Rod Dreher

NPR did a story the other day on “The Killer Inside Me,” a drama in which Casey Affleck plays a sadistic killer sheriff. The violence in the movie is so graphic some people have walked out of early screenings, NPR reported. Here’s what Affleck told NPR about the violence in the film:

NORRIS: Did you have any trepidation about making this film, especially the violence – the violence against women? Mr. AFFLECK: I thought about it a lot. But my fears were allayed when I spoke to Michael [Winterbottom, the director] and he wanted to make it very, very realistic. And I thought, okay, I’m in. Because to do the movie any other way, to depict the violence in a way that wasnt disturbing would be irresponsible. It would kind of contribute to desensitization of, you know, of our cultural desensitization to violence because it’s everywhere – in videogames and TV and movies. And the audience never feels anything. They never really feel upset. And if you’re going to show that stuff, then let people feel something like what it might actually be like to experience that violence in real life.

Ah, so Casey Affleck thinks ultra-graphic film violence is actually a social good, because it’s meant to combat the desensitization to violence that people get from … where, exactly? Umm…NPR listener Cynthia Harrison of Washington DC called B.S. on Affleck, saying, accurately, that “his movie is part of a popular genre: gore for middle-class intellectuals who don’t want to admit to bloodlust.”Well said. I note too that “The Killer Inside Me” comes from Mel Gibson’s production company, Icon. [UPDATE: A reader correctly points out that Gibson sold Icon, which he did, in 2008. I apologize for my mistake. — RD.] What demons that man his inside him. He did not direct this film, but his films tend toward intense violence. Some called “The Passion of the Christ” pornographically violent, but I didn’t see it that way. The violence was hard to watch there, but I saw it as artistically justified to chip away at all the plaster that had accumulated on the body of Jesus Christ in our culture, and to make His suffering real to the viewer. I liked “Apocalypto” a lot, in spite of the ultra-violence. But after a while, it’s hard to avoid that Gibson just gets off on ultraviolence. In the NPR piece, the interviewer raises a good question: does a film fail artistically if the violence is so intense audiences are driven from the theater?I think so, and funnily enough, the first and only time that question occurred to me was watching Gibson’s Vietnam film, “We Were Soldiers Once.” The battle scenes were so intense and gory that I had to turn away frequently, and found the narrative very difficult to follow. Some fans responded to that criticism by saying, “Well, that’s what combat is like.” Maybe so; I’m in no position to judge. But Gibson’s film failed as art, at least as far as I was concerned, because art is not supposed to be a reproduction of raw experience, but the distillation of raw experience so that it can be grasped and understood.[UPDATE: A reader points out that Gibson starred in that film, but did not direct it. So the artistic failure belongs to director Randall Wallace, not Mel Gibson. Sorry for the error. — RD]

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