Violence in Cinema: “Torture Porn” – World Cinema at its Lowest Ebb

Published on Global, by Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin, 2010-12-17.

You walk in to a very large darkened room with a high ceiling. There is a large audience watching in anticipation. A story unfolds before your eyes, in vivid colour. It is the story of a good person who was captured and tortured. The torture is shown in 3D and in metaphor. The audience is hushed and contemplative. Despite the horrors of the torture the protagonist of the story eventually escapes and returns to his friends who are overjoyed, if not a bit shocked at his wounds. But his return signals to all in the audience that there is hope in this world despite the daily horrors. 

Of course, the possibly of hope is one of the main differences between the Catholic Mass and certain modern films.

While torture is not new in cinema its depiction has become progressively (or should I say regressively?) more realistic and graphic.

A Serbian Film:

(What were once vices are the fashion of the day.  Seneca)

The relatively new genre of torture porn is being highlighted once again by the arrival of A Serbian Film, a film of unspeakable horrors with absolutely no hope. This film has been described as a film about politics as the director defended “his choices by saying that the film represents the molestation of the Serbian people and that you have to feel the violence to understand it”.  According to The Guardian:

“the British Board of Film Classification were less convinced and demanded 49 individual cuts that amount to nearly four minutes of screen time. ‘The film-makers have stated that A Serbian Film is intended as an allegory about Serbia itself,’ admitted a BBFC spokeswoman. ‘The board recognises that the images are intended to shock, but the sexual and sexualised violence goes beyond what is acceptable under current BBFC guidelines [for an 18-certificate].’”  [1]

The extreme nature of the film has even caused it to be dropped from the Film4 Frightfest film festival, “the UK’s premiere fantasy and horror film festival.” [2] (For those with a very strong stomach here is a link to a review of A Serbian Film, but be warned, it doesn’t have two disclaimers for nothing: Calls for censorship have come from reviewers and groups that would normally be quite liberal about such films. The consensus seems to be that the extreme nature of the content of the film undermines any political message.

There have been many films in this genre over the past few years: Saw (2004) [3], Hostel (2005) [4], Wolf Creek (2005) [5] etc. Torture porn has been creeping into mainstream films for some years now with The Life of David Gale (2003) [6], The Passion of Christ (2004) [7] and Casino Royale (2006) [8].

Changing aesthetic: … //

… New cathedrals:

It has often been stated that shopping malls are the new cathedrals of society yet the process of film-making has much more in common with church rituals.  In the church the mass goers learn of the Christian narrative through the Stations of the Cross (unfolding picture story of  the crucifixion), stained glass windows (vivid colour), the Crucifix hanging behind the altar (3D), Breaking of the Bread and Communion (metaphor), Eucharistic Prayer and Apostles’ Creed (the Good News) ending with the Blessing and Dismissal. [20]

In cinemas we watch multi-million dollar block buster movies that are based around a core of a few well-known actors who are the focus of attention over and above minor actors and extras around them. These films follow quite rigid narrative structures that are usually ideologically conservative. The films are then shown all over the world in cinemas with audiences soaking in an ideology which is legitimised by the fame of the primary ‘A-list’ actors.

In the church, the story of capture and torture is balanced by the idea of hope and redemption. The cinema can do the same. It is possible to reject the torture of despair and question the actors and directors who indulge in such film-making while, at the same time, continually asserting our desire for a cinema of hope, of stories that show heroism and courage in the face of the multi-faceted forms of violence and oppression in modern society. (full long text).

Comments are closed.