The revenge motivation for violence can be seen in many films and novels, but one of the most clear-cut examples of this motivation -- as well as one of the most violent -- are Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films. In this two-part movie, a former assassin (Uma Thurman) tracks down her former boss and her remaining colleagues, killing each of them one by one because they had tried to kill her some years prior. She also gains a daughter through her dispatching of her former boss and lover, but she does not need to kill him to accomplish this. Nor does she have any real reason to kill the other female assassins with whom she used to work; had she simply dropped out of sight, she would not have been in any danger. Yet the character's motivation throughout the film is nothing more -- or less -- then a desire for absolute and utter vengeance against the man who tried to take her life. This film shows how powerful a force the desire for revenge can be.
Violence can also occur ritualistically, as is seen among the cultures on Papua New Guinea (Stewart & Strathern 2002). A different sort of ritualistic violence occurs in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, which though wildly inaccurate in many of its details is quite pointedly correct in describing the self-inflicted pain that the albino monk working on behalf of an ultra-religious sect endures (Brown 2003). Such violence direct inwards can often be a signal of individual issues with violence, and this is certainly the case with this character in both the novel and film versions of Brown's story. This violence is of a type somewhat different than those explored in Violence: theory and Ethnography, but its roots are largely the same -- indoctrination in violent beliefs and a perception of harm, both physical and metaphysical, for refraining from certain acts of violence themselves -- drive many people's behavior.
A third instance of violence in film can be seen in the Coen brother's classic movie Millers Crossing, which involves acts of both individual and collective violence. Throughout the film, there are several motivations for the various acts of violence that are committed, but they all essentially boil down to one -- greed. This greed is sometimes manifested as lust, but it is really the same thing; it is a coveting of things that other possess and that are not needed for survival, but that one person wants anyway. This is also one of the basic causes of violence, and though it does not explain the widespread genocides and civil wars that are covered by the authors of this book, it is certainly a common elements in the popular culture and the various texts it produces. Violence, whatever else it may be, is the direct result of certain of the less noble of human intentions and motivations, and Miller's Crossing is rife with these aspects of humanity collectively and individually.
It is cliche and somewhat naive to say that violence doesn't solve anything, but as many of the instances in Violence: Theory and Ethnography show, this statement is certainly true. Violence tends to beget more violence, erupting in unpredictable yet all-too-familiar patterns at various times in every culture. As our understanding of violence grows more refined, it can be hoped that these events can be curbed and mitigated, and brought to a faster and safer resolution for all concerned. A less violent world is something everyone can agree would be a boon to humanity.
Brown, Dan. (2003). The Da Vinci Code. New York: Random House.
Coen, J. & Coen, E. (1990). Miller's Crossing. Twentieth Century Fox.
Stewart, P. & Strathern, A. (2002). Violence: Theory and Ethnography. London: Continuum.