At first blush, you might assume that a prestigious award show like the Oscars would steer clear of gratuitous death and destruction. And yet, despite that highbrow image, the Academy Awards aren’t the taste police and have a long history of nominating films filled with violence and bloodshed. This year, the extent of the onscreen carnage spans a wide range from nary a punch thrown to blood-soaked battlefields and space genocide. So, before cinema’s big night, let’s take a look back to find out just how violent some of the Oscar nominees got this year.
The sci-fi drama about aliens and language isn’t violent per se, but the potential for the total annihilation of all of Earth’s creatures is a constant threat.
Amy Adams, as professor Louise Banks, is sent to one of 12 spacecrafts that have landed on Earth for unknown reasons. The primary plot revolves around Louise and the American team trying to figure out how to communicate with this unknown species through peaceful means. But, clouding the background is the specter of potential destruction. After failing to make progress and reading an alien communication that says “weapon” one way, the Chinese team informs the other worldwide powers that they plan to attack the spacecraft off its coast. Such an attack would isolate the alien powers against them and maybe even trigger a worldwide nuclear fallout. That obviously doesn’t happen, but the threat of violence is what gives the film its emotional weight.
Martin Scorsese’s pet project Silence did not receive the sort of warm response from the Academy that his pedigree and the film’s subject matter might suggest. His movie about the persecution of Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan seems like the kind of movie that is made for Oscars, even if it’s brutal as all hell.
Scorsese’s films are often marked by violence, from the graphic shootout at the end of Taxi Driver to mob hit after mob hit in Goodfellas or Casino. Silence takes it to the next level, showing the gruesome details of the boiling, drowning, and crucifixion of believers in a land that forced them to not believe. It’s a vicious kind of violence meant to punctuate the crises of faith in the characters. The amount of violence sometimes belies the weight of that violence.
Hell or High Water
If you’re in the mood for a 21st century western, look no further than Hell or High Water. This is a movie about a pair of down-and-out brothers who rob banks in contemporary West Texas, so there’s a lot of shoot-‘em-up action. Filmmaker David Mackenzie wisely keeps the violence to a minimum and uses those gaps in carnage to highlight how devastating gun violence actually is. One big example is the cat-and-mouse game between Jeff Bridges’s gruff sheriff and Ben Foster’s wildcard outlaw. The hunt is precise instead of overblown, and the movie treats its wanton acts of cruelty as tragically meaningful.
Here’s where we get to the violent nitty gritty. Rogue One isn’t nominated for any of the major awards, but it earned a pair of nods are for sound mixing and special effects. It’s the SFX that really hammer home, perhaps for the first time, the massive amount of death and destruction at the heart of Star Wars movies.
Every main character dies. Hell, even the supporting characters don’t make it out alive. Saw Gerrera: kaput. Galen Erso: dead as a doornail. The most emotional death doesn’t even concern a human being at all, either. You can’t deny that you shed a bit of a tear when K-2SO kicked the bucket. The Empire’s Death Star is used so superfluously that an entire population of a holy city on Jedha — hundreds of thousands of people — is murdered with the flip of a switch. We don’t see every single death like the other nominees, but there are way more of them.
Speaking of wars, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge follows in the footsteps of the filmmaker’s infamously violence Passion of the Christ. It chronicles the story of Desmond Doss during the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest conflicts during World War II. The pacifist Doss, who never carried a weapon, was credited with saving 75 soldiers, and Gibson depicts this act of selfless courage in the grittiest and most ferocious detail. There were over 150,000 casualties on both sides in the real battle, and it seems Gibson was determined to show a majority of that onscreen. This makes Hacksaw Ridge the most violent Oscar nominee this year.