question of the day: ‘The Hangover’’s baby versus ‘Drag Me to Hell’’s kitten: who wins the grudge match?

[minor spoilers for The Hangover and Drag Me to Hell]

Kate Ward at EW’s PopWatch wonders whether her reaction to bits in two recent films means she loves kittens more than babies. The gist of it is this: She thinks the baby abuse in The Hangover — the kid getting whacked in the head and getting left in a hot car with only a window cracked — is hilarious, but the feline sacrifice in Drag Me to Hell left her feeling “disgusted and, yes, even angry that the director would choose to include animal abuse in his film.”

I’m not picking on Ward: her post is mostly tongue-in-cheek. But when she wonders if it has something to do with the fact that the first film is a comedy while the second film isn’t… well, she’s wrong about that Drag Me to Hell is a comedy: it’s just a lot drier and a lot more subtle than The Hangover (which explains, I suppose, why Sam Raimi’s film has gone straight to hell — Americans are not known as a people who appreciate dry subtlety).
Ward defends her enjoyment of the baby abuse this way:

I mean, it’s a movie. It’s fiction. This baby is not really being harmed.

And again, she’s being deliberately sorta funny, so I’m not picking on her, but isn’t this what people who do find this kind of stuff funny always say, in all seriousness, in their own defense? As if people who object to this kind of comedy believe it’s all real and the baby is being harmed.

A commenter on Ward’s post homes in on the other strawman argument defenders of this kind of humor invariably toss out:

One of my fave things about the Hangover was how you HAD to leave your Politically Correctness cap at home (esp with the baby and the drunk driving).

As if all those who say that whacking a baby in the head isn’t funny are merely pretending to hold such a view, and secretly find it hilarious, but they stifle their laughter out of fear of what other people will think of them.

Me? I think the bit with the kitten is deeply funny precisely because it plays on our natural tendency to want to protect a defenseless little creature that is relying on humans for its keep. Watching Drag, I cringed when I saw what was in store for Kitty, but I was tickled to see how Raimi understands that this is how the audience will react and goes on to play with that reaction. He’s torturing us, not the kitten, in some ways.

My problem with the bits with the baby in The Hangover isn’t that they’re not funny, it’s that they’re not funny enough. Todd Phillips is no Sam Raimi, and he goes for the cheap, easy laughs rather than working just a little harder to make them genuinely provocative. Then again, Phillips’ movie has made a gazillion dollars, and Raimi’s has made $3.87.

So, my question:

The Hangover’s baby versus Drag Me to Hell’s kitten: who wins the grudge match?

Interpret that any way you like.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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Der Bruno Stroszek
Der Bruno Stroszek
Fri, Jun 12, 2009 3:10pm

[SPOILERS for Drag Me To Hell!]

I haven’t seen The Hangover, but I’m surprised that anyone could be that offended by the cat sacrifice in Drag Me To Hell. For one thing, all the violence in this scene is firmly off-screen; for another, Christine feels a hell of a lot of remorse for killing that animal, and anyone who finds it hard to root for her as a hero after that will surely be placated by the ending.

Gary Larson once defined a joke as the collision of two familiar elements in a way that makes you see the absurdity of one, the other or both. The cat scene in DMTH is a perfect example of that; we know Christine has a cat, and it’s established that animal sacrifice could lift the curse. But people think of animal sacrifice as an ancient rite practiced in agrarian societies, so as soon as it’s mentioned you think of goats or pigs or something. The immediate cut to Christine in her house cooing “Here, kitty kitty…” is where the joke lies – two familiar elements brought together in an unexpected way.

Everything in DMTH is set up brilliantly, in fact. That’s probably the main reason why I enjoyed it so much. It doesn’t cheat.

Fri, Jun 12, 2009 3:32pm

The baby got some new sunglasses and his mother is Heather Graham, so I think he definitely got the best of it. The baby getting whacked by the car door would have gotten a bigger laugh from me in the theatre if they hadn’t shown that scene in the trailer a thousand times. (I’m getting to the point where I change the channel when a movie trailer for something I want to see comes on.)

As for the cat in DM2H ***SPOILER***

I suppose the death of the cat was wryly humorous, but I wouldn’t call it funny. I was irked by its inclusion in the movie until I understood that the movie was about a selfish person looking for a scapegoat — literally at one point — and wasn’t just a cynical shocker, which it would be in a lesser horror movie.

Sat, Jun 13, 2009 1:04am

Spoilers ahead:

I haven’t seen The Hangover and don’t plan to, but I saw Drag Me to Hell.

I don’t think the kitten scene was meant as comedy. Or rather, it functions on that level, but it’s also a real conundrum, posed explicitly in the film: would you be willing to kill a kitten to avoid eternity in Hell?

And then the follow up which is asked in the subtext: Would killing a kitten to avoid Hell end up condemning you to Hell anyway?

According to the film the answer to both questions is yes. Which means we all deserve Hell, so yeah, the movie is pretty damn subversive :P

Sat, Jun 13, 2009 1:51am

Spoilers, obviously

Yeah, I didn’t see the the kitten as necessarily humorous. Actually, it was the kitten’s death that caused me to correctly predict the true ending of the film, because I suspect all genre flick directors of being cat people, and no cat person would let a woman live after killing a kitten. I have decided to start collecting data to this effect, and I will start questioning directors when I attend convention panels.