We are all gathered in that dead time zone: Saturday night, drizzle outside, nice warm sofa and nice supermarket curry burning a hole into impetus to move. We are staring at Apple TV menus. It is a ritual: we are all film fans. I hold the buttons, but always make concessions to the younger bretheren. I want to watch ‘Son of Saul’ – but 15 year old says
‘Not a fucking Holocaust movie.’ I then zap to foreign movies and show them the preview of a French romantic comedy about a really short guy going out with a tall blonde. When you’re talking over the preview to work out how they did it –
Me: ‘Green screen?’
Son: ‘CGI. They put his head on a short guy’s body, look…’ then you know the movie is done for, as far as this family is concerned. There was a look of slight shock that they’d do that to a short guy. There is another Holocaust movie with Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, but 15 year old says
‘Dad needs to laugh. He’s feeling down.’ Which = ‘I need a laugh because I’m 15 and I don’t want to watch your stupid Holocaust movies.’
Last time we were in this zone, I conceded and we watched ‘Spy’ starring Melissa McCarthy. I said after
‘NEVER AGAIN. I am never watching a Hollywood movie again!’ The random, mad killing, the idiocy of the jokes, the single hero’s journey through the movie… I couldn’t do it. So we’re at a crux point where we should really move to the DVD cupboard and hoist out a Hitchcock, or a 50’s musical, or a Cary Grant. But because I am weak, we rent ‘Nice Guys’, starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.
It is a 1970s-set private detective yarn, with lots of laughs. It has many gags, and lashings of whisky drinking, cigarette smoking capery. They beat up on each other regularly, and Ryan Gosling has a daughter who looks ten but is apparently 13, who drives his vintage open topped Merc for him, and turns up at all the set pieces in order to provide him with an innocent to rescue. The family all roar with laughter throughout. I am not inured to a little bit of slapstick, so I laugh along, but about two thirds through, I find it all a little dull and start to nod off. It is too long, as all these action Hollywood movies are, and after a wee -break, I am fully awake for the denouement.
This morning, I wake to the full horror of what that movie was about. You have two, down on their luck, white males walking through glamorous parties, searching for a porn star beauty on behalf of her older, in government, bitter, twisted Mom. The two males shoot and fight their way through most scenes, taking guns out very early on, and accidentally killing people who are then not accounted for at all. It has become a trope in Hollywood movies such as this and ‘Spy’ to utilise the mass killing of super hero movies as part of the entertainment. This sits very badly with me. If each death is part of the entertainment, and in fact, often laughable, then how are we expecting the youth whose culture this is, to understand that death is real, that killing a person is always killing someone with family, with background, with worth? Dr Robert Hare, in an article about the Columbine killings, says this:
‘None of his victims means anything to the psychopath. He recognizes other people only as means to obtain what he desires. Not only does he feel no guilt for destroying their lives, he doesn’t grasp what they feel. The truly hard-core psychopath doesn’t quite comprehend emotions like love or hate or fear, because he has never experienced them directly.‘ (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/assessment/2004/04/the_depressive_and_the_psychopath.html)
In the movie, Russell Crowe is seen to kill, early on, a villain who has been chasing him. The guy, a strange, goofy man who could be lightly called ‘a weirdo’, with dark, long hair, is hit by a truck. While lying in the road, the child goes over and holds his hand. Russell Crowe sends her off to flag down a car to help. While she is away, he kills the guy by strangling him. Later, when he is about to do this act again at the denoument, with another villain, the epiphany comes: the 13 year old says ‘You don’t have to do this!’ and Russell Crowe stops himself, saying ‘Congratulations…a 13 year old saved your life.’ The people Crowe and Gosling are fighting are either weirdos, dark haired, or black, incidentally.
I am reading a fascinating book: ‘KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps’ by Nikolaus Wachsmann. Right from the beginning, in 1933, there were camps in Berlin – 170 of them – of varying degrees of brutality. It is clear that Nazism grew out of a grassroots movement of lack of education, victimhood and hysteria. The reaction of every person who was detained was to give some sort of account of what happened. One man, very early on – Fritz Solmitz, a Social Democratic journalist, was treated brutally, and reacted y writing an account of this brutality on cigarette papers, which he hid in his watch. He was murdered fourteen days after his detention. The point here is – the way that he controlled what happened to him was – he was in control of the story. The truth of his history is preserved.
So, sure, what we watched last night was just a movie, right? What am I carping about? Let me ask you this: if each young mind watching that movie thinks – ‘there is an element of truth in what I am watching’, what are we selling to them? We are selling them a singular journey of two white males who see themselves as victims within their own lives. In order to survive within their world, they must battle and kill many bad people who come at them with knives, bombs and guns. They must be brutal and not care about the victims. The Columbine killers, it is claimed by one of their mothers, Sue Klebold, were copycatting a movie: ‘Natural Born Killers’. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/feb/14/mother-supposed-know-son-columbine-sue-klebold)
So what do we do about this? Our family are going to stop watching the movies, for sure. That is a good first step, as far as I’m concerned. We bring to the attention of 15 year olds and 17 year olds that the movie they have just watched has fatal, terrible, flaws. (On another matter: the movie has a scene where the 13 year old is introduced to a porn movie by one of its stars: a classic grooming technique. All the time, she is at the mercy of older women and men of questionable character – because, it’s the 70s! That’s what it was like! I was there. It was like that. Except, it wasn’t funny. And rarely was there a father figure rescuing the smart, sassy girl.)
If you think clearly about what has happened in the recent months in the USA: you have a white male who feels down on his luck, rallying crowds by telling them he will lock up the villains who look different than him. He’ll throw them out, or build a wall. He’ll not allow the brown, different religions in. When someone disagreed with him at one of his rallies, he watched gleefully as they were beaten up. His singular journey as the hero of his story is what he sells to other white males: we have been down trodden, and we will be great again. The movie last night had Kim Basinger thwarted in her attempt to win, the incumbent governor brought down by her own corruption.
Soldiers are suffering from PTSD, working in the Pentagon because they are droning ‘the enemy’ in places like Afghanistan – those inverted commas because they are often killing civilians, often women and children. Those soldiers are judge, jury, executor – and historian. The people they kill do not give eyewitness accounts. Similarly, in other war zones, it is becoming clearer that international humanitarian rules of war are becoming murkier.
A movie like last nights can’t possibly have an affect can it? And yet, there are shootings all the time in the states. A man takes his gun out of his checked bag at Fort Lauderdale and shoots five people, wounding eight more. The terrorism attacks across Europe by young men who often grow up in the west, cannot only be down to a misplaced idealism and religiosity that has nothing to do with Islam? If you see it in what you watch and what you play onscreen, surely it must be easier to carry out?
And this brings me to this question: what is art for? A stupid movie like ‘Nice Guys’ is art, I’m afraid – it is someone’s interpretation of a story, and of deeper truths of the human condition. What I saw was a movie about psychopaths. A small step toward making the unacceptable acceptable. It is strange, and wild to imagine that we have come to this point in our human existence – that killing and hurting is watchable, funny entertainment. We’re an intelligent, liberal family, and we guffawed. I mean, we laughed so hard we were finding it difficult to draw breath at times. The bitterest pill can be swallowed with sugar: the moral is, be careful about what pill you swallow. Be careful it isn’t poison.