Film Crit Hulk Smash: THE ACT OF KILLING AND THE REAL MEANING OF IMPACT

What happens when a movie is more than just a movie.

"The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as an example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good."

-ANDREI TARKOVSKI

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THE BLUNT TRUTH IS THAT MOST PEOPLE DON'T EVEN THINK OF MOVIES AS BEING VEHICLES FOR IDEAS... OR EVEN AS ART. TO MANY, CINEMA IS A SOMEWHAT DISPOSABLE THING. A WAY TO PASS TIME. A MODE OF ESCAPISM. A LARK. WHICH IS ODD BECAUSE AT THE SAME EXACT TIME SO MANY PEOPLE WANT TO BE A PART OF MOVIES AS PART OF A QUEST FOR IMMORTALITY; PART OF THE SOMEWHAT NARCISSISTIC NOTION THAT OUR WORK CAN TURN US INTO A TIMELESS STILL OF OUR BETTER IMAGE. BUT THE PUSH-PULL DICHOTOMY OF THESE TWO VIEWS ACTUALLY SPEAKS VOLUMES ABOUT THE REALITY HERE. BELIEVE IT OR NOT, CINEMA IS AS POWERFUL A MEDIUM AS WE HAVE. FOR THE COMBINATION OF IMAGE AND SOUND CAN HIT OUR EMOTIONAL, VISCERAL CORES WITH ALMOST SCIENTIFIC SPECIFICITY (THERE'S A REASON PEOPLE CAN CRY DURING 30 SECOND COMMERCIALS). CINEMA IS THE ART OF MOLDING TIME AND INFUSING IT INTO YOUR VERY ESSENCE... WHICH JUST MEANS IT'S NO WONDER THAT SO MUCH CINEMA IS MOSTLY USED FOR INDULGENT PURPOSES. FOR TAKING OUR MINDS AWAY FROM TROUBLES OR REAL-LIFE THOUGHTS. WE WANT THE FEEL-GOODS. THE GRATIFICATION. AND THUS, WE SEEK THE LARK.

AS FOR THE INTENT OF ART? THAT IS TO SAY "REAL ART" AND NOT MERE ARTISTRY OF EXECUTION? THEN CINEMA IS FAR AT THE OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM. REAL ART IS, AS TARKOVSKY ALLUDED TO, THE INSPIRATION TO DO SOME KIND OF EARNEST, TANGIBLE GOOD. TO HELP. TO CHANGE. AFTER ALL, WE'VE BEEN TELLING STORIES FOR A LONG TIME AND WE DO SO BECAUSE THEY ARE ACTUALLY THE BEST WAY OF PASSING ON SENTIMENT. STORIES CAN TAKE THAT DIDACTIC THING WE CALL "ADVICE" AND RENDER IT INTO EXPERIENCE; MEANING IT CAN MAKE US EXPERIENCE THINGS BEFORE WE ACTUALLY HAVE TO DEAL WITH THEM AND GUIDE US IN THAT PURPOSE. IT CAN SHOW US WHERE WE HAVE BEEN. IT CAN CLARIFY LIFE'S REALITY. AND BECAUSE IT CAN DO THIS, MOVIES HAVE AN INESCAPABLE IMPACT ON US. WHETHER FOR GOOD OR ILL, INDULGENT OR NOBLE, THEY CHANGE US. SO PERHAPS THE PROBLEM IS THAT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT "INFLUENTIAL FILMS" WE MOSTLY TALK ABOUT THE ONES THAT AFFECTED FILM STYLE OR INDUSTRY OR THE ONES THAT HAD MORE TRIVIAL EFFECTS ON OUR EMOTIONS. WE'RE HAPPY TO RECOUNT THE WAYS THAT JAWS MADE US AFRAID TO GO IN THE WATER, BUT SOMETIMES, ONLY SOMETIMES, WE GET TO TALK ABOUT THE TRUE ONES THAT SHAPED OUR INDIVIDUAL PERSPECTIVES TO BECOME BETTER PEOPLE.

THIS IS LIKELY THE REASON THAT THE LIST OF FILMS THAT HAVE GONE ON TO INSPIRE SOME SORT OF GENUINE SOCIAL CHANGE IS, SADLY, A RELATIVELY SHORT ONE. AND THE KINDS OF CHANGE SEEM TO VARY: THERE'S THE COMPLICATED POLITICAL FALLOUT OF THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS. OR THE UNNERVING, VISCERAL IMPACT OF TITICUT FOLLIES AND ITS EFFECT ON THE MENTAL HEALTH INDUSTRY. OR THE ONE-TWO PUNCH OF NORMA RAE AND HARLAN COUNTY U.S.A. GENUINELY SEEMING TO HAVE AN EFFECT ON THE PUBLIC CONSENSUS OF UNIONIZATION. OR HOW DO THE RIGHT THING INTRODUCED THE MODERN MASSES TO AN UNCOMPROMISING VISION OF THE PROBLEMS WITH OUR RACIAL MELTING-POT. OR THE FACT THAT THE THIN BLUE LINE PROBABLY SAVED A MAN'S LIFE. OR MAYBE THE MIRACLE THAT A FILM LIKE A SEPARATION EXISTS AT ALL. OR PERHAPS, MOST HORRIFICALLY, THE WAY THAT THE TRIUMPH OF THE WILL CONFIRMS THE POWERFUL FORCE OF CINEMA BETTER THAN ANYTHING.

AND NOW THERE IS THE ACT OF KILLING.

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PART OF A CRITIC'S JOB IS TO COME UP WITH THE WORDS TO EXPLAIN THE SENSATION OF WHAT WATCHING A GIVEN MOVIE IS LIKE.

IT'S A JOB THAT SOMETIMES FEELS VERY NATURAL. IT'S SOMETIMES AS IF THE MOVIE IS LIGHTING UP EXACT THOUGHTS AND PHRASES IN OUR BRAINS AND LEADING US RIGHT TO THE PAGE. AND SOMETIMES IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO PARSE IT ALL OUT, TO DISTILL THE COMBINATION OF SIGHT AND SOUND INTO A COHERENT THOUGHT, LET ALONE A COHERENT THESIS. BUT BEING A GOOD CRITIC IS ABOUT NAVIGATING PAST THAT TONGUE-TIED INCLINATION TO DELIVER SOMETHING THAT IS NOT ONLY ACCURATE, BUT OF ACTUAL FUCKING USE TO A READER. WE STRIVE TO ARTICULATE. TO MAKE CLEAR. TO CONNECT (OR SOMETIMES TO EVEN ILLUMINATE THE LACK OF SUCH CONNECTION). BUT THAT IS THE JOB. AND SO IT IS WITH THAT UNDERSTANDING THAT ONE CANNOT DESCRIBE THE FEELING OF WATCHING THE ACT OF KILLING, BECAUSE THERE IS NO WAY TO ACTUALLY DESCRIBE IT.

A SYNOPSIS MAKES IT ALL SOUND SO SIMPLE: A DOCUMENTARIAN FINDS INDONESIAN SOLDIERS, PARAMILITARY AND GANGSTERS WHO PROUDLY PARTICIPATED IN THAT COUNTRY'S MASS GENOCIDE AND ASKS THEM TO RECREATE THEIR KILLINGS FOR THE CAMERA IN ANY WAY THEY MAY WISH. THEIR METHODS INVOLVE CASUAL STREET SIDE RECREATIONS, IMITATING VIOLENT SCENES FROM THEIR FAVORITE FILMS, OR BY GOING ALL OUT INTO SURREALIST FANTASY EXPRESSIONS... WHAT SOUNDS LIKE A MERE PSYCHOLOGICAL EXERCISE IN LETTING PEOPLE GO TO RIDICULOUS EXTREMES IS REALLY A JOURNEY INTO THE SPACE OF HUMAN DISCONNECT. MURDERERS PROUDLY RELAYING STORIES. CROWDS OF PEOPLE LAUGHING AND CHEERING ON AS OUR HEROES RECREATE THE WORST THINGS IMAGINABLE. AND AS YOU WATCH IT ALL UNFOLD, YOU FEEL EVERY POSSIBLE KIND OF REACTION. SHOCK. INDIGNATION. BLINDING ANGER. ALL MIXED WITH A WEIRD CAPACITY FOR DEEP BELLY LAUGHS AT THE ABSURDITY OF THESE FIGURES GOING AROUND, DRESSED AS THOUGH IT WERE A SCHOOL PLAY. THESE FEELINGS EKE OUT OF OUR SURFACE, LEAVING OUR JAWS AGAPE. OUR USUAL MOVIE SOUNDS OF LAUGHTER, GASPS AND APPLAUSE ARE INSTEAD REPLACED WITH AWKWARD, INCREDULOUS GUFFAWS. WE DO THIS BECAUSE OUR BODIES ARE SIMPLY TRYING TO REFLECT THE WEIRD SERIES OF MENTAL ACROBATICS WE ARE PERFORMING IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND THE MENTAL ACROBATICS OUR SUBJECTS ARE PERFORMING. AND IT MAY SEEM IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE SENSE OF SOMETHING SO SENSELESS, BUT THE PROBLEM IS THAT IT DOES MAKE SENSE. IT MAKES ALL THE SENSE IN THE WORLD. AS A YOUNG, FICTIONAL DANE ONCE NOTED, "The play's the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." FOR IF YOU MERELY ASK POINTED QUESTIONS, YOU'LL ONLY GET POINTED DEFLECTION. BUT BY MAKING THE SUBJECTS PARTICIPATE IN EXERCISES OF RECREATION, YOU CAN HIGHLIGHT THE MAGNITUDE OF THE DISCONNECT THAT ALLOWED FOR THOSE ACTS IN THE FIRST PLACE. AND THEN IF YOU SHOW IT BACK TO THE SUBJECTS IN THE LANGUAGE OF CINEMA, WHEN YOU SHOW IT THROUGH THE LANGUAGE THAT THEY UNDERSTAND, THEN FINALLY, POSSIBLY, YOU CAN REACH THEM. AND IN THAT WAY, THE "PLAY" OF THE ACT OF KILLING ALL TAKES SHAPE. SOON THE FILM IS LAYERED WITH ALMOST CHARLIE KAUFMAN-ESQUE LEVELS OF REFRACTION AND REFLECTIONS, ALL JUST A WAY OF GETTING AT THE TRUTH.

THIS MAY SOUND LIKE SOME POST-MODERN ACT OF DIAGNOSIS, BUT REALLY IT'S ONE OF THE SIMPLEST TACTICS IN THE WORLD. LET'S PUT IT LIKE THIS: ONE OF THE LOVELY THINGS ABOUT FICTION IS THAT IT TENDS TO DO AWAY WITH THE TROUBLING DISCUSSION OF SUBJECTIVITY. WHEN WE SEE NON-FICTION SPILL ONTO OUR SCREENS, WE CAN'T HELP BUT WONDER ABOUT THE VERACITY OF THE STORY AT HAND. AT WORST, THE "BASED ON A TRUE STORY" DESIGNATION IN MAINSTREAM MOVIES IS USED AS A CHEAP PLOY TO GET THE AUDIENCE TO TAKE IT SERIOUSLY AND NAIVELY ASSIGN IT A TRUTH WE WOULDN'T GIVE TO FICTION (WHICH IS WHY BIOPICS CAN BE ODDLY TROUBLING). AND EVEN THE GOOD NON-FICTION STORIES ARE CLUTTERED WITH THE LENS OF SUBJECTIVITY (THE GOOD ONES RECOGNIZE THAT AS THE POINT). IN FICTION WE RARELY HAVE TO HAVE THIS KIND OF CONVERSATION. WITH FICTION, YOU HAVE TO EARN IT. WITH FICTION, IT'S ONLY ABOUT WHAT IS REFLECTED. WHAT IS CREATED. WHAT IS UNDERSTOOD ABOUT THE CONTEXT OF THAT UNIVERSE. NON-FICTION IS WHERE PERSONAL TRUTH IS PROFESSED . BUT FICTION IS WHERE PERSONAL TRUTH IS CONSTRUCTED. BOTH ARE FAIR WAYS OF GOING ABOUT IT, BUT IN CONSTRUCTING TRUTH WE HAVE A CAPACITY TO BOTH RECOGNIZE IT IN OURSELVES AND USE IT AS A REFLECTION OF OURSELVES. IT BECOMES AN EXPRESSION. WHY DOES THIS MATTER SO MUCH TO THE FUNCTION OF THE ACT OF KILLING? BECAUSE IT IS A DIRECT ATTEMPT TO ESCHEW THE SUBJECTIVE BOUNDS OF NON-FICTION STORYTELLING, BY HAVING THE SUBJECTS ESSENTIALLY CREATE THEIR OWN FICTION. TO SAY WHAT THEY THINK IS TRUE WITH THE SLIGHT. WHICH IN TURN ACTS AS A DIRECT REFLECTION OF THEIR ETHOS.

WHEN IT'S ALL OUT ON THE TABLE, THEN WE AREN'T JUST TALKING ABOUT IT. WE ARE REALLY LOOKING DIRECTLY AT HUMANITY'S MONSTROUS ABILITY TO COMPARTMENTALIZE.

IF YOU USE THAT LAST PHRASE, YOU MIGHT GET CURIOUS LOOKS. SO IT SHOULD BE SAID THAT, YES, COMPARTMENTALIZATION IS A NATURAL BIOLOGICAL NEED. IT HOUSES THE ABILITY FOR OUR HUMAN MINDS TO DIFFERENTIATE AND PRIORITIZE. TO IDENTIFY WHAT WE NEED FOR SURVIVAL FROM THE WANT OF WHAT WOULD SIMPLY BE NICE. AND WITHOUT IT WE WOULD ALL BE FREAKING OUT OVER THE FACT THAT OUR SHOELACES ARE UNTIED WHILE A TRAIN IS COMING RIGHT AT US. BUT THE ESSENTIAL PROBLEM WITH COMPARTMENTALIZATION IS HOW FAR WE CAN TAKE IT. WE CAN TURN ANY WANT INTO A PERCEIVED NEED. AND WE CAN TURN ANY INJUSTICE INTO ONE, TOO. REALLY, HISTORY HAS TAUGHT US THAT WE CAN GO TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH IN THE NAME OF THE THING WE NEED TO DO. TO SEE A PERSON AS NOT A PERSON. TO SEPARATE OUR EXPERIENCES FROM REALITY. AND WHEN WE START DOING THAT, SUDDENLY, WE CAN COMPARTMENTALIZE GENOCIDE IN WHICHEVER WAY SEEMS TO JUSTIFY OUR CHOICE.

IT ALL GOES BACK TO THE THEORY OF "THE BANALITY OF EVIL," WHICH STATES THAT GREAT HARM DONE ONTO MAN BY MAN IS NOT OUT OF SOCIOPATHY OR FANATICISM, BUT BECAUSE OF PERCEIVED PRESSURE OR THE NEED TO DO SO. OFTEN IT IS AT THE HANDS OF THE STATE. IT ALMOST ALWAYS SEEMS TO BE ROOTED IN SOME KIND OF FEAR OR SELF-PRESERVATION. BUT IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE HOW QUICKLY THAT REASONING CAN GO AWAY. LIKE THE VOLTAIRE QUOTE THAT OPENS THE FILM: "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets." THERE IS NOTHING MORE PERMISSIVE TO BAD BEHAVIOR THAN THE PROPAGATION OF NORMALCY. IF WE CREATE THAT ILLUSION THEN WE ARE ONLY CREATING THAT REALITY. AND IT IS THIS DYNAMIC THAT HIGHLIGHTS ONE OF THE LAST CENTRAL TACTICS OF THE ACT OF KILLING: BREAKING DOWN THE NORMALCY OF THE OTHER INTO THE PERSONAL NEED.

THERE'S A NOTICEABLE CHANGE IN THE ACT OF KILLING WHEN THE FILM'S MAIN SUBJECT, ANWAR, TAKES THE ROLE OF THE VICTIM IN HIS RECREATIONS. UNTIL THAT POINT, HE HAS PLAYED THE PERPETRATOR, AND HE DOES SO RATHER GLEEFULLY OR WITH A COOL DEMEANOR. HE TALKS ENDLESSLY ABOUT HOW MUCH INFLUENCE CINEMA HAS HAD ON HIS LIFE AND HOW HE WANTED TO BE BADDER THAN ALL THE BADDEST MOVIES. IT BECOMES PRETTY CLEAR THROUGH ALL OF THIS THAT ANWAR'S LIFE OF CRIME IS ABOUT POSTURE AND POWER. THE ABILITY TO CONTROL. TAKING LIFE ISN'T ABOUT HURTING PEOPLE. THAT'S INCONSEQUENTIAL. IT'S ABOUT BEING THE ONE TO WIELD THAT ULTIMATE POWER. AND THEN HE STARTS PLAYING THE VICTIM IN THESE SCENARIOS. WHAT IS ALMOST STARTLING IS HOW READILY IT BEGINS TO AFFECT HIM. IT SEEMS AS IF HE HAS NEVER, EVER THOUGHT ABOUT BEING IN THIS POSITION, WHETHER IT IS THE MAGNITUDE OF HIS CRIMES OR THE DESIRE FOR SUCH POWER THAT PREVENTED IT. AND AS THE FELLOW GANGSTERS BERATE HIM AND HOLD A KNIFE TO HIS FACE, HE BEGINS TO FEEL SCARED. BUT IT IS NOT THE FEAR OF SOMEONE WHO KNOWS THEY ARE GOING TO DIE (LIKE HIS VICTIMS FACED). IT IS THE FEAR OF A MAN WHO IS BEING BELITTLED. WHO IS HAVING HIS POWER TAKEN AWAY. IT SOUNDS NAIVE, BUT HE SEEMS LIKE SOMEONE WHO HAS NEVER LET HIMSELF FEEL THAT WAY. WHO HAS NEVER ALLOWED HIMSELF TO EVEN ACT THAT WAY IN FRONT OF PEOPLE. WHO HAS BEEN SO INGRAINED INTO A CULTURE OF POSTURING THAT HE HAS FORGOTTEN HOW TO BE ANYTHING OTHER THAN THAT. AND HERE, FOR THE PURPOSES OF CINEMA, HE SEEMS TO GO DOWN THAT PATH FOR THE FIRST TIME.

BUT IT ISN'T UNTIL HE SITS DOWN AND WATCHES HIMSELF THAT IT REALLY HITS HOME. THAT DISTINCTION IS SO IMPORTANT. IT ISN'T UNTIL HE CAN SEE IT, UNTIL HE CAN DISCONNECT FROM HIS BODY AND LOOK AT HIMSELF AS THE VICTIM, THAT HE CAN TRULY EXPERIENCE IT. ANWAR IS A MAN WHO HAS LEARNED TO MITIGATE. TO DISSOCIATE FROM EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING. AND THE ONLY WAY HE CAN EVEN HAVE A HOPE OF CONNECTING TO THE HUMAN CONDITION IS BY PLAYING A PART IN THIS EVEN MORE ELABORATE PLAY AND WATCHING HIMSELF DO IT. IT'S NOT ONLY THE ENTIRE JUSTIFICATION FOR THE FILM'S METHODS, BUT A JUSTIFICATION FOR HOW MUCH CINEMA CAN REALLY MATTER. AND AS HE REFLECTS ON THIS, STARING INTO THE SCREEN (AS WE WATCH HIM), THE VERY NOTION THAT HE KILLS PEOPLE WHO MIGHT HAVE BEEN JUST LIKE HIM TRULY HITS HIM. IT'S ALMOST CHILDLIKE. A RECKONING. AND AS THE FILM RETURNS TO ITS FINAL GRAND RECREATION, THE WAY ANWAR RECEIVES HIS MEDAL FOR EXECUTING AND "SENDING ALL THOSE PEOPLE TO HEAVEN," SURROUNDED BY DANCERS, THE STUNNING DISCONNECT OF THE ENTIRE PROCESS HITS HIM. WITH THAT ANWAR RETURNS TO THE FIRST SITE OF HIS FIRST KILLING'S STORY AND HE BEGINS TO ACCESS IT ALL AGAIN... AND THAT'S WHEN IT HAPPENS.

FOR ALL THE DESCRIPTIONS OF REFRACTING PRISMS OF STORY AND MITIGATION AND THE WEBS OF TRUTH, THERE IS ONE THING THAT TRULY STANDS OUT WHEN THINKING ABOUT THE ACT OF KILLING AS A WHOLE.

IT IS A SOUND. IT IS THE SOUND OF ANWAR TRYING TO TELL THE SAME STORY AND HAVING TO STOP HIMSELF WITH A DRY HEAVE. AND BECAUSE THE COSMIC NATURE OF LIFE HAS A MORBID SENSE OF HUMOR, IT SOUNDS LIKE SOMETHING IN BETWEEN A FART AND A BARF. YOU CAN'T HELP BUT REACT. BUT ANWAR CAN'T STOP REPEATING THAT SOUND. IT GOES ON SEEMINGLY FOREVER. IT IS THE SOUND OF THE MAGNITUDE OF EVERYTHING THAT HAS HIT HIM. IT IS THE SOUND OF HIS BODY REJECTING THE NOTION OF WHAT HE DID. THE SOUND OF HIS BODY UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND. THE SOUND OF A BODY TRYING TO PURGE ITSELF OF DEMONS.

IT IS THE SOUND OF THE IRRECONCILABLE.

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IF WE'RE GOING TO GET TANGIBLE, THERE'S A LOT WE COULD TALK ABOUT IN TERMS OF THE BIG IMPACT OF THIS FILM. LIKE THE FACT THAT IT HAS BEEN VERY WELL-RECEIVED IN THE U.K. AND AMERICA. THAT IT HAS MADE ITS WAY TO COUNTLESS TOP TEN LISTS OR "BEST OF THE YEAR" DESIGNATIONS. THAT IT HAS BEEN NOMINATED FOR MAJOR AWARDS. OR HOW ABOUT THE FACT THAT IT HAS EVEN GONE ON TO ENCOURAGE ACADEMIC DEBATE ABOUT THE UNITED STATE'S ROLE IN INDONESIA'S GENOCIDE (AND ITS SUBSEQUENT EFFECT ON THE PROLONGING OF VIETNAM). BUT, IF WE'RE GOING TO ZERO IN ON THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE, THE ONLY EFFECT THAT ACTUALLY MATTERS CONCERNS THE REACTION IN INDONESIA. YES, THE ACT OF KILLING WAS ACTUALLY RELEASED IN INDONESIA... AND THAT'S BECAUSE IT WAS RELEASED FOR FREE ONLINE.

NOW, AS A MOVIE-SUPPORTING CULTURE WE COULD SIT HERE AND PAT OURSELVES ON THE BACK FOR THIS GOOD GESTURE. FOR UPHOLDING THE ILLUSION FOR JUST ONE SECOND THAT FILM ISN'T BUSINESS (GRANTED, IT'S A FOOL'S BUSINESS), BUT WE'RE NOT GOING TO DO THAT. AND IT'S NOT THAT THE GESTURE ISN'T NOBLE, IT'S THAT WE SEEM TO BE MISSING THAT RESOUNDING SENSE THAT OF COURSE THIS IS WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE. THAT IT SHOULD BE THE KIND OF THING THAT ANY RIGHTEOUS HUMAN BEING WOULD DO. SERIOUSLY, IF A MOVIE IS MEANT TO FORCE A NATION TO COME TO GRIPS WITH THE MAGNITUDE OF ITS CRIMES THEN WHY WOULDN'T THE FILM BE RELEASED FOR FREE IN THAT NATION? WHY EVEN SUBMIT TO THE STATE PROCESS? AND IF THAT IS NOT APPARENT, THEN IT'S JUST ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF HOW WE LET "THE NORMALCY" OF A CERTAIN INDIGNITY (IN THIS CASE THE REGULAR BUSINESS OF FILMMAKING) CLOUD OUR JUDGMENT AND OBSCURE WHAT SHOULD BE MANIFEST IN THE FIRST PLACE. BESIDES, THERE'S THE OVERHANGING ARGUMENT THAT TRUE EDUCATION SHOULD ALWAYS BE FREE. AND WHEN YOU LOOK AT IT WITH THAT LENS, YOU REALIZE IT'S NOT REALLY ALL THAT DIFFERENT FROM THE ARGUMENT AT THE CENTER OF COMPARTMENTALIZATION: PERCEIVED NEED OUTWEIGHING THE JUST.

BUT YES, IN THE SPIRIT OF THE THING ITSELF, THE FILM WAS RELEASED IN INDONESIA FOR FREE. THE RESPONSES SEEM TO BE WIDE-RANGED, BUT ACHIEVING SPECIFICITY IN RESEARCH IS DIFFICULT WHEN LACKING THE ABILITY TO SPEAK BAHASA INDONESIA, AND UNDERSTANDING THAT IT'S HARD TO GET NUMBERS WHEN THE FILM MOSTLY SEEMS TO BE SPREADING THROUGH STEALTH AND PRIVATE SCREENINGS, HAVING TO COMBAT PUBLIC STIGMA. STILL, IT SEEMS TO HAVE SPARKED SOMETHING OF A CONTROVERSY. AND HOWEVER FAR-REACHING THAT EFFECT IS, JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER IS CERTAIN THAT THE UNREST HAS MADE IT PERSONALLY IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO RETURN TO THE COUNTRY, AS HE'S ALREADY RECEIVED COUNTLESS DEATH THREATS. MEANWHILE, THE PUBLIC FACE OF THE RESPONSE TO THE FILM IS JUST ABOUT WHAT YOU'D EXPECT. THE GOVERNMENT IS DISPLACING THE CONCERN AND CRITICS ARE FINDING EVERY POSSIBLE WAY TO DISCOUNT WHAT THEY SEE (WHILE COMPLETELY MISUNDERSTANDING WHAT OPPENHEIMER WAS DOING AND WHY HE FOCUSED ON THE GANGSTER FIGURES INSTEAD OF THE MILITARY, WHO COULD EASILY BLAME THEIR SUPERIORS). AND ON THE ANECDOTAL LEVEL, IT SEEMS THAT INDONESIAN INDIVIDUALS WHO WATCH THE FILM REALLY, TRULY DO GET TO FOLLOW IN THE STEPS OF ANWAR'S JOURNEY AND REFLECT ON THEIR OWN SENSE OF SELF, OR CONFRONT THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF THEIR NATION'S ILLS . OR THEY GO ALONG THAT JOURNEY AND DECIDE IT DOES NOT LINE UP WITH HOW THEY SEE THEMSELVES OR THEIR COUNTRY, AND SO THEY CAST IT ASIDE. THEY BLAME. WHO KNOWS HOW IT WILL IMPACT THEM WITH TIME, BUT FOR THE IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH THEY ARE SO DESPERATE TO MITIGATE.

SADLY, THEIR REACTION IS FAIRLY NORMAL.

IT MAY SOUND STRANGE, BUT OFTEN IN LIFE, WE AS HUMAN BEINGS DON'T ACTUALLY EVER DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM ITSELF. INSTEAD, WE DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM OF THE PROBLEM. MEANING OUR ACTUAL PROBLEM IS JUST THE WAY THE PROBLEM MAKES US FEEL. SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS AND OUR BRAINS GO "This is wrong and making me feel bad! How can we make the feeling go away!?!" AND SO IT JUST BECOMES ABOUT THE QUICKEST, EASIEST WAY TO DISTRACT OURSELVES (WHICH OFTEN MEANS GETTING OUT THE FIGURATIVE MENTAL ERASER). THIS REALLY DOES HAPPEN IN OUR LIVES ON A DAILY BASIS. AND EVEN WITH THE EXTREMES OF THE CRIMES IN THIS MOVIE, PLEASE NOTE THAT ANWAR'S SOLUTIONS WERE PRETTY MUCH THE SAME AS WHAT MOST PEOPLE WOULD DO. HE DRANK. HE DANCED AND PARTIED. WE ARE ALL GUILTY OF THIS KIND OF MITIGATION, HE IS JUST RUNNING FROM A BIGGER MONSTER. AND IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT WHEN MERE IGNORANCE IS NOT ENOUGH SOMETIMES WE GET ANGRY. WE RAIL AGAINST OTHERS. THIS HAPPENS BECAUSE AS HUMAN BEINGS WE GET TO A PLACE WHERE WE DON'T KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT GO AWAY. SO WE MITIGATE. WE SHIFT BLAME. WE COMPARE OUR SPECIFIC ILLS AND OUR FAULTS TO ALL THE OTHER PROBLEMS OF THE WORLD AND CLAIM HOW THEY'RE NOT-AS-BAD OR JUST-AS-BAD. BUT HERE WE ARE AT THE END OF THE LINE. HERE WE ARE DEALING WITH GENOCIDE. AND ALL THESE NAKED, HOLLOW ATTEMPTS DO IS SOLIDIFY THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE EXERCISE AT THE HEART OF THIS FILM:

HOW CAN WE MITIGATE THIS?

HOW CAN WE NOT SEE WHAT HAS BEEN DONE?

HOW CAN WE STARE THE REALITY OF THIS IN THE EYES AND TOLERATE IT?

WHAT CAN BE SUGGESTED IS THAT THE ACT OF KILLING IS AN ATTACK ON MITIGATION ITSELF. ONE THAT ZOOMS IN ON THE SPECTACULAR COGNITIVE DISSONANCE AND REFUSES TO RELINQUISH UNTIL WE ACTUALLY FACE IT. AND WHAT THIS FILM IS DOING IN INDONESIA IS SO MAGNIFICENTLY REAL; PRECISELY THE KIND OF REAL-LIFE EFFECT THAT IS SO UNIQUE TO POPULAR CINEMA THAT, QUITE FRANKLY, IT RENDERS ALL THE OSCAR TALK KIND OF SMALL. HONESTLY, THE EFFORT IS MORE FITTING OF A NOBEL PRIZE. NO, THAT'S NOT HYPERBOLE. LOOK AT THE KINDS OF ARTISTS AND HUMANITARIANS WHO HAVE WON AND YOU REALIZE THE WORK, OR AT LEAST THE EFFORT, IS NOT DISSIMILAR.

AND AS HUMAN BEINGS, THIS IS THE METRIC THAT MATTERS, ISN'T IT?

IF YOU'RE A FILM CRITIC, PEOPLE WILL CONSTANTLY COME UP TO YOU AND ASK "WHAT'S THE BEST FILM OF ALL TIME?" AS IF THERE IS AN ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION. AND WE DO THE WHOLE CONSENSUS THING WHERE WE MAKE LISTS AND RATTLE OFF MOVIES LIKE CITIZEN KANE OR VERTIGO OR WHATEVER MAKES THE MOST HISTORICAL SENSE ACCORDING TO SOME VENERABLE INSTITUTION. BUT WHEN PROMPTED WITH THE QUESTION, THERE IS A PERSONAL TEMPTATION TO ALWAYS SAY A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING BECAUSE, WELL, BESIDES BEING A MASTERPIECE FROM KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI, IT ACTUALLY HELPED TO END THE DEATH PENALTY IN POLAND. IT IS ONE OF THE MOST STARK AND OBVIOUS EXAMPLES OF A FILM HAVING SOCIAL IMPACT IN A DIRECT AND EVIDENCED WAY. AND SO WE CAN TALK ABOUT FILMS AND THE HISTORY OF CINEMA ALL WE WANT, BUT THAT'S REAL IMPACT.

THAT'S UNDENIABLE.

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ONE LAST ANECDOTE... SO THERE WAS ONCE A PERSONAL TRAGEDY THAT INVOLVED A BIG MEDIA PROJECT. THE DETAILS OF THIS ARE COMPLETELY UNIMPORTANT, BUT IT LED TO A SITUATION WHERE ALL THESE ARTISTICALLY-MINDED PEOPLE HAD TO SIT AROUND TALKING ABOUT THE ABSURD BUSINESS END OF SAID TRAGEDY AND WHAT IT MEANT FOR THE PROJECT. AND ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH THIS GIANT, MEANDERING CONVERSATION EVERYTHING SUDDENLY GOT REALLY QUIET. IT WAS AS IF THE LUDICROUS NATURE OF THE PREDICAMENT HIT EVERYONE AT ONCE. IT WAS AT THAT POINT THAT ONE PERSON IN THE GROUP JUST SUDDENLY BLURTED OUT:

"God, what the hell are we even doing?"

THEY WEREN'T QUESTIONING THE NECESSITY OF THE CONVERSATION ITSELF; THEY WERE QUESTIONING WHY WE WERE MAKING MOVIES AT ALL. IT WAS A QUESTION ABOUT THE EXISTENTIAL HEART OF WHY PEOPLE WANT TO DO SOMETHING SO TRIVIAL AS TELLING STORIES IN THIS MEDIUM. IT SEEMS SO SILLY IN A WORLD FULL OF PEOPLE WHO DO REAL THINGS. TEACHERS. DOCTORS. FIREFIGHTERS. THE KINDS OF FOLKS WHO FILL THEIR DAYS WITH MUNDANE HEROISMS AND GET LITTLE TO NO RECOGNITION FOR IT (AND OFTEN, THEY GET OUR DISDAIN). BUT THE REASON THIS INDUSTRY CAN FEEL SO HOLLOW AT TIMES IS THAT WE ARE ACTUALLY MESSING WITH SOMETHING INCREDIBLY POWERFUL: THE AFOREMENTIONED LETHAL COMBINATION OF IMAGE AND SOUND. AND IF WE HAVE MADE SOMETHING WITH THE POWER TO MAKE PEOPLE CRY IN 30 SECONDS, THAT CAN MAKE PEOPLE OPEN THEMSELVES UP AND LEARN TO WALK A MILE IN ANOTHER MAN'S SHOES, THEN WHY DO WE JUST KEEP USING THAT INCREDIBLE POWER TO MERELY INDULGE PEOPLE? TO PLACATE THEIR MINDS AND JUST GIVE THEM NAKED GRATIFICATION?

SO WHEN WE ALL ASK "What are we even doing here?" WE ARE NOT WRESTLING WITH THE FACT THAT WE DO A TRIVIAL THING. WE ARE WRESTLING WITH THE FACT THAT WE ARE USING ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL TOOLS ON THE PLANET FOR TRIVIAL PURPOSES. OR WORSE, WHEN WE THINK OF ANWAR RECREATING HIS FAVORITE GANGSTER SCENES, WE CONTEMPLATE THAT WE MIGHT BE DOING SOMETHING THAT COULD EVENTUALLY LEAD TO GREAT HUMAN COST IF NOT HANDLED RESPONSIBLY. THIS ISN'T TO CAST BLAME ON OURSELVES. THAT'S JUST MORE MITIGATION. BUT, LIKEWISE, WHEN WE THINK ABOUT THAT INDESCRIBABLE NOISE AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR ANWAR, WHEN WE THINK OF HOW IT WAS CINEMA ITSELF THAT GOT HIM TO TRULY SEE HIMSELF AND OTHERS, THEN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THESE TWO MOMENTS JUST HIGHLIGHTS THE CAVERNOUS GULF BETWEEN WHAT WE ARE DOING AND WHAT WE COULD BE DOING.

AND IF WE ARE GOING TO BE HONEST ABOUT THIS DYNAMIC, IF WE ARE GOING TO CARE ABOUT THIS GIANT PROBLEM, IF WE ARE GOING TO TRANSCEND THE MERE ECONOMIC AND ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES OF THE INDUSTRY AND ARGUE THAT CINEMA CAN ACTUALLY MEAN SOMETHING, THEN THERE IS SIMPLY NO DENYING WHAT THE ACT OF KILLING REALLY IS:

IT IS THE FILM THAT PLOUGHED AND HARROWED THE SOUL.

AND RENDERED IT CAPABLE OF TURNING TO GOOD.

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