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NYT: ‘A Pro-Lynching Movie That Even Liberals Can Love’? (by Gareth Higgins)

posted by God's Politics

It’s intriguing how many current films address questions of revenge and justice. Like all cinematic epidemics, this is a mixed bag, from Quentin Tarantino’s alternately boring and horrifying car-crash fest Death Proof, just released on DVD, to the slasher-style terror of Death Sentence starring Kevin Bacon, to the mature and moving reflection on justice and fatherhood in 3:10 to Yuma, to the ostensibly more thoughtful treatment of vengeance in Jodie Foster’s new film The Brave One.


The Brave One begins with a murder that the filmmakers show in subtle but horrendous detail. We really feel the loss of human life that occurs when her character’s boyfriend is beaten to death in front of her. Her subsequent fear and desire for revenge are presented as entirely natural responses; in this regard, the film is intelligent and humane. Far too many representations of the aftermath of violence in popular culture refuse to treat it with respect. But when she actually starts killing people, despite the fact that her victims are all portrayed as evil, the movie becomes something other than the serious exploration of how to deal with violence that it purports to be. The victim becomes a perpetrator, and the audience is made complicit.


Throughout its two-hour running time, I hoped the film would suggest that the revenge Foster’s character takes does her more harm than good, and certainly does not end or even come close to challenging the spiral of violence in the world. My hope was unfounded, for the film not only presents its protagonist as doing what is normal, but ultimately endorses her violence as the only way to resist evil. In a world where finding alternatives to conflict-as-usual may be our greatest challenge, we desperately need more nuanced investigations of how to respond to violent threats and injustices than this.


What’s surprising is that both Jodie Foster and her director, Neil Jordan, know better than this, having between them made smarter films such as The Accused and The Crying Game. But in producing The Brave One, a film that appears to co-opt the values of the war on terror into the domestic life of a character who works for an NPR-style radio station, they have created what The New York Times has called “a pro-lynching film that even liberals can love.” Of course, doing nothing in response to injustice will not make the world a less violent place, but neither will suggesting that the only thing we can do is to use the same tactics as our opponents.

Gareth Higgins is a Christian writer and activist in Belfast, Northern Ireland. For the past decade he was the founder/director of the zero28 project, an initiative addressing questions of peace, justice, and culture. He is the author of the insightful How Movies Helped Save My Soul and blogs at www.godisnotelsewhere.blogspot.com



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Tim Nafziger

posted September 28, 2007 at 11:08 am


Thanks for this excellent and concise piece, Gareth. It’s really refreshing read a review that takes on the myth of redemptive violence and the pitfalls of the victim/offender cycle in such a clear headed way.
I especially appreciate the way you point out the way the film makes the audience complicit in the violence of the film. This is not always the case with movie violence, but far too often it is. It sounds like in this case, the film makers missed a real opportunity to use that complicity to challenge the audience. That’s too bad.



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Peter

posted September 28, 2007 at 11:56 am


This reminds me of something that went through my mind a few years ago, if I may make comparisons with a banal Hollywood-schlock movie. I was watching with my daughters a movie called “Ever After,” a dramatization of the Cinderella story. I don’t know why I expected the protagonist to offer some grace after saying her evil stepmother and stepsisters would have to be subjected to the same indiginities that she had suffered all those years, but felt greatly disturbed when the movie ended with revenge being the “resolution” of all those injustices. Then I remembered the fairy tale ended the same way. This got me to thinking how radical Jesus’ message is for our culture, when even our deeply-engrained myths (fairy tales) show revenge and “an eye for an eye” as the final resolution for injustice. In short, we might say that The Brave One succumbed to the Cinderella model of justice, while it is rare (Dead Man Walking the only to come to mind) for a movie to offer radical forgiveness as the ultimate resolution of injustice.
Gareth, I always appreciate your film posts. thanks for starting this discussion.



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neuro_nurse

posted September 28, 2007 at 11:58 am


In addition to watching little to no television, my wife and I don’t go out to movies much either. In four years of knowing each other (in fact, today is the fourth anniversary of the day we met) we’ve been to one movie together.
We’ll rent movies, but usually after my wife has read a review on a Christian website – I don’t know which one – the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has movie reviews on its website.
Sorry Jodie, we love you, but this sounds like one we’ll miss.
Seek peace and pursue it.



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N.M. Rod

posted September 28, 2007 at 1:05 pm


Violence isn’t redemptive, but it resonates. It gives a visceral rush to those engaging in it, which accounts for the high levels of addiction to it.
Naturally, our consciences warn us against so open an embrace of evil, so all such movies must first set the audience up with depictions of experiences that will allow “victimhood” and gross “injustice” to allow us to immerse ourselves in the subsequent pornographic enjoyment we really came for all along, without guilt.
This is pure propaganda, overruling head with evil heart and propelling us all towards the abyss of annihilation once we’ve been thoroughly impregnated with this evil seed.
Just who is served by such manipulation? Something within us craves it so.



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JimII

posted September 28, 2007 at 3:28 pm


It is really funny, last night I read the book of Revelation. I had come to think of it as being a story about suffering followed by redemption. I kind of brushed off many literalists as misusing it.
Well, I had the same reaction to it as Gareth did to the movie. It seemed to be a big, violent revenge story about everyone who messed with the Christians would eventually get theirs. Left me very empty.
Prophetic Progress: The Rest of Revelation



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kevin s.

posted September 28, 2007 at 4:16 pm


The ending was predictable. I knew Jodie Foster was a dude all along.



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Mick Sheldon

posted September 28, 2007 at 4:51 pm


It is really funny, last night I read the book of Revelation
It seemed to be a big, violent revenge story about everyone who messed with the Christians would eventually get theirs. Left me very empty.
You sound a little my kid Jim the second . He sees the scripture as quite violent and harsh also .
Perhaps get a guide to help you read through it , it is full of strong illustrations , and even the smartest and best theologicans differ on the meaning of some of Revelations . I always took the Bible as Love Story , I guess the people I met when I accepted Christ also were the kindest that I had met .
Being forunate that way helps I believe receive information and understanding of the Awesome Forgiveness and Hope God offers us . I once heard Gandhi had been invited to a church in England and got insulted because of his race at church . Just think if something spirtual had occured and he went back to India a flaming Christian instead of seeing the folks in a Christian church as racist .



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neuro_nurse

posted September 28, 2007 at 4:58 pm


The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gives “The Brave One” an O rating – morally offensive – but who wants to see it now that kevin has spoiled the ending for us!
(www)usccb.org/movies/b/braveone.shtml



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JimII

posted September 29, 2007 at 12:35 am


You sound a little my kid Jim the second . He sees the scripture as quite violent and harsh also.
Does your kid see just the book of Revelation as quite violent and harsh, or the Bible as a whole? My problem with Revelation is that revenge plays such a prominent role. And that is obvious even without scholarly assistance.
Perhaps get a guide to help you read through it , it is full of strong illustrations , and even the smartest and best theologicans differ on the meaning of some of Revelations.
That’s a good point. Revelation (not plural BTW) would especially require scholarly insights if I wanted to understand it. My comments are really pointed at its ability to “speak to me” as is.
I once heard Gandhi had been invited to a church in England and got insulted because of his race at church. Just think if something spirtual had occured and he went back to India a flaming Christian instead of seeing the folks in a Christian church as racist.
What do you mean by this comment? Gandhi was not anti-Christian, I don’t think. Also, what did happen is the only time pacifists stood up to armed agressors and won their freedom. I can’t imagine what more could have happened.
I’m seriously curious about what you were thinking about.
Thanks for the response.



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TheOtherJames

posted September 29, 2007 at 7:09 am


Just think if something spirtual had occured and he went back to India a flaming Christian instead of seeing the folks in a Christian church as racist . Posted by: Mick Sheldon
Ghandi embodied more of a Christian ethic than many Christians (including myself). I understand your critque of the church for being racist and I fully agree. What I don’t agree with is that somehow Ghandi had to become a Christian. I believe that that concept stems from an evangelical fervor to convert everybody. I guess I’ve seen enought “Christian” misdeeds to not be there anymore.



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jesse

posted September 29, 2007 at 8:37 am


neuronurse,
I think kevin was making reference to the crying game (one of neil jordan’s other movies). funny.



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James

posted September 29, 2007 at 10:46 am


Barbara Rossing’s book The Rapture Exposed showed me that Revelation, far from promoting violence, subverts violence and offers a nonviolent response to Empire–the hero of the book is not a Rambo with the best weapons, but a Lamb–a Lamb who was slain, in fact. Jesus does not win by a human sword, but by the Sword of the Gospel which comes out of His mouth–He speaks truth to power. The Christian armies behind him never lift a weapon–they simply stand beside Jesus as His gospel goes forth. Revelation seems to me to be a gloss on Paul’s rejection of human weapons for the sword of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, etc. It’s a rejection of human weapons for heavenly weapons.
Perhaps Jodie Foster could have won by sharing the Gospel and offering reconcilation.



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Another nonymous

posted September 29, 2007 at 12:34 pm


JimII –
I understand your struggles with Revelation. The problem is, we’re culturally conditioned to understand it as a Hollywood revenge fantasy, so we read it that way. We need to read it instead as an example of apocalyptic literature: a genre in which the established world order is seen literally imploding as it yields to a completely different reality.
In a Hollywood revenge fantasy, the enemy ends up dead, and nothing really changes in the ordering of the world. In Revelation, OTOH, all the evil elements in the world are placed in a lake of fire that burns in the presence of God and his angels. Instead of being reaffirmed through the very act of victory, evil is fully acknowledged at last and thus put in a place where God’s victory over it will always be clear. Stamping it out violently is exactly what God refuses to do.
Hope this helps.



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DeWayne

posted September 29, 2007 at 2:29 pm


NYT: ‘A Pro-Lynching Movie That Even Liberals Can Love’? (by Gareth Higgins)
Talking about violence, and perhaps a good time to mention underlying causes, as an apolitical (caring for neither ‘Lesser of Two Evils’) this entire article might be analyzed, starting at it’s beginning.
Today we are involved perhaps in the most gross situation of cause and effect violence, where some have a penchant of dividing a people into us verses them condition.
What could immediately be learned from this article about violence, is there good violence, and bad violence. Are (we) good, and (they) bad, or are there often underlying condition and causes that covertly and overtly are used to cause violence. As one college professor discovered in engaging student partisipation into what quickly resulted in a cause/effect the professor now calls the ‘Lucifer Effect’, or the Bible calls adding of yeast.
What I am getting at, is what Christ told his disciples after 3-years of training, and before first sending them out, saying “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves, therefore (what therefore) you must be as wise as the serpent, and as innocent as the dove.” Secular man calls this being informed, wise enough to see thru and into intent. Be careful in these end days, watch for (all) the signs of the end times.



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neuro_nurse

posted September 29, 2007 at 2:43 pm


jesse,
yeah, I saw that one



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kevin s.

posted September 29, 2007 at 2:55 pm


“I think kevin was making reference to the crying game (one of neil jordan’s other movies). funny.”
The ending of which you DID just ruin. Jerk.



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Mick Sheldon

posted September 29, 2007 at 3:51 pm


I’m seriously curious about what you were thinking about.
Thanks for the response
I was not stating anything against Gandi . Just an example of sometimes when we get the wrong impression of a message , person , Faith , because perhaps we perceived it or were introduced to it in a negative light . My point was that it would have been a good thing if Gandi accepted Christ as His savior . That perhaps the mis deeds done by him caused him to shut his eyes to the spirtual side of Christianity , not to Christians , he appeared above that . Your concept of Revelation I thought my be different if perhaps you saw it differently ? Maybe not , but I have read the Bible many times , and have because of support by others , or at times the Holy Spirt seen insights where before I had not seen . I guess my point was Revelation could be inspirational also and motivational .
I have have read it many times , and have received messages of Hope and Faith in it also . I do recall the first time I read it , was not a good experience actually , I guess its why I spoke out about it . Been where you were . I am somewhat still frustrated by it , so please do not assume I am trying to out Christian you , I am just sharing my experience.
God Bless



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Andy W.

posted October 1, 2007 at 7:32 am


The pattern of revenge fantasy movies are driven by a need amongst a largely powerless people to experience if only vicariously POWER! We are buying all that and a bucket of popcorn – Bring IT!!! The situation is normal as in SNAFU.
Christians are not immune to the appeal and become soldiers without necessarily investigating the implications vis a vis their professed faith. I think revenge on “bad guys” is much more natural than “loving your enemy” or “doing good to those that hate you” – These are instructions that are counter intuitive – these are instructions that don’t make sense – these are instructions that have driven us nuts for 2000 years and these are the key to the Kingdom!!
If anyone cares to read perhaps the finest essay
on the book of Revelation, check out Frederick Engels comments(sorry can’t cite scripture and verse). But in it he demystifies the book and gives it a historical context – Rome 1 A.D. where an early church had no hope outside the Savior and were powerless in the face of persecution we can hardly imagine (though its there). Think of Quentin Tarantino as Nero and the coliseum as the movie theater and we see the usefulness of the “bread and circuses” analogy! I am afraid we are just as doomed as we can be, unless we stop trying to interpret literally(how did Noah get those dinosaurs on the ark??) and start digging deep into a gospel of Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion as theologian Wendy Farley’s book of the same name identifies it. Many of our conservative fellows who advocate turning our back on the filth of contemporary culture are probably right in one sense but then they want us to support wars in the name of empire, which is the biggest obscenity and blasphemy of all!! Go figure. We without weapons can only triumph through love and the miracle of grace. Rats!!



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jonabark

posted October 1, 2007 at 11:50 am


Beowulf revisited, for the billionth time. Violent revenge against evil monsters is the true religion of Anglo culture.
Kevin made me laugh, so I guess the day’s wide open.
I was talked into going to the 3:10 to Yuma last week and found that the implausibility more than crippled the interesting character stories. Also there is the same pornographic interest in skillful and excitingly filmed violence.
Some films which most effectively unermine the revenge story in recent years Are The 3 Burials or Melquiades Estrada , Fast Runner, and Ulees’s Gold. All excellent movies.



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Alicia

posted October 1, 2007 at 2:35 pm


spoilers
Other than the acting, this film had no redeeming value, IMO.
My problem with it is the story made no sense – it was preposterous, beyond unlikely, that Foster’s character would have been in the wrong place at the wrong time 3 times in such a short period of time (first when her fiance was slain and she was beaten, then in the mini-mart, then on the subway) and that she could have purchased an illegal gun and become a “dead shot” so quickly.
In order to make the story of her becoming a vigilante plausible, the sequence of events that led her into vigilante action ought to have been more believable.
And, Terrence Howard’s character was destroyed (metaphorically speaking) at the end of the story, and we did not see any consequences. I think even the original “Death Wish” made more sense than this film.



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Peter

posted October 2, 2007 at 10:20 am


I still await a truly radical film that’s going to knock us all out of our slumbers. “Revenge films” breed complacency. If we can’t have a “radical forgiveness” film, as I mentioned earlier, at least we could have a modern-day “contrition for revenge” film. Ingmar Bergman did this wonderfully with “The Virgin Spring.”



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Anonymous

posted October 2, 2007 at 4:48 pm


Then I remembered the fairy tale ended the same way. This got me to thinking how radical Jesus’ message is for our culture…
People burning eternally in hell is any different and better?



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lysel

posted October 5, 2007 at 6:22 am


JimII — regarding Gandhi, he once said,
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
The Anglican Church was often the power behind the British government and the British Raj, so he was viewed with suspicion, and subjected to racism by those in the Church. Unfortunately, the quote above is still very true.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers”, but too many churches joined Bush in supporting the Iraq war, rather than questioning the direction we were taking.
9/11 brought out the bloodlust and calls for revenge, without taking into effect the cost in human lives, our economy, and the impact it would have in coming years.



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