Embodied Violence in Film

[initial documentation for prototype – full documentation coming]

I wanted to explore whether or not embodied violence would resensitize or desensitize a user to violent actions. This was inspired after viewing a VR exhibit in the Whitney Museum (http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/confronting-the-shocking-virtual-reality-artwork-at-the-whitney-biennial). I was intrigued by the multitude of reactions of the piece, ranging from nervous laughter to absolute disgust. I found myself staying through the entire duration of the piece. Even though it looked real, I knew that it was not. This lead me to wonder what this piece would be like if the user could interact and affect the scene.

In my Embodied Violence project, the user may only continue a violent scene if they act out the same gesture of the violence on the screen. So if Robert Deniro is fighting someone in Raging Bull, the video would pause right before a punch is thrown and only continue if the user watching the film also throws a punch. To detect the gestures, I used a Kinect and programmed simple gestures for the user to enact.

I found four scenes of violence from Raging Bull, Fight Club, Drive, and American History X and edited them together in this same order. I chose these films wanted to find acts of violence that were repetitive, and also fairly simple to gesture (punches and kicks). The order was set because the violence depicted increases film by film. You can view the video here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5fYaAwZcIehbm85UXNZMUhqNmc/view?usp=sharing

Note that in the last film (American History X), Edward Norton’s character commits a heinous crime of violence against another person. Although I would hope that no one would actually continue the film after the movie pauses after this, I knew that that would unfortunately not be possible. So instead of continuing the film and show the violence, I would switch on the infrared feed of the Kinect camera and display that instead. The user would view themselves, committing the violence instead, robbing the user the gratification of seeing the aftermath.

I found this project a bit polarizing for myself to work on. I believe that I am desensitized to violence in works of fiction, so I wanted to kind of fix that. And it kind of worked… at the start. The embodied act of punching and seeing the result of that punch on film was very effective. It got even more effective as the violence increased, making me stop and think about whether or not I should continue kicking this fictional character on the floor.

But after throwing hundreds of punches to debug the code, and seeing the same actors get pummeled over and over again, I found myself back at square one… and I can’t imagine what Edward Norton feels like.