When revenge is based on a personal trauma – whether it be a shooting, rape, kidnapping, or torture – these films often veer into ‘extreme’ or ‘exploitation’ cinema, ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ and ‘Ms. 45′ being two examples. John Boorman’s ‘Point Blank’ is a great take on the singular minded criminal who has been double-crossed by his partners, and one by one hunts them down. This was re-made in the 90′s with ‘Payback’ starring Mel Gibson, also very engaging in it’s own right.
The ‘Kill Bill’ films from Quentin Tarantino tells the sordid tale of a woman betrayed, shot, and left for dead. When she awakens from her coma, her focus on taking out all involved is so clear, so motivated, and so entertaining in a way that only Tarantino can deliver.
In Roman Polanski’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ he plays with a protagonist who personifies the ‘un-reliable’ narrator. Sigourney Weaver portrays a character who was tortured at the hands of a Military Junta many years ago, and through a chance encounter her husband has, thinks she has found her tormentor. He is kidnapped, bound, roughed up, and put through a sort of ‘Court’ with her husband playing the defense for this man who may or may have not been her torturer so many years ago. All she has is her memory – what he sounded like, what he smelled like, and what music he played in these torture sessions, and we as an audience are constantly questioning if she has the right man or not. Her husband is the voice of reason in the beginning of the ordeal, “No matter how sure you are, no matter how terrible the accusations are, he has a right to defend himself”, but even he starts to doubt whether this man is innocent or not. This constant questioning of what is right and wrong, what is justice and what is revenge, what is the truth and what is the lie, is what drives this great story from beginning to the end.
Two of my favorite films that play off the revenge fantasy to an extreme end are from the U.K. – ‘Dead Mans Shoes’ directed by Shane Meadows , and Australia – ‘The Horseman’ directed by Steven Kastrissios. Both have protagonists that are driven from the beginning of the film all the way to the end to make sure the people who hurt their loved ones suffer a great deal before they die. Both also use the visual storytelling of ‘flashbacks’ to great effect, and really help the audience understand the anguish the protagonist is suffering as these scenes are doled out throughout each film. ‘Dead Mans Shoes’ starts the film with flashbacks in home-movie fashion, showing two brothers growing up together, and contrasts these scenes with current ones of them older walking together, and within minutes you understand they have a close bond. Clearly something terrible has been done to the younger brother, and the older one (played with great menace by Paddy Considine) has come back to the deal with the drug-dealing bullies who did his brother wrong. “God will forgive them, and allow them into heaven. I can’t live with that”. This is one of the first lines said by Considine in the beginning of the film, and sets the tone for the stalking, terrorizing, and brutally vicious ways he kills off these men one by one.
In the Australian ‘The Horseman’ there is a grieving father dealing with the death his daughter, and he goes on a path of destruction to deal with all the men involved. Flashbacks in this story do a wonderful job of showing the audience not just the loss of his daughter and how he feels, but also the loss of innocence in general. The story has a wonderful dream-like quality at times as the editing takes you from the past to the present, from flashback to reality, all against a haunting score with a wonderful melancholy tone throughout. ‘He can’t bring his daughter back, but he can send her killers to hell’ is the tagline of the film, and he does just that, in one brutally bloody scene after another.
So in the end, is it worth it ? All this mayhem, violence, retribution ? For these characters, there is no other choice, they are driven to push themselves to the limit, in ways that you & I would only dream of. This is the sheer entertainment of it all though, watching these people go too far, and you ask yourself “What would I do ?”. I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite characters, who consumed by rage and revenge, is the cause of his own undoing – Khan Noonien Singh from ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’.
“Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish best served cold………it is very cold in space”
- Nathan Stanton