Murder, Horror, and Mayhem: A Writer’s Musings


The Following.

Two fascinating new series are enjoying critical acclaim. Both feature terrific actors.  Those who only know Hannibal‘s Mads Mikkelsen from his hopefully well paid turn in Casino Royale are in for a surprise. I fell in love with his work in Flammen & Citronen (Flame & Citron). He’s a terrific actor who won’t descend willingly into camp. And Larry Fishburne’s experience dates back to Cornbread, Earl and Me and Apocalypse Now. He seems much more comfortable here than he did in CSI. After what became the boring stylizations of the Matrix triology, here’s hoping the series gives him room to work.

I hope that Kevin Bacon who shares my EST (Ensemble Studio Theatre) roots or vice versa makes every penny back from the Madoff debacle for his work on The Following. He’s better than the material. I hope that the writers rise to the occasion. James Purefoy has been a dependable journeyman in many series with a notable stopover in the Resident Evil franchise.

What about the violence that is central to both series?

Violence is powerful. Intense. Affecting and effective even when poorly executed. As overused as it is in videogames, films and on television, it still shocks and titillates. Over and over again. One of the most dependable tactics in a writer’s arsenal.

There’s a wide range of tones to choose from: camp, comic, brutal,  stylized, realistic, gritty, subtle. There are ethical questions. Not many, but a few. Very few writers are willing to show violence happening to children, although showing the broken and battered bodies of young girls after the fact or in fantasy sequences has become a  staple of thrillers, procedurals and horror films.

Hannibal is markedly more restrained in its use of violence than The Following. It treats it less realisticly, which frees the filmmakers to be more stylized and artful.

So why do filmmakers push for more and more graphic violence?

Part of it must have to do with gender but in more interesting ways than we typically think of it. Women and girls are broken and battered all the time. Male stars are often brutally treated. The brutal torture scenes of Mel Gibson, Daniel Craig, and other male action stars is often difficult to watch. But the women are broken. Or dead. And stay that way. The men use their bad treatment as a stepping stone to heroism.

Why? If showing less is more — the lesson of M. – why are so many writers using more violence. They may think that it represents greater artistic freedom and believe that they leads to better art. Perhaps they are propelled by the need to distinguish film and television from the pleasure of videogames.  And the clarion call of great art simply cannot be about simplistic social responsibility.

It bugs me that I find the violence in The Following disturbing not just because it is graphic, but because it is so predictable and inelegant.

So how do I use violence? How do you?



About liftingasweclimb

Mildred Lewis writes and directs for theater, television, film and the web. She's also a full time professor, Christian, activist and troublemaker with a passion to save as much of the world as she can.
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