Murder and the Movies

Yale Univ. Aug. 2020. 240p. ISBN 9780300220018. $26. FILM
Thomson (Sleeping with Strangers) presents murder in the movies as a triangle connecting the on-screen killer, the storyteller, and the audience. Murder is objectively bad, but why is our entertainment infused with it? The audience bears the brunt of his moral hand-wringing, but Thomson is more concerned than outraged by the pervasiveness and appeal of killing. He himself is complicit, having witnessed an estimated 150,000 cinematic slayings. Dampening his critique is his waving off of Kevin Spacey’s, Roman Polanski’s, and Woody Allen’s off-screen behavior; he doesn’t expect artists to be good people. Reading like a book-length essay, the work contains cogent insight into filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, interjects thought experiments (a disturbing one explores a hypothetical scenario in which The Godfather’s Michael Corleone bludgeons Kay to death), and pauses for reflections (discussing Joker with his son).
VERDICT Thomson leads readers on a meandering path, never successfully reaching a conclusion. However, the journey isn’t unpleasant and Thomson is a reservoir of film knowledge.

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