As a child I sometimes read graphic novel comic books. They often had lurid, violent, sexy (and sexist) themes, and the artwork was frequently creative and stylish, ranging from shadowy grayscale scenes to stark black-and-white images, and peppered with splashes of brilliant color. Reading them was exciting to my prepubescent psyche.
I remember one time later in life when I was at a friend’s house and we discovered some magazines belonging to his father hidden in the closet. They had lurid covers that seemed exciting. However, opening the covers did not lead to excitement at all – they made me feel sick. They were graphic descriptions and photos of sadomasochistic crime scenes in which women were raped and tortured. I wondered at the time why “grownups” would enjoy reading these kinds of magazines. Made me wonder if I really wanted to grow up if that is what the grownup world is like.
As a young adult living in Seattle, I was active as a volunteer working with groups, such as Amnesty International, trying to bring public attention to political prisoners around the world who were being detained and tortured by oppressive regimes. We sometimes sponsored film festivals in which documentaries were shown about the individual circumstances of the individuals we were sponsoring. Many of the documentary films included descriptions or depictions of torture that were graphic and disturbing. It never crossed my mind that these topics would be considered by some to be "entertaining" or "exciting" or "fun".
A few years ago I went to see the movie, Pulp Fiction. Many in the audience were roaring with laughter as an individual was bound, gagged, and forced into a small box. Guess I missed the joke. I have had similar experiences with several movies in recent years where it seems everyone except me is having a great time being entertained by scenes of individuals being tortured.
A few years ago, one of my family members was kidnapped, brutally raped and tortured for several days, and finally killed by a serial killer (the perpetrator is currently serving life without parole). It fell upon me to travel to the home where the crime had taken place, go through the personal belongings left behind, and take care of final arrangements. There were signs of graphic violence all around as I went about performing these duties. There was blood present, but it was not exciting, brilliant flashes of red as depicted in graphic comic books and movies; it was dried pale brownish, caked in the carpet and sticking to the walls. There were no stylish film-noire thematic elements present either. Only a few flies buzzing around the dirty dishes left in the sink.
In 2004 I witnessed the photos of grinning U.S. soldiers abusing naked Iraqis prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. Some of the photos were quite stylish. Apparently some of the soldiers found it both exciting and fun to participate in these activities since they sent dozens of the photos to friends back home via email.
In 2006 I watch commentators on the cable Fox News Channel gleefully extolling the fact that the Bush administration is preparing to "take off the gloves" with regard to "suspected terrorists" in United States custody, including abolishing many of the restrictions on use of torture that are specified in the Geneva Convention. The image that keeps coming to my mind is of some "farm kid" in Afghanistan who happened to be on the wrong corner at the wrong time, got swept up by soldiers or CIA operatives who did not speak the language or understand the customs of the country where they were operating, much less have any way to differentiate between the "bad guy terrorists" and the "local farm kids". Hope the Fox news cheerleaders and their admirers are satisfied with the "gloves off" treatment that can now be delivered with impunity to these "suspected terrorists".
Enough prologue. What did I think of the movie Sin City? Lighting, color, costume, and set design were done well. Graphic design included many striking black and white images with occasional brilliant flashes of color. Many stylish thematic elements were also present. The primary narrative theme carried by the dialogue was that revenge, in order to be satisfying, must involve more than simply eliminating the enemy; the enemy must also be forced to suffer for an extended period through torture. Creative ways in which this can be accomplished were illustrated with depictions of various kinds of torture including castrations, tying a person to a tree to be eaten alive by dogs, etc, etc, a list too long to enumerate here. Audiences seem to love this movie – apparently finding it to be fun and exciting as well as artistic. Count me out. At this point in my life, my tolerance for torture, or for entertainment based on watching individuals being tortured, however artistic and stylistic, has been exhausted.
I gave this movie a rating of 1 star