Sunday, July 6, 2003

Hollywood seems to like racheting up the rage


By Margaret A. McGurk
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For 100 years, movies have been chugging along full of drama, romance, comedy, suspense and action.

Lately, another ingredient is driving the cinematic train: rage.

Going ballistic has never been bigger. Consider:

• In 28 Days Later, toxic rage - transmitted by viral infection - becomes a catastrophic plague that threatens to destroy the world more efficiently than bombs.

Hulk, rage unleashes a literal demon created inside an abused child by an insane father - and how's that for a lurid metaphor for masculine repression?

• In Anger Management, rage is the road that leads a way-too-passive Adam Sandler to everlasting love.

Alex Garland, author of the screenplay for 28 Days Later, said the movie associated rage with the overheated material appetites.

Rage often erupts when a pleasant expectation can't be satisfied, he said, citing the example of an expensive vacation delayed by unexpected circumstances.

"Somehow this birth-given right has been violated in some way. There are all sorts of rights one has an individual, but the right to consumerist goods is not one of them," he said.

It's simpler than that, said Chuck Schwartz, who reviews movies online as the Cranky Critic (

"Rage works on screen because most people are law-abiding folk who know better than to take out any anger on people or things," he said.

"It goes back to being 6, when we could bust up our toys and ... get away with it. Kind of like why men love football. Players get to bust up the opposing team and, for the most part, it's all part of the game."

Or just maybe something else is at work.

Brenda Austin-Smith, an assistant professor of English and film studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, recently told the Times-Picayune of New Orleans that her research confirmed that women seek out sad movies that promise a good cry when they feel the need for emotional release.

If women use movies as therapy, why not men? Could it be that a red-hot rage movie does for men what a good tearjerker does for women?

Michael McIntyre, an industrial psychologist at the University of Tennessee College of Business Administration, teaches companies how to spot employees so angry they might go berserk on the job. He doubts how valuable the lessons are to be drawn from rampage movies.

"Movies give you this false portrayal that you can channel your anger toward this deserving antagonist and you become sort of a hero for defending yourself or righting this injustice, or whatever. That's not the way pervasive anger and aggression work," he said. "People who've got that problem ... are not able to partition their anger like that. It's not a healthy model.

"It's entertainment, but this idea somehow it could be therapeutic for angry people is probably far-fetched."

Should soreheads restrict themselves to feel-good fare? "One could certainly make a case for that. You don't want to throw fuel on the fire, like handing them a couple of beers and a shotgun."

How about rage movies as a safe release for aggression? "People tend to get their adrenaline flowing. You come out of F&F (The Fast and the Furious) and decide you're going to drag out of the parking lot," McIntyre said. "I don't know that I would recommend it.

"When you come out of Rocky, all you want to do is spar with somebody," he said. "That's what you don't need out of a bunch of adolescent males. They need sedatives."

On-screen fury

Here are some great moments of rage in American films:

• Jack Nicholson's car-bound freakout in Five Easy Pieces.

• Brad Davis' Turkish-prison rampage in Midnight Express.

• Al Pacino's "out of order" rant in And Justice For All.

• Orson Welle's room-smashing moment in Citizen Kane.

• Michael Douglas' baseball-bat attack in Falling Down.


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