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Sunday, November 26, 1995. While most families were still picking at their Thanksgiving turkeys, another was picking up the shattered pieces of their lives.
Just days after the movie Money Train pulled into local theaters, two youths committed a violent crime disturbingly similar to one portrayed in the film. The controversial scene involves a subway psychopath robbing a token booth by spraying a flammable liquid through the change slot and setting it ablaze. In the movie, no one is hurt. But when that vicious act was duplicated in New York City, 50-year-old subway clerk Harry Kaufman was critically burned over 80 percent of his body. He died two weeks later.
"We asked Columbia Pictures to drop this whole piece of the movie," said New York City Transit system spokesman Jack Lusk. As expert consultants to the film makers, Lusk and other officials had seen the script during production and vocally objected to the pyromania. But Columbia's creative team remained undaunted. When Lusk and his colleagues found the scenes intact in the final version, they sent a memo of warning to subway clerks. They feared that life might imitate art. Tragically, it did.
Hollywood hasn't always been so cavalier about the possibility that viewers might copy criminal acts. In 1930, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America established a strict code of ethics for Hollywood, including the provision that "methods of crime shall not be explicitly presented" in entertainment. A socially conscious America feared the worst—that disturbed individuals might use scenes like the one in Money Train as how-to videos for anti-social behavior. Unfortunately, that code underwent sweeping revisions in 1966.
An opening scene in Money Train epitomizes the producers' irresponsible hypocrisy. A teenage thief is killed by police unnecessarily, to which frustrated transit cop Wesley Snipes says, "There is no price you can put on a human life." That line makes one wonder if the movie's opening weekend take of $15.5 million was worth the price paid that same weekend by one innocent subway worker.
The issue is much larger than Money Train. Millions of young people are hooked on hostility. They crave the rush of adrenaline provided by modern action and horror films, hard-core rap music and bloody video games. Instead of following the advice of Psalms 11:5 and 101:3, even some Christian teens justify it as "harmless entertainment." But for the murderers of Harry Kaufman, violent media messages went from "harmless entertainment" to "lethal indulgence" in just a matter of hours.
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Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Lopez, Robert Blake, Chris Cooper
Joseph Ruben ( )