Ann Hornaday on Watching Ultra-Violence
Posted on December 28, 2015 at 3:58 pm
Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday has a thoughtful piece about the violence in two end-of-the-year western-style frontier stories, “The Revenant,” from the director of last year’s Best Picture “Birdman,” Alejandro González Iñárritu and Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.”
Both “The Hateful Eight” and “The Revenant,” which arrive in theaters over the next two weeks, make promiscuous use of bodies in pain. Directed by Quentin Tarantino and Alejandro González Iñárritu, respectively, both films are set against the pitiless, snowy backdrop of the 19th-century American West. And both traffic in lingering wide-screen images of savage brutality and mortification, as their protagonists claw, fight, shoot and stab their way to preserving their lives… oth films are set against the pitiless, snowy backdrop of the 19th-century American West. And both traffic in lingering wide-screen images of savage brutality and mortification, as their protagonists claw, fight, shoot and stab their way to preserving their lives.
These are both films with some artistic aspirations. But Hornaday questions whether the ultra-violence in both is in aid of or a distraction from their stories and their messages.
It’s possible to appreciate both films, even admire them, for their sheer ambition and near-flawless execution. But the virtuosity on display also produces its share of deep misgivings. Whether by way of Tarantino’s ironic distance or Iñárritu’s artily masochistic extremes, it’s genuine empathy and self-reflection that get short-circuited, swamped by surface values of aesthetics, technical achievement and shocking, vicarious jolts.
She compares the films to others released this year that engaged with serious, real-life atrocities like “Son of Saul,” “Room,” and “Spotlight” without making them as confrontational, explicit, even cartoonish. These films, she says, “call on each viewer’s memory, conscience and moral imagination to complete the picture and create its deepest meaning.” Individual responses to violence on film vary widely. For me, the question is: does it make you feel more or feel less?