Why don’t I just start today’s post with an excerpt from The Iliad. I’m almost certain it will prove my point for me.
“With that he hurled and Athena drove the shaft
and it split the archer’s nose between the eyes –
it cracked his glistening teeth, the tough bronze
cut off his tongue at the roots, smashed his jaw
and the point came ripping out beneath his chin.
He pitched from his car, armor clanged against him,
a glimmering blaze of metal dazzling round his back –
the purebreds reared aside, hoofs pawing in the air
and his life and power slipped away on the wind.”
-Homer, The Iliad, Translated by Robert Fagles
Book 5: 321-329
The Iliad is proving to be bloodier than an Eli Roth film, and that’s saying something. It brings up a point that I’ve never really considered before.
By today’s standards, the more blood and gore there is in a movie, the trashier it’s considered to be. To be honest, in most cases I agree with this assessment. I can’t stand films that have buckets of blood and guts. Or, I should say, I can’t stand films that have buckets of blood and guts and no plot.
There are cases where plenty of carnage works to serve the story, and in some cases enhances it. Red Dragon, the prequel to Silence of the Lambs, was one example where the blood and gore served the film well. And who can forget the “hobbling” scene in Misery? There wasn’t even any blood, but audiences around the world were ready to upchuck at the sight. Would Misery have been the same film without that scene? Probably. But you have to admit, it did add a certain something to the movie.
The problem is, people have started grouping the movies (and books, and video games, etc.) with blood and gore and no plot, in with the ones where the blood and guts work to serve the plot. It’s at the point where even a great film can be cast aside as trash because there’s “too much blood.” and the genres they complain about are the very ones that, by their very nature, require a certain amount of bone-crunching carnage to work. When was the last time you saw a war movie without blood, and didn’t leave the theatre thinking the movie was missing something? What about a horror movie?
A few years ago, I played a video game called God of War. The story contained elements of Greek myth. The main character, Kratos, was out to destroy Ares, the God of War. A large portion of the game was spent slicing up enemies with the “Blades of Chaos” (Kratos’ main weapon in the game.) There was also a lot of time spent solving puzzles in order to make it to the next stage of the game. Someone, I won’t say who, saw me playing the game and commented that I was wasting my time playing that trash. If this person had seen me reading The Iliad, I doubt they would have called it trash. But when you think about it, The Iliad is, in a way, source material for God of War. All the Gods are there, all the bloodthirsty violence and rage are there. If anything, God of War might be less trashy than The Iliad, since at least God of War makes you work on puzzles (very challenging ones I might add) in order to get to the end.
Now, I don’t want anyone thinking that I’m calling The Iliad “trashy.” Far from it. I’m just trying to make a point. Were The Iliad not a work of “classic literature,” but a book being published for the first time today, it would be considered trash by today’s standards. Parents would be calling for it to be removed from school libraries, everyone up in arms about how terrible it would be for our children to read such a violent book. But because it’s old, and because it’s a piece of history, (and, I’m sad to say, because few people have actually read it), a parent today who saw their son or daughter reading this book would be blushing with pride.
From what I can tell so far, The Iliad deserves to be considered great literature. To discount it based on the amount of violence contained in its pages would be folly. In the same way, discounting any piece of art, whether it is a movie, book, painting, or video game (and yes, a video game can be art), would be just as foolish. Next time you decide to disregard something because it’s too violent for your tastes, take a closer look. It may be the very thing that enhances that work of art.