Celebrating Death in Film

I’m calling it out, and I’m calling it out hard. Right here, right now. We love to see death on our big screen TVs. It’s all the rage, from movies old to new. More extras, more CGI, and more battle scenes. It’s pretty rare in times today to see a movie without some sort of violence in it.

Now, please don’t misunderstand.

Violence has its place in cinema, and the story telling business in general. Death is a powerful tool to show drive, tension, struggle, and the unfortunate horrors of this world. War is something we can sympathize with, one way or another. The fight between good and evil, and the ethics involved with that, is a genuinely important tool for movies to take hold of. However, violence for violence sake (or calling it “cool”) is a misuse of that tool. A grave misuse.

To be thorough, here are three examples that have been on my mind for a while now:

  • Shock Value

It has it’s place, but again, shock value for shock value’s sake is a gross and ugly sight to behold. It should have a purpose in the story, not make up the meat of it.

Again, I’m calling it out hard here.

*takes a deep breath*

Jurassic World  is a perfect example of this.

Please, really think about it. It’s shock value through dinosaur-driven violence can be both cheap and infuriating to watch. The main characters remain unscathed, yet any and every extra in the film is butchered for the sake of either shocking the audience through horrific means, or to show just how ‘cool’ these dinosaurs can be. And in the end, the dinosaurs are shown to be sympathetic, heroic, and even noble in some scenes. For every shocking slaughter scene, there is another that celebrates the fictional, focus group gold, death machines.

I understand that this is a popular film, but here’s the truth: Shock value will numb you to the appropriate response to something as unnatural as death.

Blog Death

Death is alien towards creation; that’s why violence is so shocking to our system. We aren’t meant to experience these kinds of things. However, thanks to the Fall, it’s something we now can’t imagine life without.

Celebrating it is accepting it. Accepting it is allowing your fallen nature to be appeased. And that feels good, doesn’t it? It feels great to experience the shock of seeing someone being ripped apart, swallowed hole, or murdered.

Again, these things have their place in film, but they had better have a darned good reason aside from ‘it will bring the crowds in’ or thinking that somehow it will look really impressive.

Exodus 20:13 (ESV)

You shall not murder.

God places a commandment against the celebration of death. Murder is a reality we live in. Murder needs to be talked about, and shown through film. But the last thing murder needs to be is celebrated through cheap shock value. It deserves more respect than that, and so does the audience of these films.

  • Self Empowerment

Vengeance. Revenge. It’s very satisfying to see the main antagonist go through a power struggle and then come out on top.

Enter in “The Lone Ranger” (2013). I have to be honest, I really didn’t enjoy this film for a number of reasons, but one particular scene made me especially uncomfortable. After some gritty action on a train, the character Latham Cole drowns. He is buried beneath silver ore after the train plunges off the bridge and into the river below, all while the happy Lone Ranger theme is playing.

Blog death2

Now, Latham Cole was a dastardly fellow and a bad guy. We should be grinning from ear to ear when we’re shown his horrific death, right? That’s justice, after all.

Perhaps, but this is done wrong in so many different ways.

Romans 12:19 (ESV)

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

We should get no pleasure in watching our antagonist slaughter those who have wronged them. People make mistakes, and anger is blinding, but I’m talking about a reaction from you, the audience. Vengeance is the Lord’s, and having been wronged is no excuse for us to celebrate in the slaughter of the sinful.

Revenge belongs in movies. It’s a powerful tool for plot and tension, just like murder. But just like murder, it should not be celebrated. That only feeds our dead nature.

  • A Subconscious need for the Desecration of God’s Creation

The zombie fad. I’m just going to go out and say it.

Now again, please don’t misunderstand! Zombies can be a great tool for story!

However, the zombie fad that has taken over my generation is simply disconcerting. When arriving for my freshmen year of college, our initiation speech was zombie themed.

“You guys love zombies, right? So we’ve made a list of zombie related college facts!”

Or something like that. To be honest, they had already lost my attention at that point. But it caused me to ask the question: Why does my generation love zombies so much? And what drives us to want more of the genre?

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

I’m sorry to say that our sinful nature just might get a kick out of it. Our bodies are sacred, and are to be treated with respect. What does that say then, when we decide to show an audience a mass of walking corpses? I think zombies give a unique kind of shock value that can be great for story telling, but there comes a point to where our generation just loves the death.

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We feel the deadness on the inside, so seeing it on the big screen just helps us give in to it. More blood, more guts, more terror, more anguish. Let’s just all embrace what we are without salvation. It’s not satisfying though, which is why the zombie fad will die out some day. It will be replaced with something that has an equal amount of constantly wasted potential.

This is something that I believe Christians should put a considerable amount of effort in to understand.

The next time you watch a movie, study your emotions. Think about what the desired emotion was from the director, and think about what you actually felt. Try and discover why you felt that way, because the answer isn’t always God honoring.

Ask yourself the hard questions, and see sin where it lies in wait. The devil is always wanting a door in. Always wanting another numbing agent to use. The sad part is that we supply those in abundance.

They are not more powerful than truth, however. No matter what kind of weapon sin manifests itself as, it will never win over God’s Word.

Watch movies, but do so with a Christ-like attitude. Seek for understanding, because there is always more going on than you would ever believe.

Romans 6:23 (ESV)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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2 thoughts on “Celebrating Death in Film

  1. You are so right. I don’t remember which movie, but years ago I was at a theater and at the end, the “good guy” had the”bad guy” pinned up against a wall with his car. You could tell the “good guy” was deciding whether or not to crush the other guy to death. People in the theater were yelling “kill him! Kill him!” Over and over. It was shocking. Scary, to be in a room full of people like that.
    The screen cut to black and the movie was over. Today, it would probably closer with a slow motion death scene from many angles. Sick. Sad. But probably too true.

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  2. Lots to take in here. I especially like your second two points; it does seem like our culture has a preoccupation with seeing humanity in fiction pushed to darker and darker corners simply to see what they’ll do (Walking Dead being a prime example).
    As for Jurassic World, I can see where so much grief can be found from the devaluing of humans and the exaltation of the dinosaurs as the victims/victors of the story. The Jurassic franchise seems to hinge on a single idea: when man plays god, carnage ensues; when the creation is elevated above the creator, nature is the vehicle of judgment upon the usurpers. A formula almost comparable to Age of Ultron, but I guess that’s another story altogether.
    All in all, a great many thoughts to think about.

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