Sunday, January 13, 2008

Films, Fame and Suicide

I recently saw the movie "Control" at the Lyric. "Control" is a biopic of Ian Curtis, who was the lead singer and lyricist of the British band Joy Division. Ian only lived for 23 years, he committed suicide on May 18th, 1980. Check Wikipedia for a more complete biography or YouTube for some original Joy Division music videos (you've all heard their song "Love Will Tear Us Apart", you just don't know it). The film was very good, it was honored recently at the Cannes Film Festival and won several major acting awards in the United Kingdom. But it brought to mind an interesting phenomenon. When a musician, or any other well-known person, commits suicide, is it irresponsible or unethical for a filmmaker to make a movie about their life? Does it send the message that suicide will get you attention? Elliott Smith, an American singer-songwriter who stabbed himself in 2003, has had two post-humongous CDs of his work released (From a Basement on a Hill and New Moon), was honored with a tribute disc(To: Elliott From: Portland) and every purchase from his website goes toward The Elliott Smith Memorial Fund which supports charitable organizations that coincide with Elliott's beliefs. Then, of course, there's Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who has been the subject of several biographies and who was the inspiration for filmmaker Gus Van Sant's Last Days. Sometimes everyday people who commit suicide are memorialized with funds and such, but I know for a fact that Poudre High School doesn't honor students who have taken their own lives specifically because the administration feels that it would send the message that suicide=attention and that it would encourage students already contemplating suicide. So does publicity about suicide, especially in regards to famous people, who the rest of us are presumably influenced by, encourage suicidal tendencies? Or does it shed light on an obviously pressing problem and encourage discussion and awareness? Do filmmakers or others proposing to commemorate victims of suicide have ethical obligations to their viewers?


bway_guy said...

I think that filmmakers aren't doing anything unethical if they are creating a movie on a famous person who has committed suicide. I think that, in making the movie, the filmmakers bring to attention the very serious problem that many people, not just teenagers, face in their everyday lives.

For example, I have a friend who had attempted suicide. When I visited him in the hospital, he rarely looked at me and was very quiet and sad. I was completely shocked that he would do something like that, and I felt pretty angry at him for doing a selfish action like that. But, I do believe that he realized that things really weren't as bad as he thought they were, and that there is more to live in life than the now. So, I think that filmmakers also show that side of the issue as well. So, no, I don't think that filmmakers are doing anything unethical when memoralizing someone who committed suicide. And also, I don't think that anyone who is at risk would be influenced by seeing a movie about suicide.

katrina337 said...

I think it really depends on how it's done. I think doing things in memory of the person who committed suicide is good, and I don't think it promotes suicide, thus there isn't anything unethical about it.
If you purposefully put the message in there that suicide=attention, then that would be unethical. But just doing things in memory of someone who was loved and committed suicide, it's not unethical. It's out of respect for the person who's dead.
I actually think people who commit suicide, and the effect that has on other people, should actually be publicized more. Not like, it needs to be all over the media and whatever, but I think it's a horrible mistake to hush it up in fear of copy-cats or whatever.

ZoeW said...

I agree with Katrina in the idea that suicide shouldn't be hushed up and forgotten by the media or other people. I feel that more attention (possibly in the form of a film) should be focused on the idea of suicide, not promoting it, but bringing more awareness to why some people feel the need to take their life and how that affects others. If awarness focused on more of the reasons why for suicide I think it might help people to understand it more, possibly helping them to recognize warning signs or help people deal with aspects relating to suicide. I for one don't know anyone who has committed suicide and I sometimes wonder why someone could do it, probably because I am fairly happy with my life now and couldn't dream of killing myself. On the same note, I think that filmmakers still need to be careful in portraying it, because of those who might see it as a way of gaining attention or raising money(?). I do have one question though, Is there a difference between making a film about a famous person who committed suicide and a normal person who did it, i.e. do they portray different messages or have different effects?

JuliaC. said...

Well, in answer to your question Zoe, I think that #1, people wouldn't really be interested in a film about a normal person who committed suicide because it brings it really close to home, which probably would cause some discomfort, and it's probably not as interesting as a famous person committing suicide. #2, celebrities have a fan base, which means that their influence is probably stronger than ours. When there is a musician or other celebrated figure who commits suicide, people get interested. People want to know the details and sometimes the dead celebrity becomes sort of a legend, this great tormented genius who died too young. People buy the hype. So i guess in a strange way celebrities who kill themselves add some glamour to suicide, which is why i think filmmakers would have to question the effect their films could have the viewing audience. It's kinda the same situation with movies that feature drug abuse. Is it ok to have sympathetic main characters who shot up heroin? Or would that glamorized drug use and make it more appealing to the film's admirers? I guess I'm asking if filmmakers or even if artists in general should consider the implications that their work could have on the viewing public, or are they not responsible for the message that viewers take with them?

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