ON what seemed like a never-ending plane journey recently, I passed the time counting the bodies stack up in Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western, Django Unchained.
The unlikely story of a runaway slave turned bounty hunter, is darkly funny, moving even, but I was completely and utterly unmoved by the relentless, gratuitous violence.
It could have been the tiredness, the hours of being cooped up watching film after film, but the violence, which was bloody, spectacular and prolonged, washed over me. I didn’t bat an eyelid. Now, this might have been down to the fact that I knew what to expect – Tarantino movies are all about guns and revenge – some more so than others.
Or, it could have been because it didn’t register; the violence was off the scale. It was so extreme, so casual, so far removed from reality, that I didn’t think anything of it.
Perhaps that’s what happened to Jim Carrey while he was filming the new Kick-Ass 2 movie. Only now he’s started to think about it. This week, the actor took the highly unusual step of publicly declaring that he didn’t want to be associated with a film in which he’s the big star, because it’s too violent. Carrey, a long-time supporter of gun control, took to Twitter: “I did Kickass a month b4 Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence.” He added: “My apologies to others involved with the film. I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart.”
It’s difficult to argue with something as sensitive as a school shooting but Mark Millar, the creator of the Kick-Ass comic books and the film’s executive producer, said he was “baffled” by Carrey’s decision.
And you can understand why. Carrey certainly should have known what to expect. Its predecessor, the hugely successful Kick-Ass, was pretty violent – and so it appears is the sequel. The story of a high school student and comic book fan who decides to become a superhero, was always going to have to, well…kick ass.
For Carrey to reject the film 18 months down the line must be a huge blow. On his website Millar wrote: “… like Jim, I’m horrified by real-life violence (even though I’m Scottish), but Kick-Ass 2 isn’t a documentary.”
And he’s right. The Kick-Ass movies aren’t documentaries. They’re comics which have been brought to life; the violence is outlandish and cartoonish. But Carrey has a point. It’s as though we’ve all become so inured to violence – comedic or otherwise – it takes something like Sandy Hook to make us take stock.
And Sandy Hook has certainly done that. Last December, after gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six teachers at their Connecticut primary school, the shocking events sparked a bitter debate in the US over restricting access to firearms.
The row is still far from settled. But that is real life, something the film industry is not all that concerned about.
In fact, Hollywood isn’t keen on discussing how it glamorises violence. Earlier this year, Tarantino exploded when he was asked why he enjoys making such violent films. The director is convinced there is no link between violence on-screen and the tragic events in places like Sandy Hook, or Colorado, where gunman James Holmes apparently influenced by The Joker from Batman, opened fire on 12 people in a cinema. In an uncomfortable sign that movie executives are sensitive to public opinion, scenes were hastily cut from another film following Colorado, and the US premier of Django Unchained was cancelled in the aftermath of Sandy Hook.
But if it’s difficult for directors to explain away the impact graphic movie violence may or may not have, it must be even tougher for the actors, who presumably want to keep on working. Which is why Jim Carrey has done a brave thing. There are certainly questions about the large pay cheque he must have received and perhaps his judgment, but it seems he’s said what he has for all the right reasons.
Movie violence has become increasingly unrealistic and “fun” and we’re in danger of consuming it without a second thought. Murder and torture should be shocking. When they’re not, we normalise violence and devalue its impact. That’s never okay.