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.