Thursday, September 29, 2005

An essay on "violence" masked as a film

As a pretentious type who is often seduced by ideas above all else, I should have loved "A History of Violence." It's a film devoted entirely to big ideas about how we manage to simultaneously deplore and celebrate brutality, how aggression transmits itself between generations no matter how hard we resist it, and how peace is often a facade propped up by violence kept out of the public eye.

But I really disliked the film. I almost hated it. The only reason I didn't was that some of the scenes were so artfully short (especially the violent ones) and a few of the performances (especially William Hurt) were so compelling. But how can you take a film seriously as a comment on America or culture or anything, really, when there's not a single truthful moment in it? Everything from the characters to the plot twists to the dialogue are so painfully phony and absurd that I was never drawn into what I was watching and never cared about what it all might mean (almost everything in the first paragraph only occurred to me later).

The reviews are so good that I might be wrong. So maybe you should see it anyway and find out if I'm stupid or obtuse. But to take just one example, Viggo Mortenson's teenage son confronts a bully who, get this, is mad that he caught his fly ball during gym class. He then makes plans with his good buddy to get back at the kid for daring to catch a ball that came directly to him. Has this ever actually happened outside of bad educational film from the '70s about bullying? We're actually supposed to take anything that follows in that conflict seriously?

That's probably the worst example, but that's the level of character and complexity of plot devices in which this film deals. Which makes all of the interesting ideas pretty much moot.

"A History of Violence" would make a much better essay than it did a film.

1 comment:

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