Let’s Get Physical | Script Revolution

Let’s Get Physical


Good stories teach us something and take us on an emotional rollercoaster through the process. Those emotions need to be varied; from feeling elated to feeling mortified and everything in between. There's no denying that we can very violent animals and face very violent realties and, in this blog post, Ville Nummenpää makes a well rounded and slightly tongue-in-cheek case for including violent content within cinema and ultimately within our writing - CJ

For some strange reason humans are fascinated by violence. Violence in art and entertainment is plentiful, comes in many forms, and the motives vary. But at least we have come a long way from actually feeding real people to lions for entertainment.

Violent cinema has always been a hot potato, but the hysteria goes in cycles.

In the eighties violent movies were frowned upon. ’Video nasties’ were banned in many countries, and Finland took this to extremes banning titles like The Shining and The Exorcist, and cutting out the best parts from action flicks. Censorship prevents life from imitating art, and you can’t argue with the results - There hasn’t been a single demonic possession or a mass murder by a time-travelling cyborg in Finland since 1987.

Weirdly, in the early nineties art-house violence became hip for a moment, but again a few years later Fight Club was booed off Cannes.

Nowadays something on television, like Game of Thrones can be more brutal than most video nasties in the eighties, and guess what, violence is still decreasing in the world. Yes, the headlines are depressing, there’s murder, turmoil and war, at least one mass shooting in the US every day (!), but we don’t bash each others skulls on a whim like our ancestors did. We are getting less and less violent by the generation, this is a fact. And this fact is seemingly indifferent to the kind of entertainment we choose to enjoy.

Many people out there question the artistic value of entertaining violent films, and in the same breath elevate non-enjoyable violent movies as somehow more important. Apparently violence is ok, as long as we don’t get a kick out of it? I wish to challenge this view.

Let’s start with war. They say there are essentially two war movies:

War movie #1 - War is terrible

War movie #2 - Heroes on a mission

So let’s take an example of each, Platoon (1986) and The Dirty Dozen (1967).

If I was to choose between re-watching one of these tonight, it wouldn’t be a tough choice.

Platoon is a masterpiece on all levels. But you know, I don’t feel like watching children getting raped and murdered tonight. Or tomorrow. In fact, I have seen Platoon once, and once is enough for one lifetime. Thank you for the reminder, Mr. Stone, war is terrible, and I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.

But The Dirty Dozen… The poster says: ”Train them! Excite them! Arm them! Then turn them loose on the nazis!”. Bronson, Marvin, Savalas… There is absolutely nothing not to like here.

The thing is, I enjoy seeing nazis getting killed in entertaining ways, take legal action against me if you must. I say it’s cathartic.

What do you think, which one is more morally justified, reveling in misery, or getting a kick out of vindication?

Yes, there are lessons in history that should never be forgotten. It’s important to make films that remind us of the cruelty of man, and cinema is an effective medium for just that.

But what does separate a serious movie of nazi atrocities like The Gray Zone (2001) from downright exploitation, like Ilsa-She Wolf of the SS (1975)? The two should not be mentioned in the same sentence, but where exactly do we draw the line? Where does shock impact turn into shock value? And if a movie aims for Oscar recognition riding on cruelty, isn’t that also exploitation in a manner?

The choice between re-watching, Funny Games (1997), or The Raid: Redemption (2011) is not a tough one either. FG is as cruel and nihilistic as a film can get. Having seen the movie once is more than enough for one lifetime.

The Raid, however, has a bodycount of 96, and next to no story whatsoever. Just kicks after punches, and punches after kicks. You’d think it gets old fast, but oh boy, it doesn’t. Isn’t that a feat in itself?

One of these films aims to entertain, and the makers have spared no effort to make each frame more awesome than the previous for a full 100 minutes. This takes considerable talent and skill, there are not many film makers out there who could pull this off.

The other film does pretty much the opposite, in a ’sour grapes’ sort of manner. ”I could easily make an entertaining film, I just don’t wanna”.

There’s probably a message there too, like: ”Violence is bad, mkay”, and therefore critics are obligated to shower the film with praise and award. In fact, a real cynic would call this kind of film making opportunistic. When you really get down to it, isn’t that pretty much the definition of an exploitation film, a movie that rides on shock value rather than skill and imagination? Only this is hypocritical exploitation, where you can get as gruesome as you want, but still somehow stand on higher ground.

I’ve personally written a lot of comedy and some innocent stuff for kids. But fairly recently, while writing a horror-feature called Invidia, I found myself having a blast, as it got unexpectedly gruesome. This begs the question: Is there something wrong with me?

When someone is tearing his own face off, and I’m the one typing it, it’s a solid question? I am not a violent person, and even do my best to avoid horrific news of murders and such. Still, listing my favorite films tells a different story (Goodfellas, Inglourious Basterds, Evil Dead, Fight Club...). Even the nicest title on the list, Monty Python and the Holy Grail has its fair share of dismembering.

I concluded, ”Nah”, and kept typing.

Quentin Tarantino has proved that a happy ending and senseless bloodbath are not mutually exclusive. When’s the last time you’ve seen such sincerely heart warming skull-bashing and flamethrowing, than in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? Surely, a feel-good movie, if there ever was one.

Instead of dwelling in the bad stuff, Tarantino just made the world a bit better through some unexpectedly brutal mayhem. And this is not the only time he has fixed history with violence (see: Inglourious Basterds and Django).

If a movie makes me smile for a week, it can’t be all bad. I can also tell you Funny Games, The Passion of the Christ, and Irreversible did not make me smile. They may be masterpieces, praise them all you want, but you would have to pay me a lot to make me watch them again.

There are some films that truly disturbed me, but were worth the watch (Last House on the Left, Straw Dogs, Cannibal Holocaust…) There are films I actually regret watching (Funny Games, Irreversible, Ilsa…). Then there are the films I will, but dread to watch one day (Antichrist, Human Centipede), and the ones I choose not to touch with a ten yard stick (Serbian Film, Guinea Pig, The Stoning of Soraya M.…)

Their artistic motivations may differ from one another, but at the end of the day, they’re just films. The world didn’t get any more, or less violent because of them. The only question is, would you rather suffer, or be entertained? There is no shame in the latter.

Bond has a joke for every good kill, Ash is awesome with his chainsaw, and Uma Thurman swings a mean sword. It’s all good, no humans were actually killed in these productions.

P.S. Han shot first!

About The Author

Ville Nummenpää's picture
Real name: 

I'm a screenwriter and a novelist. Three official credits on IMDB (There should be a couple more, who knows who updates them?). I have one 12-ep. TV-series to my name, two stage plays, five books (three for kids, two for grown-ups), and various stints here and there. Episode here, a few sketches there, short movies and short stories, etc.

I do comedy, cause I'm not funny. But why stop there? I also want to do horror, action, science fiction... in one word, entertainment.

I live...Read more



Robert Bruinewoud's picture

i agree – although i think you're being a bit naive with your claim re the lack of demonic possessions in Finland since 1987 – from what I understand your government has been covering up incidents of possession in much the same way as they buried that "elf" infestation in Lapland back in 2010

Ville Nummenpää's picture

Shh, not here...