Honoring Innocent Bystanders Killed In Action Films

Maybe to notice it afresh you have to watch a PG-13 movie like Skyfall, where a huge subway train crashes horrifically and you can see quite clearly that no passengers are inside, but it’s remarkable how quickly and mercilessly R-rated action films can rack up the civilian casualties. Streaming Ronin last night (I don’t know, I fell asleep when I rented it in ninth grade, okay? Had to follow through.) was like, damn, you don’t want to be an extra in this: no sooner do you appear on camera than squibs are exploding bloodily through your winter coat.

Am I more sensitive to this carnage than I was as an angry teenager, cheering on every accidental murder? It could be I’m just more aware of how little these unintentionally farcical killings do to advance the plot, or even complicate the protagonists’ motivations. The “good guy” could grab some lightly wounded passerby and use him as a human shield and we’re not meant to feel a flicker of moral surprise. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do! The fate of the world is at stake!

But we shouldn’t be so callous. That person walking down a crowded city street who goes down in a hail of inaccurate sniper fire, spilling their brown-bagged prop groceries—that’s you. That’s the audience surrogate. Going about your normal life, minding your own mild business, when BAM, a gunfight erupts and makes collateral damage out of you. So let’s have a moment of silence for those innocents who die in violent thrillers. Because you never know who’s next. 

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