There’s always a lot of talk of violence in media, media like movies or videogames or even books. In general, people caution against viewing violence in entertainment because it can desensitize you to violence in real life.
I completely agree that we should be careful about what we watch or read. If I didn’t believe that media could influence people, why would I bother spending so much time writing?
The assumption that goes along with these views, though, is that less violence and gore makes a movie less desensitizing and therefore healthier. But sometimes, less violence can be more desensitizing, and it took an extremely brutal movie for me to realize that.
Hacksaw Ridge, based on a true story, is an amazing movie. It’s also incredibly gory, as can be expected from the director Mel Gibson (The Passion of the Christ, Braveheart, among others).
And yet one of the biggest things I got out of the movie is how violence isn’t a ‘good’ answer. Violence (and war) is messy and gross and heartbreaking. Being a soldier isn’t ‘fun’ or ‘an adventure,’ it’s terrifying. And I wouldn’t have gotten that message as clearly if the violence was at a PG-13 level.
Do you ever walk out of, say, an Avengers movie thinking, “I want to fight like that!”? I’m not saying that’s wrong. I think those types of movies can inspire you to seek adventure in a healthy way. But I don’t see how that’s inherently less desensitizing than a movie that makes me think, “I don’t ever want to see someone hurt like that.”
Yes, age plays into how brutality in a story will affect you. Just because a movie is healthy for an adult doesn’t mean it will be healthy for a kid, or even for another adult. And I’m not saying to exaggerate gore, and I’m definitely not saying to put violence in a story that doesn’t need it. It needs to be purposeful.
Even with all the gore, Hacksaw Ridge had a strong anti-violence theme. The main character, a combat medic named Desmond Doss, is a conscientious objector and refuses to carry a gun, even when serving on the front lines. One night, he saved around 75 wounded soldiers on top of Hacksaw Ridge- after the army retreated.
The violence, then, is intentional. It isn’t being glorified, and it isn’t thrown in there to be ‘edgy.’ It shows the natural result of a battle, and hints at the stuff that soldiers actually live through.
Violence and gore, even extreme violence and gore, has a place in media. Ignoring the full effect that a violent act has on a person or a situation can be worse than showing it, because that ignores the result of brutality.
If there’s a purpose to the violence happening in the first place, I believe it’s better to show its ramifications than to present a sterilized, ‘clean’ version.
But this is in debate. You can see the debate in the movie rating system, and in what’s ‘appropriate’ for teens to read, and in the wildly different standards parents have for what their kids can watch. So what place do you think violence has in media?