Friday, 24 May 2013

Shock and Awe in action films

Ok, so maybe I have been noticing a lot of 9/11 like scenes in movies lately, but really, can you blame me? I was 14 when it happened, and I have definitely noticed a parallel shift between what has come to be defined as pre-9/11 and post-9/11. Films are less likely to be about an Eastern Europe vs the West cold war, or even less about war with the Far East (films that do reference this nowadays do mainly to satirise old war movies eg. "Team America" and "Tropic Thunder"), but more likely to involve the Middle East some how. "Iron Man" finds Tony Stark stuck amongst terrorists in Afghanistan, and "Iron Man 3" features a quasi-jihadist Mandarin (another transference from Far East to Middle East). Then there's the subtle aesthetics the films employ to portray a sense of terror; as I've said in the respective podcasts, "Iron Man 3" featured men and women falling from a plane in in mid flight that reminded me of the people falling to their deaths from the Twin Towers, as well as the new "Star Trek Into Darkness" that showed an enemy space ship smashing into a city with all the smoke and screaming that is reminiscent of the frightening videos that ordinary citizens made when the planes struck the World Trade Centre. The only question is, is this intentional? Does J. J. Abrams, Shane Black and the many other directors that have featured subversive and subliminal references their (mainly action) films actually mean to do it? As I said earlier, 9/11 was such a big moment in recent history that, along with the constant barrage of attacks and intensive news coverage, it would seem damn insensitive to ignore it.

You cannot get the images out of your head. Anyone that was old enough to see it actually happen on the day it happened will tell you of the absolute horror of those images, and the terrifying prospect of what felt like the beginning of World War 3 at the time. And then theres the subsequent events that happened - the (American led) toppling of the statue in Baghdad, the discovery and hanging of Saddam Hussain, the "shock and awe" of the American missile attacks, as well as reports of torture in Guantanamo Bay, all of which where extensively covered across all forms of media. It wouldn't be silly to say that the "war on terror" is a war played out in images, on both sides of the conflict. The image is the most powerful thing that the opposing sides have used.

Nowadays, an image isn't valid unless it is repeated hundred, thousands, maybe millions of times. Maybe the best way of understanding something is to repeat it (as taken to the dangerous extremes in Tom McCarthy's amazing book "Remainder"), and so maybe we can understand why it happened. Cinema is good at reflecting the mood of society, and directors will copy what they see going on in the world to try and make sense of it. So really, can you blame them in the end? We are a society that takes photos at a car crash, mourn people that we've never met, and know all the details of latest disaster from the other side of the world through 24 hour TV news. We are mesmerised by the images in movies, and movies are mesmerised by images of the real world. It's no wonder why their starting to look the same.

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