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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Q& A: A Reader's Thoughts on My Kick-Ass Column, and My Own Response

My Voynaristic column, “Why Kick-Ass Isn’t Reprehensible, Morally or Otherwise” has generated considerable response and discussion, thanks in large part to Roger Ebert re-tweeting it in spite of the column directly attacking his own review of the film (which just goes to show that Roger is and continues to be a prince among men). An email I received from a reader, Robert Hamer, was particularly thoughtful and merited, I felt, deeper consideration and discussion. Robert’s email to me is below; you will find my response to him after the jump.
SPOILER WARNING: This discussion does contain spoilers regarding the film, so if you’ve not seen it and don’t want to read spoilers, stop now or forever hold your bitching.
Hello, Kim. Long time reader, though this is my first message.
I wanted to express my disagreement with your assesment of the controversy surrounding Kick-Ass, as it sort of misses the point as to why her character is so distasteful. I have absolutely no fear for the well-being of Chloe Moretz or that any young person is going out to try and be a foul-mouthed superhero. But I am disheartened that someone as vicious, violent, and heartless as her is celebrated by audiences across the country. It’s a sad reminder – to me, at least – of how gleefully sadistic American movies have become to have a film show a child brutally killing people (one of them innocent, if my memory is correct) and expect me to think it’s “funny” or “cool” and to sneer at me if I don’t.
You cite in support of your “the controversy is unwarranted” argument Taxi Driver and Pretty Baby, but I don’t think those comparisons are appropriate. In both cases, the situations of those girls were portrayed with restraint and compassion. Scorsese didn’t cheer at Iris being a prostitute; Malle didn’t film Violet as an object of titillation or juvenile entertainment. Those controversial scenes were necessary and in service of larger ideas. Kick-Ass can’t claim any of that, and in fact has its initial themes (normal superheroes in the “real” world) suffer because of the absurdity of the Hit-Girl character. Certainly, Matthew Vaughn can’t claim “restraint” or “finesse” in portraying this character, as in many points of the film he breaks from the flow of his action scenes to focus, in gruesome detail, every single bloody death.
Does this mean that society should be up in arms over Kick-Ass? No, any more than parent’s groups shouldn’t be crusading against Grand Theft Auto III because it allows you to kill prostitutes. But it’s perfectly justified, as far as I’m concerned, to be disturbed and repelled by both.
My response after the jump …

Hi Robert,
Thanks for your thoughtful response. I don’t think anyone who disagrees with me on the merits of Kick-Ass or of Hit-Girl as a character are stupid, or doesn’t have a right to their opinion; on the contrary, I value debate on such controversial subjects as it often makes me think of perspectives I might otherwise not have considered.
In the case of Hit-Girl, for me the final scenes of the film surrounding Hit-Girl justify, in terms of both storytelling and character arc, the violent scenes leading up to them. Hit-Girl is a child who’s been raised by a disturbed — one might argue pathologically twisted — father who has raised her with a single-minded purpose. I think Nic Cage (who can be a fine actor when he wants to, and was here) does an excellent job of portraying Big Daddy as a fascinating mix of both a person whose psyche and moral compass has been completely distorted by the circumstances that led to his incarceration and the related death of his wife, and a father who deeply loves his daughter. For this character, vengeance has become all consuming, his sole purpose in life (not unlike Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price in Unbreakable, which IMO is Shyamalan’s best and most intricately drawn film in terms of character).
As a mom of five, as I watched Kick-Ass I pondered the way my own children have been raised, and how my own values have informed my parenting of them, their own developing worldviews, and who they are as people. And as I considered the character of Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl, I tried to consider what it would do to a child to be raised from the age of five to evolve into a killing machine. I think the relationship between Mindy and her father is clearly drawn to demonstrate Damon Macready’s overwhelming love for his daughter and hers for him, in spite of the twisted values with which he has raised her.
Damon, screwed up though he is, truly believes he is doing right by his daughter in teaching her not just to kill, but to protect herself from being killed when they ultimately face Frank D’Amico, who Damon perceives as having ruined both his life and his daughter’s by taking away from both of them Mindy’s mother and the normal life they would otherwise have had as a family unit. The way in which he deals with this loss is by forming this family unit with his daughter that has as its sole focus righting what Damon perceives as an unforgivable wrong.
The film’s final act shows Hit-Girl, now caught up in her own frenzy of bloodlust and revenge for the death of her beloved father and mentor, taking out bad guy after bad guy in what is, admittedly, a violent scene of bloodletting and venegeance. But then it segues from this comic-book violence which, to me, mirrors what’s going on in Hit-Girl’s own perception of herself as an indestructible avenger, into a head-on crash with reality as her true frailties and limitations as a very real, scared little girl are revealed. It’s one thing to be shot in your bulletproof vest by a father you believe is, ultimately, trying to protect you and teach you to protect yourself; it’s quite another to have a gun aimed at your head by a grown man who just killed your seemingly indestructible father and now intends to take your own life. There’s a tremendous emotional rollercoaster Matthew Vaughn takes his audience on during those scenes, and it’s a heart-breaking and difficult to watch. Chloe Moretz conveys that sudden moment of Mindy’s humanity and vulnerability with a maturity beyond her young years.
I find it interesting, by the way, that amidst all this discussion of Hit-Girl, there’s been very little discussion about the character of Chris D’Amico (Christoper Mintz-Plasse), who, I would argue, has been raised by an equally twisted father who’s built his life on crime and killing people with the intent, eventually, of bringing his own son into the “family business.” Isn’t it every bit as abhorrent that a criminal father has raised his son with the intent of making him into a criminal ? Isn’t the scene where Frank D’Amico tells his son to sit down and watch the torture and deaths of both Big Daddy and Kick-Ass, who the friendless D’Amico has come to see as a sort of friend, and an innocent victim of his father’s rage, every bit as disturbing as Damon Macready raising his daughter to exact what he perceives as justice?
For me, these parallel character arcs are very much about showing how the best of well-meaning parental intentions, when taken to an extreme, can evolve into the twisting of a child to suit the purposes of the parent. Both D’Amico and Macready love their children and think, in their own way, they are doing right by raising them to share the values they have embraced.
Now take all of that and compare it, as I did in my column, to, say, a child being raised in isolation in Montana by a militia, a child being taught his or her parents’ values of isolationism, taught that they have the right and duty to protect their way of life by using deadly force, if necessary, to take out anyone who might try to get in the path of the lifestyle the parents have embraced.
Or take, as another example, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing’s excellent documentary Jesus Camp, in which children of extreme right-wing fundamentalist Christian parents are raised in isolation, taught to salute and pledge allegiance to the “Christian flag” by parents focusing their kids’ education largely on indoctrinating them with values of religious intolerance. Listen to Pastor Becky Fischer, who runs the children’s camp shown in the film, openly discussing how, because the Muslims extremist raise their children to be terrorists on behalf of their God, what we need to be doing is raising Christian children to be “little soldiers for Christ,” willing to kill and die in defense of their beliefs. Listen to these young kids parroting back what they’ve been taught about anyone who believes differently than their parents and pastors. This is real life, not comic-book fantasy, and I find it far more chilling than anything depicted in a comic-book film.
As to your arguments about the artistic merits of Pretty Baby and Taxi Driver, I completely agree. My point in bringing those films into the discussion was simply to point out that Roger Ebert, who slammed Kick-Ass for its portrayal of the violent child character of Hit-Girl, raved about both those films with nary a mention of the nudity, child sex and prostitution inherent to their stories. Does Kick-Ass have the artistic merit of a Pretty Baby or a Taxi Driver? No, I think not. But I believe that the ideas underlying the character arcs of Damon and Mindy Macready and Frank and Chris D’Amico have more going on under the surface than wicked fight sequences and fake blood. Those ideas intrigue me, and I believe they merit further consideration of the questions they raise about parental values being imposed on children than a more surface argument that addresses only the violence of the film.
Thanks again for your thoughtful response, Robert, and for generating some interesting discussion around these ideas.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon