The portrayal of violence in Cape Fear

Well, I thought since I haven’t had the time to write a review in a while (which is extremely frustrating) I thought I would just post this essay I wrote for film class a few hours before it’s due. To be honest I struggled to watch both of those films due to sleep overcoming myself each and every time I tried to watch them, but thankfully I eventually watched it all, or most of it! The essay guidelines were to examine key similarities and differences between the two films. I don’t believe it’s the best of writing at all, but it’s better to leave this here so I can feel like i’m not completely neglecting this blog. Well hope to be writing more frequently, until then..

The Portrayal of violence from 1962 to 1991

When films that are considered classics or have a certain element that pertains to its time is remade; it’s more than likely to fail critically and at the box office. In 1991 acclaimed director Martin Scorsese released Cape Fear, a remake of a film from 1962 that carries the same name. The original film was released in a time when black and white was still employed, and most importantly; an era when sex and violence fell under close scrutiny. Over the years, change came to America. The tragedies of the Vietnam war, Civil Rights Movement, and a grand build up of teen angst was to be reflected in cinema. Thus opening the doors for heavy use of violence and sex in films. Which leads to Scorsese, known for his heavy but great use of violence. For his depiction of Cape Fear, he continues this style of his and implements those methods. As society becomes more desensitized to violence, the way it’s portrayed is altered to fit the times.

For a film that deals with the subject matter of a man who served fourteen years behind bars for brutally raping a girl, not much is shown in the original. The director had to work around these limitations that were placed on movies in the early 1960s. In turn this allows the director to have to present these heinous acts but not show them visually. A great example of this in the original 1962 interpretation was when Max Cady rapes a young women. They could not show Cady actually raping her but they were able to hint that these were his intentions which made the audience have to imagine what this sadistic man would do to an innocent women. This method is unsettling because nothing is more terrifying than one’s own imagination, because the worst thing that could happen is always what’s imagined. In the 1991 remake, the restrictions have been lifted and Scorsese was able to show more of this rape sequence. Cady is played by Robert De Niro, who brings an electric performance to the screen which makes everything more the real. He has the unsuspecting women tied to the bed frame on her stomach, and insinuates that things will be great for the both of them. Suddenly he begins to assault her and pushes it to the point where Scorsese visually shows Cady biting a chunk of skin off her face. In an age after films like The Last House on the Left and I Spit on your Grave have been released, one would think nothing could be considered controversial anymore. If the rape sequence there in 1991 was considered controversial, how would the public of 1962 react to this if they were able to watch it during that day in age. Although both of these interpretations are effective in their own respect. The 1962 interpretation allows the audience to have to imagine the things that happen which carries out Cady’s overall mysterious essence. The 1991 version decides to embrace these violent behaviors which brings a more direct terror and fear to the audience.

The films not only vary in the way they present the violence but the way it’s edited contributes to the overall effect of the films. Renowned editor for Scorsese’s films Thelma Schoonmaker continues her stylistic tradition of fast and quick cuts for the 1991 film. This not only catches the viewers attention visually but it seeps psychologically into the minds of the audience. These fast and quick cuts complement Nick Nolte frantic behavior as he has no idea what to do in order to remain safe. In a moment of transcending past the movie, to the actual 35mm film itself. Schoonmaker had to cut up more portions of this film which can be seen as violent, because the 1962 movie’s film was able to remain more intact due to the longer takes. In that film though Gregory Peck’s Sam Bowden remains frantic like Nolte’s, the thing that differs is that Robert Mitchum’s Max Cady is more relaxed and chilling than De Niro’s interpretation; which in turn is reflected in the editing. This movie has longer cuts which keeps things at bay, but the “violence” is shown through the fear of the unknown and the slow pace that it takes to arrive at that destination.

Over the years the things happen in America are reflected in film. At the rate things are going violence will continue to be a prominent factor in films. In a span of just 29 years this trend can shockingly be noticed from the original to the remake of Cape Fear. The original film leaves a lot left for the imagination due to stricter rules, while the remake embraces the far more lenient rules and implements violent nature throughout it’s run time. Though radically different in terms of violence neither one is more powerful than the other, because it’s style complements the overall mood of the film.