Thursday, May 14, 2009

Disturbing Movies

I just watched two of the most disturbing movies made in the last decade.

The first was my first film by Werner Herzog that I have ever seen—Grizzly Man. It was a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a naturist? who lived in the Alaskan wilderness during the summers to protect the grizzlies from hunters and poachers. He had been going up there for 12-13 years and was bringing a camera up for the past couple years. I don’t really know what to say about it except that it was really good. It was riveting, and I pretty much kept my eyes on the screen the whole time, even for the scenes in which they talked about Timothy’s death. He was killed by the very animals he swore an oath to protect. His final moment on Earth were recorded on film, however, the lens cap was not removed and only audio remained. Perhaps this was the most haunting moment, the bit held back. The coroner and Herzog at one point narrate the events of the audio recording, lasting a little over six minutes. And while it is perhaps a bit morbid of me, I was dying to know the whole time. Documentaries are all about informing, and yet, this film shows how so much of Timothy’s own video is scripted and rehearsed and how fiction treads on the grounds of fact. The censoring of his final moments, while probably for the best, still haunts me.

Another quite interesting bit to the film was the fact that Timothy hid from the cameras one truth about his trip—that he was not alone in the Alaskan wilderness but that his girlfriend Amy was up there with him. She only appears on camera two times – in which her face is well hidden – and a final third from around the final moments where Timothy seems to be forcing her into the video. And a cursory fourth time in which she is holding the camera but never seen. I haven’t quite figured out what the importance of her being removed from the film is exactly. However, it just makes me think about V. S. Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness (who would imagine I would reference Naipaul in any way in later life). But Pat’s absence from Naipaul’s text seems very much like Amy’s absence from Timothy’s videos. Interesting thoughts, I just don’t know if I want to pursue them.

The other film which shocked my system yesterday was Gus van Sant’s Elephant. Wow! Need I say more, perhaps so since I am pretty sure this film has not gotten as much press, notice, or recognition as many other great films released in recent years. The movie is about the day at a high school in which a school shooting is about to occur. Being an educator of some kind, I know that schools are not the temples of knowledge we make them out to be, high school especially in which so many kids are bullied and transformed by their hormones. There is so little that actually happens in the film, and yet it is so completely rich. Can we blame violence on video games? The juxtaposition of the video games character holding a gun and the two boys shooting up the school is obviously set up to suggest some connection. And yet, I wonder what is going on with the plethora of minor characters. And even more creepy, it remains so unclear to me the two boys’ motivation for actually killing everyone – that is probably what most scares people I think: that there is no motivation for violence. I don’t really know what else to say about the movie except that I think you should watch it. Here’s a trailer:


Courtney said...

When you said you were watching Grizzly Man, I thought you were talking about Bear Grylls.

I have to go pee on something now.

JR said...

"Elephant" is pretty grand. I think Van Sant is at his best when he's as opaque as he is here - the movie's part of an unofficial "trilogy of death" alongside "Last Days" and "Paranoid Park" apparently, which makes me wonder whether he's building up to a particular idea over the course of these movies. As a side note, if you liked this one you ... Read Moremight also be interested in Alan Clarke's "Elephant," which addresses political violence with a similar visual aesthetic - Van Sant borrowed the title but obviously his stance and subject matter are somewhat different.

Laminated Fragments said...

Yeah, I read about all of that on Wikipedia after I watched the movie. Haven't gotten around to checking out the other two films or the one by Clarke.