Since the 1992 debut of his first feature film, Reservoir Dogs, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has been a hit with both critics and audiences alike with his use of fast-paced dialogue, colorful characters and classic soundtracks – but the writer/director is most notorious for the gratuitous amounts of violence and gore present in his films.
This uninhibited utilization of violence has proven to be polarizing among the American people, especially with the reoccurring school shootings in the U.S. and the perceived growing violent tendencies of the American youth – a problem, advocates say, is a learned behavior stemming from the violence portrayed in films, TV and video games. Tarantino, however, denies that this is the case: “I’ve been asked this question for 20 years, about the effects of violence in movies related to violence in real life. My answer is the same as 20 years ago … I don’t think one has to do with the other,” (qtd. in Grossberg).
Just strictly looking at the figures, it’s easy to see why so many have rallied against the filmmaker’s use of violence. In a 2013 article published by Vanity Fair in which they added up the number of on-screen deaths in all of Tarantino’s films, eight films in total, and they found that there had been approximately 563 total people killed on-screen, with the 2009 war film, Inglourious Basterds, taking the top spot with 396 approximate on-screen deaths, and the 1997 crime film, Jackie Brown, tallying just four.
And it’s not just the number of deaths seen in the films: The manner in which these deaths have been portrayed has been growing increasingly diverse. All of the combined deaths from his first three films were from firearms alone, but as the director moved on from the crime film genre, the on-screen deaths became more creative. For example, in the martial arts action films, Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2, there were countless on-screen deaths from samurai swords. Inglourious Basterds not only showed deaths by firearm, it also showed the scalping of dead Nazi soldiers by the American troops, as well as the burning of a French theater filled with Nazi officials, including Adolf Hitler himself, (Beggs and Handy).
Following his latest release, the controversial Django Unchained, the director found himself in hot water again, not only because of the frequent use of the N-word, but because of the events that occurred Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Advocacy groups condemned the film for its portrayal of violence, stating that films like these can, and have lead to, acts of violence like the Sandy Hook shooting.
Tarantino, however, expressed his annoyance that he has to defend his films every time there is a tragedy in America. “I just think you know there’s violence in the world, tragedies happen, blame the playmakers. It’s a western. Give me a break,” (qtd. in “Quentin Tarantino is …”). Regardless of the filmmaker’s views, The Weinstein Company, the studio behind Django Unchained, cancelled the film’s premier out of respect for the victims after news broke of the Sandy Hook shooting.
Dr. Pamela Cantor, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and president of the American Association of Suicide, believes that Tarantino’s statements were “ill-informed.” He said: “Big screen movie makers and the media in general have a responsibility here as their depiction of violence and guns are not doing any good because they normalize violent acts making society immune to them.” Even the star of the film, Jamie Foxx, agreed with what Dr. Cantor said, stating in a press event, “We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn’t have a sort of influence. It does,” (qtd. in “Quentin Tarantino is …”).