I feel like a fool for every time I’ve watched Goodfellas or Casino or Scarface. For ever time I’ve alternately anticipated and cringed at the death scenes.
I’ll admit it: I like a bit of violence in my movies. Or at least I used to. Violence seems to me a marker of reality, a reminder of the brutal and dark side of life, that things don’t always work out how they are supposed to. I don’t like narratives that are too rosy. They just don’t seem real to me.
I sense I’m not alone in this. We Americans, we like our violence. We like it as the main course, on the side, as an after dinner drink. In movies and video games and HBO series. We have heroes of all shapes and sizes, but the ones were revere the most are violent and lawless: old West gungslingers, East Coast Mafia bosses, West Coast gangsters. (After all, do kids want to dress up as Buzz Aldrin or JFK or Martin Luther King for Halloween, or do they want to be Al Capone?) Our cultural DNA seems to be laced with it, this unslakable thirst for violence.
But that violence that appeals to us, even though it appears very real onscreen thanks to animation and CGI and whatnot, is not real violence. Therein lies the issue. Onscreen violence – one thug gunning down another in an empty alley – is like most thing Hollywood. It is a watered down version of its real self. It occurs in a vacuum. One shot, one death, and the narrative continues. We can pause it or rewind it or fast forward it if we don’t want to watch.
The reason I’m telling you this is that I saw a shooting on Halloween. I have been wanting to write about it for awhile now, so that it could mean something and not become another fleeting blip in my memory. But the thing is I didn’t know how to write about it in a way that didn’t sound crazy or clichéd or overly sentimental. Because I think that in movies and on the news and in the paper, that is what violence becomes. It exists in one scene – bang! The bad guy is blown up and how cool was that and we move on -- or one story – innocent 8-year-old bystander killed in drive-by shooting, isn’t that tragic and someone should really do something about that, and we move on. Either way, we get enough of a taste to satisfy the craving. There is no fallout; there is no repercussion.
But in violence, in real violence, there is always repercussion, an uncontrollable rippling outward, the reciprocal arc of the boomerang. For the people that live in violence, it will always come back around. And in these moments it is not just a taste, it is a noise, the scent of sulfur, the momentary slowdown of time, then the speeding back up of time until it devolves into chaos. It is a coldcock straight to the jaw.