Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Kirk Baird

Violence is tolerated in movies

An unseen sniper sets his gunsights on five random citizens hundreds of yards away, at one point aiming his rifle at a young woman carrying a small child.

The sequence is as uncomfortable as you think it is. And unfortunately for Paramount, this is the opening to the studio’s new Tom Cruise action film, Jack Reaper.

Perhaps in the best of circumstances, we only flinch when we see the child in peril. But this is Dec. 21, only a week after the unfathomable horror of Sandy Hook, in which a gunman stormed through the elementary school and killed 20 children and six adults. And with our emotions still raw, most of us will cringe when they see that moment onscreen.

I know I did as I sat with other film critics and moviegoers in a Monday afternoon screening of Jack Reacher in Ann Arbor.

After the movie, a few critics and I wondered why the sequence wasn’t partially edited to omit the child in the crosshairs. And if not, why the film’s opening today wasn’t being delayed. Violence, after all, probably isn’t a good sell at the moment for Hollywood.

That will change, of course. We love our explosions, fist fights, shoot-outs, heroes and villains. We love danger and death. And studios are only going to churn out what they know will sell.

Just as we begin a much-needed national discussion on gun control — and hopefully how we as a society can better provide help to those with mental illness — shouldn’t we also take the opportunity for self-examination?

For me, that includes wrestling with the contradiction of why we are rightfully horrified by the senseless murder of adults and children in a Colorado movie theater, but will most likely flock to theaters to see a movie in which innocent adults are gunned down and a child is put at risk.

And why is one film about children killing children for a national contest, The Hunger Games, a huge blockbuster, while a Japanese film with the same premises, Battle Royale, couldn’t find a distributor for a U.S. release for a decade?

Clearly we have a double standard.

Parents are infuriated by the violence they see in their kids’ video games, and by some of the lyrics they hear in their kids’ songs. Yet how many times have we seen parents take their children with them into theaters to watch violent, bloody R-rated movies? What I remember most about seeing Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 breakthrough hit Pulp Fiction in the theaters for the first time is a family of five, including three children, sitting several rows in front of me. I was distracted by their presence and wondered with each shooting if the parents would finally act like responsible adults and yank their kids out of the theater. They didn’t. After the film, my girlfriend at the time and I spent a half-hour discussing the long-term fate of those kids. I still wonder what impact Pulp Fiction may or may not have had on their impressionable minds.

This column isn’t a call for censorship, rather a call for common sense; an end to our hypocrisy regarding violence in society, and what we will and will not tolerate.

During this time of national mourning and soul searching, maybe it’s time to ask what responsibility we each bear in this tragedy and those that came before it. And what we’re willing to change in us — and about us — to ensure Sandy Hook never happens again.

Contact Kirk Baird at: or 419-724-6734.

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