Given these comments made by Australian filmmaker Rachel Ward towards Andrew Dominik’s film Killing Them Softly, I feel particularly inclined to respond, least of which because this blog’s first entry was an expression of my own praise for the film.
In opening, Ward states that
I am merely bored by yet another tedious gangster movie that thinks it has something new to say that we didn’t get in the first five minutes, (yes the irony of Obama’s messages of HOPE to his desensitised, alienated, “couldn’t give a fuck” countrymen. Got it.) and loathing the characters and wondering in how many films Brad can wear long side levers and chew on matchsticks before the game is up.
Unsurprisingly, I disagree.
Yes the opening five minutes are a reflection of the overall themes of the film, but to dismiss that the rest of the film has nothing to add to the story is a terrible injustice to cinema.
As I outlined in my previous blog posting, this film is much more of a film designed to build an honest world and to show these characters inhabiting environments of their own design.
By design it is highly apparent that this film takes away all the layers of artifice from other gangster films. There is no romanticism here. Nothing that would inspire ‘your 19 year old son’ to think that this is OK. This world is filthy, disgusting and seems to be inline with the realities of the criminal underworld.
Even the final scene of the film is designed to reveal a level of absurdity, where Brad Pitt’s character Jackie Cogan (spoiler alert) has killed three people in the film and his renumeration is a lousy thirty grand. It’s beyond debate that the focus of this film is trying to rip the bandaid from the audience’s eyes and show them how shitty a situation this world is.
Of course Dominik will protest that that is his “art”, to show how men – base, desensitised, traumatised, uneducated, drug and drink addled men – speak and think of women.
Exactly. But these ideas of art go beyond a basic exploitation, but are used to contrast the realities of these characters loneliness and lack of any meaningful relationships with women.
I don’t really want to spend any time with the viewer who thinks Ben Mendelsohn’s dog stealing, junkie character Russell would be a fun bloke to have around.
It interests me considering the recent Australian political climate, how overreaching the ideas of misogyny have become. As a recently married man, I’ve spoken at length with my wife as to my frustrations regarding how impossible it is for a man to defend any response to being labelled a misogynist. In a dramatic instance of damned if you do and damned if you don’t Dominik has attempted to engage this debate through one of the most effective and powerful mediums available - art.
I agree that in most contexts, this dialogue is deplorable and should be called out for its lack of thought. However using art to discuss these issues is the perfect forum for this to happen. Stemming back to Geoffrey Chaucer who used his own works of art to criticise the status quo, it is important for a society to make the distinction between a work and the creator of such a work; and perhaps move beyond a simple reaction towards an artwork into questioning why the audience has responded in such a way.
I believe that film needn’t be watered down for the sake of political correctness as it risks losing its bite and leaving us with a boring movie. Instead we should continue to make movies push us, find out what offends us then force us to ask why.
Some films are intended only for male audiences and it’s important we have them. Fight Club remains the seminal cult classic of its day as it reminds us that men physiologically need a release from the monotony of modern culture, where the aggression and physicality that served us so well in the hunter/gatherer world has been largely castrated. Sport and gyms will always serve a need but films, and more broadly art, play an important role in satiating the mind.
Violent films do not cause violence any more than misogynistic films cause misogyny. We live in the least violent period of human history than ever before and similarly misogyny is probably less popular today than it has ever been.
Let’s keep our art free to challenge these ideas by contrasting them against themselves.
The strong ideas can take it.
The weak won’t.