Do we get the film violence we deserve? That seems to be the critical consensus on
the Coen brothers latest, No Country for
Old Men, which opens in theaters today and has been almost universally
praised. Based on Cormac McCarthy’s
novel and by all accounts faithful to it, the film is essentially an extended
chase sequence: a guy takes a bunch of money and another guy tries to get it
back. It’s also very, very violent.
It is the fashion now to admire violence on film if it is
cathartic, or metaphorical. No Country will "force us to look into an abyss of our own making," writes
Peter Travers in Rolling Stone; it is "a philosophical meditation
about the roots and nature of violence as an integral part of the American Way
of Life," according to Emanuel Levy; and Kenneth Turan
notes on WNYC that "the Coen brothers and McCarthy are not interested in
violence for its own sake, but for what it says about the world we live
When film violence seems to stand for something, as it does
in No Country or in David
Cronenberg’s last two films, A History of
Violence and Eastern Promises, we
feel more comfortable expressing admiration for it. When it doesn’t, as in Saw or Hostel, we are
forced to treat the entire genre of such films – in this case "torture porn"
– as representative of, well, something bad.
The presentation of violence can be divided, roughly, into
three categories: cartoonish, stylized and naturalistic. Some filmmakers are adept at all three: Quentin
Tarantino is responsible for Kill Bill,
Pulp Fiction and the Deathproof segment of Grindhouse.
Other examples are playing this month on AMC. Compare and contrast! The cartoonish – Married to the Mob, Mad Max
Beyond Thunderdome. The stylized – The Quick and the Dead, Psycho. And the naturalistic – Glory, Casualties of War.