Vengeance is a Dish Best Served After Dinner
By: J.R. McNamara on October 11, 2009  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
It's taken me a few years, but I have finally realised why revenge is such a good thing: it's like jelly.

JellyShakespeare's Macbeth tell Demona "Revenge is a dish best served cold!" Now take this and add it to the amount of times it has been referred to as sweet: Lord Byron in Don Juan says "Sweet is Revenge... especially to women." In The Iliad, Homer says "It (revenge) is sweeter far than flowing honey." And we come to only one conclusion: revenge is like jelly, although I guess it could be like ice cream, though if I take into consideration that Alfred Hitchcock said 'Revenge is sweet and not fattening' I would assume that it should be jelly, because no one in their right mind would eat low fat ice cream.

So revenge is pleasurable, something one should find appealing.

We are taught from a young age that revenge is acceptable, from fairy tales, where the wicked witch gets her just deserts (like jelly) when she is cast into the oven by Hansel and Gretel, to comics where we have superhuman groups like The Avengers dispatching what they consider justice, all the while breaking it as they use violence against their enemies. Even the very name The Avengers insinuates that vengeance is grand: the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary defines 'avenge' as 'to exact satisfaction for (a wrong) by punishing the wrongdoer'... and don't the kids love it.

Children understand revenge and vengeance much better than adults. Nothing describes childhood better than these two phrases: 'an eye for an eye' and 'escalation of violence'. Go to almost any childcare centre in any country and if a kid doesn't get what he wants from another kid, he resorts to violence, and what does that kid do? Usually exacts his revenge, taking the single hit he may have received and reciprocating with a barrage of assaulting whacks of a sandpit shovel. To be honest, watching that at a child 'care' centre can be disturbing, instead, watch it on one of those 'Funniest Home Video' shows so you don't feel so guilty about one child battering another when it is under the guise of 'entertainment.'

As adults we are emasculated by society into not being able to defend ourselves without some form of justice from either the constabulary or government. Though secretly, all of us, no matter how Christian and good, would wish a better punishment on those who trespass against us. The phrase 'An Eye for an Eye' comes from the bible after all!!

This, dear reader, is why the revenge film will always be popular. It doesn't matter if it is an A grade blockbuster with a super popular actor or a D grade crap-fest with than same actor's younger, and less talented brother: there is nothing more satisfying than sitting in front of a big screen and thinking to yourself 'That bastard deserved everything he got.'

JellyTarantino obviously has a love of the 'revenge' genre as he has put it to good use on several occasions: Reservoir Dogs' Mr White's assault on Mr Orange is pure vengeance, Death Proof's Zoe, Abernathy and Kim's attack on Stuntman Mike is the same as is what Pulp Fiction's Marsellus Wallace has in store for Zed, and everyone The Bride comes across in Kill Bill is executed for the same reason. I reckon there isn't a cinema fan anywhere that didn't feel some kind of satisfaction when these intruders were dispatched, even when Tim Roth gets that bullet in Reservoir Dogs; you feel some sense of gratification as you were both on his and Harvey Keitel's sides.

One of Tarantino's influences, from a design point of view, comes from one of the grand revenge flicks Thriller: A Cruel Picture. Bo Arne Vibenius shows how the years of sexual and mental abuse, torture and forced drug addiction can eventually make a person's psyche crack; their emotions dissolve and evolve into an unstoppable killing machine. The lovely Christina Lindberg's portrayal of how innocence can be malformed into an angel of death would probably been more effective with a larger budget and a little less slow motion, but the film makes one breathless with the extent this mute, one eyed girl will go to feel as though those that needed punishment have received what was coming to them.

Does she feel better about herself though; does vengeance always make the victim feel vindicated?

After the murders of the antagonists who raped and assaulted their daughter in The Last House on the Left (all three versions if you want to include Ingmar Berman's Jungfrukallan, aka The Virgin Spring) do the parents really feel better about the violation? For me, the ending of that tale starts me on a whole new train of thought: how does one commit such acts and still be able to get up the next day and look at themselves in the mirror? Did they actually heal themselves by committing these acts of violence, or did lowering themselves to the uncivilised acts of the badguys make them even worse? I am sure you could do a 20 part TV series on the aftermath of this story, and it would be just as gripping as the story itself.

The Wes Craven version had the more sensationalistic tagline of 'Keep repeating to yourself, it's only a movie, it's only a movie, it's only a movie...' whereas the 2009 remake has the far more thought provoking 'If bad people hurt someone you love, how far would you go to hurt them back?'

How far indeed?

As much as we all like to think we are as tough and resilient as Death Wish's Paul Kersey, The Brave One's Erica Bain, or The Evil That Men Do's Holland, or I Spit On Your Grave's Jennifer Hills (especially her!) most of us would take whatever was dished out to us and hope that justice would prevail, and we would sit in anticipation, powerless like toothless tigers, who could really only ever enjoy foods like jelly.

Luckily it is both cold and sweet.... like our dear friend revenge.

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