Thursday, November 29, 2018

Gosnell as Horror

Today, I am going to take a break from my series on the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus to write about one of the better American movies I have seen in a long time. Recently, I went to see Gosnell. The movie follows the detectives and prosecutors involved in the arrest and trial of one of America’s most prolific serial killers; however, let’s be upfront. Despite the protestations of several of its characters and the movie’s focus on the trial and its proceedings, Gosnell is a about abortion.

This is subtly made clear by the movie’s main character, detective James Wood. In the opening scenes he is shown three times telling people in his life, “As I see it, you have two choices…” We are never told what those two choices are; however, in context of the movie the two choices are meant to be: do you side with Gosnell or not? do you side with a legal system the enables Gosnell or not? do you side with the institutions that made Gosnell possible or not?

The purpose of this post, however, is not to go on some political screed about how awful abortion is (although, I will admit that seeing my eldest daughter dance inside the womb at 11 weeks in response to the laughter of my wife has had a major impact on my opinion on the matter). Rather, it is to meditate on how Gosnell is one of the best horror experiences I have ever had in the movie theater and how that repeated statement by detective James Wood is instrumental in making Gosnell into the masterful, if unconventional, horror movie that it is.

As I have stated in the past, I am not a huge horror movie fan. I find most of it to be excruciatingly boring. For the purposes of this post, I will focus on the following reasons:
  1. I am rarely actually horrified by what I see on screen.
  2. The graphic violence shoved down my throat always pales in comparison to what my own imagination had been envisioning up until the point that the fake blood and guts started flowing.
Gosnell, on the other hand, not only succeeds in horrifying its audience, but it also trusts in the audience’s own imagination.

By framing the movie with the implied moral choice that results in Gosnell, the movie effectively implicates its audience in what is happening on screen. The audience, in part, is responsible for what happened inside Gosnell’s house of horrors. Thus, the movie effectively holds up a mirror to its audience and makes it squirm with horror at what it sees.

Gosnell also staunchly refuses to show virtually anything. Gosnell collected the feet of his victims in bottles of formaldehyde, but this is as graphic as anything shown on screen. When detective Wood finds these bottles while investigating the inside of Gosnell’s “clinic,” an abortion takes place — off screen. All we see is the blood on Gosnell’s surgical gloves. Left alone to our own imagination, the horror of what went on inside that building is amplified well beyond anything that special effects artists or CGI could ever accomplish.

This is how I run horror in my campaigns. I allow my players to have the freedom to make moral choices, to see the consequences of those choices and to leave most of the graphic stuff up to their own imaginations.

As I have said on more than one occasion, if you want to see a monster look in the mirror. Gosnell is an experience that makes you do exactly that.

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