Did you have time to watch Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame yesterday? I always enjoy the stunning visual effects of architecture, perspective, and filtered light and shadow. The Disney studio uses the musical score brilliantly, not merely as background or to manipulate mood, although it does that too. The music is both beautiful to hear and meaningful as it uses clever lyrics to define character, highlight the theme, and move the plot forward. Like the best of opera or musical theater!
Of course the Disney version changed Hugo’s profoundly tragic conclusion. Happy endings are mandatory… as they are in even the grimmest of Grimm’s fairy tales… but there is plenty of trauma and tragedy along the way. The Disney version does not shy away from the horrible racist comments of Frollo who wants to eliminate the gypsies, or from his selfishness, rage, lust and belief in hell.
This link will take you to a list of the eleven darkest moments in Disney films. Bambi, Snow White and The Wizard of Oz (not Disney) are the earliest films I remember. They ALL gave me terrible nightmares, despite their “happy” endings. And they are “beloved children’s classics”. Not that that argument makes it acceptable to frighten children. It just reminds us to be consistent in our arguments.
The Hunger Games also has terrible dark moments and a “happy” ending. My husband really disliked the film and was quite angry about the basic premise of the plot. No amount of arguing could persuade him otherwise. But while suspenseful and sad, THG is not especially gory. We see the painful effects of the combats, but the cameras do not linger obscenely over the gruesome details. All the characters are there under coercion, defending themselves and each other, not unlike the role of soldiers in combat, whether they are drafted into the service or there because of patriotism.
In principle, none of the contestants deserves to die. But the vicious actions of some combatants, in the context of the games, seem to justify their elimination. This is especially true of the final struggle. There is another very important moral and ethical decision in this scene, but to say more would be a spoiler. Does the end ever justify the means? And if so, under what circumstances or criteria?
We watch war films with great suspense and sadness as the tragedy unfolds. We may get angry about war, but we rarely get angry about the war film itself. This is history… we need to know… we have an ethical responsibility to understand and remember.
This realistic “historical fiction” is much more horrific, in my opinion, as we are supposed to believe it, and cannot put up a distancing filter to protect our imagination. It is not “just a story”. There is no escape from the horror.
Science fiction, especially dystopian fiction, lacks this historical justification. It is not driven by patriotic propaganda, nor does it satisfy a morbid curiosity about real events, or build on survival guilt. To some it may appear to contain scenes of gratuitous violence. But that violence is working on two levels… emotionally it is horrific, and intellectually that same horror speaks volumes against the use of violence. Whereas in war films the implication may be that the end justifies the means, any means, if the war is just, and the good guys are on our side. Which is better… or which is worse!?
The satire of the political and social setting in THG is brutally effective… hilariously “over the top”… but still deadly accurate. The urban setting for The Hunger Games is uniquely relevant to the Feast of Fools in The Hunchback, and characters like Frollo are in this film too. This kind of humour punches you where it hurts. If this satire is based on a convincing extrapolation of our existing society, does it add to the credibility of the rest of the story!? Yes, our media (sort of) behaves this way. Do our politics and international relations, potentially, as well!?
Happy endings, Disney, war films, science fiction? Can what we learn from the vicarious experience of violence, even gratuitous violence, ever justify it? Let me know what you think…
I haven’t watched Blade Runner for a long time… maybe I should review it soon.
Time to go now; the argument continues tomorrow!