Friday 23 March 2012

"I am to provide the public with beneficial shocks."- Alfred Hitchcock

Can films shock us into liking them?

            It is a thought that occurred after having seen two movies recently that left me completely shaken.

           The first was American History X, which is a film outpouring with hate, of the worst kind. It is sickening to think that actual people exist who are capable of so much unnecessary and inhumane hatred. Edward Norton's performance itself sends chills down one's spine. There are a few truly shocking moments in this film. I would like to talk about one in particular, which is the ending. I for one, am not the biggest fan of it. I think its main purpose, if not the sole one, is to shock us so much that we can't forget it. But is that the same as liking it? After reading another blogger's review of the film did I find any meaning in it. Otherwise I thought it was a good cinematic trick to make one remember the movie through the shock, and then maybe also because it follows the path of some truly great movies that have ended in a similar way.

          The second film that I saw was Saving Private Ryan. This too is a very violent film, and even though we can never truly understand what war feels like just by watching it, we are completely stunned and horrified by it nonetheless. The film is so ruthless and hard-hitting in this aspect, that the actual story sort of faded in comparison. It is only after I had started to recover from all of that, did the story began to sink in. And then just thinking about it, the whole mission shown in the film seemed futile to me. I don't think any good came out of it, even for the ones who survived. But then it is the shock element that saved the film for me and I got why it was so important. The truth is that there never is a logical or well thought-out reason for wars where so many men die and kill each other. But they do happen, and in the horror of it all people are so shaken and benumbed, that they do whatever they are told and don't really consider the reasons behind it. It is that alarming and terrifying a place to be and in this way I think the film gets us as close to real wars as films can possible get.

          Now this was one kind of shock that films provide us with, which are fortunately unknown to most of us in real life. The other kind that I will talk about is a whole another ball game. Okay so I am nineteen years old, as you may or may not know. The main bulk of the better movies that I have seen in my life have been watched within the last four or five years. Basically it was most of my teenage, which is considered by many as the "formative" years of a person's life. At the risk of sounding like a loser valedictorian in a terrible high school movie, these were the years when I basically found my voice and formed my ideas and thoughts and personality and whatnot. And since films play such a huge part in my life, they were crucial during this whole process too. So when a relatively prudish sixteen year old watches A Clockwork Orange for the first time, it is quite shocking a film to take it all in. Yes this film too is violent, or rather a bit "ultraviolent", but it honestly was all the nudity that astonished me. I did like the film immediately, but in retrospect I think a big reason for that was probably that I thought it was cool to like something this shocking. I think many a times, especially while growing up, we say that we like something because it is cool and bold and mad. It was only after I read the book and then watched it again that I truly loved it for all it was. 

          I guess I can club this experience with another film, one that I saw after some time, that is The Dreamers. This film had such an outrageous depiction of sexuality that I think I was a even bit scared of it originally. I think everyone must have gone through a phase like this during their adolescence. You may have undergone this phase before me but do keep in mind the huge cultural gap I have with most of you reading this. Anyways, the shocking nature of sex shown in films like these are kind of eye-openers, and I mean that in the cleanest sense. I would even go as far as to say that it helps us accept and understand the world and the kinds of people in it better. We grow up from being people who giggle at things or are "grossed out" by them to those who can perceive things as they are and just move on.

            Of course now both these films are among my absolute favourites.

            For obvious reasons, I will not talk about horror films in this context. But I will talk about the apparent "horror" movie, Antichrist. Now this is prime example, in my opinion, where the filmmaker intends to shock us so much that we may begin to think that we are watching something profound. It is the worst. The last half hour of this film is incredibly agonizing to sit through. Like how I spoke about the "cool" aspect of liking things above, this film feeds on a similar idea of showing something incredibly mundane and confusing that no one comprehends but then it gets accepted as a mind-blowing ballsy work of art, because people are oh so hip and deep. I am not trying to insult anyone who likes this film or their intelligence, but I think this film is one of the many that uses the element of shock to bewilder people into getting things that aren't really there to get.

         So in conclusion of what I hope is a slightly coherent article, I would just like to say that these are a few of my experiences with shocks in movies. If I had to answer my question, I think I would say that films do not necessarily shock us into liking them, but the shocks can almost guarantee a second watch that could lead us to forming better opinions of them, positive or negative. Except Antichrist. Never watching that again.

What do you think?


  1. A very leading question you ask. Sometimes I like shocking movies, sometimes I realise they're just shocking and nothing else. As long as the shock isn't unnecessary, it's fine.

    1. Yeah I agree.
      Thanks for commenting Stevee :)

  2. Great article! I agree about Antichrist completely, I think it's not even a movie just a product put out there to shock people and lure them in. For me the more shocking things than those on screen are the ones that I heard happen on the set occasionally - Von Trier actually had a donkey put to sleep for the purpose of the movie (Manderlay). I'm all for freedom and creativity but something like this should end up with him behind bars.

    1. Thank you!
      Yes that's exactly what I think. Woah... that's really disturbing :S

  3. ahah I'm never watching Antichrist again either, it was NOT enjoyable. It's a very interesting question... from my experience, shock wears out quickly. Using one of your examples, I saw American History X about a year ago, and can no longer remember the ending. So I think that looking back, or looking again, we are able to see beyond the shock factor, and actually know if we like the film or not. But it can definitely influence our opinion at the time, there's no doubt about that.

    Great post Nikhat, I found it through Stevee's -- so glad she linked it!

    1. Me neither man.
      Interesting viewpoint. I agree that a look back helps us see past the shock factor and assess our feelings towards the film better.

      Thanks for reading and commenting :)