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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Why Kick-Ass Isn’t Reprehensible, Morally or Otherwise

Now that I’ve reviewed Kick-Ass, the movie, I thought I’d take a moment to write about the most controversial aspect of the film: Hit-Girl, the 11-year-old vigilante trained by her father to kill bad guys. The part of Hit-Girl, played rather brilliantly by the now-13-year-old Chloe Moretz, begs the question (yet again) of where the lines in the sand should be drawn when it comes to both violence in movies and child actors playing roles that embody adult content. Some folks are pretty up in arms about the moral questions raised by Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl.

None of these are new questions, of course. Brooke Shields‘ nudity in Pretty BabyJodie Foster‘s child prostitute in Taxi DriverNatalie Portman in The ProfessionalDakota Fanning writhing and hip-swiveling to Elvis in a skimpy tank top and panties in Hounddog — and, more recently her very sexy role as Cherie Currie in The Runaways, are all examples of child actors (or to be more specific female child actors, because oddly enough, this doesn’t tend to come up for discussion as much with regard to boys) playing roles that beg the question of whether the envelope has been pushed to far in the name of movies or “art.”

Roger Ebert, who I like and respect more than just about anyone who’s ever written about film, both on a personal and professional level, slammed Kick-Ass and gave it one star, asking if it made him “hopelessly square” that he found the film “morally reprehensible.” Hopelessly square, no, but judging this comic-book movie by a different standard than he’s applied to reviewing more “artsy” films that push the envelope regarding child actors and adult situations? Perhaps.

Ebert was appalled by the acts of violence Hit-Girl performs in the film. But in his review of Taxi Driver, he scarcely addressed the issue of young Jodie Foster playing a child prostitute whose pimp touts her as being available for everything, including anal sex. And of Pretty Baby, in which 12-year-old Brooke Shields had nude scenes and played a young girl whose virginity is auctioned off to the highest bidder, he said, “Given the film’s subject matter and its obligatory sex scenes, Malle shows taste and restraint. And Shields really creates a character here; her subtlety and depth are astonishing.”

Minus the sex, nudity, and child prostitutes, which Kick-Ass does not have, I’d say much the same about Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl.

As a movie fan, a fan of comics and graphic novels, and a film critic, I loved Kick-Ass. Is it artsy or Oscar-worthy? No. Is it rollicking fun? Hell, yes. I loved Hit-Girl as a character. I loved the satire of the story, but I also loved the emotional arc the film takes with the story of Hit-Girl and her father, Big Daddy (Nic Cage).

I loved, particularly, the way in which the twisted fantasy world of justice and vigilantism in which Hit-Girl was raised collides at the end with the brutal reality of a man who kills for greed and profit and sheer meanness; the excruciating moment, set up by the obvious comic violence of all of Hit-Girl’s scenes up until that moment, when she looks the worst bad guy possible in the face and sees the real ugliness of what he is, the horror and corruption and violence inherent in him that led her father, however twisted and misguided and downright crazy he might have been to raise her as he did, to believe that his sole purpose in life was to annihilate that evil with his daughter by his side in the name of justice, revenge and retribution.

As I wrote in my review, in real life, of course it would be inappropriate for a father to raise his daughter with the single-minded purpose of molding her into a sweet-faced killing machine. But this isn’t real life, the people who “die” in the film aren’t really dead, anymore than they are when Batman or Spider-Man take a bad guy down. Moretz doesn’t kill anyone, any more than Jodie Foster really had sex with the adult men who wanted to have sex with a child prostitute in Taxi Driver or Brooke Shields really had her virginity auctioned off in Pretty Baby.  Kick-Ass is a comic book movie and a satire, and the scenes with Hit-Girl, more than any other aspect of the film, make that clearly apparent.

Frankly, I’m a lot more disturbed by real parents who take real 11-year-olds (and ten and nine and eight and seven-year-olds) to gun shows and shooting ranges. I’m disturbed and frightened by kids being raised in armed militias in rural Montana, being taught to really use handguns and rifles to prepare them to kill real people. I’m scared and saddened by young urban kids being recruited into gangs and used as drug runners and prostitutes and taught that street killing is not just “cool” but a way of life.

I even happen to be one of those sappy Seattle liberal types who finds the “sport” of hunting, the teaching young children to shoot and kill real living animals for “fun” far more abhorrent than kids playing video games (even fairly violent ones) where the killing is just as pretend as when my dad and his friends where shooting each other with toy pistols in games of cops and robbers 50 or so years ago or even sneaking in to see a film like Kick-Ass.

There are real kids on the streets with real guns in their hands every day, and they are not there because comic books or comic book movies told them it’s okay, or because they are unable to differentiate between the fantasy violence of a movie or video game. Kids get guns in their hands and accidentally shoot someone, sometimes, because an adult in their life kept an accessible firearm in their house, and the kid thinks it’s cool and plays with it and hurts himself or someone else. Kids get guns in their hands because they grow up in shitty, crime-ridden neighborhoods populated by gangs and drug dealers, and they grow up learning that violence is a way of life. Too many kids, particular kids from lower income families, are growing up with no positive male role models, no discipline, no rules, no boundaries.  And we’re worried about a character in a comic book movie?

Real kids with real guns — not some comic book movie with a child vigilante who says words like “fuck” and “cock” and takes out a slew of bad guys — are the problems when it comes to worrying about kids and violence. I overheard some woman in the bathroom after the Kick-Ass screening moaning and wailing about how teenagers who see the film are going to get hurt trying to emulate him. Seriously?

Real kids like the teenager portrayed by Aaron Johnson in the film read, live and breathe comics like Kick-Ass and Spider-Man and more all the time, and there’s not a plethora of would-be teen superheros out running amok because of that. The teens running and gunning amok aren’t doing it because they think superheros are cool; they are doing it because they don’t have enough real heroes in their lives to emulate, and because our country is plagued by a slew of social problems that aren’t caused by comic books or superhero movies, even ones with 11-year-old vigilantes.

Kick-Ass isn’t morally reprehensible, and it isn’t the problem. It’s a movie, it’s escapism, it’s funny satire. Real life, real issues, are the real problem. If you’re worried about 11-year-olds with guns and knives, you should be. But they aren’t out there because of Hit-Girl, they’re out there because we sit on our collective asses and don’t want to see the real problems so long as they don’t affect us in our nice, safe neighborhoods where we can ensconce ourselves in our nice, safe houses and pretend that there aren’t 11-year-old kids running around not fighting crimes, but committing them, because they can’t see another path.

But so long as we don’t have to think to hard about that, and can focus our energies on debating how bad Kick-Ass is because there’s a child vigilante in it, we can redirect our minds from the real problems all around us to the non-existent problem of a character in a film. There are more important problems — real problems — that energy would be better spent in trying to solve.

– by Kim Voynar

April 16 , 2010

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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