Images of Torture, Images of Terror: Post 9/11 and the Escalation of Screen Violence
by Gabrielle Murray (La Trobe)
Monash University Film & Television Studies
David Edelstein, the New York Magazine film critic, commenting on the surge in extreme, prolonged graphic torture, abduction, rape and dismemberment in films such as The Devil’s Rejects, Saw, Wolf Creek and Hostel, dubbed the phenomenon “torture porn” (2006). The current box-office success of films like the Saw and Hostel series stunned many critics; most seemed bewildered by young audiences’ thirst for such graphic fare. Edelstein’s uneasy review suggests that the media release of documentary images of US and UK military personal torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib helped feed the escalation of uninhibited images of torture, degradation and mutilation in fiction film. This claim is echoed in most reviews and commentaries on the phenomenon (Barber 2007; Douthat 2006; Rimanelli and Liden 2006; Newman 2006). Furthermore, the critical literature argues increasingly graphic scenes are appearing in a broader range of mainstream and art-house releases.
However, while much of the critical literature agrees that public attitudes toward violent imagery are generally historically determined, most discussion of the nature of the linkages between social and cinematic violence remain circumstantial and speculative (Slocum 2004). This paper poses questions regarding the public and critical perception post 9/11 that there is a direct link between increased visual knowledge of violence and torture in the “real” world acquired from images on television and the internet, with an escalation of representations of explicit violence in the commercial and cultural medium of popular western cinema.
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