When I watch characters on screen that I deem entertaining or likeable being tortured or persecuted, I cringe. I can’t help but root for the protagonist on most occasions, even when my better judgment begs the question, “who cares?”. Usually, I want them to live; I want them to get some sort of retribution against their aggressor. I wanted this at the resolution of HOSTEL, so much so that I disregarded all its ridiculous coincidences and poor storytelling. When I saw our hero slice off his friend’s torturer’s fingers with a scalpel, I beamed with satisfaction. I leaned back in my chair with a smug look on my face and thought mmm, good, all is well. Movies always seem to push their audience towards expecting and hoping for these types of situations to play out. To us, the protagonist can do no wrong. This isn’t simply the case in torture flicks and monster movies, it applies to most movie categories, even holiday family comedies.
That’s right, my attitude as it pertains to protagonist force in films was cultivated by the highest grossing holiday family comedy of all time,
In STRAW DOGS, David Sumner creates a situation in which a few men, who, at the time, mean him no true harm, would be turned into trespassers inside his home. In protecting his home, he devises several sadistic tactics to maim his oppressors. With a pleasant, albeit slightly insane, smirk, David displays the violent and cruel nature of man. The movie’s end isn’t as triumphant as
It is obvious where the movie is heading from the start. David’s avoidance of confrontation with the men who have asserted their dominance over his home builds to a point where there must be direct confrontation. His inability to take action with words or lawful intervention against the hooligans and possibly prevent their transgressions against his home allows for creation of his final situation.
The argument behind this movie is that David does not truly prove his manhood, because his ideas of what it takes to be a man are skewed and primitive. However, humans are primitive creatures at heart and dominance in the mastery of violence will always correlate to masculinity. At least a manly David Sumner is a character we can get behind. His outbursts of outrageous, cruel, and unnecessary violence in the final scenes of the film do not deflect the empathy of the audience. He is the kid who has to prove himself against the bullies, just as much as Kevin McCallister. Both have fairly infantile views on adult responsibility, but it’s their situation as an underdog and emphatic dominance displayed in the face of greater size and years that earns them our kudos.
Such an emergent fury in the face of adversity also comes into play at the climatic end of
Eastwood practically trademarked the master of violence character in the Leone trilogy and in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. He never misses his mark. He deals death and pain to those in his way, yet he is once again portraying the champion. In DRIFTER, he shoots down three men who are harassing him. His actions are not a question of self-defense and they rarely are. He takes everything these men are and everything they will ever be from them and he does not look back.
How can we cheer for a man like that? Well, it is because he has been established as our central character, his opponents are scummy, and he carries out his actions like an ace. Apply the same formula to the Culkin character in
Many of the films we watch make comments about how we watch violent media. FUNNY GAMES seems to say that what the audience wants is for the charismatic characters to prevail and for the prolongation of violent scenes. As illogical as the boy’s acts are in the end of
Soon after Kevin’s family abandons him for France, he is plopped in front of the television watching a VHS of a fictional gangster flick 'Angels with Filthy Souls'. After a scene of bloodshed, Kevin seemes scared and pauses the film. However, he could not have been that bothered by it for he utilizes it cleverly and effectively to scare off burglars and an unsuspecting pizza guy - rather unnecessarily. He used the gruff film dialogue to give the appearance of tough grown ups living in the house, which makes sense in terms of the Bandits because it momentarily makes them apprehensive about breaking in to the house. The pizza guy was an innocent victim, Kevin had no reason to not buy directly from him, and he paid him accordingly. The little boy simply gets his jollies tormenting people and because he enjoys it; we enjoy it, too. He uses the television as a weapon just as the creators of VIDEODROME do. They use the allure of violent media to hurt those that they deem to be weak members of society because they watch it. Watching the enticingly illicit images of VIDEODROME turn the film’s protagonist into an assassin.
The same is argued about violent media today. Many think that watching such things can cause us to commit the deeds carried about within them. As an American child, Kevin McCallister’s interests already lie within the realm of violence when left with no parental restrictions. He picks out a movie that was deemed too violent for him to watch by his parents and he watches it, he is then driven towards playing with his brother’s pellet gun. When using the violent film’s context to scare away visitors, Kevin is shown emulating its brutal villain. Later on, he continues to reflect the antagonist by gunning down and repeatedly berating his attackers. The violent film obviously had some effect on how the boy thinks it is appropriate to conduct one’s self, specifically while in potential danger. It does not quite turn him into an assassin, but it makes him dangerous and prone to violence at an alarmingly young age.