When the Movie Scene is Worse than your Imagination

by Rachel Baker on May 10, 2014

More often than not, I won’t see a movie based on a book without having read the book first; and if I do see the movie first, I rarely read the book. I happen to think my imagination is superior to anything capable in a movie. That said, every once in a while, a movie slips through and I like it so much I have to then go and read the book. The challenge then becomes forgetting what I saw so my imagination can form its own images. Sometimes though, that’s not possible – I’ve seen a movie, and there’s just one scene that won’t go away.

I have this problem with the scenes in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where she gets raped by her guardian, but then also when she, well, rapes him back. Both of those scenes are difficult to unsee and something that really skewed how my brain processed the words when I re-read the books.

Over at Word and Film, Jonathan Moore has written a post about scenes that can’t be unseen from movies that are based on books.

Now, I’ve never read any Jonathan Moore books, and judging from the first paragraph of this post, I think I might be terrified to read, at the very least, his new novel, Close Reach. His first novel, Redheads, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

Moore gives us five movies with horrific scenes.

We’re lucky to live in a society without much censorship.

It’s theoretically possible to violate an obscenity law by writing a book, but I can’t even imagine what that would look like. Films using live actors are more regulated, but for the most part, people are free to make any insane thing they want. The only real censorship is done by distributors or audiences: crossing too many lines may be a recipe for box office disaster.

Because my writing tends to edge into darkness, it makes sense to think about where the lines are. Some films make me blink because they’re so real they hurt. I worry I’ve stumbled onto something I wasn’t meant to see. Perhaps pain is private. Death is as intimate as love. But a film makes everything transparent. It shines a light through its characters, and throws them on the wall.

I think there’s an unspoken contract between any kind of art and its audience. Art asks: don’t look away. The audience says: fine, but remember we’re here. Because we can’t un-see what you show us.

Here are five films that came to mind as I wrote Close Reach. I liked some more than others, but each has scenes I’ll never forget. And each found a different way to manage the balance between the command to watch and the desire to turn away.


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