Columnists > Voices

Escalating depravity

Movies that "disturb and disgust" appeal to the "tang of evil"

Issue: "Who's laughing now?," April 8, 2006

A new breed of movies makes the old slasher and horror flicks look like Disney cartoons.

As film critic Glenn Whipp of the Los Angeles Daily News describes them, movies like Hostel, Wolf Creek, and The Devil's Rejects feature "intense scenes of torture, mutilation, and depravity." Their very purpose, according to Darren Lynn Bousman, director of the Saw franchise, is to "disturb and disgust."

The first Saw movie was about helpless people being forced to commit unspeakable cruelties to each other, else they and their families would be killed. To free herself from a bear trap about to spring on her head, a woman has to cut open a man and rummage around in his intestines to find a key.

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Saw II takes it one step further. This time, people must commit unspeakable cruelties on themselves. The key to save his life is implanted in a man's own body, forcing him to cut off swathes of his own skin and take a scalpel to his eye.

The next in the series is currently in production. "I can tell you that Saw III will ratchet it up another notch," says Mr. Bousman. "It's going to be even more vile, even more in-your-face."

(Details about exactly what is in these movies are available at Kids-in-mind.com, which WORLD uses in compiling our movie charts. Go to that site to see whether "violence" in a movie depicts a conflict between good vs. evil or is just sheer evil.)

What is the attraction of movies that present vileness for its own sake? What is the mindset of people who find cruelty entertaining? Again, Mr. Bousman is at least honest: "We're gonna make a movie for a specific group of people, people who want to feel something extreme."

The problem is, those who pursue sensate experiences quickly become jaded. The experience has to be more and more extreme even to register. Drug addicts, for example, have to take higher and higher doses to get the rush they crave. This is why so many addicts die of an overdose.

Sin desensitizes us to normal human pleasures and feelings. The heart, as the Bible says, becomes "hard." The conscience itself loses its sensitivity. Whereupon people "give themselves up" to ever-escalating sin, as well as to the accompanying judgment (Ephesians 4:18-19).

A dirty little secret in the psychology of human depravity is that the sense of transgression-what C.S. Lewis called "the tang of evil"-is part of sin's appeal. Ironically, as sinful behavior gains social acceptance, those who crave the rush of transgression must seek new taboos to break.

Decades ago, a literary critic predicted that sex scenes in books had become so commonplace and accepted that they would have to become more and more extreme to create the desired thrill that comes from breaking a taboo. He predicted the rise of sado-masochism (a perversion reflected in these movies) and sex involving children.

The combination of sin's desensitizing effect and the thrill of violating taboos is evident in the progression of pornography addiction. A taste for naked pictures moves to depictions of sex, and then-when the viewer becomes jaded to those-to depictions of rape, sadism, incest, and sex with children. Sometimes, when the viewer becomes jaded even to these pornographic fantasies, he acts them out in the real world, to the point of becoming a child-molester, a rapist, a serial killer. Dabbling in sin is deadly. Seemingly minor vices can escalate into full-scale perversions, and to God's judgment.

Our depravity is such that we can take pleasure in hurting or degrading or corrupting others. This can happen in real life or in our hearts, in our inner fantasies and in the entertainment we enjoy (Matthew 5:22,28). Our only remedy is that God, in Christ through the Holy Spirit, will remove our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19).

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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