Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stanley Fish on Divine Vengeance!

December 29th's New York Times has Stanley Fish considering the joys of divine vengeance in film — the license we are granted to relish violence in film when the perpetrator is unqualifiedly justified because of some awful wrong done him or her. My response below.
Great topic. Let's not forget the leading advocate of divine justice is the God of Judeo-Christian religion.

Vengeance is arguably one of two Great Motives in film, the other being love. Vengeance and violence are uniformly just in war films, especially if the war involves the US. Can any of us imagine a war film showing the US as fundamentally morally awful? If the US is at war, in fact or fiction, it is taken as axiomatic that the violence is just. Today, we even get POV reality footage of 'surgical strikes' -- surgeons are engaged in violent acts, are they (!)

Much sci fi involves sublime violence — Wars or the Worlds.

In some films, the vengeance is explicitly granted divine status -- take The Crow, with Brandon Lee, who died in a _representation_ of violence.

Look at the entire oeuvre of Quentin Tarantino, who perfectly mashes the fine line between justice and absurdity. Lucy Liu's character in Kill Bill begins as a victim on a divine quest and becomes a violent beast.

I think my personal favorite is Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, which does a pretty good job (the best I can recall) of stripping away the veneer of justice. A woman horribly wronged, and an assortment of entirely unrelated men setting out to balance the scales of justice -- for money. Each of these men with his own vile violent past, including Clint Eastwood's Will Munny (hint hint), who of all the assassin's has the most terrible past.

And then there's Hamlet.

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