The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, September 21, 2007

V is for Violence

I saw "The Brave One" last week, and was favorably
impressed. But I can also understand how someone
might accuse it of simply being a feminist version
of "Death Wish" or an upscale rendition of "Ms. 45."
While true in a sense, both criticisms would be, in
my mind, missing the point.

I received an email on the subject from a lady friend
who has, herself, been the victim of violence. She
was greatly moved, experienced the sense of
emotional dissociation that Jodie Foster's character
experienced after her savage mugging. I have
known enough people who have suffered violence
to understand the frustration with the justice
system that can boil over into self-destructive acts
...or a need for cathartic entertainment.

Personally, I love violence in film--if it is integrated
into the story, if it is motivated, if the characters
react like real human beings, at least within the
context of the story world. I love intensity, and
what it does to human beings. And I have enough
personal demons that watching teenage campers
dumped into the meat grinder...or soldiers
battling across a war-torn landscape, or giant
rubber monsters trashing Tokyo, or scar-faced
crime-lords wiping out their competitors...all
this stuff can be great entertainment, done right.

Of course, it can also be done very, very wrong.
There can be a thin line between telling a grim
fairy tale, and exploiting (for instance) male
fear of a woman's power. Or women's fear of
male power. Or racial tensions. Or class
distinctions. I've seen some loathsome things
in film, and most of it comes from viewing
human beings as objects to be torn rather
than human beings with hopes, needs, and

Almost any human interaction is legitimate to
investigate in film and fiction. But forget that
your characters have feelings, and you subject
your audience to a charnel-house tour with
nothing to offer but screams and special
effects. There is an audience for such films,
but do you really want to play to them?

What you CAN do is explore fear and its
influence on relationships. Revenge and its
role in society. Anger and the way it destroys
the heart. Guilt and the way it shatters the
soul. And on, and on.

But always reference your work back to your
own feelings and experiences. We've all had
powerful negative emotions and experiences.
How did it affect you? Really? Take THAT
and put it on the page or the screen, and you
have the core of something real. Build on
that, and you have a work of art, limited only
by the power of your craft.

Craft you can learn. Honesty, you have to
work out for yourself.

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