“So help me God, I thought it was a ‘doggy-dog’ world.”
Year of the Dragon (1985)
The Untouchables (1987)
Everybody hurts after the trailers.
As I said at the start of this thing, the movies I highlight here are not necessarily my all-time favorites. They’re just a selected few which made sense in pairs to illuminate some aspect of my character.
I remember watching these two movies in high school, during sleepovers at friends’ houses, on rented VHS tapes. (Remember those?) I remember we thought we were getting away with something, because we tended to pick R-rated movies—i.e., films we might not have been able to get into a theatre to see—and our parents, all first-generation immigrants, didn’t know enough about American popular culture to realize a bunch of teenage boys probably shouldn’t be watching Nine 1/2 Weeks. (True story. We were not impressed, as it turns out.)
The trailer for Year of the Dragon ends with my favorite quotation from the film, but the scene that sticks with me the most is the gang initiation, when one young Chinese man chases another up against a chain-link fence and then shoots him at point blank range with a handgun, killing him. It’s presented in a series of bloody close-ups, and that closeness makes it more personal and gruesome than any of the big action set pieces in the film.
Similarly, the baseball bat scene in The Untouchables stuck with me, not least because it was the bloodiest thing I’d seen in any movie up to that point. It was also the way the characters reacted to the violence, capping the tension that had been building since the start of the film: it’s the moment in the film when Capone’s mask comes off, as it were, and we see how insidious his villainy truly is.
And that brings us to Joss Whedon.
Astute readers will notice that the second link at the top of this blog post goes to an R.E.M. music video, which I think of as the “Earshot” music video. “Earshot” was my first real introduction to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show which changed my life.
In a 2001 interview (pre-9/11) with The A.V. Club, Whedon had this to say about his “responsibility to society:”
People say, “After Columbine, do you feel a responsibility about the way you portray violence?” And I’m like, “No, I felt a responsibility about the way I portrayed violence the first time I picked up a pen.”
My debut novel is coming out next summer. It’s a science fiction spy thriller, set against the backdrop of a recent interplanetary war, seasoned with a fair amount of pseudo-military foofaraw. But when the publisher asked me for cover ideas, one of the few things I requested was to NOT show any firearms or obvious weapons.
There are story reasons for that, but I also personally don’t want to glorify or glamorize those objects, which are already fetishized by plenty of other media. Yes, guns look cool; yes, they make the people who wield them feel powerful. Those are lies. I’m not afraid of people who have guns. I’m afraid of the people who have the power to make the people with guns want to shoot each other.