Good films elicit discourse. You probably know of many films that have started healthy debates. But there’s a special kind of movie that rarefies the atmosphere and sparks debates so heated that it leads to ruined friendships or act as a spark to contemplate murder. These are the controversial movies whose content or theme has shocked many moviegoers and, as a result, drove people to discuss its merits – and for some who really felt strongly about it, advocated for its banning.
Below are some of the most controversial films in recent history.
1. Last Tango in Paris
For those who have short memories, Bernardo Bertolucci may be a recognizable name because he directed The Last Emperor. But for those who know about film history, he is most famous (or infamous) for having directed Marlon Brando in The Last Tango in Paris. The movie played with themes on obsession, loneliness and isolation and sex was used to propel the lead characters to express their innermost feelings and desires. The depiction of sex was so intense and brutal that it received an X rating and also led its stars and Bertolucci to be charged with obscenity. No one will see butter in quite the same way again after watching this movie.
2. The Last Temptation of Christ
Expect movies that deal or touch on religion to create controversy in some form. This is what happened with The Last Temptation of Christ, a movie that was directed by Martin Scorcese in 1988 based on the novel by Nikos Kazantkis. The movie is a reamigining of Jesus Christ’s life and happens when Jesus is being tormented by various temptations while in his fast in the desert. The so-called last temptation is the offer for him to lead a normal life. The depiction of Christ as being ‘human’ and someone who may also commit mistakes are some of the reasons that it was considered blasphemous (not least of which is the part where Jesus gets married). Scorcese made a very powerful film, unfortunately, certain sections of the religious community deemed it unwatchable and an affront to their beliefs.
3. The Passion of The Christ
IF there’s still doubt that a film on religion will attract controversy then The Passion of The Christ will finally convince them. The movie, which was directed by Mel Gibson, was the actor/director’s attempt to show audiences a graphic and realistic depiction of Jesus’ suffering leading to his crucifixion. It may have been Gibson’s attempt to allow people to contemplate how much Jesus suffered for our sins. What happened though was that the film inspired a spirited debate about the movie as some called it quite brutal while others said it was anti-semitic.
4. Natural Born Killers
Oliver Stone is known for making films with provocative themes and one of these is Natural Born Killers. The movie is about two lovers who go on a killing spree across America. They kill not for any kind of reasons like money or revenge. They just liked it. Stone wanted the film to be a statement on his views of a predatory media but the romanticized life of Mickey and Mallory inspired others to mimic them and perform copycat killings.
Pier Paolo Pasolini is one of the most celebrated auteurs in cinema and one of the films he is known for is Salo. Pasolini attempted to show man’s depravity on film and he succeeded with Salo. The movie has elicited very strong reactions not only from those that saw the film but also from people who just know of what the film contains. If there’s ever a subversive piece of filmmaking Salo will definitely be on that list.