Friday, May 6, 2011

Fiction versus reality aka Playing dead

Much has been written and said about the death of Osama bin Laden in the last couple of days. I am not here to expound any personal view but what I find interesting as a screenwriter is the stark difference between fictional violence and the real version.

Rarely do you see in movies the moral complexities and the arguments that now circle the Obama administration. Was it legal? Was it an execution? A state sanctioned assassination? Should bin Laden have faced trial? Should pictures of his body be released. Should he have been buried at sea? Ad infinitum.

In the movies the body count can be as outrageous as you like in the name of entertainment. After all, they’re not ‘people’ just character names on the page, extras on a casting call. You ‘kill’ the bad guy. The hero dispenses ‘justice’ with a wisecrack. The ‘white hats’ win, the ‘black hats’ lose. Next! Last year’s truly execrable The Expendables was a notable example of this.

It’s easy as a writer to slip into trivialising how hard it is to kill another human being and how devastating the act is, no matter who that person might be. All for the sake of drama and excitement.

One of my all-time favourite lines of dialogue is from Clint Eastwood’s elegiac Unforgiven, a movie that DID deconstruct the mythology of violence: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.

Ain’t that the truth! Yet big summer blockbusters would largely have you believe it’s no big deal. Bang! Pass the popcorn. Sure, I know it’s make believe but the contrast is telling when the real deal is broadcast to the world in high definition with a strident soundtrack of ‘expert’ commentary.

So next time I “pull the trigger” in a scene I’m going to pause and think about what it truly means instead of enacting a mere plot point…

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