Some sins are okay

poster1 fullI always find it interesting which movies political groups and churches choose to protest against. There have been many stories about the reaction to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain but relatively few about the #1 movie in the country this week: Hostel.

James Pinkerton’s column, which I found in Newsday, suggests that there is a larger cultural significance in its popularity. (On a side note, I never really read Pinkerton but I have been enjoying him recently. I really enjoyed his essay on Maureen Dowd’s book, in which he compared her thoughts with Hugh Hefner’s worldview.) Okay, so here’s Pinkerton on Hostel:

Variety described “Hostel” as “unhinged gruesomeness.” Director Eli Roth explained to Salon.com that he got the idea for the movie from a Thai Web site that purported to offer an online pay-for-kill experience. He said there were “guys out there who are bored with doing drugs” and bedding prostitutes. “Nothing touches them anymore, so they start looking for the ultimate high. Paying to kill someone, to torture them.”

OK, but what’s the social impact of such a movie? Will such a cinematic depiction convince some viewers that it’s “normal” to have such thoughts? Will some be encouraged to copy what they see on celluloid?

And what of the larger social impact? The Web site horrormovies.ca observes, “It is merciless with the torture, the violence, & the sex. I guarantee you will walk out of this film trusting no one.” That is, “Hostel” will make you hostile.

I just find it surprising that more religious groups haven’t protested this film which will be seen, by my rough mathematical calculations, by about a gazillion more people than will see Brokeback Mountain.

Of course, maybe the larger story is that reporters don’t think to ask religious groups what their feelings are about the movie. Perhaps they don’t even realize there might be a story there because they don’t realize how broadly religious morality extends. This review, from Catholic News Service, rates Hostel as “O” for morally offensive:

Lured off the beaten path by promises of carnal pleasures, they find their way to a hedonistic hostel in Slovakia, where they fall easy prey to a pair of temptresses and wind up in a chamber of horrors where wealthy sadists pay top dollar for the most depraved thrills.

Director Eli Roth (“Cabin Fever”) serves up a steady stream of soft-core sex and hard-core gore, as gratuitously pornographic as it is mindless.

The film’s stomach-churning factor is extreme by even the barrel-bottom standards of Quentin Tarantino, who is credited as one of the movie’s executive producers.

crashSpeaking of stomach-churning, can someone keep Paul Haggis away from a typewriter? The man doesn’t write characters so much as one-dimensional cliche vehicles with which to pound you over the head. If I were to protest movies, I’m pretty sure Crash would be my first victim.

The fact that so many critics heap praise on that silly, silly movie makes me question everything they write. Okay, sorry for veering into GetMovies territory there, but I had to get it out.

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  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com Peter T. Chattaway

    Agreed on Crash.

    As for whether Hostel or Brokeback Mountain will be seen by more people … well, Hostel has grossed $35 million in two weekends while Brokeback has grossed more like $30 million over the past month … but Hostel, like most horror films, opened big and is falling fast, whereas Brokeback has been steadily creeping up the charts as it is slowly rolled out in more cities. Hostel could very possibly fall off the top ten list before February, whereas Brokeback will still be around when the Oscar winners are announced in March.

  • http://www.anotherthink.com Charlie

    “…maybe the larger story is that reporters don’t think to ask religious groups what their feelings are about the movie. Perhaps they don’t even realize there might be a story there…”

    I think this is where the truth is, Mollie. The kneejerk reaction of the MSM is that sex is the big sin in the world of the church, so Christians are always good for a quote on movies that normalize “alternative” sexual lifestyles.

    Hostel is a terrible movie, and by that I mean that it plays to the worst inclinations of human nature, inviting us to take delight in death, suffering and dehumanization. It plays on the same sort of dark emotions that the worst murder and mayhem video games exploit.

    But, of course, Hollywood loves a good protest. The church has become a bit more savvy in the past few years, realizing that saying too much can create a media storm that drives more curious people to the box office.

    And, as Hostel and many other films prove, Hollywood is always willing to push back the accepted moral boundaries if it thinks it can make a buck.

    Christians are faced with a dilemma: How do we protest these trends without pouring gasoline on the fire?

  • http://www.physicsgeekjesusfreak.blogspot.com Matthew M.

    Part a) to Charlie’s question is quite simple: Don’t Watch! Outside of that, it’s tricky to actually protest without making a big stink.

  • ccv

    Compared to all the sermonizing and hand-wringing about the violence and bloodshed in The Passion, Hostel is apparently packing them in and raking in big bucks and no one seems to be batting an eye.

    Interesting…

  • http://areyoudressed.blogspot.com Molly

    Box Office Mojo has the weekend numbers up.

    I think ccv has a point and I too, am wondering where is the religious outrcy of dehumanization?

  • http://www.anotherthink.com Charlie

    I have an idea for a screenplay that might gore everybody’s ox, perhaps creating a united outcry against this sort of dehumanization. A transgendered Jew, an African-American lesbian, an abortionist and a kitten are taken captive and held by sadistic neo-Nazis, who subject them to gruesome and agonizing torture. Do you think I could get a film like that made in Hollywood?

  • brian

    of course, it’s always about the clueless msm and the reporters.

    I’m sure it has nothing to do with the press releases that evangelical parachurch organizations put out.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    This isn’t an either/or, Mollie. The MSM is biased in the questions it asks of religionists, and religionists are hypocritical in the movies they criticize. I haven’t seen any anti-Hostel press releases from the likes of the AFA, have you?

    Charlie: No, such a movie could never, ever be made in this day and age. If the kitten were a Christian, the outcry from conservative Christians that the film exploited “anti-religious bigotry” would simply be too much for Hollywood to bear.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    The thing is, Brian, that relying on press releases is a horrible way for a reporter to cover news.

    Reporters should be enterprising, seeking out the views of churches that are less likely to have marketing teams or political activist streaks.

    But, yes, obviously many folks sense something interesting about the different level of outrage among both those on one side who decry the violence of the Passion of the Christ while letting Hostel slide or who decry the moral problems of Brokeback while also letting Hostel slide.

  • Mark Vassilakis

    Sorry, I disagree on “Crash”. I think the exaggerated characterization was very effective in bringing out what many people think but do not express. In my view, the best way to defeat racism is to be frank and upfront.

  • http://wafflinganglican.blogspot.com Mike the Geek

    In regard to the above comments, Hostel is already down to #8 and sinking quickly, after 11 days release. Narnia is #3 after 39. What I think happens with movies like Hostel is that there is a limited audience that just can’t wait to see it. Once that audience is used up, there aren’t many people left who want to see it at all. The average ticket price is probably around $6.40 this year, meaning that by the time it drops out of sight, 6 or 7 million people will see Hostel in the USA. That is a pretty small slice of the population.

    Regarding the lack of protest, I think there are two basic reasons. First, Hostel just doesn’t register on most Christians. The ads come on TV and we tune them out.

    Second is the reason we tune them out, which is that we have become desensitized to seeing violent crap peddled on the screen. After the 400th movie add about killers and slashers, it becomes like white noise. That is indeed a bd thing, and I think one valid reason to raise a stink about Brokeback is that we haven’t become desensitized about gay cowboys yet. Given enough exposure, we will. That’s the point, and, I believe, the Enemy’s intent. I know how much I’ve dulled my sensitivities over the years; personally, I want better for our kids.

  • brian

    I can’t find a link to it, but Cal Thomas does something quite unusual.

    He writes a column about culture and movies and devotes only one sentence to Brokeback Mountain.

    The majority of the column is about who good, uplifting and inspirational the movie “End of the spear” is.

    Of course, Glory Road is quite inspirational too.

  • brian

    Relying on press releases is a poor way to do journalism.

    However, stories about what churches are protesting what movie why are generally only so good in the long run. For the most part, it’s an oblique look at a national issue.

    Most religion reporters are looking for more compelling local stories as opposed to seeking comments on what’s coming out of Hollywood.

    However, your headline is exactly correct: “Some sins are okay.”

    Unless you’re talking to Mennonites, most conservative Christians take a laissez-faire approach to gun violence in toys or movies. However, if you start talking about homosexuality, gay marriage, gay adoption, then they feel it’s time to start calling legislators and holding press conferences and talking about how the culture is on the freeway to Sodom.

  • http://www.ideagrove.com/blog scott

    Really well said. Agree with you on all points — including he ridiculous Crash.

    I didn’t particularly want to see Brokeback but did, and I was amazed at how intimate and at the same time universal the story was. It’s the best I’ve seen this year — even better than Capote — and that’s certainly not what I was expecting.

    Part of the problem with in terms of the “sin” question is that only one loud segment of Christians — right-wing fundamentalists — are presented as the Christian point of view. And right-wing fundamentalists are obsessed with wedge political issues and sex.

  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com Peter T. Chattaway

    Unless you’re talking to Mennonites, most conservative Christians take a laissez-faire approach to gun violence in toys or movies.

    Yeah, and this was always a sticking point between me and my co-religionists back when I was a Mennonite. (Then again, I was Mennonite Brethren, which is more generically evangelical — the hardcore anti-toy-gun crowd tends to come from the General Conference, as the more mainline Mennonites used to be called, at least here in Canada.)

    Personally, I much prefer the approach of Gerard Jones’s Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence, which I reviewed here.

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  • http://www.exceptionalmarriages.com Greg Popcak

    Here’s my take, for what its worth. I won’t be patronizing either; Brokeback because it doesn’t speak to me and I don’t care to line the pockets of those who have a cultural agenda opposed to mine, and Hostel because I think it is in horrible bad taste and I don’t care to encourage that kind of “entertainment.”

    That said, I still find Hostel less objectionable than Brokeback because:

    (1) No one in decent society is suggesting that snuff-porn based “relationship” should be the cultural norm between two consenting adults and that people who want to kill each other in the name of love should be granted the same status as married people and

    (2) Even in an awful movie like Hostel, there is no question that what we are witnessing is evil. It might be awful to watch, but then, evil always is. Fascinatingly awful. Brokeback is MUCH more morally ambiguous.

    (3) As some have noted, Hostel can be used to illustrate how objectification of people for sex can lead directly to the objectification of people for torture. If I can use people however I want (pleasure/contraception), why can’t I abuse them however I want (torture for thrill)? I think it is much more difficult to draw similar clear moral lessons from Brokeback.

    (4) Picking up on this theme, in Hostel, evil is either clear and, ultimately, unattractive as a way of life, or obviously punished. This is actually a common ethic in the whole horror genre which is why some argue that the horror drama is actually the modern answer to the traditional morality play. Brokeback, again, is much more ambiguous, and although the protagonists experience pain as the result of their actions, I am not certain that the movie makes it clear that the pain is the result of their actions rather than the result of a society that prohibits them from “being who they really are.” Therefore, anthropologically speaking Brokeback is more objectionable–I would argue–than a movie like Hostel, and even though a movie like Hostel is decidedly uglier, that is part of its moral appeal–if you will.

    Incidentally, you will not find me to be one of those loud voices decrying Brokeback. People I respect, like Stephen Greydanus, have pointed out that there are redeeming aspects to the movie and I take them at their word. But since the question was asked, I thought it would be interesting to offer some reflections on why I, as one person on the front lines of the culture wars is much less concerned about movies like Hostel than I am about Brokeback.

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  • http://www.maintour.com/socal/slomorro.htm Bryce

    The same issue applies to websites. Why are the biggest websites (Google, Yahoo, MSN) allowed to freely show huge amounts of indecent material without any protest?

    Read more at the link:
    http://boycottgoogle.blogspot.com

  • c.tower

    Actually, as a lifelong horror movie fan,I’ve always found the moral ambigouity of the genre to be it’s greatest strength. Unlike action films,which always depict violence as a quick and easy solution to complex problems, horror films have actively broached questions about the nature of good and evil…even when the films themselves have been cynical pieces of exploitation, the ideas themselves are so thoroughly imbedded in the material, they can never be completely avoided.None of which excuses the makers of exploitive trash, of course;but most critics of horror films, frankly, can’t tell the difference between the socially concious work of someone like George Romero and the “stalk-and-slash” antics of the FRIDAY THE 13TH crowd.Blood is blood, they’ll say… unless they’re trying to defend PASSION OF THE CHRIST, of course.

  • http://areyoudressed.blogspot.com Molly

    Huh.
    I wonder if the boycott google people know that blogspot is run by google.

  • http://www.bluffton.edu/~bergerd Dan Berger

    I have a question for Greg Popcak and c. tower, who obviously know and love the horror genre. I, too, enjoy being scared to death by a good movie, and I agree that horror movies are often much more morally straight than action movies that show violence as the solution to all our problems.

    But…

    Ever seen “The Night Walker” or the 1942 “Cat People”? No explicit blood and little explicit violence, and in “Cat People” you’re even left in doubt whether anything is actually happening outside the protagonist’s mind… but they are scary as all get out. In fact my kids would much rather see, say, “Friday the 13th” than see “The Night Walker” again. It scared the bejeezuz out of them, and out of me the first time I saw it.

    Contrast this with, say, “Hostel” or the various “Halloween” flicks, or even the remake of “Cat People.” Not nearly as scary, but much more shocking. Even the better recent flicks, like “The Silence of the Lambs,” get most of their mileage not from the explicitly gruesome but from suspense and suggestion.

    I often think that the old censors ensured that moviemakers had to be much more creative. In fact, one of the scariest dramas I’ve experienced was on the radio, no visual stimulus at all. So … are there any more recent horror flicks that leave something — anything — to the viewer’s imagination?

  • http://angelskenn.com/ AK

    The reason “Hostel” hasn’t received much of a public outcry is simply that it is a horror film. These films are not trying to make social commentary, and need not be treated as such. Horror films, despite their content, are simple and unassuming- “sit down and watch people die.” We know we are not watching real death, so no matter how gruesome or scary, we can take it, like so little else in the media, at face value. And that is refreshing.

  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com Peter T. Chattaway

    Just for the record, as of yesterday, Brokeback Mountain is less than a million bucks behind Hostel, and Brokeback Mountain has risen to #2 while Hostel has plummeted to #7. So Brokeback Mountain should be passing Hostel very, very soon.

  • Marion R.

    There are two movies titled “Crash”. One is about fetsihization, one is about racism. Is the correct one referenced in the article? Is the link correct?

  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com Peter T. Chattaway

    Yes, Mollie linked to the 2004 film directed by Paul Haggis, and not to the 1996 film directed by Haggis’s fellow Canadian David Cronenberg.

  • c.tower

    Actually, I prefer the “old- school” horror myself, and despise most so-called “splatter” films…partly because they give the genre a bad name, but mostly because they’re just bad films.I guess the best way to make my point is to compare three films based on the same true incident: the Ed Gein murders, which were the inspiration for PSYCHO, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. All three films take the material on from different angles, all three are equally valid, and all are acknowledged masterpieces. And, significantly, the most graphically violent is SILENCE, which is the only one which was regarded as “tasteful” at the time of it’s release.Like it or not, graphic violence is part of movies now, like foul language and explict sex [ all three of which are actually in decline - on the big screen, at least- since the 1970's]. None of which invalidates the original point of all this, which is whether people should be more upset about HOSTEL or BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. But it’s not unrelated, actually… because most of the great horror films were considered “transgressive” at they time of their release- and these days, HOSTEL doesn’t qualify, because it’s just more of the same old gore. But BROKEBACK …that’s too much for the delicate sensibilities of still-homophobic America…

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