The tragedy in Virginia is a senseless crime, carried out by an individual so disturbed and unhappy that we cannot come close to comprehending his state of mind.
But since ignorance doesn’t ease the pain of loss, and certainly will not sell newspapers, people look for excuses as to why it happened.
So far, we have the police for not acting quickly enough, mental health services for not reporting Cho’s condition to the FBI, the gun-shop owner for selling him the guns, and former classmates for bullying him.
Now, almost inevitably, violent films are also to blame.
Yes, Cho Seung-Hui apparently (it hasn’t been confirmed) repeatedly watched Chan-wook Park’s revenge thriller Oldboy before he decided to massacre his fellow students. Therefore, one supposes, if he hadn’t had access to a dvd-player, there would not be 33 dead youngsters in Virginia.
I do not wish to appear facetious, and I can promise you that I am as horrified by this as anyone. However, upon hearing the news, I had a sinking feeling that it would only be a matter of time before film got dragged into the hand-wringing debate that would inevitably follow an incident of this magnitude.
In our comment section today, Gerald Kaufman calls for film-makers to self-censor. This is an admirable sentiment but one which I feel is poorly argued (he seems to want to talk about his encyclopaedic knowledge of films and friendship with Tarantino rather than possible solutions) and completely impractical (film-makers are already limited by budget, technology, audience why would they want to limit their imaginations as well?)
He also says that “institutional censorship has vanished”. This is not the case at all. Our very own BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) has strict guidelines to follow to protect children and vulnerable people, but maturely stops short of the attitude that anything it doesn’t understand should be banned.
Mr Kaufman also seems to misunderstand the genre he is talking about. He refers to Oldboy as a “splatter” movie when it is nothing like the movies typical of the description, such as Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson’s and Sam “Spiderman” Raimi’s early work, Dawn of the Dead or Cannibal Holocaust.
He also peculiarly describes John Woo’s insane action film Face/Off as a “murder movie”. In what sense, I cannot imagine. Are we talking Fritz Lang’s M or David Fincher’s Se7en? In any case, it’s certainly far more Rambo than Rope…
For the benefit of those who haven’t seen Oldboy, I would like to point out three facts about the film, which seem to have been missed in many of the reports.
Firstly, yes, it is very violent. But it is also very, very good. It has been universally praised for its style, humour, morality and even its violence. It has won more than 15 major awards around the globe. Our own critic Tim Robey referred to it as “a Grand Guignol masterpiece of fiendish, shattering power”. It is 116th best film of all time as voted by the readers of IMDb (with 35,889 votes).
Secondly, the main character doesn’t shoot a gun during the entire film.
Thirdly, again, it has not yet been confirmed that he even watched it, let alone was “inspired” by it.
Gerald Kaufman begins his piece by writing: “The most chilling aspect of the Virginia Tech massacre is that its perpetrator, a South Korean, was directly inspired by a recent Korean splatter movie, Oldboy...”
Personally, I find the “movie-made-me-do-it” motive the least chilling aspect of this extraordinarily horrific crime.
Of course, it would be naïve to say that the media [in all of its forms] did not have a part to play in this tragedy.
However, it is clear what the real culprits are a sick mind, an intolerant youth culture and easy access to lethal weaponry.