Violence & the Movies

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like movies that contain graphic violence get much more scrutiny in the press than films with graphic sexuality. The Passion of the Christ has received its fair share of criticism, as did films like Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, Lord of the Rings, and a host of other films with graphic violence. Many Christians, along with secular critics have warned that we shouldn’t watch such violent fare.

The underlying assumption here is that when people see violence portrayed in film, they become numb to it and may even be more likely to act violently. This idea is not without merit. When I was kid, my parents had to ban us from watching The Six Million Dollar Man because my brother and I were tearing up all the furniture in our house with our bionic powers.

The problem with this idea is that it doesn’t really work that way all the time. Violent movies do not equal violent people, and I’m not so sure that abstinence from viewing all forms of violence is such a good thing.

With regard to films, typically there are two types of violence: pointless violence (violence for violence’s sake—most horror films would fit this category), and purposeful violence (like the “redemptive violence” Donald Sensing describes in this post). Purposeful violence can at times have the effect of shocking us out of our numbness, and helping us not to forget the real violence that is out there in the world.

I’m certainly not advocating going out and watching all the violent movies you can, but I think that some violence can be good for us. That way we don’t forget the pain that those in concentration camps faced, or the horror that is war, or even the suffering of Jesus. Depictions of violence, like most things, should be taken in moderation—lest we become fixated upon the violent. Eliminating them completely, however, would envelope us in a shroud of artificiality that could potentially cripple us when faced with real violence.

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