For the diseased mind that is saturated with such modern imagery, there is fascination aplenty with the drama of killing, but no commensurate lesson gleaned from its sheer horror—at least in human terms of the devastation that such carnage does to humans, both nearby and in the larger community. In the awful mind of the rampage killer, he always must be the center of attention in the manner of his homicidal fantasy counterpart, his victims of no more account than are those decapitated, dismembered, or shot apart by Freddy Krueger or Arnold Schwarzenegger. How odd that we rush to the emergency room for a cut finger in the kitchen—stitches, tetanus shot, pain killer, bandages, a doctor’s reassurance—only to matter-of-factly watch horrific wounds on television that night with no thought that a .38 slug to the shoulder entails something more than our split forefinger.
And there is a further wrinkle to these hyper-realistic cinematic rampages. The killer, be he an evil “Joker,” the horrific Alien, or a hit man in a mafia movie, has a certain edgy personality, even a sick sort of intriguing persona—at least in the sense that his evil is sometimes “cool” in a way that his plodding victims, who simply got in his way, are not. In the abstract, we sympathize with the good, who became his targets; but in the concrete, the film focuses more often on the killer’s emotions, his language, his swagger.
The Joker spits, he puns, he acts disengaged and “cool,” while his victims scream and panic; we want to know why he acts so, and are supposed to be fixated on his strange clothes, face, and patois, never on the series of Joe Blows that are incinerated by him. Is it any wonder we know all about the orange hair of the suspected killer, but very little about the hair colors of any of the poor victims?
Will this distortion of reality change? I doubt it, but I sense a great public hunger for the wounded victim, the near corpse, the dying to suddenly rise up and announce “I am a human being and I count,” as he either dies with a second of nobility or ends the rampage killer. One of the attractions of the violent film Dirty Harry was the utter disdain Clint Eastwood held for the perverted killer (“he likes it”), as he sought to remind society that in comparison with his victims, the killer’s feelings mattered little.
Yes, you say that the teary scene of the death of Boromir in Lord of the Rings or a Kirk Douglas burning on the departing Viking ship was hokey. But I prefer them to the new normal of cinematic death as irrelevant—an indifference that ripples through society at large.