Kill ‘Em or Lock ‘Em Up?

Watched a couple of movies recently, The Secret in Their Eyes and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. What seems interesting in retrospect is their attitudes to “crime and punishment”. They had roughly similar structures as movies: a kind of detective story based on investigating an event in the past, and an (inevitable) bringing to justice of the baddy/baddies.

They also present a view of the law as being kind of ineffective, either through the sheer knottiness of a complex crime, or through corruption in the system. In both cases, the baddies aren’t going to be brought to justice in a legal manner, and so both movies rely on people taking justice into their own hands.

But they have different approaches. In one movie, the violent death or brutalising of bad people is heavily endorsed in a kind of “eye for an eye” style. In the other, there’s perhaps a more “philosophical” attitude (though no less exacting on the bad person in question).

All of which makes me wonder about the punishment thing in general, and specifically how it is I think I can tell what a movie wants me to feel about the actions of its characters. Perhaps, for instance, I was actually supposed to be offended and put off by the sight of a bad person being beaten and raped, rather than interpreting it as being, in the movie’s language, a victorious and essentially positive reversal of fortune.

That’s a big question, though. How can we tell what the movies (and other media) want us to feel and think about the actions of the characters? Ladies and gentlemen, start your semiotics…

29 May 2010
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