The Controversial Subject of Reservoir Dogs

Updated on May 25, 2018
Katie Newbery profile image

I have always had a passion for movies as I spend most of my days watching them and ranting about them, so why not share my opinions online?

Reservoir Dogs was released in 1992 with an age certificate of 18 uncut due to the high levels of violence, crime, strong language and showcasing of blood. The much-loved movie was directed and written by Quentin Tarantino, who is known for his violent films, and produced by Lawrence Bender. This movie was the first of Tarantino’s so viewers did not know what to expect from this new film-maker at the time of its release. But this does not mean the public were not subject to violent movies up until this point because “Goodfellas” was an extremely popular film of 1990, which featured a great deal of violence throughout.

The main problem with this film was the scene in which Michael Madsen cuts a policeman’s ear off with a knife, covers him in petrol and threatens to set him on fire. This scene proved too difficult for some audience members to watch and resulted in many people walking out of the cinema. This scene is regarded as being unacceptable because Madsen’s character is clearly enjoying hurting this person because he says, “it amuses me to torture a cop” as the song “Stuck in the Middle with You” plays in the background. These additions to the scene make torture seem humorous and not an issue at all, which was frowned upon amongst viewers. Despite these opinions, the film does not actually show the victim’s ear being cut off, it merely plays his cries of agony and pain as the camera pans away, so the BBFC did not deem it unacceptable. Also, the character of Mr Blonde (Madsen) is not supposed to be seen as a hero, he is meant to be viewed as a psychopathic killer who the audience should not like, so it does not approve of his actions in any way. Therefore, the film was passed at an 18 rating and received great success in the UK.

Reservoir Dogs was initially set to be released in 1993 on home video, but this would be delayed until 1995 because of the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill in 1993. In response to concerns about the effects of media violence, part of the Bill’s responsibility was to make amendments to the Video Recordings Act 1984, under which the BBFC had been appointed as the statutory regulatory body for video.

The BBFC’s then director, James Ferman, played an active role in the drafting of this aspect of the Bill which had consequences for the video classification of films such as Reservoir Dogs. This is because, on its passing into law in 1994, it established a ‘harm’ test. This ‘harm’ test required the BBFC to consider any harm that may be caused to potential viewers, to society based on the way criminal behaviour is dealt with and violent behavior and incidents.

The criminal themes and violence, especially the torture sequence, in Reservoir Dogs had to be revisited due to the risk of potential harmful effects. This was particularly aimed toward younger viewers who would watch this movie in their homes. In fact, the BBFC concluded that these issues could be strongly defended at 18.

After Pulp Fiction was released in 1994, audiences were able to develop a better understanding of Quentin Tarantino’s type of content in his movies so they would know what to expect from then on. Also, all of Tarantino’s movies feature lots of dialogue throughout and it is focused on primarily in all of his films. Therefore, the dangers of subjecting young people to that level of violence is less likely to occur because young viewers are more interested in films that have more violence than dialogue, and Reservoir Dogs is not one of those films.

After being shown at several other film festivals, including in Cannes, Reservoir Dogs opened in the United States in 19 theaters with a first week total of $147,839. It was expanded to 61 theaters and totaled $2,832,029 at the box office. The film grossed more than double that in the United Kingdom where it was banned from home video release until 1995. During the period of unavailability on home video, the film was re-released in UK cinemas in June 1994. Reservoir Dogs was finally given an uncut 18 video certificate in May 1995.

Overall, I believe that Reservoir Dogs is a significant movie for all independent film-makers. It is extremely influential and inspiring for the world of cinema because it crossed boundaries that other people were not willing to cross and it awakened the start of a renowned director who would go on to make some of the greatest movies of all time. The torture scene is quite difficult to watch, especially because audiences sympathise with the victim and the actual act that is carried out by Michael Madsen's character is quite gruesome.

Obviously, there are multiple people who will watch this movie that cannot cope with the dark humour, strong themes and unnerving scenes throughout, but Quentin Tarantino has always been someone who contains some disturbing scenes amongst a vast amount of dialogue between intriguing characters with a great level of realism. This is why not everyone will enjoy his movies, because sometimes it all seems a little bit too real. But for those people who can look past the violence and unsettling themes, Reservoir Dogs is a rather hilarious and clever film to watch that should be respected and admired for the outstanding film that it is.

5 stars for Reservoir Dogs

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