Monday, February 16, 2009

What Would John Milton Think of Funny Games?

Much like Kevin, I feel unable to formulate half a thought about Blue Velvet (other than that I did not know I could dislike a movie that much; it made Funny Games seem really awesomely entertaining), so I will address a question brought up in class: What would John Milton think of Funny Games?

Questions like this have always interested me--what people would feel about time periods different from their own. Aside from the question of censorship, I'm sure he'd be repulsed at the visually explicit violence and sex (I think that for his time, a woman in her underwear is sex enough). I don't doubt that worse things were written in his own time, but I imagine the idea of it being presented visually would be really unsettling.

Moving onto censorship (or lack thereof), the impression I got from Areopagitica is that while he does generally support free speech, he also assumes that the writings of men that are apt to be censored will carry some sort of meaning and worthwhile point of view, even if it is wrong: "And if the men be erroneous who appear to be the leading schismatics, what withholds us but our sloth, our self-will, and distrust in the right cause, that we do not give them gentle meetings and gentle dismissions, that we debate not and examine the matter thoroughly with liberal and frequent audience; if not for their sakes, yet for our own?" I feel like he's saying here that of course with free press, some wrong ideas will emerge, but all ideas deserve careful thought and all will benefit from it.

My first thought regarding Milton and Funny Games was that he would approve of, if not the movie, its right to exist in the public sphere--that he would think it had something valuable to teach, even if the lesson was unsavory or downright wrong and the prize to be gleaned was in analyzing its mistake. Perhaps if he had a lot of time to really ingest the movie and the types of movies we watch today, he might come to this conclusion. However, the more I think about it, the more I feel like he wouldn't be able to get past a handful of things: a movie as literature, gratuitous violence and some sex, and the message he would perceive in the idea of such detatched killers.

The idea that a movie can be a valid piece of art with a real message is a relatively recent idea. Documents are probably the only type of moving picture that has always been regarded as valubale. The rise of creative indie movie makers with something to say and less desire for commercialism than, say, Fox Studios, have contributed. Back to Milton, he would have trouble accepting a movie on the same plane as the philosophical tracts of his time. Which brings up the other point that fiction was not widely acceptable as valuable in his time and I feel that his arguments were meant to be applied to non-fictional works.

Funny Games is mild on the violence for our time. We've all seen blood stains and bruises before. The implied violence is pretty bad, but still nothing out of the ordinary. However, Milton would likely find it horrible. A completely accurate depiction of a father, crying, covering up his dead son, who lay beneath his own blood all over the wall? We in our generation can watch a movie and completely realize it's fictional, but I imagine someone like Milton could not, certainly not immediately. This seems really petty, I realize, but I think it's very relevant, and that it says something important about his views.

Finally, the detatched killers sends a chilling message which I feel he could not cope with fully. I cannot pretend to know all the ideas that he was arguing for the freedom of, but I know one thing he was censored over was the support of divorce. A subject like that doesn't even come close to cold, emotionless murder. One might say here that the movie didn't promote that ideal at all, but I think that's one thing he would take away from it, regardless of the movie's intended meaning and the one which we can extract from it.

My point, in short is that, Milton had certain things in mind when he renounced censorship, and Funny Games simply goes beyond the scope of what he would be willing to support.

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