Morality Bites blogathon Do filmmakers have a moral responsibility?


This particular post is part of the Morality Bites blogathon over at Filmplicity and DWC and concerns the question “Do filmmakers have a moral responsibility?”

When it comes to what I call glorified violence in films such as Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs, making it cool to kill and swear, then I begin to take a step back. How can you argue in favour of making such films were there is apparently no surface message other than entertainment?

I respect films such as Clockwork Orange and Fight Club, because I sense Kubrick and Fincher had a reason for displaying the violence, dealing with issues of how to handle criminals or male aggression. Sadly all I can see in above mentioned Tarantino films is violence for the sake of some morbid pleasure. The thing is, no matter if the director has sincere intentions or not, the film can be misinterpreted by the audience just the same, and that is a problem. If just one man goes out and cuts someone’s ear off for fun like in Reservoir Dogs, then Tarantino is at fault, has Quentin even thought of the consequences you wonder? And Fight Clubs emerging, is Fincher to blame?


Although even a comic, or an innocent cowboys and Indians flick can make a boy take his fathers gun and shoot someone, it’s a tricky situation in accusing the artist, because you never really know whereabouts the culprit got his inspiration from, so this is also a problem, the artist is kind of artistically immune. And this to a certain degree means they can direct any story they want.

I guess anything goes in art, and the more extreme one artist is, the further the bar is pushed for the next generation of directors and audiences. I confess I enjoyed the dialogue in Pulp Fiction, so I’m guilty too.

Would the world be a less violent place without movies and video games is a hypothetical question, or do we simply have a natural inclination for destruction? Do we watch horror films like Saw, so we can mentally live out a fantasy, so we don’t have the urge to do so in real life? And is film therapeutic in some way.

I heard director David Lynch comment:
“But now violence has reached an absurd stage where you just don’t feel it any more. And there’s no way now you can swear more in movies. It’s like there’s a wall there – a numb sort of thing” (Lynch on Lynch, page 249)

The rating system of not allowing children to watch excessive swearing, sex and violence obviously is a method of protecting our kids, but does that mean all adults can just waltz into a dvd store and rent anything. Should there be limitations on what over 18s are allowed to watch, is the choice of saying yes or no to movies enough? Should there be a warning for adults on the dvd?


I know if I was a director, I would never in a million years direct scenes that included violence and swearing just to be hip and “street” for the sake of realism. While I can appreciate Goodfellas is well-acted with a good story, I disliked the profanity and violence, and can’t understand why it gets so much love. I believe at the time it had the highest number of F-profanities in film history, is that something to admire? When violence/swearing becomes cool, I think cinema is heading in the wrong direction.
Having said that, I think directors should make movies that they want to make, there shouldn’t be limitations on art. I just choose to turn off stuff like Kill Bill, as it really makes no sense to me, and I don’t know what Tarantino is trying to achieve?

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Want to join the blogathon and write your own answer to the question: Do filmmakers have a moral responsibility? Details over at Filmplicity

11 comments:

  1. I respect your opinion on films containing an overdose of sex, violence & profanities. I'm also sure you'd find like-minded people who'd share your point of view. However, that said, I'd beg to differ as my allegiance falls on the other side of the fence.

    An artist creates a work of art not to educate or inspire or motivate people. Their intent is not to ensure goodness or prevent badness. An artist's job is to create works of art, that's it. Yes, most artists do also have points of view, but they are side effects of their quest for creating art.

    So I don't think a book or movie or any work of art should have "moral responsibilities". In fact, the word "moral" is perhaps more subjective than art itself. Consequently, I'm not in any way ashamed to admit that I loved Reservoir Dogs, Goodfellas or Kill Bill.

    In fact, to think of it, violence has been part of human society since when humans have existed. There were wars and murders and genocides since long before the motion picture camera was invented. So that makes the point raised null and void by default. Any violence shown in the movie pales in comparison to the actual acts of violence that are committed by humans. So the point that movies might pollute people is non-existent.

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  2. There should be a limit for directors to create a movie. There is a film censorship institution, but it should be from the movie makers to have some moral responsibility.
    Sometimes the effects and all made the violence looked cool and harmless. That's when the cameras and shot-picks did not took the part where people are bleeding and hurt.

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  3. Like Shubhajit, i respect your opinion but my feelings lie on the other side. In my post i gave a detailed explanation why, but basically I don't think any artists should be limited in what they can create.

    But thanks for participating, and i have added your entry to my list. I also put you on my blogroll.

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  4. I also have to agree with Shubhajit. It's a sad fact but humans are a violent and murderous species by nature and we are not so very far removed from our caveman ancestors.

    Seeing violent or not violent films and entertainment won't change the way people act.

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  5. @Shubhajit : Thanks for your great comment. Yes, violence has always been there in society, I realize cinema in some respects is a reflection of what's going on in the world, or even historical like Saving private ryan. But I don't see the point in seeking out and paying to see explicit torture and killing.
    There are a few war films I like apocalypse now is great, and I enjoy some light-hearted violence like 007 for ex, I just don't get pleasure from watching extreme violence really, although I admire choreography at times like in The Matrix, or if the violence serves a purpose to make a statement like in the excellent war documentary Armadillo.
    I guess there must be a market for violence, since there are so many violent action/horror films out there, so I am probably in the minority of male’s preferring non-violent cinema. I think there is too much violence and war in the world already. Whether or not movies/video games pollute or encourage violence is interesting, difficult to measure before cinema and now.

    @Andina : I follow what you’re saying, directors sometimes make the violence less extreme by not showing everything. I think this is a good thing, I don’t want to see the gruesome stuff. I realize its manipulating, but then I won’t have nightmares! haha

    @dirtywithclass : Thanks for visiting, I will check out your article this weekend, and thanks for adding me to you blogroll ( :

    @Bonjour Tristesse : I agree, as I said in my piece, should be no limitations on art. A solution maybe is a warning on the dvd case, if it has excessive violence/profanity. For example The Departed, I was shocked at the amount of profanity, and would not have rented the dvd if I knew this beforehand.

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  6. Those unfortunate events where kids mimic films by shooting another kid is completely on the parents responsibility. I mean having access to a gun, and having access to glorified violence in the first place should be monitored. When people develop (if they do) a mature sense of morality, then they themselves should be able to decide whether something is realistic, acceptable, meaningful or not.

    The problem lies with those who grow up without a completely developed sense of self, reality and morality, those who get taken advantage of by big production companies and their director slaves. Then I don't know, I guess it's on the filmmaker's that stride for profit. But I mean, it's not like the evented the game.

    great contribution, dug this post!

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  7. @ 5plitreel : Thanks for reading and your kind words. The parents have a responsibility in giving their kids a moral awareness, no doubt, although there is always a black market for anything. The more forbidden, the more intriguing movies are for under 18s, and the more respect they get from their peers for having watched something extreme, and I don't think you can stop young people watching stuff, they will always find a way. The problem for me is when Tarantino makes violence cool, and Scorsese makes swearing hip, I don't like those trends, as it influences other filmmakers...

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  8. Apologies for not commenting on your post at the time of the blogothon. I like how you use Tarantino and Scorcese as examples. It seems they have cornered the market when it comes to 'cool violence' and 'acceptable profanity'. What's more, as you rightly point out, by sensationaliising it and making it 'cool' in their films they make it more acceptable and give people an opportunity to get kicks out of some sick subject meterial. For example, at the start of The Departed, when Nicholson's character shoots a woman in the back and says 'she fell funny'. I get that we are supposed to realise that Nicholson's character is a monster but scorcese seems to delight in showcasing the darker side of his characters. Another example is the infamous scene in Goodfellas when Tommy murders the guy in the bar and the three of them drive to Tommy's mother's house to borrow a big kitchen knife to cut up the body. They are disturbed by Tommy's mother and then proceed to let her feed them and laugh and joke between themselves about the body of the man they have just brutally murdered. Even when they are cutting up the body they are still shown laughing and joking, 'I got a leg!', 'Here's a wing!'. What is the purpose of scenes like these. We know things like this happen in the real world, why do influential directors like Scorcese insist on putting a funky soundtrack on this kind of behaviour and shooting it in a way that glamorizes what should only be abhored. I'm sure Mr Scorcese doesn't feel he has to explain himself to anyone and he can probably justify this to himself quite easily, or maybe he feels he doesn't need to. He is an 'Auteur' after all. I'm just worried that in our increasingly visual and interactive world, where people live their lives online and incorporate aspects of film and video games into their lifestyles (though perhaps subconsciously), this is bound to have a negative effect on the way we relate to one another. Extreme examples like Colombine aside, a culture which actively encourages and commercializes brutality 'can hardly be surrpised if it produces brutes'.

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  9. @Ronan: Thanks for your detailed comment! Appears we agree on being opposed to “cool violence”. I guess you don’t want to pay to see torture either. I agree, The Departed is not funny, and its sad we are supposed to enjoy someone getting shot in the back of the head. I was talking with my mother in the car the other day how I've noticed young people swear a lot and throw rubbish out on to the streets, if they didn’t their friends would think they are a wimp, and just to remain in a circle of friends you have to behave in a morally incorrect way- I think is awful-their role models are obviously subconsciously Hollywood to some degree as you say, to distance yourself from your parents, you turn to swearing-which apparently is cool- not a great start to adulthood! I come from a family where we don't swear, so its more noticable when I encounter profanity.

    I see what you mean about Columbine, I remember Fight Club was criticized for having encouraged that incident. Those shootings seem to happen more often in the United States than other countries, sadly it’s due to the gun laws. You’re right, Hollywood commercializes brutality, but people have always been violent anyway some would argue. On the flip side, as I said in my piece, a positive aspect is movie violence can be therapeutic to some viewers. However, being reminded that the world is full of nasty people is not exactly encouraging for people who want to travel the world, though!

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  10. Reservoir Dog's didn't bother me, but the violence in Kill Bill is absolutely absurd. I agree that this type of stuff doesn't even impress you after a while, just makes you conscience go numb.

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  11. @Minoccio : Viewers will always have different reactions, depending on what you find offensive, Kill Bill also bothered me,we are supposed to watch mass murder as entertainment, which is why I used the poster for the article.
    Also in these times of the Norway attacks it puts things into perspective, and actually puts me me off watching violence on screen, you hear how the terrorist played violent video games, and some games have now been banned in Norwegian stores. He probably couldn't tell the difference between real life and fantasy, maybe he was numb.

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