It’s been a hard year. Part of the pain thus far has been the death of two people in my circle of acquaintances, friends and relatives. They were not people I was really close to, and I know as I get older there will be more and more years where the death of someone plays a part, but it has been nonetheless troubling. I find myself grappling with a fear of death in a way I can’t remember facing before, both for others and for myself. The thought of non-existence wakes me up trembling and sweating some nights.
As a result, perhaps, I find it hard to watch movies or television shows which have death in them. Not merely a painful or tragic death of the protagonists — those have always been hard. No, I have trouble watching movies where anyone dies.
Last night I was trying to watch The Incredibles on television. It is in its own way a violent film, and the violence and death are casual and celebrated. The evil-doers chasing Dash and Violet explode as they crash into trees or cliffs, creating very pretty fireballs. The death of Syndrome, the head baddie, by being sucked into a jet turbine by his cape, is played for thrills and yes, laughs, referencing as it does the lecture designer Edna la Mode gave on the dangers of capes on superhero outfits.
I know it is just a cartoon. And yes, the bad guys “had it coming to them” by trying to kill children. Still, I found myself wondering if those guys had friends who worried about them, or wives and families. What sort of letter was sent to their mothers?
The Incredibles was just a cartoon, but what about Return of the Jedi, which is the referent for the jungle chase scenes in The Incredibles? Did some of those stormtroopers killed by Luke and Leia have partners? They were just soldiers in a war they didn’t start. And even bad guys have friends and relations.
We are a culture that is so uptight about depictions of human sexuality in our media, and so incredibly blasé about violence. A movie like Clerks gets the same rating for (admittedly extreme) off-color language that Kill Bill (either part — take your pick) gets for bloodlust. I find it incomprehensible that we live in a country where simple frontal male nudity will most likely result in an NC-17, yet the works of Quentin Tarantino, gore-drenched as they are, escape such a fate.
There are violent movies that I don’t find off-putting. But those movies, such as The Godfather or Schindler’s List, use acts of violence as inverted sacraments — outward and visible signs of inward and invisible corruption. “Sleeping with the fishes” from The Godfather may be sort of a joke, now, but when the line “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes” was uttered onscreen, no one was smiling.
Death comes to us all, eventually. I know this, and when I have died I won’t be worrying about it anymore. In the meantime, I think I would rather not watch media which makes light of the fragility of human lives.