Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Sin City, Passion and the embrace of Violence

My present ethical dilemma involves the film Sin City, the latest film adaptation of a great comic book. I struggle with this film because I love quality films inspired by comics (whether it is the underrated Unbreakable or the D.C. and Marvel classics), the writer of Sin City is Frank Miller, one of the best writers of the past century (notice I did not say "comic writer." He is that good. Only Alan Moore is a better comic writer), and finally, the previews look sumptuous (the digital black and white looks unlike anything I have ever seen). Plus, the reviews are great.

While the film offers all of these things I love, it is ridiculously violent. There is the rub. While I am not a prude (I watched Pulp Fiction twice in the theatre times and consider it a great flick. Heck, I even rented Shaun of the Dead- but was bothered by the violence), I have prudish tendencies (I did not see the Kill Bill films, any Scream or modern horror movies, any of the Hannibal Lector/ Anthony Hopkins trifecta- partly protest because Manhunter was superior, and barely made is through Saving Private Ryan- I could not eat afterwards).

I think it started in high school. With my friend Chris Etherton, I had the pleasure of attending a screening of Rambo- First Blood 2, the Vietnam revenge flick starring Stallone. I cheered along with the rest of the audience as Rambo shot, knifed, blew up and impaled a hundred or so Vietnamese. However, upon leaving the theatre I had an epiphany (or "a moment of clarity"). Even as an American teenage boy, I was disgusted.

Since that moment, I have been troubled by the senseless violence and death prevalent American filmmaking. I can forgive violence in great films (even if I don't like it). I am comfortable with death in films such as Unforgiven, which stand as testimonies to the senselessness of violence in life and film (and as testimonies to the terrible pain for all involved). While we can become puritanical when it comes to sex, language, improper morality and wanton cigarette use, violence seems so American that it can be overlooked readily and even cheerfully embraced (by myself also).

Sadly, Christians (at least not Christian males) are not witnesses to this degradation of humanity as we should be. We speak of a "culture of life" while we play Doom II, watch the Sopranos and delight ourselves in war. While I youth minister, I was overcome by the jaded attitude of Christian males towards violence in media and video games. It saddened me. As a parent, I am committed to raising my children without the steady stream of violence associated with television, video games and other entertainment. I do not even want to buy my son toy soldiers, toy guns or other weaponry. If the renunciation of violence was good enough for Jesus and his disciples, it should be good enough for my parenting.

As Christians we need to see that the wanton violence we witness dehumanizes us also. It is a sad fact that most Christians justified the excessive bloodiness of Mel Gibson's Passion film. I heard people say that we needed to see that kind of violence to understand what Jesus went through (maybe even more than he went though). If we needed to see that, then we are too desensitized to the violence. For 2000 years the church did not need such images, but today we do. Why? Because of Rambo? Because of Grand Theft Auto?

It is sad that we enjoy Christian Snuff books like the Left Behind series, showing Jesus and his disciples as the issuers of death (not the defeaters of death). We watch 9/11 videos of people jumping of buildings to remember what happened (WHY???). We hoop and holler over the "shock and awe" of the force of American soldiers in the Middle East. We think little of seeing the images of dead Iraqis on our screens (as long as the death we watch is not that of an American). Some of us find websites to see people decapitated by insurgents (or terrorists- whatever). We even watch pictures and videos of the torture and abuse of POWS in Iraq and see the actions as justifiable because it is in the name of homeland security.

I began this posting struggling with my desire to see Sin City. I end this essay with a declaration that Sin City will join the long list of great films that I as a disciple of Christ (who "follows God in the way of Jesus") cannot see.

So, if you see it, don't tell me how great it is. I am sure it is. Don't make this weaker brother stumble.


james said...

"It is sad that we enjoy Christian Snuff books like the Left Behind series, showing Jesus and his disciples as the issuers of death (not the defeaters of death)"

A great quote. And thanks for this thoughtful post, Rick. Haven't seen the film, but it looks to be the first decent film released this year. This will give me something to chew on.

g13 said...

thought provoking stuff. many thanks.

Bob Robinson said...

Your post has finally made me decide to do what I've been kicking around for a while in my head (and it's harder than one would expect...)

My son Trey (who will be 7 in July) is very much into military stuff--guns, fighter planes, tanks (anything that shoots). His grandpa (my dad) has encouraged him in this, since he (my dad) has a fascination with WWII history.

But I've become increasingly uncomfortable with Trey's military gaming. He wants to play video games of fighter planes shooting each other out of the sky in blazing explosions; his favorite topic of conversation is about war.

I was the same way at his age (and all the way through my adulthood). I loved movies with gunfights and battles of epic scale just for the fun of watching the action. Then I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's movie "Total Recall" in 1990, and I got mad. Here was an excellent movie concept ruined by excessive gratuitive violence. It was then that I re-assessed my movie diet.

I still like battle scenes when they are instrumental to the telling of the story (though that line is often hard to discern--I liked the Lord of the Rings movies A LOT, and I think it's because of the epic story of the battle against evil (especially the evil in the heart of every creature), but is it because I like those battle scenes?

I have moved back and forth on this topic--John Eldredge teaches (in his controversial book, Wild at Heart), that God has created men so that they can have a "battle to fight." I struggled with that--yes, men are equipped for battle; yes, Jesus fights a battle with Satan, etc. But Jesus' battle instruments are not guns, fighter planes and other instruments of war against the flesh, they are the "armor of God" that includes "feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. So I have taken issue with Eldredge’s premise. Are we not called to "turn the other cheek?"--Not out of weakness, but out of strength?

Anyway, Trey got the bad news this morning that he can't play "Pacific Heroes" anymore and he is not allowed to watch military documentaries with Papa Jack anymore. He cried.

Sometimes parenting is awfully hard.

Anonymous said...

Just thought I'd point out, it's NOT just males who play violent video games. I know lots of females who do.