Animal, Salar and… Why We like Violent Movies

The recent box office success of two movies, Animal and Salar, indicates that we, as an audience, have started liking violent films. There is so much applause when the protagonist uses a machine gun to kill thousands of people or enjoys his blood-stained hands that many sociologists find it challenging to consume the idea that Indian society still runs on the values of co-habitation and peace in life. Why do people like violent movies? Are we going to see more violent and gory films in future? What impact does it have on the audience? Is there no escape from such kind of entertainment? Violence is an expression of physical force against one or more people, compelling action against one’s will on pain of being hurt- that’s what is written in Wikipedia!

Violence is a means of control. In the movie ‘Joker,’ when Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) gets a gun, he dislikes it initially but subsequently receives a sense of power. The character struggles with severe depression personally but finds some form of optimism in performing for others. While chased by three drunken fellows on the subway, Arthur fights back in self-defence. Arthur then pulls up the gun and shoots two of them dead before following the third guy out of the train and murdering him on the staircase. Then, he feels liberated and laughs aloud. So violence gives him power and liberates the inner dogma. The same is seen in the movie ‘Animal’, where violence releases inner anger and frustrations. Violence expresses love for a father (Animal) or friend (Salar). So violence is an extreme form of self-control that helps in overcoming powerlessness. Most of the serial killers and psychic killers felt undervalued in life and turned violent.

However, we also know that being violent is like breaking the rules. So we prefer to fantasize about the same on-screen and identify ourselves with the protagonist who fights against injustice or takes revenge for a personal wrong. This is one kind of wish fulfilment that gets an immediate connection. The common belief inside the theatre and outside is about the protagonist being right in behaving the extreme way he acts. When we see the father being sprayed with bullets, the son wants to take revenge, and the audience also feels that revenge is the only solution. This has nothing to do with a nation’s culture, as we don’t like murderous culture in a civilized society.

The repression theory posits that since we are part of a repressed culture where many of us feel repressed and controlled by the social and legal system, we often feel isolated and victimized. So when we see a person on screen who is more like us, repressed, brutalized and being made powerless- as a rebuke, he revolts and takes the law into his hands and gains back the power through violent methods. Dramatization and fictional aspects play a significant role in triggering the intended violent behaviour among the audience, which gets released through the action of the character on the screen. So, if fiction is created with actors, melodrama and high-octane music only elevate the sense of violence among the audience. The actors use lots of syrup that is made to look like blood, and such violent scenes allow us to get entertained without the fear of being judged by others.

Violence is a scale and not an absolute act that can be classified as violence. From a foul in a body sport like football, which causes not much injury to Ranbir Kapoor, picking up the machine gun and killing all the masked men (maybe hundreds of them in numbers in identical designs like robots) can be terms as violent. So it can be very tame to something gory and disturbing. From the commoner’s understanding, violence means gore and extreme cases, as seen in films. We need to understand what drives people to be violent in cinema. A conflict (for land, parents and family, girlfriend) drives them until things get resolved. Such conflicting situations result in lots of running around, chasing, yelling and often fighting, including killing (individual/mass) until the conflict is resolved. The adrenaline rush is purely to resolve the dispute and bring a balance between assertive and powerless and sometimes transfer of power and ownership of the purpose.

Is liking violence more gender specific? This is partially true as we have seen many female revenge movies where the protagonist takes revenge for atrocities upon them or their family. However, being male, aggressive and with potentially lesser empathy, the male gender is more prone to enjoy violence in movies. There are other personality elements like extroverts who seek excitement, are more positive about aesthetic experiences, and are more likely to enjoy violence in films.

Why do people watch films like Animal or Salar or Kabir Singh? What is that attractive that people like such movies? It is found that people who are more attracted towards violent films are also more likely to be affected by such movies. They become more aggressive. Now, here is the worry that such violent films negatively impact teenagers and adolescents. The research on the ‘appeal’ of such movies has got far less attention than their ‘effect’. We can classify the reasons for the appeal of violent movies into three categories: (1) person-based, (2) social and (3) experiential explanations. Person-based explanations are natural as people respond- I like violence. Such responses are based on personality types.

The two essential characteristics include sensation seeking and trait aggression. Sensation seeking is a tendency to seek varied, new, complex, intense sensations and a willingness to take risks to have such experiences. Sensation seeking is about individuals who have a high need for arousal and consume violent entertainment as a way to satisfy that need. Violent entertainment is more prevalent among male adolescents.

Trait aggression is a tendency to react in a hostile and aggressive way. This also involves a preference for violent entertainment. Individuals with a more aggressive tendency find such entertainment more meaningful as it helps them to rationalize their violent behaviour. More aggressive individuals may feel more familiar with violent personas and scenarios, making violence-based entertainment more relevant and attractive.

Experiential explanation posits that media consumption is not an individual activity. It is embedded within a larger social context. Friends, parents and society at large can have a substantial direct and indirect influence on entertainment individuals’ exposure. This leads to three explanations for why people consume violent entertainment.

  • The me-too effect, where people consume violent entertainment because their peer group does so. This is very common among teens and adolescents, where conformity to peers is essential for the person’s behaviour. It also offers adolescents opportunities for social interaction and showing off their skills in competition.
  • The second explanation is ‘forbidden fruit effect’. Parents often protect their children from exposure to violent entertainment by restricting access to it. Such restrictions result in the exact opposite effect. Restrictions on violent entertainment often make the same appealing.
  • The third social explanation is rooted in gender roles. Society influences violent entertainment use through a process of gender-role socialization. Generally, men are expected and accepted to be more aggressive than womenfolk. By exploring violent entertainment, the boys distinguish themselves from women.

Experiential explanations are situations when individuals may seek out violent entertainment because they like the experience. Violent entertainment builds two types of experiences that are pleasurable and rewarding: excitement transfer and vicarious aggression. Dolf Zillman has proposed the excitement-transfer theory, which suggests that violent entertainment can evoke strong emotions in viewers and players. These emotions are accompanied by arousal, which can carry over onto and strengthen subsequent emotions. Violent movies and games are fast-paced and action-paced and placed within adventurous contexts. Future research should disentangle the liking of violence, action and adventure in entertainment. This will help us to understand the rationality behind people consuming violent entertainment.

Is violence in entertainment justified? Well, we will explore this in the next episode. Is there a specific situation in which it is justified to watch violent movies? We need to find answers.


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1 Comment
  1. Rituparna says

    This discussion on cinematic violence delves into our innate attraction to it. The repression theory suggests we seek empowerment through characters who defy norms, while experiential explanations highlight social influences on our media choices. Beneath it all lies a deep human desire for control and significance in a complex world. As we navigate media saturation, reflecting on our consumption patterns becomes crucial, prompting us to consider their impact on empathy and ethical boundaries. Ultimately, this discourse urges introspection into the interplay of art, society, and individual psychology.
    This insightful exploration into cinematic violence showcases a keen understanding of societal dynamics. Looking ahead, it illuminates a promising path for future research, fostering greater empathy and ethical awareness in media consumption patterns.

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