In 1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote and directed a film called “Salo – 120 Days of Sodom”, a shockingly grotesque film depicting rape, torture, and just about every act of human cruelty one could imagine. Shortly after the film’s release, Pasolini was murdered, and it was rumored that the assailant, who ran over the director repeatedly with his car, had done so after watching the film and becoming outraged. These stories are prevalent from the 70s, when Grindhouse films were rumored to cause film riots where local patrons, confused by what they just saw, would tear about the local cinema during the end credits.
There are very few instances I can recall where I have been so disgusted by a work of art that I became physically angry—Salo certainly was a gruesome piece of work, and Naked Lunch put me into a stir, but nothing so horrifying that I would advocate censorship or having a piece of work banned outright for the greater good… that is, until I watched Martyrs last night.
There has never been a place in my heart for “torture porn” films. I have no interest in them, either as art or entertainment, but it came highly recommended that I rent a film from Netflix called Martyrs, which had apparently done the impossible: film a torture porn movie with an actual story, characters, and a point. And in this regard Martyrs was a huge success. For those fortunate enough to have never watched this movie, it’s about a young girl who escapes being tortured by a mysterious group of kidnappers, only to hunt them down 10 years later in order to figure out why they were doing it. What she discovers is a conspiracy which is as horrifying as the torture which ensues – a “Lost” type puzzle where the last piece makes you wish you weren’t human, that you had never seen the film, and that you could just crawl into a corner, shove your fingers in your ears and go “la la la la la” forever.
The member reviews on Netflix for Martyrs speak for themselves. People are very upset about this movie. Some call it genius, others seem to think that it’s pure trash. But for a small, independent movie to rack up 400+ reviews over the course of a year makes a tremendous statement about how one movie can bring out a lot of emotion. And here’s just a sampling of what people had to say:
“I never write reviews on this forum, but I felt compelled to do so, and this isn’t so much a review as it is a warning to anyone interested in this film… PLEASE DO NOT SUPPORT THIS!!! Honestly, it was the most disturbing, masochistically violent film I have ever watched.”
“Imagine ‘Hostel’ on crack, directed by Hitler who was inspired by the ‘Saw’ movies, and ‘Pin Head’ was his producer. And you have this film. Be warned.”
“ I just finished watching ‘Martyrs.’ I cannot imagine who I can recommend this film to. It is horrible and horrific. And – although I hesitate to say – it is brilliant. The film goes beyond anything I’ve ever seen horror wise.”
Every so often, I believe a work of art is able to transcend our most visceral feelings of outrage and shock and become something worse: corrupt. This is a wholly corrupt film, which says a lot considering the decade of films which just passed. Martyrs is one of the most twisted, unnatural, and dangerous films of the last ten years. I have my own feelings about the asinine nature of the film ratings system, but I can’t imagine how a civilized society can’t have some kind of mechanism in place that would prevent children from watching this film with the same sense of urgency as we might have in protecting them from using needle drugs. And there is no amount of free speech or artistic integrity that can outweigh the damage a film like Martyrs can cause to the greater good. There are ideas in this film that shouldn’t be entertained, on par with some of the worst conceptions of humanity– eugenics, the inquisition, the genocide of an entire race. They’re small sparks of ideas that she be stomped out before they can infect us.
And now that you probably want to watch it, I’ll warn you– don’t. Absolutely no good can come from it.