The Raid Redemption - Violence & Aggression

Thoughts On: The Raid

An elite squad of gunners break into a deadly trap, leaving them stuck in an apartment block they must break out of before being picked off.

In the previous post I used The Raid as a spring board to talk about audio dubbing in film. However, here I want to talk specifically about this movie and what it means on a wider cinematic scale. That means I'm going to be talking about action, fighting and violence in cinema. To start things off, I'll say flat out that I love this film and I'm in not entirely any against violence depicted through movies. Sure, there's grotesque things I won't watch, things like Cannibal Holocaust, and lines can be crossed when you physically hurt anyone or anything - but a cinematic depiction of violence in any form, or through any means can have its merits. And it's this that I want to talk about today. I won't be discussing violence like that seen in horror films, war pictures or serious dramas (link here to a relevant talk on Irreversible) but that in martial arts, shoot 'em, stab 'em, punch 'em up flicks. I'm essentially making a pragmatic and artistic argument for The Raid and films like it against this kind of view point:

The crux of the argument made here is probably best outlined with this paragraph:

There's obviously an audience for the film, probably a large one. They are content, even eager, to sit in a theater and watch one action figure after another pound and blast one another to death. They require no dialogue, no plot, no characters, no humanity. Have you noticed how cats and dogs will look at a TV screen on which there are things jumping around? It is to that level of the brain's reptilian complex that the film appeals.

This, to me, is an incredibly unsophisticated view of cinema. The dogmatic viewpoint demonstrated is later summed up to be in opposition of video-game-esque films (things like Hardcore Henry - which I loved) which confines cinema to realms which must have 'dialogue', 'plot', 'characters', 'humanity' and locations. Films do not work because of these things. They work with these things. Dialogue, plot, character and so on are there to help systematise a writing process, to lay down training wheels or prompting blocks that an artist may work off of. Conventions aren't good, they aren't bad, they are tools that may or may not be utilised. We all know a good film cannot be defined by such benign key words or technical terms. In all honesty, could the viewpoint provided here help 2001: A Space Odyssey? Could it make Pulp Fiction any better? Could it in any way evolve Irreversible, Slacker, Persona, Stalker, Un Chien Andalou, The Holy Mountain, Eraserhead? The answer is, no. Yes, these films are unconventional, maybe special snowflakes that miraculously came to be, but we have them. And that's what matters. Ignoring convention and pushing an idea to the extreme as to explore it opens up the cinematic art form, gives us new films, diversifies the landscape of cinema. And whilst The Raid isn't on the level of some of the films mentioned, it subscribes to the same basic idea of experimentation. This allows The Raid to stand as a brilliant example of why the plotless, the senseless, the evil, corrupt and violent needs to be captured on film, needs to be seen for what it's worth, not dismissed on some trumped up charges of what you think a film should be.

So, to talk about and make a case for The Raid we'll have to talk about two things. The first is violence. The second is aggression. Starting with violence, we should talk about truth. This is the fundamental reason why 'violent' films exist and there's a huge market for them. Fight Club says it best, but we live in strange times and as strange animals. There's a self-containment inherent to human interaction. There's a cap or filter called social rule that keeps one man from stabbing another. This cap, filter, containment is what we call goodness, love and humanity. And whilst these are essential ideas to our way of life, their mere presence is substantial evidence for the existence of something much darker within us all. Why are lions in the zoo kept in cages? Because we don't want them to escape and kill us all, because we can't let them roam free in open spaces with the rest of the animals otherwise they'd eat them. We don't want this in a zoo because it's grotesquely natural. Zoos are human constructs whereby nature and truth may be peered upon from a safe distance. The walls, glass and cages are what keep the lion, tigers and bears from killing us and oh me, oh my, is 'goodness' there to do the same thing. Laws, regulations, chemical bonds of love and trust are the much needed cage between the sadistic, murdering rapists within us and the weak prey around us. And so, we see our containment, our dire need for it. But, whilst sado-anarchistic tenancies need to be quashed, they cannot be lost. The evil within us needs breathing room. This is the fundamental and very plain reason why a lot of questionable things exist in our cultures, things that stretch far away and from violent movies. To deny this, to derogatorily refer to aggressive and not entirely civil aspects of human nature as sourced from the lower 'reptilian complex' or brain, is to deny reality. Yes, we've constructed cushioned and easy societies around us, but that doesn't mean we've changed our internal biology. In saying that, it's obvious that living under completely civil terms fails to push itching buttons. So, not only is there a human hankering to indulge in spite, meanness or aggression (even playfully) that is being ignored, the everyday pokes at this open wound.

To understand what I mean, all I have to ask is if you understand this image:

This scene (link here) from Office Space is brilliantly comedic, but holds a truth. The comedy obviously comes from the fact that they are beating the shit out of a printer, an inanimate object, as if it were a mortal enemy. But, the underlying truth, the reason why this scene resonates, why the film makes sense to so many, is that our bodies and the chemicals it produces haven't got the firewall to detect and understand that the printer isn't a mortal enemy - it simply knows that it's pushing all the right buttons. And whilst we can rationalise in our higher minds, there's a need for catharsis. For, in the end, rationalisation is a mere form of reconstruction, reconstructing reality as to adhere to an agenda of the biological zeitgeist - an idea of social conduct as to preserve general humanity. Without rationalising, by acting upon chemicals, or at least simulating such an idea, we come upon truth because there's a tangible admittance of the dark in us all. The everyday dictates us to be polite, to navigate complex social routines, to skate on thin ice. Violence is a means of declaring truth, is a call to say it how it is, to speak from a biological centre, a darker crux - voicing the yin instead of the yang once in a while--if you'll have it.

After all, throughout human history there has been a solid understanding of balance. Whether it's articulated theological, philosophically or scientifically, we know humans aren't perfect, that perfect is a constructed idea that is inachievable, that a balance between downfall and uprising is what leads to resolution in the human psyche. And in saying that, recognising violence as a way of speaking truth through actions - maybe a perfect way of communicating certain emotions - we have to also recognise fear and weakness and the contradiction or lie they produce in us. Violence and truth, in the context discussed, may be equated to perfection. But, because there's a recognition that, despite wanting to voice our truths through a fight, through violence, there is always a chance we may not be heard as we wanted - that we may loose - the lie of cowardice isn't a bad one, simply a human one. To balance truth, violence, these perfect ideas of communication, with the fact we all know we aren't Bruce Lee and don't want to die every time we try to express some form of anguish, we just watch Bruce Lee in another cushioned reality...

Films, martial art, shoot, stab and pun 'em up movies, are a form of expression, an expression for the reptilian brain. To claim there is higher truth, a greater purpose to cinema and people is to deserve a resounding 'fuck you'. It's a lie and we all know it. We've all been watching these kind of movies or their equivalent in spiteful passive/aggressive reality TV, and felt that chemical rush of exhilaration; an understanding that the body needs and likes these terrible, terrible images. And it's in this lie that we recognise the unsophisticated, thoughtless, gormless and very childish viewpoint put forward by someone suggesting senselessness is bad. Senselessness is levity, is synonymous with relief, numbness and ecstatic reprieve. This is what truth, what violence in cinematic form afford us - senselessness A,K,A entertainment.

The counterargument to my claims of 'truth' are to suggests that people don't like real violence, that if we want actual truth we should get into a street fight or at the very least watch a real fight: boxing, wrestling, MMA. I've already touched on this by saying we need balance and aren't perfect. But, to re-articulate, violence is an internal need, is the annunciation of aggressive emotions. The simulation of violence works fine in supplying aggressive feelings. It allows us to balance civil tendencies, to exist in a cushioned and nice society, but feed ourselves small sips of prehistoric necessity juice. But there's more to say around this idea, and it comes to the forefront when we parry cinematic violence with real violence seen in boxing or MMA. I'm personally a fan of mixed martial arts and so like to see real fights, but there's a distinction--and it's quite an obvious one--between the real and cinematic. Cinema heightens, putting the mind's eye in control. A real fight is crazy, it has its basis in an idea of chance, in the idea that anything can happen. This isn't so true in cinema. We want the bad guy to lose, and in the back of our mind, know he probably will. However, you can't guarantee that your favourite football team will win every game, just like you can ensure that your chosen fighter will win every match in stunning fashion. You want to see these things and when you do under such circumstances it's that much more satisfying, but cinema allows for manipulation, allows for a degree of control. And it's in this that I find the negative comparison of games and movies to be lacking thought. Games bridge the gap between action movies and real life...

There's a clear progression here. At the bottom we, the audience, have minimal control, at the top we have the idea of control, of predicting the narrative, and in the middle we have the most amount of control you get outside of actually fighting. All of these are simulations, we perceive them and the chemicals in us start flowing - we are locked in and entertained. Games and movies are so similar because they provide an audience control, a way of hacking the system that is our bodies into achieving a rush. Each of these forms has their nuances that transform the means of this rush and so to discuss this I turn back to cinema alone. Control and fantasy are deeply intertwined in my view. As I've said before on the blog: control, the fantasy; control the fantasy. And by this I mean to suggest that the tangible things in life aren't always under our control, that palpable reality is something beyond our absolute reach. Control is a dream, is something we wish we had. To them take control, we must invade the dream space, we must control the intangible things in life - that which fit under the umbrella of fantasy. In other words, control is the fantasy, so, take control of the fantasy. This is what cinema is. It's creating and controlling the dream space. And in dreaming of control, we also dream of truth--something we've touched on. Therefore, in our cinematic dream space we insert violence to summon a feeling of control over our lives, over our bodies, to glimpse at an idea of truth. But, because 'fantasy' is tantamount to fabrication, there can't really be real truth - not of the violent type. This why we accept cinematic violence. This is why we want cinematic violence. This is what cinematic violence means to us as people, as humans.

So, having started from a far-back, wide-angled viewpoint, we should zoom in on the subject and film at hand with our second major point. We've talked about violence, now we've got to talk about aggression. Forgive me for seemingly quoting myself here (link to what I mean) but, violence doesn't really exists in cinema. I know we've talked about it as if it does, but art works off of emotions, off of a chemical rush incited by packets of photons hitting our eyes, sound waves bouncing off our ear drums (in the case of film). There's essentially an emotional discussion between art and consumer, with feelings such as anger, happiness, sadness and so on being the tools of communication. The Raid focuses on the emotion of aggression. It doesn't take it as a theme to comment on. It embodies the emotion of aggression and makes us feel it. It's almost cinematically transcendental if you wanted to see it as such. But, whether it wants to be or not, whether it tried to be or not, The Raid represents a crucial element of film as an art. It communicates emotions that we otherwise wouldn't see in more 'sensible' and 'human' films The Raid dared to embody and emphasise a simple idea of aggression being an entertaining factor of a movie. The film was essentially made off this premise, and drove it to its very edge by taking away plot-points, back story and character. And for the film to have worked so successfully speaks volumes for what this psudeo-art -house picture tried to do. It wanted to entertain, to use the emotion of aggression to tell a story. In this is triggered all the chemical pathways in us, up-heaving the essential human drive to survive as a singular unit...

... and with someone at your side...

... and is there not humanity in that idea? Is there not a human need for action, to react and act upon will and assert an idea of determinism? It's not Hamlet with all his To Be Or Not To Be, his inaction and skull...

... but, there's art in here. And it's the technical craft of this movie that drives this point homes. I mean, why is Tchaikovsky, feathers and anorexia art...

... but not this:

After all, we are watching a dance here. It's the martial art, the expression of self through movement and body language that is at the core of why the eye is drawn to these kinds of films. No, we aren't seeing true martial arts in a pure form (because this is cinematic and so needs and elements of fantasy and control). No, this is not ballet, but there is an irrefutable connection between dance and fight choreography. Like I said, art, dance, is the expression of emotions through movement and body language. There is motion in fight choreography, the emotion expressed is aggression via implied violence and the body language communicates a truth, an idea of internal evil, a will to survive and a will to destroy, a will to protect oneself and a will to hurt another.

This is the crux of all fighting films - most centrally, The Raid Redemption. They are there to move us, artistically. Not, artistically...

... but, fucking artistically!

There's beauty, there's honesty, there's art, in admitting the darker, nastier side of humanity. There's reprieve in accepting and indulging in this. And The Raid, for me. stands as a modern testament to an emotionally diverse cinema, one that incorporates a more brash and hardened view of entertainment. To deny the film on the grounds of violence or aggression is just simple-minded in my view. To deny the film on the grounds that it wasn't broad in its emotional range, in the genres it infused is to want to simplify cinema, is to force it into a check-boxed and boring realm. Sure, you can say you don't like violence and aggression, that you like a certain type of film and dismiss the movie on personal terms, but, with objectivity, this is a difficult film to prove to be of poor quality and in bad taste.

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