Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hiding the Aftermath of Loss...

Twenty-seven angels serve as a memorial to the children and adults who were gunned down at Sandy Hook School on December 14, 2012. 

I do some of my best thinking on my knees, in the backyard, with dirt in my hands.

Like all Americans, I wonder if events like Sandy Hook School’s tragedy can ever be prevented. I’ve read some very eloquent articles asking for better access to the mental health care system. I’ve read plenty of knee-jerk comments about “banning all guns,” which is about as practical as rounding up all illegal aliens and sending them hither and yon. I’ve read remarks blaming video games and movies. But I’m pretty much against censorship, even words/phrases/ideas I disagree with. (The only thing I wish would be made criminal is filming/photographing animal abuse and calling it “art.”)

Then I got to thinking about movies. Personally, I’m not into those shoot everyone kind of movie, called “action” films. I believe the target audience for this kind of movie is middle-class white males, ages 15 through 40, adolescents through young adulthood.  The audience enjoys guns, or martial arts, or hand-to-hand combat, and like the adrenalin rush. In these movies, there is much carnage, much death, much suffering. In most of these movies, we do not see the suffering of those left behind when the bad guy dies.

Bear with me.

When I learned Osama bin Laden had been killed, I felt sad for a few minutes. Not because his life had been lost, but that there actually were people who loved him, children who knew him as their father. I felt the same way when Saddam Hussein was hanged.   Someone grieved for him.

Yes, both were exceptionally evil and when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. And that is usually what happens in the movies. The good guys kill the bad guys, sometimes the bad guy kills the good guy, but then the bad guy gets his or there is some sort of divine redemption. Seldom in any film does one see the aftermath of a death—a grieving wife, fatherless children. And that, in my opinion, sanitizes the death and makes it less impactful.

And if there are no consequences to a violent death in a movie, well, it must be that way in real life. 

Sure, you may get a short scene of burka-clad women wailing after a terrorist “hero” has been blown to smithereens in a war film. There may be a scene where a family is notified of a death, and you see 15 seconds of disbelief and grief. More frequently, you see an instant need for revenge. That’s certainly not the way it goes in real life, is it?

I’m not suggesting that every action film have a sub-story showing the wife of the dead bad guy telling her kids that daddy's gone, or worrying how she’s going to pay bills. I’m not suggesting that the grief of parents burying their child after a violent death be a scene in every film.

The movie “Beautiful Boy” did lead viewers through a family's grief and impact upon their lives.  A couple’s only son, Sammy, feels isolated away at college and kills 17 students and professors, finally taking his own life. You don’t see much of the act of killing itself, it’s about the aftermath. The parents were clueless that Sammy was miserable, though others did see signs that things were not right. Even when Sammy calls home the night before he goes on that rampage, and though he sounds somewhat depressed and not quite right, his parents fail to pick up on it. The next day, of course, they are shocked to hear of what Sammy had done, thinking it was out of the blue or spur of the moment.

Maybe a few screenwriters and motion picture studios might want to consider producing a few action films that find a way to humanize those violent deaths. Sure, kill the bad guy, blow him to smithereens, but find a way to show the hurt that death caused someone. Because in real life, it does hurt someone, and it certainly won’t hurt to remind that predominantly young male audience about that fact. 


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