Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Film Pet Peeves - Bullies



In my recent review of "Stand By Me," I failed to mention one thing that did get on my nerves, but only looking back on it: The bullies which pick on the group of kids.

This gang of teenagers, led by Keifer Sutherland, is the typical case of rebels and punks that you come to expect in any movie about kids. There always has to be some kind of bully to antagonize our little main characters, or else there would be little to no conflict in the film.



But the film always fails to address the most basic question: Why are these people bullying them?

What did these kids do that deserves so much aggression, physical violence and verbal beatdown? Do they have nothing else going on in their lives and bullying is the only item on their schedule? Why do they act this way?

The simple answer people like to give is, they bully because they are children and children are cruel. Except that children are a lot smarter and more complex than people like to give them credit for. They are certainly emotional, stubborn and only often think about themselves, but they have reasons for everything they do. Like all of us, they have needs, wants, desires and want to live just like everyone else.



Bullying is not a matter to be taken lightly, especially if you're a kid. When you are being bullied, it may seem like it is happening for no reason, but there always is something going on. Perhaps the bully is having a bad time at home and wants to take out his aggression at school, or they want to fit it with the popular crowd and picking on you will get them in.

I'm not trying to justify their actions, just merely see it from their perspective and try to understand why they do it. This makes bullies seem like more than just aggressive jerks, and more like people.

Which is why portrayals of bullies in film is so annoying to see and why films like "Easy A" and "Godzilla's Revenge" don't work for me: A big part of the movie relys on the antagonists being bullies, and they have no real motivation to do what they do other than being called a bully.



I don't necessarily want to get into the head of the bully, but I do want to understand where they are coming from. Why they've chosen this lifestyle and how they feel about it. Do they feel bad for picking on a defenseless kid, or do they do it as a way of getting revenge? Or is it something else? There is certainly room for bullies to be interesting characters, but that route is hardly ever taken.

Thus it makes the writing of these characters seem incredibly weak and lazy. It doesn't make the bullies feel like characters, but just stereotypes or, even worse, cardboard cutouts. I want to see the writing of bullies in cinema improve. I wish to understand why they do what they do. Even if they are picking on other kids, they are still apart of the film and are often the villians. A villain is just as important to a film as the hero is, so their motivation and incentive to attack others should be more than just early signs of going to the dark side.

1 comment:

LGPQ said...

Valid points, Paul! I love "Stand By Me" and I've also read the Steven King novella it was based on. Ace & his gang treat Gordie even more cruelly in the book -- not just with verbal bullying & violent threats, but causing them serious physical harm. The bullying is also directed more at Gordie than Chris, if I remember correctly. I imagine King does a better job explaining the psychology of these boys -- his bully characters are usually likewise bullied & abused by their parents.