodshed in a hotel is a crucial moment in the film in terms of a narrative, for it presents a climax of the story, the peak of anger and despair. This kind of violence is supposed to make the audience get deeper into the setting of a criminal and sinful New York. Stories about cut-off ears and threats of a deceived husband (rather clichéd ones) also contribute to this aim. The scene of beating the dead shoplifter, however, crosses this line and overwhelms. It was not the action of a protagonist, which is why it seems very ruthless. Scorsese applied psychological means in Taxi Driver, he did not intend to shock. It should be said, however, that in 1970’s it was already practically impossible to shock the audience with it. Moral issues is another thing, but as regards American movies, violence became their integral element.
Blade Runner may be classified as drama, sci-fi and thriller. Prelude to violence in the film by the famous-to-be director Ridley Scott can be seen in the intro already: although called “retirement”, the act of eliminating replicants does not deceive the audience into thinking of a happy ending for them. There are a lot of shooting scenes in the movie. The violence of such episodes is exacerbated by the photography. Thus, a running woman is shot and then the camera switches to slow motion in order to show everything in details. The face of a replicant Pris is taken in a close-up when she tries to twist Deckard’s head, with a fierce expression on it. Such shooting solutions have a trash-like effect. Roy avenging his creator and hurting Deckard is also intensely violent. However, in this movie cruelty may be justified, for all the characters have their seemingly noble and supreme reasons to act this way. Violence was already an established tradition in Hollywood, so it was not appalling for the audience of the time. Blade Runner bearing the traces of a dystopia is rather a warning towards a watcher. The film shows that violence would be inevitable in this kind of world, so there still is time and opportunity to prevent this fantasy from becoming real.
The creations of Quentin Tarantino are listed among those called “new violence” by movie historians. Actually, he is one of the founders of the genre, and his début Reservoir Dogs is only a proof to it. IMDB classifies it in three categories: crime, mystery and thriller. Tarantino goes past the conventional violent motives here and resorts almost to trash. First of all, what must be said about this film is that the amount of different manifestations of hatred and discrimination is overwhelming: the characters are misogynists, racists and obviously have some mental problems. It is the single movie of the three where violence is unjustified. Torturing a policeman by criminals in order to make him tell about the planners of the ambush is one thing, but when the torturer honestly confesses that he does not care whether the officer speaks or not, so that it just brings his pleasure to see the sufferings – it becomes disturbing. Blood is frequent a part of the picture pouring out from the tenth running minute. The camera spares the audience, moving away from the scene of ear-cutting, but then it moves back and reveals a red mess. There is also a lot of shooting in the movie, and the scenes are rather massive. The purpose of Tarantino might have been to shock because before him such extended screen time featuring blood was a rarity. Nowadays a lot of critics and common movie fans maintain the idea that by such extreme violence the director wanted to express his hurt feelings as an unacknowledged author. Whatever the intentions of Mr. Tarantino are, his works were and still are anthologies of violence.
The common features of all the analyzed films are that they are rated either R (Taxi Driver and Blade Runner) or TV-MA (Reservoir Dogs). In both cases it is not desirable that audience under 17 is present at these movies. It is understandable that the share of violence in distinguishing this rating position is quite large. It is also predetermined by the fact that all of three films have a common genre distinction: Taxi Driver, Blade Runner and Reservoir Dogs are defined as thrillers. Regarding the heterogeneous nature of the films under analysis, it must be said that even it complies with the requirements of this genre. Martin Rubin, who dedicated the whole book to the study of thriller, mentions that it can be defined as a metagenre incorporating elements of the other ones. According to him, there is no such thing as a pure thriller (Rubin, 1999). This theory is proved by the three examined films. Violence in them is one of the ways of conveying a thrilling sensation. A disturbing tendency is that two out of three films (Blade Runnerand Reservoir Dogs) aspire for the status of the cult ones. Of course, the largest score belongs to those films where violence is intense and highly visual. Bloody, almost trash-like scenes of killing and torturing are shown in the very cult movies mentioned above. It must be one of the constituents of their “charm” and uniqueness. In Taxi Driver some violence is not visualized, it is intended or talked about. However, what is actually shown appears to be shocking and cruel enough. In this film, as well as in Reservoir Dogs, violence is the basis of the message. Blade Runner, based on the novel, is a more sophisticated product; there is much esthetical and ethical background in it. Counter-productivity of violence in all three films does not seem to be their distinguishing feature: they were created with a sound anticipation of a certain kind of feedback connected with cruel scenes.
Another important aspect of violence in films is its impact on the audience. Movies with scenes of cruelty are often accused of being motivators for violent behavior. The history of the USA has witnessed several tragic moments related to this. There are many researches to support the negative influence of violence in cinemas, but some scholars try to debunk this conventional truth. Thus, the scholars from American Economic Association claim that “violent films prevent violent crime by attracting would-be assailants”. They say the potential villains will have an opportunity to observe what they intend to do on the screen instead of actually venturing to it. The opponents of this idea claim that if violence in films is dictated by the wish to gather a larger box-office, there are other ways of doing it: with no resorting to violence and with the preservation of the young audience constituting the basis of the focus group (Goodman, 2008).
In any case, it should be understood that Hollywood and its products execute a great influence on large masses of people. It is the choice of the filmmakers, whether to attach some violence to the movie and to what extent. But the audience should be cautious and conscious, and treat violent scenes as a part of a picture only, for some reason incorporated there in order to produce a certain reaction. Movies are entertainment or food for mind, and not a blueprint to follow.