Edelstein on "Olympus Has Fallen" and movie violence

(CBS News) The latest Washington, D.C.-based thriller has got our critic David Edelstein to thinking:

Last week I endured the red-meat blockbuster "Olympus Has Fallen," and thought about violence. Now, I don't buy the idea there's a direct correlation between violence on-screen and in life. But I do worry about movie-fueled myths that make people say, "I need a gun!"

The myths have two parts.

First, violation: men rendered impotent, women imperiled.

Then, retaliation: potency restored!

A poster for the Charles Bronson vigilante film "Death Wish" (1974).
Paramount Pictures

In movies, it goes back to 1915, and D.W. Griffith's wildly racist "Birth of a Nation" -- the government corrupt, the women assaulted by scary blacks, the Klan riding to reclaim white supremacy.

Skipping to 1974, there's "Death Wish": Charles Bronson, the civilized man whose wife is murdered and daughter raped, who becomes a vigilante, a lone hunter in an urban jungle.

1988, a new template: "Die Hard," Bruce Willis as a New York cop robbed of stature in La-La Land, his wife using her maiden name (Horrors!). Foreign terrorists attack. The government spurns him. But the cowboy conquers the alien, wins back his woman.

So does Gerard Butler, Secret Service hero of "Olympus Has Fallen." When we meet him, he's dishonored -- he saved the president but lost the first lady. Then, a North Korean terrorist takes over the White House with an army of Asians, Middle Easterners -- darker people. He must win his (and America's) manhood back.

"Olympus Has Fallen" has a hundred times the carnage of "Die Hard," and a tenth the style. But it hits its marks. It makes you sick over the threat to American might.

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Which brings me to a new Pew Research Center survey: 48 percent of gun owners said they owned a gun for protection, versus 32 percent for hunting -- the reverse of 1999, when 49 percent bought guns for hunting, 26 percent for protection.

We're obsessed with being attacked.

I'm not saying we don't face threats. I am suggesting many people (primarily men) expend a disproportionate amount of energy on scenarios designed by Hollywood to inflame their inner gunslinger -- to make them addicts waiting for the next violation, a chance to exact vengeance. The next boneheaded action flick. The next bloody fix.


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