The Sundance Film Festival isn’t home to many shoot-em-up movies, but action-oriented actors at the festival are facing questions about Hollywood’s role in American gun violence.
Guy Pearce, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Bell and director Roger Corman were among those discussing the issue at the annual independent-film showcase.
Pearce is in Park City, Utah, to support the family drama “Breathe In,” but he’s pulled plenty of imaginary triggers in violent films such as Lockdown and Lawless. He says Hollywood may make guns seem more appealing to the broader culture, but there are vast variations in films’ approach to violence.
“Hollywood probably does play a role,” Pearce said. “It’s a broad spectrum though. There are films that use guns flippantly, then there are films that use guns in a way that would make you never want to look at a gun ever again - because of the effect that it’s had on the other people in the story at the time. So to sort of just say Hollywood and guns, it’s a broad palette that you’re dealing with, I think. But I’m sure it does have an effect. As does video games, as do stories on the news. All sorts of things probably seep into the consciousness.”
Skarsgard, who blasted away aliens in Battleship, agreed that Hollywood has some responsibility for how it depicts violence on-screen.
“When (NRA executive director) Wayne LaPierre blames it on Hollywood and says guns have nothing to do with it, there is a reason,” he said. “I mean, I’m from Sweden. We do have violent video games in Sweden. My teenage brother plays them. He watches Hollywood movies. We do have insane people in Sweden and in Canada. But we don’t have 30,000 gun deaths a year.
“Yes, there’s only 10 million people in Sweden as opposed to over 300 (million) in the United States. But the numbers just don’t add up. There are over 300 million weapons in this country. And they help. They do kill people.”
Bell, who stars in in the dramatic competition film The Lifeguard, said the issue is far more complicated than simply blaming Hollywood.
“There’s a lot of things that are emphasized in our entertainment industry as plot points or interesting shorelines, but none of them seem to be as affecting the American public as the gun control,” she said. “So I don’t necessarily know that it’s blamable on Hollywood, though I think there’s a certain responsibility and we need to re-examine everything that we do.”
Bell’s co-star, Mamie Gummer, said she’s often “perturbed” by on-screen violence.
“I really hate Quentin Tarantino’s movies generally, and I thought Django Unchained especially was really tough to bear in light of everything,” she said. “Just the deep romanticizing of it, the fetishizing of it is creepy to me. Or maybe it’s lost on me. I don’t enjoy it.”
Bell doesn’t mind seeing violent films but advocates for greater awareness of mental illness and for stricter gun control.
“It’s such a paradoxical issue. Because those movies don’t bother me at all. And it doesn’t bother me when I see people shoot guns. Yet I’m fully for more gun control in reality,” she said. “Because I’m smart enough to recognize what’s reality and what’s not. And I think that’s an issue that needs to be addressed… A lot of the people that are picking up guns have an inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. And I think that’s probably - though I do support gun control, a tighter gun control than we have now - that’s an issue that deserves to be addressed because that’s probably the root of it.”
Ellen Page, who co-stars with Skarsgard in The East, noted that gun restrictions are much more pervasive in her home country, Canada.
“You can’t buy some crazy assault rifle that is made for the military to kill people. And like that to me is just like a no-brainer,” she said. “Why should that just be out and be able to be purchased? That does not make me feel safe as a person.”
Corman also cited Canada’s response to movie violence.
“Canada sees the same motion pictures that we do. They play the same video games that we do. They see the same television that we do. Their crime rate - and specifically their murder rate - is a tiny fraction of ours,” he said. The only difference is they have strong gun control laws and we (don’t). I wish somebody would ask the head of the NRA how he explains that.”
Skarsgard suggested it may be time to revisit the Second Amendment.
“The whole Second Amendment discussion is ridiculous to me. Because that was written over 200 years ago, and it was a militia to have muskets to fight off Brits,” he said. “The Brits aren’t coming. It’s 2013. Things have changed. And for someone to mail-order an assault rifle is crazy to me. They don’t belong anywhere but the military to me. You don’t need that to protect your home or shoot deer, you know.”