Reflections on Sandy Hook: Fantasy and Cinematic Violence
As the descriptions of the events at Sandy Hook become more and more detailed in the media, I find myself — like probably much of America — imagining this horrific scene. J.R. mentioned in the comments to metaphysicalvillain’s post that these scenes are “infused with the fantasy of some absolute, cinematic gesture.” This seems quite true, but I’m not sure how we should understand this association. What makes a scene or an act cinematic? Are we to think that such extremely violent and tragic acts are, to some extent, in debt to cinema for their origins? Maybe, but I’m not sure what would be gained by this investigation. What if, instead, the association exists because cinema gives us a language to imagine such scenes? Without the language of cinema, wouldn’t our capacity to “play out” scenes such as these be quite different?
And yet a scene like this is something cinema has never really given us. We’ve seen plenty of people slaughtered senselessly on film, but never children so young. It’s usually a moment only implied, where the camera “looks away.” As I sat on my couch this morning listening to NPR and drinking coffee, I thought about all of these small bodies piling up, their little legs so inadequate to the task of running away, the looks of terror and disbelief, the smoke and the deafening cracks of a gun fired indoors — all pieced together in a tight montage, something with a David Fincher-feel, perhaps.
As odd as this might sound, what resulted from this little flight of fancy is even more odd. I remembered something that, frankly, I hadn’t remembered for a long time: a violent daydream I had had in the 2nd grade. I remember sitting in class and getting enormous pleasure from imaging this scene. Put your analysis caps on (and let me reiterate that this is not a dream, but a daydream).
In the middle of the school day, my teacher’s husband and their two small children suddenly burst through the doors of my school. They are completely naked and headed straight for our classroom. Her husband is muscular and powerful and sprints down the hallway. The two children follow behind, running and laughing. As he reaches the classroom door, my teacher’s face transforms from her usual cheerful smile to something insidious. They look at each other to confirm that now is the moment, as though this had been long planned. My teacher strips to the buff and then presses a button under her desk that causes a metal wall to fall from the ceiling, dividing the classroom in two. I hear the students on the other side of the wall scream as machine guns materialize — from where I do not know — and shoot. There is a door on the wall that opens to the other side, and my teacher, her husband, and their two children open it and enter, leaving the door open. They look absolutely serene and righteous, excited and pleased with what is happening. Since the door remains open, the other students and I can see that the other side is filled with white pillows. Just out of view, however, my teacher and her blonde, muscular husband are having sex, while her children watch, giggling and screaming with delight. When several of the students try to enter through the open door to see, they are immediately gunned down by a large remote controlled Gatling gun. And that’s where it ends, or continues indefinitely. It ends with me watching as student after student tries to enter the door to watch my teacher and her husband have sex, only be be shredded by dozens of high powered rounds.
There is a lot that can be said about this scene, psychoanalytically, and you’re all welcome to go ahead and offer an interpretation (please do!). But I’ll just say that the way this scene played out in my daydream was cinematic in a way that the description doesn’t quite do justice to. There was parallel editing right at the beginning, between the classroom and the husband bursting through the doors and running down the hall. There was shot counter-shot between my teacher and her husband as he entered the classroom door. The shooting scenes happened in slow motion. There was even dramatic music, though I don’t recall now what it was.
I don’t have “violent” fantasies like this — or whatever this was — anymore. My libido, eventually, stopped expressing desire with this particular mixture. But it makes me wonder about the cinematic form this fantasy took. I wonder if violent fantasies are not particularly affected by cinematic language, perhaps more so than other kinds of fantasies. Even though my sexual fantasies often have just as much narrative as this daydream, they aren’t really cinematic. Is this because cinema offers a kind of disembodied perspective that, while not meshing well with my vanilla, sexual fantasies, seems to find an affinity when I confront violent fantasies?