Notes on “Sabotage”, and Triggers

Fenster writes:

I have paid essentially zero attention to Arnold Schwarzenegger the actor after his political career ended.  I knew faintly of a film, or maybe several, that included Arnold with a gaggle of his aging action figure buddies.  I figured I would get around to that sooner or later since I like action films and enjoyed him back in the day.

I saw a DVD at the library that showed him standing in the front of a bunch of armed and suited-up individuals and thought it must be the movie I was thinking of.

But no, as I have since discovered, the movie series I had in mind, The Expendables, has Stallone standing in front with Arnold on the side.


whereas the DVD I saw had Arnold in the center.  It was Sabotage, and I could not place it at all.


A similar pose but a different group of characters.  And an odder one, too.  Here, Arnold is surrounded by a gaggle that includes Mirielle Enos, the depressed detective from the downbeat and perennially overcast TV series The Killing


and Olivia Williams, the ultra-depressed wife from the excruciatingly downbeat Maps to the Stars.


I took it out to see if it was up to its billing as “A NON-STOP ADRENALINE RUSH!

I thought Prozac, maybe.

Well, I am no fan of trigger warnings but if there is ever a movie that should come with one, it is Sabotage.  And I mean that mostly in a good way.

Film has portrayed gore, mayhem and blood in ever explicit ways but very often employing techniques that allow for some distance on the part of the viewer.  Evil Dead 2 was funny in the manner of the Three Stooges.  Fargo had deadpan humor.  The Wild Bunch had slow-motion ballet.  De Palma uses a seductive luxuriousness.  The clock ticks down on the bomb.  The good guy makes the difficult shot.  It’s usually the bad guy’s blood in the end.  Trope trope tripe.

By contrast the treatment of violence as sudden and brutal and completely unsentimental is less common.

As always Friedkin did it well.  As I wrote here, with him it could be “cut-cut-boom, and that’s the way it goes.”

(Note: extra shots added unnecessarily by someone posting to YouTube.  The original is one shot to Petersen and it’s done.)

Sabotage has some of that energy going for it.

There’s plenty of formula in the movie, don’t get me wrong.  But it plays with the formulas in interesting ways.  Schwarzenegger and his manic band of DEA agents are wild and macho in the conventional way–or are they?  The plot gets you on their side as the lovable good guys with some bad tendencies and then oscillates the bad and good in destabilizing ways.

And Arnold–well, he still can’t act in the Method sense, but he does take on a somewhat more complicated character.

The extra documentary on the filming process on the DVD makes much of the director’s military background.  And for sure, there is a documentary quality to a good deal of the action that forces you to strip away your expectations.  It may be random violence or not around that corner, and not just another dramatic trope, or pop-up shooter in the style of a video game.  And there are a couple of moments–no spoilers here–where I felt like the director fairly earned the fact that I jumped out of my seat.

Do you think students who complain about trigger warnings with Homer give the question much thought when they see violence in movies?

I think not.

I find the trigger warning stuff on campuses laughable but who knows?  Maybe the constant exposure to fake violence, typically portrayed with one of more of the distancing effects above, has the ultimate effect of telling viewers that they are safe.  Maybe when kids are reminded that civilization contains disturbing elements in its core it gets upsetting.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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4 Responses to Notes on “Sabotage”, and Triggers

  1. JV says:

    I’m not a fan of trigger warnings at all, I should start off saying. Whether a person is “triggered” by something depends on that person’s life experiences. Most of the instances on college campuses are around material with sexual violence/violation, which unfortunately many women have experience with.

    In the case of a movie like Sabotage, I could see it having an effect on a combat vet who may have been in similar situations. My dad has a story about taking my grandfather, a WWII vet, to see Kelly’s Heroes. There’s a scene where Kelly (or one of the characters) sends a soldier out to sweep for mines and the soldier gets blown up. During that scene, my grandfather starting getting visibly upset and had to leave the theater. Turns out, during the war he sent one of his men to do the same thing with the same result. My grandfather never spoke of his war experiences and was a jolly guy, but couldn’t make it through a war comedy. I always think of that story when forming opinions about the latest trigger warning outrage. I’m still not in favor of them, but I also am not cavalier or dismissive towards them.


    • JV says:

      Another thought on this: I’ve seen people bring up the WWII generation and their supposed stoicism when arguing against trigger warnings. But I think the comparison isn’t entirely valid in light of the vast difference in how potentially troubling situations are depicted between the post-war and current era. Since the 70s, scenes of sex and violence (and sexual violence) have been become ever more explicit, for better or worse. Would the WWII generation been as stoic is they were constantly presented with extremely graphic material that may have mirrored, say, their wartime experiences?

      And also, I notice the difference, myself included, about how many of react towards combat veterans vs. sexual violence survivors with regards to the effects of PTSD. I think most people would be totally supportive of my grandfather in the story I mentioned in my previous comment, but not so much the campus coed and would have similar issues with material depicting rape.

      Just some thoughts I have on this subject.c

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fenster says:

        Everything is a system in the end–an erratic one that is tippy and fractal like–but a system nonetheless. What you say makes sense in that sense: that there is a relation between the safety of modern life and the violence in media, and that one of the reasons that other generations prefer restraint is that they have had more experience with actual threats and fear.


      • JV says:

        Agreed. I think humans are wired to be in a state of fear, and if there is no actual real and present danger, we’ll do our damnedest to conjure one up, either through media or more unfortunate methods. We crave barometric balance between how we feel and our external world if only to validate our feelings, no matter how unfounded they may be.


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