Batman and A Clockwork Orange: films and violence

I was never going to see The Dark Knight Rising in any case.  At my age and stage, I’m not really into superheroes, and the sort of films that appeal to teenagers and young adults usually leave me cold.  And yet –

Amongst all the tragedies associated with the massacre last weekend in Aurora, Colorado, the future of the Batman franchise seems a trivial matter, but inevitably some discussion has focussed on the relationship between cinematic violence and the real, horrifying thing.

Nobody knows yet what, if anything, motivated this latest in a long line of mass killings.  It probably wouldn’t make sense to the rest of us anyway.  But amongst the collateral damage, a sure-fire box office hit is now a tarnished brand.  In Paris, the distributors cancelled the premiere of The Dark Knight Rising – though only for a day or so.

Meanwhile, here in Australia, where knives and fists are the weapons of choice, not guns, we have been preoccupied with our own outbreaks of violence: a teenager randomly killed when king hit in King’s Cross, incidents of road rage that led to death or injury.  Rage in general.

There have been many thoughtful analyses of the relationship between the massacre and The Dark Knight Rising, such as this post here.

Do violent films normalise violence?  Does they encourage the idea that violence resolves disputes effectively?  Does a Good Superhero conquer an Evil Joker only because he has the biggest and best weaponry?  And is this an argument for censorship?

We’ve been here before, blaming films or books for causing violence, or creating an environment in which violence flourishes.

A Clockwork Orange

In 1962, the English novelist Anthony Burgess published A Clockwork Orange, a controversial novel dealing with gang violence.  The gang and its leader, Alex, beat, slash and rape their way across of an imagined, dystopian world, fueled by drugs – and Beethoven.

In 1971 Stanley Kubrick converted the novel into a film.  A Clockwork Orange was full of stylised violence – a carefully choreographed rape scene, for instance, is filmed against a soundtrack of Singing in the Rain.  Unlike the Batman movies, there were no guns, for Burgess’s vision was based on England, where gun laws are much stricter than in America.

A Clockwork Orange was controversial from the start.  Nothing occurred to rival the Aurora massacre, but during the following months and years, several murders or beatings occurred which were blamed on the film.  In most cases, it was the lawyers, not the criminals, who drew a connection with A Clockwork Orange, but there were some unnerving incidents, such as a gang rape in which the rapists sang Singing in the Rain.

In 1974, Kubrick withdrew A Clockwork Orange from distribution in Britain.  It continued to be shown in other parts of the world, but it was suppressed in the UK until Kubrick’s death in 1999.  Meanwhile Burgess’s book gained notoriety as a result of the film.  According to Wikipedia (so it must be true) the first place to withdraw it from school libraries, in 1976, was Aurora, Colorado.

James Holmes wouldn’t be born for another 11 years.

Stanley Kubrick defended A Clockwork Orange, and by implication, violence in art generally, when he said:

To try and fasten any responsibility on art as the cause of life seems to me to put the case the wrong way around. Art consists of reshaping life but it does not create life, nor cause life.

Kubrick withdrew the film all the same.  Nobody blamed Singing in the Rain.


4 responses to “Batman and A Clockwork Orange: films and violence

  1. I find this whole violence in the media vs violence in the real world argument really interesting. I suppose I had always gone along with the idea that perhaps there was some connection, but then I became friendly with Sue Turnbull (currently Professor of Media/Communication studies or something similar at the University of Woolongong.)
    Sue’s very telling argument is that violence in the media is always supposed to be influencing someone else, not the person doing the commentating. Just think about it.
    I watched Clockwork Orange and found I had to close my eyes through half of it and I was unable to listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the next twenty years (It had been one of my favourites). The impact of the film was not to make me violent but to put me off violent films for life. I have never knowingly attended one since.
    So the question is surely not whether violent films fuel violent behaviour, but why some people are prone to thinking violent behaviour is a good thing and others are not.

  2. I walked out of No Country for Old Men after about 10 minutes, by which stage a deer and a dog had been shot, and the human deaths had barely begun. Yet my husband, who is not at all a violent man, stayed and loved it. Sally, I don’t know. I think Kubrick was partly right, and art copies life rather than the other way around – though he was a bit too self serving as well. It’s all very troubling and I’ve got no clear answers.

  3. Im currently writing an essay for university about violence in films and how this influences the audience to participate in copycat acts of violence in reality. Batman, FightClub, The clockwork Orange, Natural Born Killers and Childs Play are all prime examples of this. I think we have to focus on the kind of personality traits a person has and what makes them susseptible to be influenced so strongly by something ficticious.
    But do ever think that perhaps its not even the film’s violence that influences a person to copy, but it merely acts as a catalyst to push someone mentally unstable over the edge.
    Censorship laws will never work. Because who will have the say on whats too violent, and whats not?
    Such an interesting topic.

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