i enjoy violence. it's not a popular sentiment, i know, but it is an honest one. i think if more people were honest with themselves and others they would say the same. i'm thinking, for instance, of fans of something like murder she wrote. that demographic would, typically, never be one to openly embrace violence but the thing they enjoy so much wouldn't exist without it. there is no program if one character has not committed the ultimate transgression against another. it's the same with any of the forensics shows that are so popular, fiction or nonfiction - the catalyst for what fans of those enjoy is mayhem, man's inhumanity to man. now, the people i am talking about may prefer their violence offscreen (or polite, if it's onscreen) but they prefer it, at least implicitly, all the same.
i suppose i should qualify my enjoyment a little more, for clarity's sake. i enjoy depictions of violence in art, to a large degree, the same way i enjoy depictions of things like sex, eating, moments of tedium, sleep and driving. they are necessary. they are what we do. to attempt to create a body of work that depicts and reflects the human condition that ignores these things is, at best, incomplete and, at worst, fraudulent. they can be realistic, they can be hyper-stylized, but they must be. that being said, i certainly do not deny the shiver of satisfaction my reptilian brain sends out upon seeing something receive a good and thorough smashing. wading in to scratch both of those particular itches comes nicolas winding refn's bronson (2009).
bronson is the twisted tale of michael peterson, britain's most violent and expensive criminal. initially sent up on a seven year bid for a botched post office robbery that netted a grand total of £26, his inability to keep his head down and do his time has resulted (so far) in 34 years of incarceration, 30 of those in solitary confinement. prison, it seems, is his calling. it is the one place where he could, as he puts it, sharpen his tools.
a lot of comparisons have been made between this film and stanley kubrick's a clockwork orange (1971) but i think those similarities are strictly superficial. there is a bit of a shared aesthetic and the music cues will take you there on occasion but i think that's where it ends. clockwork asked some difficult questions about the punitive elements of rehabilitation and the insidious nature of social determinism. bronson asks no such questions. it asks very few questions at all, in fact. it touches briefly on the lure of celebrity and the failures of the penal system in general but, for the most part, it is strictly a stylish and savage character study. and this character is something else.
peterson, who later took the name of the actor charles bronson as his nom de guerre, narrates his story from within a theater of the mind construct, complete with captive audience. he acts as our guide from one vignette to another, outlining stints as a student, failed thief, mental patient, bareknuckle fighter and budding artist, always interrupted by a riot, hostage taking and/or the inevitable greased, naked melee with prison guards. everything is prelude to confrontation. it's as if after you strip away everything the man is not all you are left with is fists.
and it's not much more complicated than that. no blame is cast here. it's not mum and dad's fault. it's not society's fault. he seems to simply be hardwired for havoc. he also seems to adhere to a peculiar code all his own. it's not an admirable code, necessarily, but a code all the same. the film itself doesn't particularly seek to either condemn or glorify the man, but any political intentions of the film, what little there are, are completely overtaken by its central performance.
there aren't enough superlatives for what tom hardy does in this film. you are unable to take your eyes off of him. he is volatile, terrifying and hypnotic. he completely commands the screen. it veers into caricature at times, and i suspect hardy imbues this bronson with seductive qualities the real-life version does not possess, but goddamn, it is impressive. by all rights, this kid should be a superstar. the film is good - solid, well-crafted, if a little noncommittal - but this performance is great, electric. even if everything else about it was meritless (which is hardly the case), i could recommend the movie on the strength of what he does alone. hardy is reason enough to see it. he is ferocious, sometimes more animal than man.
so see bronson. revel in it, even, maybe just a little. maybe, as the film implies, he was a true artist and violence was simply his chosen medium. maybe he was just a lunatic who didn't have the good sense to save himself a lifetime in the penitentiary. maybe a little vicarious exploration is good for all of us. just remember, we don't have to learn everything by doing.