The Poetics of Film Violence



Violent entertainment feeds on a certain paradox. Although violence is generally thought to be something frightening and horrifying, for a significant if not major part of the population its representations award pleasures of sorts. In an aesthetic context, those negative primary reactions can give rise to a variety of meta-emotions as a way of coping with, even achieving a kind of quasi mastery over, the concerns and anxieties the very thought of violence evokes in most of us.1 As was argued above, due to certain patterns of responding to things that are thought to be horrific or which entail the idea of loss, aesthetic detachment also allows us to experience violence and our own responses to it as something almost involuntarily fascinating. This affective structure can be exploited by certain narrative and more specifically cinematic means to create a variety effects ranging from laughter to shock. Often these are based on appealing to prevailing notions about good and evil, treated either in an entertainingly simplistic fashion or with the aim of exposing their underlying complexities. Poetics is the study of how works of art generate certain responses in the spectator, possibly with the aim of influencing his or her norms and notions concerning the real world. The purpose of the poetics of film violence is to explore how violence can function as an element of a film as an aesthetic whole.


Moral Norm Film Industry Entertainment Industry Retributive Justice Fictional Narrative 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Devin McKinney, “Violence: The Strong and the Weak,” in Stephen Prince (ed.), Screening Violence, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2000), pp. 99–109.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    This is partly an adaptation of Daniel Kahneman’s ideas which he presents in his Thinking, Fast and Slow, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Originally in the contemporary article, Walter Lippmann, “The Underworld as Servant.” Quoted in Richard Maltby, “The Spectacle of Criminality,” in J. David Slocum (ed.), Violence and American Cinema, (New York and London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 126–127.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Richard Maltby, “The Spectacle of Criminality,” in Slocum, Violence and American Cinema, p. 128. Maltby’s sources: Richard Gid Powers, G-Men: Hoover’s FBI in American Popular Culture (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985), p. 55; Robert Lacey, Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life (London: Century, 1991), p. 88.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Stephen Prince, Classical Film Violence: Designing and Regulating Brutality in Hollywood Cinema, 1930–1968, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003), p. 92.Google Scholar
  6. 22.
    Stephen Prince, Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998), pp. 25–26.Google Scholar
  7. 26.
    Laurent Bouzereau, Ultra Violent Movies: From Sam Pechinpah to Quentin Tarantino, (Secaucus: Citadel Press, 1996), pp. 22–23.Google Scholar
  8. 29.
    Newsday, Aug. 14, 1967. Quoted in the article by J. Hoberman, “A Test for the Individual Viewer: Bonnie and Clyde’s Violent Reception,” in Jeffrey H. Goldstein (ed.), Why We Watch: The Attractions of Violent Entertainment, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 117.Google Scholar
  9. 39.
    David Tetzlaff, “Too Much Red Meat!” in Steven Jay Schneider (ed.), New Hollywood Violence, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), pp. 269–285.Google Scholar
  10. 41.
    Michael Medved, “Hollywood’s Four Big Lies,” in Karl French (ed.), Screen Violence, (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1996), p. 26Google Scholar
  11. 45.
    Karen Boyle, Media and Violence, (London: Sage Publications, 2005), p. 22.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Henry Bacon 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of HelsinkiFinland

Personalised recommendations