10 Famous Directors on Movie Violence


The Internet has been abuzz this week about Quentin Tarantino’s explosive interview with a British journalist for Channel 4, in which the director snapped after being asked why he didn’t think film violence and real violence were connected. “Don’t ask me questions like that. I’m not biting. I refuse your question,” he retorted. “I’m not your slave and you’re not my master. You can’t make me dance to your tune. I’m not your monkey.” Though he goes somewhat off the handle, Tarantino is right about one thing — he has been asked about violence quite a bit. And so have many other directors that use it in their films. After the jump, we’ve collected a few of their answers, which range from quippy to sincere, to get a better view of how violent Hollywood views itself. Any good quotes we’ve missed? Add to our list in the comments.

Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained)

A few highlights:

“Violence is just one of many things you can do in movies,” he said. “People ask me, ‘Where does all this violence come from in your movies?’ I say, ‘Where does all this dancing come from in Stanley Donen movies?’ If you ask me how I feel about violence in real life, well, I have a lot of feelings about it. It’s one of the worst aspects of America. In movies, violence is cool. I like it.” (Speaking at a press conference, in Newsday , 1994)

“What happened during slavery times is a thousand times worse than [what] I show,” he says. “So if I were to show it a thousand times worse, to me, that wouldn’t be exploitative, that would just be how it is. If you can’t take it, you can’t take it.

“Now, I wasn’t trying to do a Schindler’s List you-are-there-under-the-barbed-wire-of-Auschwitz. I wanted the film to be more entertaining than that. … But there’s two types of violence in this film: There’s the brutal reality that slaves lived under for … 245 years, and then there’s the violence of Django’s retribution. And that’s movie violence, and that’s fun and that’s cool, and that’s really enjoyable and kind of what you’re waiting for.”

From the same interview:

Tarantino: Would I watch a Kung fu movie three days after the Sandy Hook massacre? Would I watch a Kung fu movie? Maybe, because they have nothing to do with each other.

Gross: You sound annoyed. I know you’ve been asked this a lot.

Tarantino: Yeah. I’m really annoyed. I think it’s disrespectful to their memory, actually.

Gross: To whose memory?

Tarantino: To the memory of the people who died to talk about movies. I think its totally disrespectful to their memory. Obviously the issue is gun control and mental health. (Fresh Air interview, 2013)

Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Valhalla Rising)

“In each film, the protagonist is forced to have a moral stand. That moral stand then ends with a consequence. You cannot live life without consequences. Whenever you do something, there will be a consequence. Just like violence only works if there’s a consequence. There’s a build-up. You can’t just be violent for violence’s sake, because it’s not emotionally engaging, so it becomes bad pornography.

If you see too much of it, you start to disengage from it, and that’s where violence can become dangerous for the psyche, because it no longer has any meaning. Like people who get addicted to pornography, the sense of empathy and emotion start to deteriorate within them – it’s a frightening effect.” (Interview with Screen Rant, 2011)

Michael Winterbottom (The Killer Inside Me, A Mighty Heart)

On The Killer Inside Me:

“It was intentionally shocking. The whole point of the story is, here is someone who is supposed to be in love with two women who he beats to death, and of course the violence should be shocking. If you make a film where the violence is entertaining, I think that’s very questionable… To say it’s misogynistic is tricky. Anyone who says that is watching it in a very perverse way. Clearly there is violence against men and women in society, in films and books, and in this case I think it’s important that the violence is ugly. No one can watch it and believe that Lou Ford is a role model or a glamorous guy you’d want to be like, or that beating up women is a good thing… Loads of films promote violence as entertainment, but I don’t think this one does and neither would I want to do something that’s going to encourage violence.” (at the Berlin film festival, 2010, reported in The Guardian )

Peter Bogdanovich (Paper Moon, Targets)

“Today, there’s a general numbing of the audience. There’s too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it’s not so terrible. Back in the ’70s, I asked Orson Welles what he thought was happening to pictures, and he said, “We’re brutalizing the audience. We’re going to end up like the Roman circus, live at the Coliseum.” The respect for human life seems to be eroding.” (From The Hollywood Reporter , 2012)

Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, The Birds)

“I have always felt that you should do the minimum on screen to get the maximum audience effect. I believe the audience should work. Sometimes it is necessary to go into some element of violence, but I only do it if I have a strong reason. For example, in Psycho there was this very violent impressionistic murder in a bathroom, you see, and it was montaged by little pieces of film giving the impression of a knife stabbing a victim, and so on and so forth.

Now, once I had completed that piece of film, I had instilled in the minds of the audience enough apprehension about the existence of a murderer so that as the movie went on, I was able to reduce and eventually practically eliminate all further violence because I only wanted the threat left. Once I had given the audience that one — shall we say, sample? — I allowed them to imagine the violence, you see. I did not have to show it. Violence for the sake of violence I don’t think has any effect. I don’t even think the audience is moved by it. It’s so obvious.” (In an interview with Dr. Fredric Wertham in Redbook , 1963)

Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers, Savages)

“Violence is talked about too much. It’s become too sanitized… There are other ways to deal with violence than just running away from it. In television, violence has no consequence or it is arrived at too easily… People are much tougher on sex than violence on television… You can tell a lot about a culture from how they respond to sex. Maybe violence is a result of bad sex.” (In a public appearance on his book tour)

Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker)

Why does violence play such an important role in your movies?

I always wish I had a good answer for that, like I was traumatized in childhood. I think that film has the potential to be very cathartic. I respond to movies that get in your face, that have the ability to be provocative or challenge you, that take some risks. I like high impact movies. That’s what I respond to as a viewer, so naturally I respond to that when writing. I don’t want to be made pacified or made comfortable. I like stuff that gets your adrenaline going.

You are quoted as saying that you are infatuated with the idea of “seductive violence.” Would you elaborate?

That quote was taken out of context, but it’s a beautiful phrase. I think violence in a cinematic context can be, if handled in a certain way, very seductive. I think that an audience can be titillated by violence in a cinematic context. It’s wonderful in the safe confines of a theater to experience that aspect of your imagination or subconscious.

Do you think that the audience’s response stays in the theater? What about the stories of people who get pumped up on watching violent films and then go on a shooting spree?

My feeling is that those are very disturbed individuals anyway, and are the exception rather than the rule. I don’t believe in censorship in any form. One should make morals judgements for oneself. Someone who is disturbed could be sensitive to anything — look at the violence in the evening news. Someone like that would have to live in a black box not to be exposed to violence. (From an interview at The Tech , 1990)

Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange, The Shining)

“There has always been violence in art. There is violence in the Bible, violence in Homer, violence in Shakespeare, and many psychiatrists believe that it serves as a catharsis rather than a model. I think the question of whether there has been an increase in screen violence and, if so, what effect this has had, is to a very great extent a media-defined issue. I know there are well-intentioned people who sincerely believe that films and TV contribute to violence, but almost all of the official studies of this question have concluded that there is no evidence to support this view. At the same time, I think the media tend to exploit the issue because it allows them to display and discuss the so-called harmful things from a lofty position of moral superiority.

But the people who commit violent crime are not ordinary people who are transformed into vicious thugs by the wrong diet of films or TV. Rather, it is a fact that violent crime is invariably committed by people with a long record of anti-social behaviour, or by the unexpected blossoming of a psychopath who is described afterward as having been ‘…such a nice, quiet boy,’ but whose entire life, it is later realized, has been leading him inexorably to the terrible moment, and who would have found the final ostensible reason for his action if not in one thing then in another. In both instances immensely complicated social, economic and psychological forces are involved in the individual’s criminal behaviour.

The simplistic notion that films and TV can transform an otherwise innocent and good person into a criminal has strong overtones of the Salem witch trials. This notion is further encouraged by the criminals and their lawyers who hope for mitigation through this excuse. I am also surprised at the extremely illogical distinction that is so often drawn between harmful violence and the so-called harmless violence of, say, “Tom and Jerry” cartoons or James Bond movies, where often sadistic violence is presented as unadulterated fun. I hasten to say, I don’t think that they contribute to violence either. Films and TV are also convenient whipping boys for politicians because they allow them to look away from the social and economic causes of crime, about which they are either unwilling or unable to do anything.” (From an interview with Michel Ciment on A Clockwork Orange)

David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Eraserhead)

“The worst thing about this modern world is that people think you get killed on television with zero pain and zero blood,” he says. “It must enter into kids`s heads that it´s not very messy to kill somebody, and it doesn`t hurt that much. That`s a real sickness to me. That`s a real sick thing.” (From an interview in the New York Times Magazine , 1990)

Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes)

“My approach to violence is that if it’s pertinent, if that’s the kind of movie you’re making, then it has a purpose. There’s quite a lot of violence in this film but I like to think that it serves the story, that it illustrates the point we’re trying to convey. Jason doesn’t take his shirt off and beat anyone up, which would seem to be the kind of thing that Jason would do as he’s quite good at it, because it didn’t seem to serve his character and the narrative. I quite like the idea of Jason keeping his shirt on anyway… I think there’s a natural system in your own head about how much violence the scene warrants. It’s not an intellectual process, it’s an instinctive process. I like to think it’s not violence for the sake of violence and in this particular film, it’s actually violence for the annihilation of violence. It’s about not letting the internal enemy, the real enemy, have his way because the more he does the stronger he becomes. The film’s about the devastating results that can manifest from the internal enemy being unbridled and allowed to unleash chaos.” (From an interview about Revolver)