WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE NEW DiCAPRIO MOVIE, THE REVENANT.
I've just now watched The Revenant. It's a movie that could easily be described as awesome along with a whole other bunch of adjectives at what is one of the best movies I've seen in a very long time.
After suffering the kind of survivalist hardship and emotional grief that would reduce Bear Grylls to a gibbering, incontinent wreck DiCaprio's character Hugh Glass confronts his nemesis Fitzgerald played by Tom Hardy. After a vicious fight in the snow Glass gets the upper hand but decides to "let God" take revenge and lets Fitzgerald float downstream to a band of Indians one of whom then takes a blade to Fitzgerald and kills him.
Now...this is not a review of the movie. It's not a critique of the acting and it's not an attempt to relate the plot (hence the fast forward to the end). This blog is being written because of something very unusual that I felt as Tom Hardy's character breathes his last. Off camera we see DiCaprio's face and hear Hardy screaming in pain as he is stabbed. It's not instantaneous and he is clearly in agony as he dies. Part of me always believed that bad guys should get what they deserve but in his anguished wailing I felt something very different rising within my emotions. Far from enjoying what I was seeing I felt uncomfortable and mildly upset. No matter how much of a cunt this character was (and he is up there with the biggest of cunts you will ever find) he was terrified and hurting and I simply didn't like it.
To set the scene.
In movies, comics and TV shows both when I was a kid and as I grew up, the characters who were bad characters died in the name of righteousness. They might die horribly, they might die slowly but they always died because they deserved it. In one episode of 2000AD comic's Judge Dredd, a water purification worker who had poisoned the city's supply and killed many people, died and was on his way to the afterlife when something brought him back. He'd unfortunately (for him) already gone through a process called Resyk, where the human body's useful bits are harvested for usage (after all, Mega City 1 is a city in the middle of a nuclear desert). His teeth have all been pulled out as he was legally dead and once Judge Dredd figures out what the guy did, he punches him in the mouth, watches him bleed in agony on the floor, and then shoots him dead. Moral = You can't escape justice even in death. Sometimes you have to come back so Judge Dredd can give you a smack and THEN you can die.
Even at the time this seemed unpleasant and I couldn't figure out why.
Going further back in time there was a children's story for little kids written by the superb author Enid Blyton. The story was one of her shorter ones and concerned a box of children's toys who were very excited one night when some new toys joined them. After the children went to sleep they eagerly got together to see who had joined them in little Timmy's toy box. Unfortunately one of the toys was a model of a King who immediately demanded that the other toys bow to him, show respect and generally treat him as royalty. He becomes detested very quickly as he bullies anyone not showing what he deems to be the correct etiquette and the only thing the distraught toys can turn to is a nurse doll. She cuddles them, tells them everything will be OK and even makes a sailor doll a new hat after he comes to her in tears to say the king pushed his other one into a mouse hole after he forgot to bow.
Alienated and ignored the King doll gets very angry and decides to teach them all a lesson for being mean to him. Jumping out to give them a scare he lands straight in a tub of water and gets soaking wet. The other toys all laugh at him. His reaction is to burst into tears as he's humiliated and wet and cold. As he weeps and no one helps him I remember thinking "Good, you deserved that!" But then we had the rather superb twist.
The nurse doll appears, angry with the other toys for being so horrible. She takes the King out of the bath, dries him off and as he's caught a cold due to getting wet she puts him to bed and looks after him. As I recall, he even forgot his protocol by asking for a kiss goodnight, regressing to the level of a child in need of affection. This incident cured his haughtiness and arrogance and he then became likeable and all the toys lived happily ever after, even making the nurse doll a crown as she was their "queen" .
Thing is, this only struck a chord because of the addition of the kindness at the end. Had the story ended with the King floundering in the water I'd have been satisfied. Instead this tale finished with a show of compassion from a genuinely nice "person" to someone who really didn't deserve any.
What it taught me at about age 7 or 8, was that everyone needs affection and taking the piss out of someone who's helpless and humiliated isn't necessarily everyone's cup of tea.
To illustrate further...
Being bullied at school I grew up with a love of violent films, especially horror films. All that repressed aggression needed an outlet. I was also bullied at home and to some extent by the peers of my parents (the wretched, menopausal thing from THIS story being the prime example). I looked at latex mayhem with fake red blood and pig intestines getting chucked around (Italian zombie film directors were called Gut Slingers....Oh how we laughed!) and it fulfilled a need. It put a fuse on my anger (which was only ever internalised anyway, bar a few kicks at the furniture or a very rare swear word) and helped purge my feelings. Problem was that if you watch someone die in Friday the 13th part VII, they are one dimensional; have done something to deserve it within the rules of Hollywood deaths; they die relatively quickly; and most importantly the death is inventive and the special effects done with TLC.
Since time immemorialm from the amphitheatres of
Rome to the Grand
Guignol theatres of France,
the human race have had a fascination with the macabre, the sick and the gory.
Seeing people tortured in public is not possible now unless you go to watch a
public execution in Saudi Arabia,
yet The London Dungeon with its waxwork recreations of pain and suffering make
A LOT of money from tourists.
But I digress.
In cinema and fantasy and theatre and comics and books and stories...the deaths are simply choreography and people die because they deserve it. A movie I loved as a teenager was the Death Wish rip-off The Exterminator. In one scene the vigilante infiltrates a house being used to sell young boys to paedophiles and overpowers the owner. He then manacles him to one of his own mattresses, pours lighter fluid all over him and (while the fat, sweaty paedo begs for mercy) drops lit matches on him and BOY does that fat perv screech as he burns.
I liked this as a kid but about 3 years ago saw the movie again and just thought "Couldn't you have simply shot him?"
In Spartacus there is a scene in the 3rd series that to this day I cannot watch again. After having recaptured four gladiators from the slave rebellion, they are paraded before the Roman nobility at a party. After getting drunk a young general decides he doesn't like the way the slaves are "looking at their betters" and asked the magistrate if they can have one now, and have the others executed in the morning. The magistrate graciously obliges and a random gladiator is taken into the next room, strung up and the posh people take turns cutting bits off him. Each person that comes up is warned "don't cut too deep" in case the guy bleeds out too quickly. After cutting out his tongue, pecs and various other parts of the body, he is finally despatched with a sword through the abdomen.
This was unpleasant beyond belief and really struck a chord on a deep level. I eventually got the answer as to why anyone would do this to someone else. A friend who studies history said "They didn't think of him as human."
Taken would probably have been less of a hit if the deaths were more protracted. When Liam Neeson gets "Marco from Tropoja" in his clutches and tortures him to find out where his kidnapped, 17 year old daughter is, we cut away before we see Marko die from electrocution (which, as a grade A cunt, he thoroughly deserved). We saw Marko cry and plead and beg for his life but we'd also seen the terrible things he did and ultimately we DIDN'T watch him die.
Seeing Tom Hardy in The Revenant scream with pain did nothing except make me feel uncomfortable. There was no jubilation and no sense of peace that the nasty man who I'd been watching for nearly 3 hours had finally been killed.
In my fantasies about defending myself or protecting loved ones there is always that moment when they back down and either ask for mercy or are too much in pain to answer me back. Having worked as a police officer I know that violent offenders very rarely tend to beg forgiveness or show contrition when subdued. Those who resist being arrested will lie, scream, make false accusations, kick, bite and spit (and that's just the women). It's easy to hate them in this state but when they sober up or simply calm down they might cry, become quiet or maybe continue to be a cunt.
Thing is that they still have feelings and even though I don't like them, it is something I don't like to see.
Overall, watching people get hurt holds no pleasure for me if the reality of the fact that they actually have feelings kicks in.
Hitting someone to defend myself is one thing. Actually going to town on them to teach them a lesson is another.
Revenge is something we like to think about where the person who hurt us reacts as we want them to. Seeing someone break down and cry, piss themselves and beg for their mother is the reality of having someone at your mercy. It's not good.
I have temped in offices alongside women who would be practically orgasming while imagining someone on death row that they've never met, suffering as he was led to the gas chamber. They'd never met the convicted killer and had no emotional attachment to the case BUT they felt it was acceptable to get sticky knickers thinking about him suffering. Point was...they couldn't see him and therefore it was a "safe" fantasy as there was no emotional fallout.
"Judge a society not by how it treats its poor people but how it treats its prisoners."
Or how much it gets off on making them suffer.