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A History of Violence

In: Film and Music

Submitted By nycsglam
Words 1190
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The film A History of Violence is a movie that centralizes around the life of a

man named Tom Stall, a man played by actor Viggo Mortensen, who appears to be an

easygoing loving family man and a friendly local business owner in the small amiable

town of Millbrook, Indiana. Stall becomes a local hero when he surprisingly kills two

sociopaths that attempt to rob his diner. His life seems to immediately turn upside down

when a mysterious group of mobsters begin to start following Tom and his wife Edie,

accusing him of being a former hit man from Philadelphia with the name
Joey Cusack.

The name Stall is a very symbolic name in that Tom Stall is stalling the truth about his

identity from all of those around him, including his immediate family.
He is stalling from

this very large secret he keeps inside of him from getting out.
Violence is prevalent

throughout the film. This movie raises many questions about violence and the idea of

catharsis. During the film, the main character emotionally cleanses his past demons by

changing his former identity to a new man of different morals. In real life, there is a lot of

controversy about whether anger, rage, and fighting is a healthy form of catharsis.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines the word catharsis as “a purifying or figurative cleansing of the emotions, especially pity and fear, described by Aristotle as an effect of tragic drama on its audience.”
Another definition it gives us is “A release of emotional tension, as after an overwhelming experience, that restores or refreshes the spirit.”(The American Heritage Dictionary of the English 2
Language) However in drama, catharsis takes on somewhat of a different meaning. At the end of the movie we see Tom try to rid his ill feelings of killing his brother by cleansing himself in the water in a lake. He wears a cross around his neck as a symbol of redemption and salvation. He continues to battle an inner moral conflict of a cross between the person he used to be and the person he has worked so hard to become, a righteous man trying to live an uncorrupt life. The director of the movie is trying to make the audience feel that their negative feelings were also being purged and cleansed after watching the violence that Tom had just committed. We felt somewhat peaceful at how the movie ended, and it seemed to help alleviate some of the tension we had felt as viewers. The Greek philosopher Aristotle felt that the main effect of drama should be cathartic. He illustrated this throughout his literary work.
“Aristotle first used the term
[catharsis] to apply to literature in his work Poetics to discuss how drama can affect the individual viewer. Good drama helps the viewer identify with the experiences, especially sorrowful ones, of characters in a play. Drama can evoke powerful emotions, and people who watch it and are moved leave the theater clean, refreshed, and purified in emotional experience. Aristotle further claims that having expressed some of their emotions, the audience has a sense of relief that helps them handle daily living in calmer fashion. This is directly antithetical to Plato’s claim that drama and poetry could produce ill effects on viewers and readers, leading them to act more extremely. Aristotle instead contends that catharsis through drama leads to a more rational mind since the extremes of emotion are tapped and felt in a safe setting.”(wiseGeek.com)
Tom’s son Jack is constantly being bullied by a boy at school named Bobby.
After being humiliated and degraded countless times, Jack has finally had enough. All of 3 this anger is bottled up inside of him, and he decides to release his anger that results in the retaliation of violence. While some might think this is a healthy action of relief, the two kids that Jack attacks wind up in the hospital, badly beaten. This leaves Jack feeling distressed and agitated, further resulting in him being suspended from school. A theory called cognitive neoassociation suggests that once an aggressive thought is processed or stimulated in the brain, it can trigger another aggressive thought, leading into emotional reactions related to violence. Brad J. Bushman from Iowa State
University explains in an article, “Cognitive neoassocation theory predicts that venting should increase rather than decrease angry feelings and aggressive behaviors. Venting involves behaving aggressively, often against ‘safe’ inanimate objects. To vent, people punch pillows, wallop punching bags, beat on couches with foam baseball bats, throw dishes on the ground, kick trash cans, scream and swear into pillows, and so forth.
In essence, venting is practicing how to behave aggressively. Such aggressive activity should prime aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavioral tendencies, especially if the people think about the source of their anger while venting. Thus, venting should keep angry feelings active in memory and also should increase the likelihood of subsequent aggressive responses.”(Bushman 725). Jack’s initial response may have been a feeling of satisfaction, but it was immediately followed by more anger as we see played by his character in the remainder of the film. There is an irony contradiction between Tom and his son, and the violent characteristics that Tom portrays seems to have a great effect on
Jack’s behavior. After hearing the news of his son’s fight at school,
Tom confronts Jack by saying, “We don’t solve problems by hitting people,” and Jack sharply responds, “No, we solve problems by shooting them.” 4
Tom and his wife Edie share a very fiery and passionate type of marriage that some may consider to be quite unusual. Their intimacy involves violent and playful behavior. In a love scene that takes place in the film, Tom chokes
Edie on the stairs and at first it seems as it might be a potentially threatening situation but their intimacy immediately follows with intense kissing filled with deep emotion. You can see in the film that Tom genuinely loves his wife and they share a very attached and devoted connection. In this particular circumstance, I do not feel this type of sexual violence is necessarily a bad thing, but more of an exuberant and frisky type of innocent behavior, that when shared between two consenting adults can be a healthy form of catharsis.
There are many different types of catharsis. As Aristotle described it, performative violence as catharsis makes good drama and helps the audience identify with the characters and their experiences. However, in reality, I personally don’t feel that anger is a healthy way of venting if it is going to resort in a destructive type of behavior where someone gets physically hurt. There are other ways to deal with anger by avoiding violence. Instead of fueling the fire through anger and rage, a positive way to release these emotions is doing something therapeutic, such as going for a walk, practicing spirituality, or engaging in some sort of meditation. Lashing back at anger only causes more negative emotions, similar to the belief of the law of attraction. Focusing on negative thoughts will only product negative results.…...

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