The Null Device

The tragedy of Quentin Tarantino

The Independent's Johann Hari on Quentin Tarantino: he has proved his critics right; that the violence in his film is there because, in his opinion, it's "stylish" and "cool":
The moral vision of Reservoir Dogs turns out to have been something well-meaning viewers projected onto it: Tarantino really does think violence is “like, cool.” He has been systematically squandering his cinematic talent ever since – in ways that reflect disturbingly on us, the viewers.
Violence has particular power on film precisely because it involuntarily activates our powers of empathy. We imagine ourselves, as an unthinking reflex, into the agony. This is the most civilising instinct we have: to empathize with suffering strangers. (It competes, of course, with all our more base instincts). Any work of art that denies this sense – that is based on subverting it – will ultimately be sullying. No, I’m not saying it makes people violent. But it does leave the viewer just a millimetre more morally corroded. Laughing at simulated torture – and even cheering it on, as we are encouraged to through all of Tarantino’s later films – leaves a moral muscle just a tiny bit more atrophied.
Tarantino’s films aren’t even sadistic. Sadists take human suffering seriously; that’s why they enjoy it. No: Tarantino is morally empty, seeing a shoot-out as akin to dancing cheek-to-cheek. He sees violence as nothing. Compare his oeuvre to the work of a genuine cinematic sadist – Alfred Hitchcock – and you see the difference. Precisely because Hitchcock enjoyed inflicting pain, the pain is always authentic, and it is never emptied of its own inner horror.

There are 4 comments on "The tragedy of Quentin Tarantino":

Posted by: Niall Thu Aug 27 19:07:48 2009

Wow. I've always held Hari in high regard, but he's now officially my new god. This is EXACTLY how I feel about Tarantino and Tarantino-esque violence in films, and he expresses it better than I ever could have. Bravo.

The only "gory" film I really like is the overlooked Korean tragicomedy "Save The Green Planet" - precisely because the film is about violence and human brutality. Yes, it was gruelling to watch the first time, but that's the point.

The popularity of not just Tarantino but especially "torture porn" films like the Saw and Hostel series show how base we are as a society - not everyone by any means, but a surprisingly large minority. It's little different to those who turned up to watch executions in the not-too-distant past, or gladatorial combat in Roman times. I simply don't understand "violence as entertainment" because I can't deactivate my empathy and I don't want to - it's dangerous. Those who enjoy these sorts of films are detached from the violence and brutality inherent to real life.

Posted by: acb Thu Aug 27 20:20:44 2009

Some are saying that the rise of the "torture porn" genre in the age of Bush's "war on terror" is no coincidence. I.e., we (or at least parts of America) have become a lot more accepting of the idea of brutality.

Posted by: Greg Sun Aug 30 06:24:28 2009

I agree. There's something creepy about the "cool detached tough guy" pose people adopt when claiming to like this stuff. I doubt they'd be so blase about he real thing, if they or a loved one had to endure it.

Posted by: ofoojf Sun Jan 20 23:51:13 2013

You people are idiots. Not a single piece of Tarantinos work shares any thematic or directorial similarities to the likes of "Hostel" and "Saw". To try and claim such is preposterous, and would suggest you have most likely seen neither of these idiotic horror flicks, and have had a less than rounded look into Tarantinos work. IF you had in fact done so, I am sure you would find it to be in fact, an incredibly diverse (in style and subject) body of work, that is in many ways, an exploration into modern media/culture/ and popular cinema in general. TL:DR just read that article and it's shit and you can all eat me cus we have conflicting opinions ima go shoot up a school xx