Intolerable Material Part 1

The Killer Inside Me [DVD]

I went and saw the film The Killer Inside Me’ during the week. It had received a very good review in The Age and, being one of those people who struggles to make up his own mind, I took that as a good enough reason to go see the film. I think I was also curious about the fact that it was an ‘old’ novel; set in the USA of the nineteen-fifties. It’s not often you a see a period-piece of this nature. 

Specifically, the film is about a deputy sherriff in a small town who is a sociopath. He begins an illicit affair with a prostitute that unlocks the killer of the title. The Age review, while very positive, highlighted the intense brutality which Michael Winterbottom, the film’s director, had transferred to the screen.

I can understand why the novel made such an impact in the early fifties; it attempts to plot the mechanisms that drive a serial killer’s psyche. I suspect Thompson drew the details from crimes he had read about. His diagnosis is old-hat by this point in culture, however, and the whole thing came across as a muddy portrait of pathology obscured by the obligatory, yet crude twists-and-turns of a crime thriller.

What really stood out, however, was the violence. There is a scene in which the crazy protagonist, Lou Ford, beats his girlfriend to death. Punches her to death. Aside from the fact that it was all a bit ridiculous (as it will appear to anyone who has ever given – and taken – a few punches themselves), it was calibrated to be as gruesome as possible.

I am a big believer in realistic depictions of violence in art, for reasons I will go into in a later post. However, if there’s one thing I am sick to death of, it’s violence as pornography.

One of the most disappointing films of recent years was Irreversible. How foreign filmmakers get away with this shit is beyond me, really, and just shows the kind of ignorance that informs the average ‘art house’ viewers’ palate. If that had been an American Film, it would have been panned – brutally. I’m sure people know the story; if not, it won’t take much googling to find out. Paradoxically, the most ‘impressive’ parts of the film were the murder and the rape scene. Actually, the rape scene becomes a bit ridiculous and I felt pushed out of it by the excesses of the moron behind the camera. However, the scene where Vincent Cassel’s character beats another man to death with a fire extinguisher was brutal. The guy’s face actually caves in. This was a very powerful metaphor; Cassel essentially smashes his victim’s humanity off the front of his head.

I didn’t think much about Irreversible afterwards, but this particular scene in Winterbottom’s film was so strongly redolent, it returned to me like the reflux of a dodgy meal.

Certainly, depictions of the extremes of experience are possibly the most important function of art; as Nietzche says, it allows us to face things that in real life, we’d have to run away from. I believe in films like Salo and Straw Dogs: they take us into the psychological realities of horrors that plague us culturally and historically. What I’m really fucking over, though, is the exploitation of violence purely to induce a psychological sensation in an over-stimulated audience (of which I am a reluctant part). And these stories, such as Killer Inside Me and Irreversible are poorly constructed scaffolds that support no other altar than sensationalism.

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