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Violence on Film Essay

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The Western stands as one of the great genres of Hollywood cinema, as it possesses the ability to transcend both time and subject matter. Accordingly, the types of themes which this genres addresses, such as romanticism, and American heroism, can still be seen as viable commodities within modern-day storytelling. However, while The Western has focused on various topics throughout its cinematic history, what ultimately serves as the primary critique of the genre, is the exploration of role of violence and aggression within society (Lusted 16). Furthermore, at the source of this examination is the “Gunfighter” Western, which centers the focus of the genre to a more individualized and intimate perspective. Accordingly, films such as Henry King’s The Gunfighter (1950) and David Cronanberg’s A History Of Violence (2004) can be observed as examples of this focus. However, while both King and Cronenberg successfully explore the concepts of violence and aggression within their time periods, when examined in terms of their overall effectiveness in exploring the necessity, and ambiguity of these themes, Cronenberg’s willingness to explore the possibility of redemption, is what ultimately makes A History of Violence a more effective and provocative film.

As Lusted notes, the Gunfighter Western was one of the first of the genre to be interested “in the process of change” (Lusted 210). Instead of focusing on such themes as the collective effort of westward expansion, like many of John Ford’s Westerns (Schatz 70-71), the Gunfighter “turns the genre and its hero inside out,” (Schatz 71) and takes a more introspective look at how violence can be found at the core of social order. To do this, the focus shifts away from films that play on the ...


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...oral world. Instead, by allowing the character to live, Cronenberg not only suggests that there’s moral grounding within the use of violence, particularly in terms of its supposed protection towards the progression of society, but also provokes the question,“just who are we rooting for in this film?” (Beaty 87). Not only does the film force the audience to think about the effects of violence, but questions whether we as an audience, like Tom’s family, can accept violence as an ambiguous method of social order. Ultimately, it’s because of this complex, evocative nature, and the fact that the film questions not only the morality of the characters, but the audience itself, instead of enforcing morality on its audience like in The Gunfighter, that the film succeeds in demonstrating the full specter of violence and aggression, both on screen and in society.








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