Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Not just a movie

Some films come so close to horrific real-life events that they can cause serious distress to those watching them. But is it justified to pull the films from cinemas to avoid upsetting people? Or should they just be reminded that fiction, after all, isn't reality?

The question arises again with the news that Clint Eastwood's new film, Hereafter, starring Cecile de France, is to be withdrawn from Japanese cinemas because it features a journalist nearly dying after she's caught in a devastating Asian tsunami.

An official at Warner Brothers said that the tsunami sequences in the film were "not appropriate" at the present time, and that the film would therefore no longer be shown.

One blogger has said that her own sister and cousin were caught in the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand in 2004 and when she watched Hereafter she was very upset by the footage where de France is swept away in a massive wall of water.

It's easy to argue that freedom of expression is sacrosanct and that if people think they'll be upset they shouldn't watch the film, but when huge numbers of people have been personally caught up in an eerily similar disaster and are likely to be highly distraught, perhaps it's right to withdraw it.

It's only a film, it's not essential to show it, and it can still return to cinemas at some later date when emotions have settled down. If that's ever possible, that is, after such a shocking and traumatic experience.

Some 45 films were edited, delayed or abandoned after the Twin Towers attack in New York. They may have been fictional but they were too close to a shattering real-life event to be shrugged off as mere movies.

Of course you can argue that once you start censoring films because they might upset people, where do you stop? But one or two withdrawals out of respect for widespread personal distress hardly amount to censorship. There are thousands more films out there we're still free to watch and be entertained by. It's a very small sacrifice to make.

PS: It is reported that Clint Eastwood supports the decision by Warner Brothers, and is to donate some of the profits from the DVD to charities responding to the Japanese earthquake. He says: “The devastation and loss Japan is facing is almost incomprehensible. I’m glad to join Warner Brothers in this effort to help the Japanese people.”

Pic: Tsunami reaching land in Japan

22 comments:

Wisewebwoman said...

The thin celluloid line. I am a firm believer on personal responsibility (I have particular abhorrence for people suing MackyDs for spilling their hot coffee in their own laps, duh)so isn't it a personal choice Nick, for people viewing these films?
This smacks of Big Bro and like you, I question where it stops.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

W3 - Well, it stops at a very small number of films, while all the rest are freely available. It's not as if some dictatorship is banning hundreds of films or closing cinemas. I can't see that filmgoers are seriously impoverished by the decision.

Grannymar said...

It seems sometimes that people would rather complain than reach for an off button or stay from a cinema. Are they forced to watch? I don't think so.

Nick said...

Grannymar - I'm not sure if anyone has actually complained. It may be that Clint Eastwood and Warner are taking this action to forestall any complaints. But you're right that nobody is forced to watch the film.

nursemyra said...

"But one or two withdrawals out of respect for widespread personal distress hardly amount to censorship"

That's my opinion too

kylie said...

as individuals we avoid rubbing salt into the wounds of the people around us and i see no reason why that philosophy cant be applied on a grander scale.i think this is a matter of good taste more than anything

then again, people should avoid whinging about things they can avoid

btw: happy st patricks day!

secret agent woman said...

I don't see being sensitive to a nation in crisis as censorship It's respect, plain and simple. Good on the studio for temporarily withdrawing it.

Baino said...

I think it's false political correctness really. I can understand perhaps not releasing it now but down the track? Surely if you've been involved in a disaster depicted in a drama, you'd have little interest in reliving it at the movies? I hate censorship but I guess this is self censorship so .. jury's out.

Roses said...

I don't think wanting to spare an already grieving and shattered nation more pain is 'false political correctedness'.

Truthfully, I'm not sure I could watch a fiction about that kind of event having seen footage about the real thing. My heart hurts.

Nick said...

Myra - This very minor measure hardly equates to a ruthless dictatorship.

Kylie - It would indeed be rubbing salt into their wounds. If they're still keen on a disaster movie, there are plenty more out there.

Ah yes, St Paddy's Day. Mostly an excuse for drunken mayhem, unfortunately.

Secret Agent - That's right, it's simple respect for people whose lives have been thrown into chaos.

Nick said...

Baino - I think the idea is to release it later on when the disaster has receded into the past a bit. But as you say, I can't imagine many people wanting to see it anyway.

Roses - The idea of political correctness is just a bit of nonsense to bash lefties with. If wanting to spare people pain is "politically correct", that's fine by me.

Roses said...

The label of 'political correctness' has done so much harm to the eradication of prejudicial language and behaviour. People sling it to get around having to deal with things.

I used to deliver race awareness workshops and nothing could undermine a session faster than the whole PC thing.

Nick said...

Roses - "Political correctness" is just a huge smokescreen to prevent discussion of the real issue, i.e. respect for others. And it's usually backed up by anecdotal outrages which turn out to be totally invented.

Megan said...

Not to sound flippant or god forbid, "elitist" but I wouldn't have seen the movie anyway. Disaster flicks only ever seem to have stock characters with stock motivations and stock dialogue. There aren't even any real stunts anymore. Bleargh.

And these days, remember, withdrawing a movie means more than just taking it out of the theater. It means no posters, no commercials, no press junkets by the stars, etc. etc. If someone in Japan wants to see the film, they can see it any number of ways. But at least the general public won't be bludgeoned by the publicity campaign...

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I agree with Secret Agent Woman, and Clint Eastwood. When a tragedy of such proportions occurs, there is really so little most of us can do to help. Withdrawing a film on such a sensitive topic at this time is an attempt not to cause further pain to people already suffering terribly, and should not be confused with censorship.

Nick said...

Megan - Good point, publicity material could also be upsetting, even if you don't see the film itself. But can you still buy the DVD in Japan? If you can, then those who still want to watch it can do so.

Heart - Exactly, sparing the feelings of thousands of quake victims is not the same as arbitrary censorship.

Suburbia said...

If I think a film is about something that might upset me I wouldn't go and see it. Simple really, I'm sure we are all capable of censoring for ourselves aren't we?

Nick said...

Suburbia - I think in theory you're right, we should all decide for ourselves whether we want to see a film. But is it sensible to put on a film all over Japan when you know many people watching will be seriously distressed?

Val said...

I don't see it as censorship, really. Censorship is pulling something and banning it completely, or cutting out bits that are regarded as 'bad' to a small minority of people. This film will eventually be seen by the Japanese, I'm sure. As for pulling it at this time, I think it just shows a degree of concern, and I can't see anything about that to get worked up over.

Nick said...

Val - That's a good distinction between censorship and sensitivity. As you say, I assume it will reappear in Japanese cinemas at some later date.

Suburbia said...

No in that instance it is right not too, definitely, but I do hate the 'nannying' that goes on at home sometimes!

Nick said...

Suburbia - Well, it's sometimes hard to say whether we're being nannied or given sensible advice. For example, I think a lot of parents appreciate warnings that certain films are unsuitable for children. But others would describe that as nannying.