Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Squid Game, the Hostel trilogy, the Scream franchise, the Saw franchise; what is it about blood, guts and gore that audiences can’t seem to get enough of? The shocking visual spectacle of a victim and a hostile force or antagonist is foreign to most of us, viewing from the comfort of our seat in the audience. Is it simply shock value or something more? It could be said that humanity’s curiosity for life runs parallel to our curiosity of death, pleasure to pain, joy to despair. The film by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, acclaimed surrealists, ‘Un Chien Andalou,’ the eyeball of a woman was sliced by a razor blade. The production used the eye of a calf and not a woman of course, however the visual experience was every bit as gruesome and impactful as if they had used a real human eye. What was the need for this beyond shock value? ‘Un Chien Andalou’ was made in 1928, since audiences were exposed to this it is an observable phenomenon that audiences' appetite and subsequent desensitization to gore and violence has only grown.
For some people experiencing a traumatic event on screen from the safe vantage point of the audience can help them to cope with fear or understand their own trauma. Among the spectators of a crowded cinema one might also find there is a bond formed by the audience having a similar reaction to violence or gore, validating that it is indeed shocking and at odds with humanity. Is it sheer fascination? The morbid allure of sights one might never experience first hand, which provides a fringe want for the exhibiting of violent acts or bloodshed. There is also a fraction of society which might find a mental release in exposing themselves to danger or violence, if they live a rather sheltered or safe existence, seeing said gore could give them a rush they are unfamiliar with.
Digesting such graphic content comes with its own risks, there is a ratings system in place for films ranging from ‘G’ for general audiences to ‘R’ for restricted to adult audiences. Even with these ratings in place, people of any age are compelled or find a way to seek out content to satiate their curiosity. This leads me to remember a time when I was 18 years old, and a close family friend of mine who was 17 years old had just transferred to my highschool. We were both senior students and she told me that her family was strict about what sort of films she watched. We talked at length about the sort of films being made and she mentioned a particular film starring Jennifer Connoley and Jared Leto called ‘Requiem for a Dream’ (2000). This film revolved around a couple who have an addiction to the drug heroin, culminating in their desperation and willingness to go to any lengths for a dose of this extremely potent drug. Although the film could be viewed as a cautionary tale which urges viewers to better understand the destructive and awful control this drug has over the user’s life, it can also be viewed from the perspective of people vicariously wondering what the euphoric effects of heroin are on the body.
I found a DVD of ‘Requiem for a Dream’ and brought it over to this girl’s house and showed her the film when she was 17 years of age, to her father who had interrupted the viewing of this film, this was still a dangerously impressionable age and I was deeply at fault for showing her a film with an R rating. My question to him at the time, and my question remains, why did she want to watch a film that contained graphic use of narcotics, sexual exploitation, violence and tragedy at such a young age? This morbid curiosity for graphic imagery we are told we’re not able to stomach is what made the forbidden fruit tempting, what killed the cat, the reason kids still sneak into movies with an adult rating. Something about the abrasive, unfamiliar or uncouth occupies a place in all our minds, whether we admit this or not, we have seen this reflected on screen and manifested into an entire genre. Is this good for society, is this hurting society? We have a ratings system entrusted to parents to mandate as a last line of defense against their child’s viewing habits, gore and violence in cinema simply is, once you turn eighteen the things you decide to expose yourself to are entirely at your discretion.
It is worth noting that our same dizzying infatuation with love and beauty and riches is the same puzzling feeling we have toward pain and horror and death, our ultimate end. We are creatures of extremes, something inside of us requires no maintenance for its survival, we are at the whim of our greatest and most depraved desires and curiosities. To whatever fault we owe this, it remains a deeply human feeling no one can seem to shake. At the height of the Roman empire, Marcus Aurelius, the father of stoicism, displayed his aversion to temptation and his most base human desires. This example of the potential for man to remain altruistic and avoid our lesser curiosities existed long before the internet. The author Raymond Chandler once mused in his book ‘Long Goodbye’ that “there is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.” It is incumbent more than ever, we do not fall into the temptation of our dark curiosity.