Saturday, 27 August 2016

Thought 307: Scorcese FIlms as Morally Ambiguous

My general gripe with Martin Scorcese's films is that I see them as glamourising villainy, psychopathy, natural law violation whislt providing little and half-hearted moral correctives to what are basically adverts for violence and immoral behaviour. I see them as embracing moral relativism, i.e. as denying an objective difference between right and wrong, yet being nonetheless interpreted by critics as having moral depth.

Taxi Driver sees a psychotic man kill a pedophile while previously considering killing a popular politician but the motive for this killing could be the fruit of 'wanting to amount to something' rather than genuine concern for Jodie Foster, the under-age prostitute.

Cape Fear portrays the character played by De Niro as a hundred times more physically and intellectually fit than the lawyer whose family De Niro preys on but again this makes an equation between talent and immorality, itself based on 
a misreading of Nietzsche.

Goodfellas, a film I find overrated, makes mafia-style immoral practice seem like an apt strategy for a successful life away from the corporate and employment treadmill. Whatever happens to the main character eventually, the message that winning means avoiding mainstream routines and being a criminal is still there.

New York New York sees a jealous neurotic again played by De Niro seem somewhat cool and manly and his treatment of his wife is not put into question at any point, although she winds up finding success and not he. 

Raging Bull makes us feel pity, by the end, for the fate of a boxing champion who is not only a wife and brother beater but a jealous, controlling, insecure and lascivious piece of garbage.

The Wolf of Wall Street is essentially money and sex (i.e. satanic) pornography making ultra-capitalist Jordan Belfort seem like a cool, funny and self-aware trader/drug addict as compared to the hopeless masses who are revealed, by the end of the film, to have no commercial sense whatsoever, unable as they are to sell a pen by creating urgency. In addition all of Belfort's employees essentially have rubber souls apart from one who has depth and who kindly decides to clean a fish bowl only to be humiliated and sacked for doing so. Lastly, I interpret the film as having the effect of a smokescreen in its portrayal of loose cannon traders for much more cynical and calculated practices by white collar banking establishments. 

The Departed is an ultra-violent film showing the ties between the mafia and the police and it seems to me that the message of the film at the end is 'don't be a rat' rather than not getting involved in immoral behaviour, whether the State-approved or the mob-criminal kind. 

Of course these points of view are rather over-stated as there is some nuance and correctives to these narratives but I personally find them very weak and half-baked. 

Oliver Stone, by contrast, is less morally ambiguous in his film work but many take issue with his films for that reason, as being too preachy and righteous. 

I have less of a problem with Quentin Tarantino's work - which is also ultra-violent and villainous - because it so transparently makes a link between violence and comedy that people do not come out of it thinking 'ah yes that had a moral message' - moreover, Tarantino has always made clear his penchant for the aesthetic of violence and gore and while perverse, this trait would only be mistaken for rightful thinking by mind controlled fools. In other words, I find Tarantino's oeuvre is less hypocritical than Scorcese's.