"Seven Psychopaths" is entertaining but ethically insane
“Seven Psychopaths” and other movies of its ilk present a peculiar problem for the Christian film lover. It is a story of startling brutality, mixed with foul dialogue and vulgar humor, tuned to the key of characters without any regard for traditional morality. That being said, it’s snappy, hip, funny and thought-provoking too. What are we to do?
Story is irreverent and silly yet thought-provoking
Marty (Colin Farrell) is an alcoholic screenwriter working on a script he hopes will defy conventions. The screenplay is titled “Seven Psychopaths” but he wants to keep the violence to a minimum. These psychopaths he hopes to create will be bonkers, certainly, but also preoccupied with peace, life-affirming conversations and inspiration. His best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), has different plans. Marty’s story has got to be shoot-em-up or nothing, an over-gory bloodbath destined to make the big bucks once the macho types cash in at the box office.
Besides edging in on his friend’s creative process, Billy steals dogs alongside his elderly comrade, Hans (Christopher Walken). They kidnap the canines and then return them for the rewards posted by their owners; it’s sordid work but it brings the cash in. Everything’s looking up until they take the wrong dog - one belonging to a crime boss, Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who is nuts through and through. The man will stop at nothing to get back his Shih Tzu, to comedic and sometimes tragic effect. Marty is soon embroiled in this ill-conceived plot with Billy and Hans and the story goes from there.
Film still raises philosophical points of interest despite Inherent immorality
The film is pumped full of blood-red vitality. For one thing, the script colonizes a territory whose natives include the likes of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. F-bombs are dropped from the lips of fast-talking linguistic kamikazes alongside plenty of misogynistic, not-so-innuendo-laced sex, drug and alcohol references. Additionally, the plot calls for scenes of extreme, comically over-the-top violence and blood beyond belief. There is legitimately nothing to recommend the movie on a moral/spiritual/ethical level. If this were Plugged In, it would be utterly disregarded.
“Psychopaths” gives Christians a chance to dialogue about wg films should be rejected and upon what grounds. If the purpose of movies is to forward a particular Christian construct of existence on this planet, we’re limited to “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof” and Frank Capra films. On the other hand, it’s hard to say we can watch just anything in good conscience. There are movies dedicated to sexual glorification and coarse jesting that can be disregarded out of principle, both spiritually and aesthetically.
I would argue, though, that “Seven Psychopaths” has the cultural stickiness of “The Big Lebowski” or “Pulp Fiction.” These are all films peopled by lowlifes, losers and those who’ve probably never been to Sunday school.The thing that sets them apart is the subtly philosophical undertones underwriting their smart, witty, intelligent take on the seedy sides of life. “Lebowski” was a treatise on living in a world obsessed with its own absurdism, even if it stunk of marijuana smoke. “Pulp Fiction’s” climax contains a deeply intriguing display of cinematic grace, faux Bible passage and all.
The film's impulse of irony is its best trait
“Psychopaths” works because it’s so in on its own joke. It makes fun of violence by being a bloodbath. Its characters are endearing while morally decrepit and confusing. Hans is a Quaker with doubts about the afterlife and Marty is an alcoholic peacenik. Billy acts like a little kid in his twenties, killing in almost the same way a child plays Cops and Robbers. Charlie possesses the coldness of a Cambodian dictator but his missing Shih Tzu brings him to tears. All the characters are contradictions in terms but these discrepancies mimic themselves in miniature in every human life. It’s a scary lesson but one we must account for, learned through comedy by viewing this film. Once grace enters the equation, we have hope of resolving these contradictions, those between fallenness and the imago Dei, once and for all.
So I’m not saying drop everything and see “Seven Psychopaths.” It’s entertainingly comic but ethically concerning. All I’m saying is we shouldn’t start up any DVD burning parties just yet.