Revenge Movies: What is the Attraction?

Last night I watched Tombstone for about the hundredth time.  It’s a good movie.  Not a to-die-for fantastic movie, but a good movie.  Watching it reminded me once again of how much I love revenge movies.  Give me a revenge movie and I’m yours.  The list of revenge movies is a long one: Gladiator, Death Wish, Carrie, Braveheart, Wrath of Khan, The Punisher, or Eye for an Eye.  There are two revenge movies that I would consider my personal favorites: Desperado and Kill Bill.  Here’s a quick recap:

Desperado is a classic revenge tale of guys’ girl gets murdered and seeks revenge.  The guy doesn’t know that it is his brother who murdered his bride.  In the end, he gets his man.

Kill Bill (volumes 1 and 2) is a classic Tarentino revenge movie of the girl seeks revenge over her mentor who murdered her fiancee and her unborn daughter.  She doesn’t find out until the end that her daughter is still alive.  In the end, she gets her man.

Why am I so drawn to these movies?  There are lots of things that are seriously objectionable in them for the Christian.  The language is horrible, they are violent, they sometimes objectify sex, the list of problems could go on and on.  There is nothing that will make any of these things good.  But I love them despite all of this.

(I am also drawn to revenge books, fwiw.  I just finished a great detective novel set in Rome called The Seventh Sacrament.  It’s a very worthy read.  My favorite western is also a revenge tale called The Sackett Brand by Louis L’Amour)

Is this simply my old sinful man?  Possibly.  Okay, I’m sure that’s a good part of it.  They are classic guy shoot-em-up movies.

But one element of them has always intrigued me.  An integral part of revenge movies is this: the protagonist no longer cares what happens to him or her.  All that he cares about is revenge.  He wants them to pay for what they have done, no matter what.  He may die in the process, but it doesn’t matter.  He will get justice, no matter the cost.

I would commend to you that this is the central theme in revenge stories.  When the hero (?) no longer cares about what happens to him, anything is possible.  Revenge is exactly the same as love in this regard.  The hero no longer cares about himself at all.  All he cares about is the death of his enemy.  With love, the hero no longer cares about himself, it is the life of his beloved that matters above all else.

I think that this element of love, the complete self-giving to the point of death, can appear trite and silly taken by itself.  But when we couple it with understanding revenge, perhaps we gain an insight into love we may not have had before.

I am reminded of the words of the Samaritan from our Gospel from a couple weeks ago: “Take care of him, and whatever the cost, I will pay it.”

There’s still a lot of gunk in great revenge movies, make no mistake about it.  But sin is a corruption of the good.  By gaining some insight into the corruption, perhaps we can gain an insight in to the Incorruptible One, who, out of love for us, gave up everything so that we might live.

Don’t worry, though.  I’m still not going to show Kill Bill to a youth group…

5 thoughts on “Revenge Movies: What is the Attraction?

  1. Well, I’m willing to revise my thoughts to say a great movie. But it is not Kill Bill great. Sorry.

    It does have some great lines though:

    Ike Clanton: What is that now? Twelve hands in a row? Holliday, son of a bitch, nobody’s that lucky.
    Doc Holliday: Why Ike, whatever do you mean? Maybe poker’s just not your game Ike. I know! Let’s have a spelling contest!

    Or:

    Wyatt Earp: You tell ’em I’M coming… and hell’s coming with me, you hear?…

    Yes it’s a good movie. Okay, a great movie.

  2. That’s better.

    Yeah, Tombstone is full of quotables.

    Billy Clanton: Why, it’s the drunk piano player. You’re so drunk, you can’t hit nothin’. In fact, you’re probably seeing double.
    Doc Holliday: I have two guns, one for each of ya.

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