God and Film, Pt 6: Violence in Movies – Contrasting Kill Bill and Fight Club

Many action movies elevate violence, for the sake of violence.  Let’s take Quentin Tarintino’s  blood-soaked , joy-ride Kill Bill vol 1, which was at the time, hailed as the bloodiest film ever released by an American film studio.  The opening scene begins with the old Klingon proverb: “Revenge is a dish best served cold”, which sets the stage for an intense journey of

Kill Bill, Vol 1.

The Bride (Uma Thurman) seeking revenge on her former boss Bill (David Carradine), who slaughtered everyone in her wedding party on the day of her wedding.  It’s a cold, brutal and stylistically brilliant movie.  Yet, because we know that cinema, for the believer, is not primarily for entertainment, but an opportunity to understand what worldview is being communicated by our culture, we must look past the “beautiful dance, complete with dozens of severed arms and blood spewing arteries.”[1]  We know that Tarintino has a distinct worldview regarding violence and revenge and the necessity of it when he states: “Violence is one of the most fun things to watch. Sure, Kill Bill’s a violent movie. But it’s a Tarantino movie.”[2]  Tarintino in his nihilistic, exhistential view of the world doesn’t believe there’s anything more important than moving from one aesthetic experience to the next, and this movie elevates violence for violence’s sake.  Think 70’s throwback to B-quality Kung-Fu movies with a vile drive to demythologize death by making the most creatively bloody ways to die.  This film, for all its style has no substance and is does not benefit it’s viewer in the least.

To contrast one gritty, violent movie for another, let’s take a look at the cult-classic Fight Club.  This is one of the most intense and subtly reflective movies I’ve ever seen.  On the surface, this movie seems to elevate violence as a way of escaping the bleakness of life, however as Brian Godawa reminds us it “is actually a moral fable about the negative consequences of pursuing that line of thinking.”   The film follows Edward Norton on his quest for meaning outside of his cube at work and his Ikea decorated apartment at home.  He’s the epitome of a man who’s bought hook, line and sinker that happiness is found in being ‘made’, some etheral concept of a man who’s attained some type of financial status of comfort and prestige in a busteling world, but feels he has been stripped of his manhood in the process.  Norton wakes up to find himself living from one existential moment to the next, finding no joy in the life he lives.   He was the poster boy for what angered so many young, white males in the financial abundance of the late 90’s, and really of every affluent generation.   He had attained everything and yet had lost his soul to the ‘machine’ of consumerism and corporate America.  As Craig Detweiller writes: “Fight Club dared to take on the near impossible task of being a broad, mass-marketed, movie star driven critique of commercial culture.  How do you tell a commodified, sedated, therapeutic culture that the things you own end up owning you?”[3]  Bret Easton Ellis boldy declared “Fight Club rages against the hypocrisy of a society that continually promises us the impossible: fame, beauty, wealth, immortality, life without pain.”[4]  As Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) screams at the self-aware and insecure Jack (Norton) “You are not your job, you are not your khakis, you are not what you have in your bank account!”  This movie is sadistic, nihilistic, violent, negative and pro-life.  It’s self-aware of the pointlessness and meaningless of such a consumer-driven lifestyle, but offers no tangible solutions.  It raises serious questions about life, but because the problem is depicted with God as absent, it ultimately has no answer to the pain.  As with all movies of this intensity, caution is warrented:  don’t shoot the messenger. I.e. the movie is the messenger.  This is where most believers wrongly discern cinema – Meaning is just as important as content.  Many believers will choose not to view a movie due to its content, and that’s for each to discern, however we must not always dismiss movies primarily due to their negative content or message, for in them is the picture of Jack, a desperate man crying out from a desperate culture seeking meaning and redemption.  This movie is descriptive not prescriptive and can be used by the discerning viewer to engage in coversation about the meaning of life and pointlessness of finding purpose in the creation, rather than the Creator (Rom. 1).


[1] Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment, Updated and Expanded ed. (n.p.: IVP Books, 2009), pg. 52

[2] Quentin Tarantino

[3] Craig Detweiller and Barry Taylor, A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture (n.p.: Baker House), 171

[4] Craig Detweiller and Barry Taylor, A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture (n.p.: Baker House), 172

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