Six Damn Fine Degrees #82: Murder

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

It’s an ugly thing to kill someone, and more or less willingly, isn’t it?

There is the sanitized version of murder in countless whodunits, where the rules are clear: someone might be dead by the hand of another, and some clever brain will figure it all out, preferably in a showdown before a chimney fire, holding a long speech that ends in a big revelation. The rules are clear; the culprit, more often than not, is punished by the law, as if this was only slightly more atrocious than any hockey game. And while any sturdily waxed moustaches might have been replaced by squint-eyed scientists, the rules still apply. Miss Marple is never wrong, but science can’t lie.

If we take it up a notch, it gets messier. Take, for instance, the psychological thriller, where some twisted or illicit or morally questionable situation comes to a boil and ends in bloodshed. There are some movies where murder happens almost reluctantly, but still premeditated against the will of the one holding the knife. Some films, at least those worth their salt, convince you that, given the situation, it could not have happened any other way than end in someone’s violent death. If you think about it with a rational mind, most psychological thrillers crumble like a house of cards even before the credits have ended, but that is why they are psycho thrillers – any reason is relegated to the margins, and through the emotional style of storytelling, which seems to involve a fair amount of graphic violence, we are partly made complicit. And if that movie really knows what it is doing, we have some sort of horrible feeling that, yes, this murder was not entirely pointless, or cruel, or undeserved. Beatrix Kiddo had a point, we think.

And how about revenge flicks? John Wick’s wife is dead, and he is seeking retribution. There might be some reluctance involved, but sooner rather than later the moral fig-leaf must come off, or you don’t have an action movie where John Wick is shooting his way through a grimly stylish cityscape with no hesitation at all, killing everyone who points a weapon at him. His victims, more often than not, are nameless cardboard cutouts, simply there to be terminated by him by the dozens. How many minions must one kill until his wife is avenged? It’s a trick question, isn’t it?

And so is it fairer to watch some irretrievably damaged individual like Michael Myers slash his way through smalltown USA? Now there is a murderer who deserves to be erased from the face of the planet, no? His victims are perfectly innocent, and he is entirely to blame, because there is not much of a motive in what he does. Horror movies have an inclination to show us the blood and wounds; in doing so, they are more honest than any other movie about murders. They are often not afraid to look away or to sanitize anything.

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