Does the Filmmaker have a Moral Responsibility?

This post is part of the ‘Morality Bites’ blogathon started by Filmplicity and Dirty With Class. A list of other articles can be found here and here.
At Paragraph Film Reviews we firmly believe that the filmmaker / auteur / director should have the artistic freedom to put whatever he or she likes into the movie. And by ‘whatever’ I would include nasty stuff like abduction, rape, butchery, incest, murder, nudity, sex, violence, cannibalism, gore… I’m not endorsing (all of!) these acts, but when they’re used correctly, they can push almost any story on to – and even beyond – the next level. A quick run-through a mental list of my favourite films, and almost everything mentioned appears in at least one of them; although I’m not sure what that says about me…
Where the morality issue lies is the use (/context) of these elements. The nasty stuff listed above has appeared in thousands of films, but for plenty different reasons, a lot of which I believe aren’t acceptable justifiable. if it enhances the story, a character or setting sufficiently then I don’t see the problem – and it’s the role of the BBFC / MPAA etc to restrict the audience appropriately. However, if nasty elements are thrown in there purely for shock, gratuity, sexing/hyping the film up a little or just to make the trailer look better, then it’s nothing more than a tasteless insult to the viewer. That my friends, is the moral line that I feel filmmakers need to stay on the right side of, and stray from far too readily these days.
For every film that leverages ‘immoral’ content to its advantage (OldBoy, Dragon Tattoo, Lilja-4-Ever, Goodfellas, Bittersweet Life, Inglourious Basterds, Hard Candy, Killer Inside Me…) hundreds more will simply throw in grizzly bits stuff for all the wrong reasons. I would also apply this position to books, television, paintings, or anything else under the wider umbrella of ‘art’, because what good is any form of art when big brother starts censoring parts?
/Paul

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7 comments
  1. In the movies, many a serial killer stages the murders that he or she committs as a sort of performance art. Since the killer is in fact in a movie, I’d like to see him or her take his or her case to movie court, defended by Paul Newman, and use the argument that you propound above.

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  2. rtm said:

    It’s almost tough to read this w/ Bateman’s face grinning maniacally at me :) What a coincidence, I actually use his example on my post.

    I know that “if it enhances the story” argument is often used to justify a gruesome scene, and I’m not going to refute that, but still it depends how far the filmmaker pushes the limit that it becomes gratuitous. I do agree it’s a shared responsibility between organizations like BBFC/MPAA as well as parents though, but they have a lot harder job to do these days as more and more filmmakers are all about the bottom line and not caring about how their product impact people, especially kids.

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  3. Stu said:

    Nicely done. I love what you did with the “American Psycho” image. I also agree with you that there are a lot of instances these days where intense violence is thrown in and serves no purpose to the meaning of the movie. Any basic screenwriting course will tell you that this is a no-no. Gore porn is mostly bad art in addition to being reckless; it’s an easy out for getting a bad film talked about.

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  4. Irina said:

    Hmm.. what happened to my comment??? anyway here it is again:As much as I disagree with your point of view on the necessity of using ‘nasty stuff like abduction, rape, butchery, incest, murder, nudity, sex, violence, cannibalism, gore… to push almost any story on to – and even beyond – the next level’ (Please see Ruth’s arguement on filmmakers who opt to show the violence, sexual act or what have you OFF SCREEN,yet doing a great job in getting the point of the story across, ie in case of Road to Perdition and The Shawshank Redemption) I love what you did with the image!! and I am impressed you saw Lilja-4-Ever, its not a very ‘mainstream’ film.

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  5. Andrew said:

    Great essay. I’m with you 100% of the way here– nobody should expect a filmmaker to censor himself or herself to satisfy some fictional morality barometer. As long as that objectionable content has a reason for being in the film, there’s no reason to decry it.

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