Finding Meaning through Violence?

Walking out of the classroom after watching this movie felt very different from any of the other movies which we were able to view. This was not only because the film was one of the most gruesome and horrifying movies which we watched in class but, was because of how thought provoking the ending was. To me, the ending gave me a feeling of shock wherein I was unable to process everything which happened. In fact, after watching, I found myself going online and looking up different theories about what the ending of the movie could have meant. This movie really is something else. It gave me a roller coaster of emotions but also made the horror seem so real and possible.

Martyrs (2008) by Pascal Laugier is a film about two girls: Lucie Jurin and Anna Assaoui. Lucie as a child was tortured without knowing why and, this affects her throughout her life. She starts to hurt herself without knowing that she would do it to herself and Anna takes it upon herself to care for her. The film which starts as an introduction into the lives of the two girls takes a very unexpected turn a few minutes later, when we are thrust fifteen years into the future and we suddenly see Lucie as the propagator of a home invasion in which she shoots and kills a whole family using a shotgun. Anna then arrives at the scene and is horrified. Things then take a turn for the worse when Lucie loses control after finding out that Anna tried to help one of the victims who somehow survived the shotgun blast. This causes Lucie to kill herself, while feeling like her best friend didn’t believe that these people were responsible for her torture when she was a child. After this however, the nightmare really begins. Anna finds out that these people really were behind Lucy’s torture and get kidnapped and gets the same treatment as Lucie did all those years before.

Linda Williams, in her article entitled Learning to Scream, says that cinema has become more similar to a rollercoaster ride than a classical narrative. Because of all the unexpected twists and turns which happen in the movie, we in a way start “losing the kind of control that [we] enjoy in classical narrative cinema.” To me however, Martyrs transcends this idea. This is what makes the movie very special. In a way, the movie does offer countless twists that make you unsure of the direction in which you may be going but, the overall narrative or themes of the film are so strong that it can be enjoyed in the classical sense of the manner. In a way, the twists all contribute to the overall narrative and though the thrills which we experience from the twists contribute a lot, it is in the overarching theme of the movie that we are able to truly appreciate the movie for the message which it tries to impart on the audience, by showing us the capabilities of human cruelty, exploitation, and suffering, and giving us insight into what might possibly come after death.

Martyrs is a painful film to watch. It is hard because in the end, it is difficult to pinpoint a true villain. Over the course of the film, all of the characters have motivations behind what they are doing and, even the group of people who torture and kill can be said to be doing this because it is what they believe is right. Brigid Cherry, in her article, Refusing to Refuse to Look : Female Viewers of the Horror Film, talks about how the female character is usually a sympathetic character and, the audience (specifically the female audience) becomes uncomfortable by seeing her suffer. That being said, the torture scenes of the movie were especially hard to watch and actually caused some people to walk out in different screenings of the movies. As I mentioned before however, what makes Martyrs so special as a film is that even with all the gore and violence, it still manages to get the audience to leave the theater thinking about the meaning of life. The violence which the film showed all contributed to the culmination of the film and in a way struck a chord with almost everyone who was able to watch it. To me, I interpreted it as man’s capability to commit acts as violent as this and hurt others for something which they believe to transcend human right. However, in the end, I thought that the movie was trying to say that all of the acts which we do to hurt each other amount to nothing. Finding meaning is useless if we lose our humanity in the process.

To me, I found this film to be a very rare gem. It was a film that was able to depict extreme violence in such a way that the audience identified with it but also hated themselves for it. It was one of those rare films which made me think about life and not just the movie itself.



Linda Williams, “Learning to Scream.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).

Brigid Cherry, “Refusing to refuse to look: Female viewers of the horror film.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).


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