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It's sad that the so-called torture porn movie genre has established itself so firmly in the mainstream that the plotlines in its stories (if you can call them that) are becoming something of a stereotype.
Here the small modification made to the capture-imprison-torture-kill-repeat motif is that the victim is a celebrity. According to star Elisha Cuthbert, Jennifer is a Paris Hilton-meets-Gisele Bündchen celebutante/model who, with her fashionably tiny doggie in tow, complains that she has to work too hard and go to too many charity fundraisers at tony nightclubs. She should have complained louder, because it's at one of those soirees that she's drugged and then dragged down to a medieval-themed basement by somebody who wants to torment her, rape her and eventually terminate her.
Realizing she's about to be brutally murdered, Jennifer begins to recite the Lord's Prayer.
To document the many, many moral failings on display, I'll reveal a couple of major plot points in the paragraphs to follow. (Under normal movie-review circumstances I'd call them "spoilers," but there's nothing spoilable in Captivity, so I'm left wanting a new word.) The first non-spoiler is the obscene fact that the man Jennifer thinks is her friend and fellow captive—and with whom she has sex—is really one of her assailants. As far as I'm concerned, that puts his actions in the category of rape. And it's a rape we're forced to witness, as emotionally charged music swells behind sexual sounds and motions.
We also see nude, comic book-style drawings of sexual intercourse (bare breasts are seen) and snapshots of Jennifer's attacker having sex with previous victims. (He labels them "trophies.")
The rapist is named Gary. His brother, Ben, who is in on the abductions and killings, watches. And it's implied that he masturbates afterward, making a crude comment about sharing the experience.
The film opens by showing us a series of provocative advertisements that expose a lot of skin. In addition to wearing revealing outfits for some of those photos, Jennifer also bares quite a bit of cleavage during her ordeal—usually because her abductors force her to wear certain clothes. In one scene we watch them watch her changing, and her nude, out-of-focus silhouette is seen. At a club, the camera goes in for close-ups of scantily clad dancers doing sexualized moves.
After Jennifer's abduction, the first half of the film settles into a series of mindless, meaningless and tiring torture vignettes. One after the next, the scenes fade in and out. Many of them are "enhanced" by Jennifer having to watch a large-screen video of her predecessors being maimed and murdered. Between her own experiences and theirs, we're assailed by everything from raining acid that burns the skin off faces to bloody body parts being ground up in a blender.
Once that gory cocktail is fully stirred, Jennifer is forced to drink it through a funnel. She's nearly killed in small space that slowly fills up with sand. At gunpoint, she's forced to choose between her own life and that of her pet dog. The dog (which turns out not be hers after all) takes the bullet. Chunks of flesh and fur fly.
Bound, Jennifer watches as blood gushes from Gary's mouth when his teeth are wrenched out with a pair of pliers. (It's staged, but neither she nor the audience knows.) And we watch repeated video images of a young boy stabbing his mother to death, then calmly taking a picture of her as she lies dead—barely covered by her pajamas. (What she says to him while cuddling with him right before he attacks her tells us that she had been sexually abusing him.)
Mangled, blood-soaked bodies and faces. Screaming, gasping mouths. Limbs wrenching against restraints. Twisted sadists literally tasting the blood of their prey. This is the stuff of Captivity.
"Traditional" violence is included, too. Jennifer and Gary crash a car through a garage door. Two police officers are shot in cold blood. Ben is stabbed to death. And shotgun blasts finally put an end to the mean tale, leaving blood welling from multiple wounds.
Crude or Profane Language
Eight or 10 f-words are joined by about half that number of s-words. God's name is used as an interjection.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Jennifer is frequently drugged by way of needles, dissolved pills, liquid-soaked rags and gas. One of her kidnappers drinks wine while watching her suffer. She downs a martini.
Other Negative Elements
"Death. That's where the bzzzzz is." The killers use words and pictures cut out of magazines to create that sentence and paste it into their scrapbook of memories—of Jennifer's confinement. Indeed it is. Captivity broke the surface of the entertainment waters when graphic posters and billboards were placed in New York City and Los Angeles. Images depicted star Elisha Cuthbert's systematic torture and "termination." They were not approved by the Motion Picture Association of America, as the organization requires. And they were quickly taken down. Captivity's studio, After Dark Films, claimed it was an honest mistake, but the MPAA didn't buy that story and slapped a month-long suspension on the film's rating process, effectively delaying its wide release.
That punitive lag made theaters slightly safer—for one month. Small comfort now that the month is over.
While it seems, then, that there are still things you can't get away with showing on the tops of taxicabs, Akiva Goldsman (who wrote the screenplays for The Da Vinci Code, Cinderella Man and A Beautiful Mind), is convinced "there's nothing you can do to a human being onscreen that is taboo anymore. Over and over again, people are breaking the boundaries of the body, hurting people, chopping people up, ravaging people."
While Goldsman had nothing to do with the creation of Captivity, it certainly puts the punctuation on his assertion.
But this film isn't merely punctuation. It also may serve as inspiration. Writing for mtv.com, film critic Larry Carroll says the movie "could be seen as a how-to lesson in the kidnapping of a modern celebrity. ... Its depiction of an imperiled model/actress does raise a startlingly thought-provoking question: Could this really happen?"
Are you absolutely, positively and unequivocally convinced that watching movies would never make you or anyone in your family stalk, abduct, imprison, torture, rape and murder someone? Most of us are. Which raises one of entertainment's core questions of morality: Should we use that confident self-possession to give ourselves permission to wrap ourselves up in—just for fun—the very ideas and images that might cause someone else to lose his or her social and moral balance, and do something unspeakable?
For if we spend an afternoon or evening casually submitting ourselves to the close confines of Captivity's ideals, have we not crossed some sort of a line in our own minds? In our own hearts?
In Jesus' impassioned sermon on the mount (recorded in Matthew 5), He said, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. ... You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell."
Obviously, thoughts matter. Sticks and stones break bones. And words and pictures can cause just as much damage. The things we see over the rim of our popcorn box fill up our minds and our souls just as surely as malt balls and Jujubes fill our stomachs.