A Letter to Screenwriters

A Letter to Screenwriters

Do you really have to make your films so violent?  We went to the cinema last Saturday and every single trailer for new movies was dystopian, explosive, violent, cruel and visually disturbing.  There wasn’t a single movie that I would choose to see or that I felt added any value to our lives.  But no doubt you will make money from them and your marketing teams will ensure that they are blockbusters.  All I ask is do you really want your children to retain these visions as they grow up to become the leaders who will be creating their own, and our, future?

I just wonder how we have become so adapted to Hollywood producing endless brutal films?  I was born in 1950 and raised on comedies and romances starring Peter Sellers or Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.  Other than cowboy or war films there was little, if any, violence and Bambi was about as dark as it got.  Hitchcock’s thrillers were the first I saw and then we moved into more domestic drama such as The Pumpkin Eater and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  But films like Seven took violence into a totally new genre of sadism, as do digital games such as Grand Theft Auto and others I don’t even want to think about.  Killings, torture and sexual cruelty seem to have become the norm.

I remember my dear late Polish brother-in-law Leo commenting that you only get such unpleasant movies when the life around you is reasonably comfortable.  Raised in Poland in the war he knew more about life’s real cruelties and barbarity than I did and I can see that if you are actually experiencing violence in your life you are less likely to want to watch more of it.  Perhaps it is because we have Kim Jong Un, Putin and Trump arming themselves up for a potential world catastrophe that I felt all the more disgusted by the onslaught of violence I saw in the trailers at the Vue Eastleigh last weekend.

Even children’s stories are no longer the sweet innocent narratives they used to be.  If you watched Mary Poppins or the early versions of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe they are far tamer than recent blockbuster versions of the classics, such as The Jungle Book.  Even Paddington Bear became a rather horrifying version about the threatened taxidermy of a small bear.  I think my 6-year-old granddaughter has seen more movies in her short life than I had seen by the time I reached adulthood and I am aware that the 3-D aspect of cinematography makes things far more realistic and immediate – which can be wondrous but also terrifying.  Recently a writing colleague had her children’s novel, about evacuee children in World War II, rejected by a publisher as “the children in the story were not in enough danger to be of interest to today’s young audience”.  Should children be exposed to a continuous ramping-up of adrenalin arousal through increasingly frightening scripts?

The thunderous Dolby surround sound that blasts our ears as the film or ads start is another assault, surely unnecessary and makes us all jump out of our seats.  Do you think we are all deaf?  Or perhaps you want to make us deaf?  The small child in the cinema next to me in The Jungle Book was terrified.

The problem is that the sounds and images linger in the imagination.  They acclimatize our minds to violence so that it no longer seems as shocking as it once was.  And yet violence is shocking.  I look at the state of the world today with its religious and ideological wars and the number of young men excited about taking up arms and I question how we are still, in 2017, determined to kill one another.  Now that we realize what a small and vulnerable planet we reside on I would have hoped that we would not still be polluting the environment with bombs, explosions, chemical weapons or acid attacks.  And I guess I just don’t appreciate being reminded of all this horror with yet more apocalyptic views of the future dressed up as entertainment.

I have written before of Ekhart Tolle (author of bestsellers A New Earth and The Power of Now) and his concept of a ‘pain body’.  This is a part of our emotional make-up that we can unconsciously hook into – the part of us that stops to gawp at a motorway accident, or wants to read about some horrendous murder in the paper.  He talks of how newspapers and media-makers play on the pain-body aspect of we fallible humans to draw us towards the negative.  But the important message is that once we become aware of what hooks us we have the power to choose not to read, not to watch, not to stop on the motorway.  And of course this links to the points I made in my last blog, Let’s Shake Ourselves out of this gloom, https://www.helenwhitten.com/thinking-aloud/lets-shake-ourselves-out-of-this-gloom/ because it is hard to be creative in a way that could be beneficial to human life on earth if we are too steeped in the negativity of the pain-body.

So surely, dear screenwriters, you have the talent and capacity to use your creativity in constructive ways?   I am not talking of dumbing down but I am talking about being broader and perhaps deeper in your depiction of life – the film The Intouchables comes to mind as I write.  There are endless intricacies and complexities in everyday life that make excellent topics for drama – perhaps you could open your eyes and minds to different descriptions and studies of human behaviour?

The future does not have to be dystopian but if these are the images that are sewn into the neurons of the young people who are watching your movies then perhaps that will be the only image they will be able to conjure up?  The power of imagination is immense and the power of unconscious drives equally so.  The future of life on earth isn’t looking that rosy right now and personally I don’t feel that your violent movies are contributing towards making life on earth a better place.

No doubt you will say that I am an old fogey and not, in any case, your target audience.  You might comment that I am being too soft and sensitive about future generations.  But please just give a moment’s thought to the kind of images and stories you wish your own children or grandchildren to be exposed to … and see whether that shifts your thinking when you craft future scripts?  I hope so.

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  • John B on Sep 06, 2017 Reply

    Hello Helen. Spot on – Berenice and I have often voiced the same thoughts. Another dimension to this is the proliferation of video games that glorify the war game, with violent shootings and elimination of “the enemy”. Often these are advertised in the cinema complete with the noise and visual impact.
    But what can be done – we hear that the video game “industry” is so important to our economy?
    Letter to Mrs May … as if!
    JB

  • Ashley Shah on Sep 06, 2017 Reply

    Well said Helen

  • Jenny McRobert on Sep 06, 2017 Reply

    Hello Helen, Just love, love, love this blog! I couldn’t agree more and I wish more people could see this. Such a powerful message…where have all the uplifting films gone? Life can be beautiful, challenging, satisfying. People can be kind and inspirational. This is all in the eye of the beholder, and films can develop these percecptions in young people as easlily as the violent and depressing side of life….and it is all a matter of perception, isn’t it?

  • Jo on Sep 06, 2017 Reply

    Hi Helen

    I’ve been struck in the past few years by how many film-posters (the in the tube and elsewhere) feature people holding, aiming or firing guns of one kind or another. It’s almost as it we have become part of a culture that takes power through violence, and especially firearms, for granted.

    Jox