Actor Jim Carrey created a bit of a stir this week when he released an announcement apologizing for his role in a soon to be released hyper-violent superhero film.
The comedian will play a character called "Colonel Stars and Stripes" in the upcoming sequel to a cult favorite film. However, he recently tweeted regrets about appearing in the film, saying, "Now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence. ... I meant to say my apologies to others (involved) with the film. I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart."
Now, it's still up for debate whether Carrey's tweets are a genuine expression of his thoughts, a publicity stunt, or a little of both, but they do highlight an issue that's been receiving more attention in Hollywood of late. What level of violence is acceptable in films, and how does movie violence impact the culture at large?
It's a topic I've been thinking about for a while, but I've hesitated to blog about it due to the fact it can be tough to talk about the subject without seeming judgmental or without bringing politics into the equation (which is always dangerous!). ;) I don't think there's a black and white solution to the issue, but it is a worthwhile question for Hollywood to explore.
Violence has been a part of Hollywood since the early days of film. There have always been fist fights, shoot-outs, and car crashes in the movies, though with constantly evolving special effects technology, the realism of that violence is probably increasing. Big-budget movies full of action have proven to be popular with viewers, and almost all of the top 10 highest-earning movies last year featured battles or fighting of some kind. Looking back at my blog post about my own top five favorite films of 2012, I realized all the films I picked — "The Hunger Games," "The Dark Knight Rises," "Skyfall," "The Hobbit," and "The Avengers" — had quite a bit of on-screen conflict.
The issue Hollywood is grappling with is that we also seem to be experiencing a recent increase in public acts of violence, such as the heartbreaking shootings at a movie theater in Colorado and a school in Connecticut. Some have advocated Hollywood's portrayal of violence has desensitized people to real-life violence and is partly to blame for increasing violent behaviors.
Hollywood itself is divided on the issue. An Entertainment Weekly article on gun violence in movies quoted a variety of celebrities, with a variety of viewpoints. Oscar-winning director Ang Lee stated, "I think we should use restraint. You should have the freedom to create whatever is in your mind. Of course, you pay a price for that." "Star Trek" star Zoe Saldana counters, "We in Hollywood are an easy target to unload a lot of anger on. But to solely blame a fictional movie that you paid $14 to see is preposterous. We need to have our own moral compass."
Personally, I think there's room for both sides at the table. The entertainment we watch does effect us, and I think it's important for film makers to be conscious of the creative choices they're making. Film is a powerful art form, and — to borrow a theme from Christopher Nolan's Batman films, which themselves have become part of the discussion — we have to be careful of the symbols we create. There are times when it's best, as Ang Lee says, to show restraint, and it's good to have conversations about what Hollywood's responsibilities should be.
Questions to explore could include: is there a difference between stylized or fantasy violence (like the kind that appears in superhero films) vs. the more "realistic" violence found in a hard-boiled crime thriller vs. the gore in a horror film? Does implied violence (i.e. the camera cuts away right before something is depicted) have the same impact as violence that's actually shown on screen? What are the differences between a film that has one moment of very intense violence and a film with a lower level of violence that persists throughout the movie?
On the flip side, I also agree with Zoe Saldana in that Hollywood is often a convenient scapegoat, and we may spend so much time blaming it that we ignore other parts of the equation. I think most people can tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and seeing violence on-screen is not going to cause law-abiding citizens to suddenly go out and commit a violent act. People do have a responsibility for their own actions.
I also think there is a danger in exposing children to high levels of violence at a young age, but parents, you are the best judge of what entertainment is appropriate for your child. You know when your superhero-loving son or daughter is ready to watch "The Avengers," and what films are too intense for them.
So, what are your thoughts on violence in movies? Does Hollywood sometimes go too far, or is Hollywood unfairly blamed for a problem that has other causes?