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Violence Is Disturbing

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"Well, killing a man isn't clean and quick and simple. It's bloody and awful. And maybe if enough people come to realize that shooting somebody isn't just fun and games, maybe we'll get somewhere."

Violence is disturbing when, rather than awesome, violence is shown or perceived to be frightening, disgusting, perhaps even nauseating, i.e. when it denotes brutality, sociopathy, sadism, and other socially undesirable traits, rather the socially desirable traits that are power, capacity for leadership, and effectiveness, staples of The Hero, especially the badass, and the reason why the Big Bad is cool.

War Is Hell, especially when it's a depiction of the battlefield rather than the civilian (un)life, can strongly overlap with this, but being a helpless civilian caught in the middle of a war is worse. Gorn is when the violence is thrilling rather than merely loathsome. No-Holds-Barred Beatdown and Extreme Mêlée Revenge are distinguished from a mere Curb-Stomp Battle by the heavy doses of this trope involved. May be involuntarily invoked by the Action Hero and the '90s Anti-Hero, and by any uses of the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique and/or Cold-Blooded Torture.

Compare Family-Unfriendly Violence, a variation that often shows up in family-friendly works.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Berserk, being the unapologetically grimdark and inhumanly visceral series it is, features practically unparalleled levels of extreme violence that is all Played for Horror and for dramatic effect, and as such, it never glorifies any of the savage violence and gruesome horror that appears in pretty much literally every panel, chapter and volume it has to offer, instead being used to enhance its impact and putting the "Dark" in Dark Fantasy, and then some.
  • In Bleach, Orihime notes that this is the main difference between normal!Ichigo, who is the epitome of a Stock Shōnen Hero, and Visored!Ichigo, who fights in an efficient but frighteningly callous and brutal way. Every time Ichigo goes full Hollow, he takes this trope much higher (within the acceptable limits of a shonen manga).
  • Code Geass:
    • This is contrasted against making it look cool when Lelouch, the teenaged protagonist, uses his power for the very first time, ordering a bunch of enemy soldiers who (he thinks) killed his childhood friend to kill themselves. At first, he has a look of confusion and shock on his face, then he switches to one of intense, malicious glee. Later on in the same incident, he kills his own brother in cold blood and with a condescending smirk... then the next day, he is shown being sick in the school bathroom, horrified when he realizes what he's done, but resolved that he can't go back on it. This juxtaposition remains kind of a theme throughout the series, since Diabolus ex Machina will often cause violent means to turn against their users and/or cause unacceptable collateral damage.
    • There is also Luciano, the Knight of Ten, who exemplifies the sort of personality this trope warns against - he loves war because he loves killing. He is shown as someone terrifying, a warning against what the main characters could become if they aren't careful.
  • Averted for the most part in Digimon, but it is played with a bit in Digimon Tamers. After the Tamers see first hand what its like to have a sympathetic Digimon die, they start to find violence repulsive. This point is driven home by Meggidomon.
  • If all you know about Elfen Lied is that it features superpowered mutants, you would maybe think that the fights looks like something out of a Superhero comic. Oh boy, would you be wrong.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, the Flame Alchemist's power, by its very nature, can only be this, as it consists of burning his opponents alive, leaving their bodies a charred husk.
  • Subverted in Full Metal Panic!: Sagara is very violent, brutal and unsporting, but he's so professional and honest and keen about it, it Crosses the Line Twice and becomes hilarious. Most of the time.
  • As much as it tends to get lost among the "Killer lolis!" hysteria, this is supposed to be a huge lesson of Higurashi: When They Cry.
  • In episode 12 of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, sweet and idealistic protagonist Suletta Mercury witnesses her mother kill several terrorists, much to her horror. Her mother then uses Suletta's Survival Mantra to convince her that violence is okay as long as it is for the protection of someone you love. Disturbingly, Suletta's Blind Obedience kicks in and she proceeds to use her giant mech suit to splatter a terrorist into a fine red paste right in front of her fiance Miorine, leaving Miorine staring in shock and horror.
  • In Naruto, the eponymous character has a similar thing happening when he gives way to his Enemy Within. Ninjas in general can have very disturbing moves which contrast with their more heroic behaviors.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion plays with this: Eva 01 is this trope, and its fights are visceral, cruel, messy affairs. Eva 02, on the other hand, manages to be cool and awesome even when being brutal in its methods, because it demonstrates great technical proficiency, competence and decisiveness, and mind-blowing athleticism and nimbleness. The latter is audacious, the former is just plain nuts.
  • Something similar happens in One Piece, except for Nico Robin, who narrowly averts it on every occasion via Could Have Been Messy.
  • Pokémon: The Series has its share of exciting fight scenes, but the show emphasizes that trainers need to know when to use restraint and stop fighting to avoid actually injuring Pokémon. Some battles, like at the end of Pokémon: The First Movie, where Pokémon end up fighting well past the limit of their endurance, fall into this.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, when the villains are winning, plays this trope straight: they always use a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown Curb-Stomp Battle and leave the heroes within an inch of their lives (or kill them altogether). However, immediately subverted when it is the heroes that are on the offensive or counterattacking, everything they do is a Moment of Awesome. Except during a brief Heroic BSoD by the protagonist, where he played this trope very straight.

    Comic Books 
  • In Powers, Michael Avon Oeming's stated intention is to make any fight scenes feel as brutal to view as it would be to experience them (or as close as he can get), averting glorification of violence despite the overall dark and violent nature of the setting. One scene where Deena beats up a cop-killer already in confinement especially stands out.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Great Mouse Detective:
    • The No-Holds-Barred Beatdown that Ratigan bears down on the eponymous Basil is a clear example.
    • The opening scene where Fidget burst in Flavesham toy shop and beat Hiram Flavesham while his daughter Olivia watches from her hiding place in closet in horror. That scene was done in Shadow Discretion Shot (from this scene, it can be noticed what kind of maniac Fidget is and what is he capable of doing when he has a motive).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Blue Ruin is a deconstruction of the typical revenge film, in which the protagonist completes his revenge early on and has to deal with the consequences and ensuing cycle of revenge. All of the violence is depicted with as much realism as is possible within the boundaries of the story, such as the initial revenge stabbing being clumsy and rough and Dwight accidentally cutting his hand from trying to slash the tires of a vehicle without accounting for the high pressure air that will shoot out. This continues on through the rest of the film, from Dwight attempting self-surgery on an arrow wound (landing him in the hospital when he just makes it worse) to a headshot visibly traumatizing him and splattering him with blood. The film ends with Dwight and the last antagonists shooting each other to death, with Dwight mindlessly repeating his last words as he bleeds out.
  • The successor to Blue Ruin, Green Room, follows on its predecessor with a higher budget. The deaths come fast and are often unexpected (much as in real life) and the gore is depicted in an unsettling and stomach-churning manner.
  • In Demolition Man, the society is so pacifist that police officers watching Simon Phoenix acting violent feel sick and shaken.
  • In There Will Be Blood, the violence ranges between gruesome and pathetic, but is never shown in a positive light.
  • The Last King of Scotland is quite disturbing all the way through, but the arguably worst part comes near the end, when the protagonist gets hung from a ceiling with meat hooks in his chest. It's not a Gory Discretion Shot, either.
  • In The Road, the violence is cringe-inducing and unglamorous, even (or especially) when done by the hero.
  • A History of Violence, particularly the infamous diner scene, shows that violence is an ugly necessity sometimes, but it's still ugly. It's made very clear that a woman was about to be raped and that she, along several more innocent people, would be murdered if Tom didn't take action against the two robbers, but there's absolutely nothing cool or stylish about the way he kills them, and the gore from, say, being shot in the face, is absolutely sickening.
  • The Danish film Flame & Citron features some (slightly) romanticized violence, but uses this trope as well.
  • Pan's Labyrinth plays almost all of its violence seriously.
  • Kick-Ass, both comic and movie, especially when Big Daddy and Kickass are being tortured as a prelude to execution, on live internet feed. Even moreso when Damico is about to kill Hitgirl.
  • Michael Haneke LOVES this trope. Case in point: Funny Games. As Scott Tobias puts it:
    "Funny Games punishes the audience for its casual bloodlust by giving it all the sickening torture and mayhem it could possibly desire. Neat trick, that."
  • Martin Scorsese takes this line in Casino. The brutal murders of Nicky Santoro and his brother at the end spring to mind. There's nothing remotely attractive about the way that's portrayed, unless you think being beaten to death with baseball bats and buried alive in your own blood by your former friends is cool. Earlier in the same film, Nicky and his crew murder a man at the behest of a Mafia boss, and before killing him, torture him for information by putting his head in a vice. The reaction shots in the scene reveal even they find this work disgusting.
    • This is the case for the majority of Martin Scorsese's films.
  • Another Scorsese example would be Travis Bickle's bloody and unglamourised shooting of the pimp near the end of Taxi Driver.
  • In Come and See, the horrific qualities of violence are really ramped up, though in its case it's through displaying the nightmarish scenes surrounding the violence.
  • The director Gaspar Noé (Irréversible, Enter the Void, I Stand Alone) is very fond of this. The violence featured in his movies is always graphic and revolting. Irreversible in particular features a brutal rape scene that goes on, uninterrupted, for nine minutes.
  • Most of the violence in Cold Mountain is repulsive and unstylized, particularly the first war scene.
  • Per the subject matter, The Holocaust movie The Grey Zone makes no attempt to glamorize the violence that occurs. A Sonderkommando beating a Jewish man to death over an argument is shocking, and every time a character is shot to death, it's sudden and disturbing.
  • The Killer Inside Me has a notorious scene where the Villain Protagonist graphically beats a woman to death for five whole minutes. Her face is mangled beyond belief when he's done.
  • French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve specializes in this trope in his movies (such as Polytechnique, Incendies, Prisoners and Sicario). While violence is infrequent, tension lingers in almost every frame and when violence is shown, it is always ugly, brutal and dispiriting for all involved. He also uses a lot of Gory Discretion Shot to prevent the violence from ever becoming stylized and to make the audience reflect on its aftermath rather than on the violence itself. Even Blade Runner 2049, easily his most stylized and "unrealistic" film, contains violence that is only portrayed as painful, grotesque and affecting.
  • Alfred Hitchcock was ordinarily all about style, but in 1966's Torn Curtain he filmed a notorious fight scene designed to show just how ugly and difficult it really is to kill somebody with one's bare hands.
  • Unforgiven: As part of its Deconstruction of the Western. There is nothing noble or glorious about watching a teenage boy bleed to death from an Agonizing Stomach Wound, or watching a man be riddled with bullets while he's crouched in the outhouse. There's also a scene where the town sheriff assaults a pompous visiting Englishman, and the beating is punctuated by Reaction Shots of the assembled townsfolk looking very uncomfortable and afraid.
  • This is done several times in Casino Royale (2006). Bond's action hero antics include charging through walls, wrestling henchmen in a komodo dragon nest, scaling cranes, and tying up loose ends. Outside the immediate context of the action scenes, the brutality and savagery are shown to have haunting, lasting effects on Bond's psyche; the camera lingers on him washing blood from his hands and body after a fistfight to the death, joining Vespa attempt to shake off the trauma of killing henchmen in self-defense, and strangling a man to death for over a minute.

  • In A Brother's Price Jerin is disturbed when he witnesses violence. When he has to shoot someone in order to save his rescuer, he's shocked. Other characters are a bit more matter-of-factly about the violence they have to do, but it's clear none of them enjoys it.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, this is played with depending on the occasion, but usually anything that happens in those books is brutal and/or disturbing in some way or another. Even the sex. It's reached memetic levels.
  • Played straight in Dragon Bones: All those who haven't previously killed someone are deeply disturbed by having to do so. The protagonist is disturbed when he notices that he enjoys fighting - he is aware that this is a sign of sociopathy, and he doesn't want to become like his father. He later tries to comfort his brother, who is a bit embarrassed, by mentioning that there are skilled warriors who get sick after each battle. PTSD is mentioned as something that happens to soldiers.
  • Settings like Warhammer 40,000 and Sin City make a show of using this trope, but are so over-the-top it always ends up treated as cool, no matter how horrifying it may look on paper.
  • Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment may be the most triumphant example. A rather pathetic double murder is committed in the first thirty pages, and the remaining 500-something deal with the psychological aftermath.
  • Carla celebrates her uncle's victory over Hammerstein in The Red and the Rest for about thirty seconds before realizing that there's an unconscious man bleeding out on the ground in front of them. And after putting him out of his misery, even Uncle Mel seems pretty heartbroken.
  • Harlan Ellison had stated in an interview that he preferred to write violence from a disturbing, candid perspective because, according to him, when you dramatize or flanderize violence, you may lead people to think that you can go around committing acts of violence against others easily and relatively consequence-free.
  • Sunshine: The protagonist is a Sweet Baker drawn into a supernatural conflict by Contrived Coincidence, so her First-Person Perspective portrays violence as something awful and borderline incomprehensible. She's genuinely traumatized when she has to kill a vampire in self-defense, and the climactic fight is written as though she's trying to register as little of it as she can.
  • Khâm Thiên by Lưu Quang Vũ paints a picture of the horrific aftermath of the December 26, 1972 carpet-bombing of the Khâm Thiên area in Hanoi. It has been compared to "a written Guernica".

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Skins, the brutal murder of Freddie is probably one of the most disturbing and disgusting scenes that have occurred in the entire series.
  • Hannibal still portrays its title character as Wicked Cultured, but all of the violence is portrayed as startling, upsetting (especially to borderline-supernaturally-empathic Will Graham) and repulsive, no matter how artfully contrived. Though the aftermath of the murders may be grotesquely beautiful, the process of them being committed - when we see it - is always unambiguously horrific.
  • The 100 generally portrays violence as very disturbing, both through the visible brutality of the scenes and through how the people committing the violence are left horrified and disgusted by their own actions.
  • Doom Patrol (2019) how Jane acts after Cliff brutally and graphically slaughters a bunch of Nazis.

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS. This trope is deliberately invoked with both the Pacifism (Reluctant Killer) and Pacifism (Cannot Kill) Disadvantages. The former makes hardcore violence of any kind against a human being extremely difficult, and both seriously traumatize the character that possesses them if they are forced to kill. Characters with the Post-Combat Shakes Disadvantage are always sickened after a fight.
  • Unknown Armies includes a "violence" Sanity Meter to reflect how shocking and unpleasant real violence is to a normal person, along with several other sources of mental and emotional stress. Unless you get some kind of therapy, you can end up falling into what may as well be PTSD, or so horribly jaded you can easily go overboard with your own violent responses.

    Video Games 
  • BioShock Infinite intentionally juxtaposes harsh, bloody, and grotesque combat against the bright and colorful Americana aesthetic of Columbia, highlighting just how unwelcome Booker is in trying to complete his mission to rescue Elizabeth. Elizabeth ends up undergoing a particularly brutal arc as her wide-eyed innocence is confronted with intense violence and death, some by the people trying to recapture and imprison her, some by the person trying to protect and rescue her. You, the player, may likely stop doing brutal melee takedowns, if not for the messy up-close results or the abundance of ammo rendering it unnecessary, but probably because of Elizabeth screaming and whimpering in fear at what you're doing.
  • In Call of Duty: Black Ops III, the first mission ends with the Player Character getting caught and attacked by an assault robot. In other media, Killer Robot characters are portrayed as badass, mysterious, or some combination. Here, the way your character is brutally and robotically torn to pieces by the robot is played for maximum horror potential, showcasing how truly brutal and merciless a killing machine can be. If not for being rescued at the last minute, the player would have suffered a very Cruel and Unusual Death.
  • Chernobylite: You're playing as a scientist, not a battle-hardened badass, so killing people reduces your Sanity Meter.
  • Hotline Miami pulls no punches when it comes to this. Extreme violence is shown in graphic detail despite the retro graphics, but the fast paced, one-hit kill gameplay leaves little time to dwell on it...until you complete a level, that is. The music cuts from upbeat synths to a dark drone and you're forced to walk through the carnage you just caused to leave the area.
  • Somewhat explored in the sequel to Kane & Lynch, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. As the game aims to be as gritty and edgy as possible, the violence displayed through out the game is supposed to make the player feel queasy, from a man slitting his own throat to two men having their whole bodies slashed up with box cutters. The firefights also aim to be as realistic as possible, supplied with background music that sounds like it were pulled from a horror project rather than an action video game and a stylized game camera that simulates a handheld camera, which gets covered in dirt, blood, water and glitches up as the player takes damage, whilst also blurring every headshot that the player gives out to enemies, in order to make everything feel more grounded.
  • In The Last of Us Part II, Ellie and other important characters will graphically stab, shoot, cut or hammer their enemies in often disturbing detail. While most action video games, arguably even the first The Last of Us, makes it "fun" to kill your enemies, Naughty Dog has stated that for Part II, you're meant to wince or feel uncomfortable every time Ellie kills someone for how realistic it's portrayed. It's also strongly implied that her revenge quest of "killing every single one" of her targets is messing with her head and giving her uncontrollable shaking, a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Manhunt takes this trope and exaggerates it with long, disturbing animations of your main character torturing his enemies to their death, which you must do in order to get a high score through the levels. The visual violence may not look that disturbing due to limitations from the time the game was made, but that is massively compensated with gruesome, cringeworthy sound designs for each single execution.
  • The violence of the Mass Effect games is usually fun and often tame enough so as not to be too disturbing... until Mass Effect 3, when you get treated to a front-row seat of Dr. Eva Core smashing the Virmire Survivor's head against a shuttle door. Even worse if the Virmire Survivor is your love interest.
  • Done in Red Orchestra as it aims to be a more grounded, realistic simulation of wars. Every death rattle you hear is long, agonizing and painful to listen to on purpose. Nothing screams post-traumatic stress disorder like watching your teammate get shoot through a doorway and having to listen to him gargling on his own blood.
  • Spec Ops: The Line makes use of the trope in a way that gets more and more noticeable as the plot unfolds, to the point where the player may find themselves wondering whether they're having fun, and then whether they should be, and then why. It's not just the violence, but the reactions the characters have — the protagonist grows increasingly vicious and traumatised, the enemies realistically scream in pain and terror as they die, and it's hard to take satisfaction in success knowing neither protagonist nor enemies hold the moral high ground or are genuinely evil at heart.
  • In Tomb Raider (2013), fitting with it being an Origin Story for Lara Croft, this is played up. First, she breaks down hysterically crying after shooting Vladimir dead in self-defense. Then, the only time players can begin to use the climbing axe as a Utility Weapon in melee combat is when they have reached the level of "Hardened" in skill development, denoting that she has become hardened by her experiences to the point that she is willing to use such a nasty form of combat at all.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in an episode of Clone High, which introduces a new character only to kill him off gruesomely by having him drown in his own blood. It's intended to parody Very Special Episodes that introduce new characters only to kill them nastily to make a point.