Erenlai - 按標籤顯示項目: review
週五, 29 十月 2010 17:28

From the cradle to the cradle

A review of documentary ‘Cradle of Happiness’, directed by Asel Juraeva, Kyrgyzstan, 2010, Digi-Beta, color, 20’

The movie starts in a hospital: white ceiling, white gloves, the sound of a heartbeat reproduced by the echography machine, a robotic sound that will stop as we see a doctor or a nurse take what seems to be surgical instruments of abortion. Then a fade out opens on to a dusty road, two little boys play at the foreground. A close-up lets us guess that they are twins.

This 20 minute movie is about the simple and happy life of these two little boys who basically spend their time playing in the garden, eating, watching TV and sleeping. The scenes are filmed at their eye-level, thus adopting their point of view and making us enter their world where adults are scarcely present: their mother, pregnant, who bathes and dresses them, their grandparents and their father who appears only once as he comes home.

So the space of representation in the movie just varies between the house and the garden in a continuous coming and going (va-et-vient). But another reality pierces through the opening created by the screen of the TV: the uninterrupted broadcast of images of war and violence contrasts with the serene sequences that depict the games and the activities of the family. As the camera lingers on the eyes of the little boys mesmerized by the TV, one of them suddenly lowers his look as though sadness has invaded him. That scene preludes the only fight scene between the twins (inside the house) which is followed by a long shot of the deserted garden where a toy gun remains.

The movie impresses by its scarcity of information: we only know that it takes place in Kyrgyzstan because of this strange sentence which opens the movie both in Russian and English: “Kyrgyzstan is a country of short films!” But we don’t know which village or town or city; also none of the people are named, there isn’t either any time indication. In fact, the movie is almost mute, only punctuated by the chirping of the boys. And this is what precisely gives to the movie its universal meaning and its interest. What we are told here is not the story of a particular family but the story of humanity through its particularism, with a certain Rousseauistic perspective: the innocent happiness of humans in nature disturbed by the corruption of a violent outside world that will maybe see these boys grow old to be soldiers; the opposition between childhood and adult age, the close tangle of life and death.  But the movie is not pessimistic as it finishes on a note of hope with the birth of the twins’ little sister: the circle closes finally on life.

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週三, 30 一月 2013 14:45

Summary of Session III: Images as Waves- Watching, Thinking and Acting

Summary of Session III: Images as Waves- Watching, Thinking and Acting

Session III: Images as Waves - Watching, Thinking and Acting, provided a visual aspect to the conference by focusing on the works of three local documentary filmmakers and their use of visual media to explore various indigenous issues. The three documentary makers provided an introduction to their work as well as showing small excerpts from their documentaries.

The first documentary maker was Lungnan Isak Fangas, an experienced documentary director from the Amis tribe. His documentaries focus on his interest in indigenous identity and belonging. He introduced three of his documentaries; the first of these was filmed in 1999, and is footage of an indigenous speaking competition at his university. It documented enthusiastic young students with either indigenous roots or just with an interest in learning the traditional tongues of Taiwan. Although the film is not very polished, it makes for a good and engaging introduction to the subject. Fangas' second documentary saw him following the journey of an indigenous Taiwanese band called 'Totem' performing in a bar in a city. The footage shows the band arriving in the city by night, then performing in a crowded room to a receptive crowd. Fangas reflects that the song being sung is called 'I was singing over there', and due to its meaning concerning coming home, every human being, indigenous or not, can relate to this feeling. The footage again is simply edited but this works well with the topic, the grassroots journey of the band. Lastly, Fangas ends with footage from his most recent exploration of indigeneity which sees the camera turn on himself and his own journey of identity. The content of this footage, along with that from the previous two documentaries, was simple and easy to follow. It light-heartedly documented his pursuit to become a member of the Amis tribe, showing his amateur attempts to learn the specific cultural practices and dances of the tribe. His desire to connect with the Amis culture despite having apparent but untraceable indigenous Taiwanese roots, stems from what he calls "feeling like a tourist, in terms of identity". Overall, Fangas' documentaries, despite doing nothing more than casually observing an event each time, sensitively present his desire to explore notions of indigenous identity in an easy to understand manner.

The second documentary maker introduced was Si Yabosokanen. She comes from Orchid Island, a small island off the East coast of Taiwan that's traditional culture and way of life has been better preserved than in other areas due to its isolation, yet still strongly and uniquely affected by an influx of contemporary society and culture nonetheless. It is this combination of traditional methods and more contemporary methods that has inspired the focus and issues that Yabosokanen aims to introduce and help tackle through her documentaries. Yabosokanen adds her skills as a nurse to her filmmaking ability in order to address the serious lack of care of elderly people on Orchid Island. Yabosokanen explained in detail the cultural factors for the origin of this problem, including a cultural stigma of sickness, younger generations' having to leave the island to find work and thus being less able to care for their elders, and traditional housing being replaced by a more modern style which affects the place for the elderly within their physical home structure. Her documentary showed nurses addressing the dire needs of some elderly residents who are extremely emaciated and unclean. Seeing these images is striking as it is hard to imagine how these elderly people could be left to survive in this state. Yabosokanen's topic is shocking as much as it is very interesting, as cultural and social undercurrents are at play, affecting the general wellbeing of people. It is no wonder that, when shown in Taipei, her documentary created an emotive response, with members of the public giving donations of money and their time to help her cause. Overall Yabosokanen's documentary endeavors and her story are inspiring, and truly embody the power of the documentary to introduce and help address complex issues such as this on Orchard Island.

The last documentary maker introduced was Cerise Phiv, the managing editor of eRenlai. Ending with her documentary was fitting since her focus was broader and more encompassing, concerning the place of indigenous Taiwanese within the Pacific region. Phiv explained the causes and events for her arrival at this topic of exploration, then provided footage from her documentary: Writings that Weave Waves, which was shown in full later in the conference.
Firstly, through her time at the Ricci institute, with which eRenlai is associated, and by participating in one of their documentaries following a young Amis woman, Phiv was introduced to issues of indigenous Taiwanese culture and the craft of documentary making. Secondly, also through the Ricci institute, Phiv attended a trip to Canada with fourteen young indigenous Taiwanese, filming their trip and interactions with indigenous Canadian culture. Thus,
Writings that Weave Waves, was a culmination of the notion of indigenous identity in its own cultural context, and also within a regional Pacific context. These two contexts considered together are interesting, as they are concerned with the scope of perspective and belonging. Phiv explained that despite being Taiwanese and therefore living on an island surrounded by ocean, certain tribes do not associate themselves with it. Therefore, although in a broad sense, there is the perspective that Taiwan is part of the Pacific, from a more refined perspective, an affinity to ones local tribal environment becomes evident. Alongside this thought, the footage from the documentary itself left the viewer with a desire to see more, as the editing and the ambition to attempt to place Taiwan within the greater Pacific diaspora were both well presented and clearly evident. To conclude her presentation, Phiv herself aptly stated that the images should be best left to talk for themselves.

This section of the conference affirmed the idea that images truly have a unique ability to convey messages and explore complex issues. These three documentary makers have all taken different approaches and styles to their documentary making, yet all achieve their overall goal: to explore issues and enlighten viewers. Without this section, the conference would have lacked a greater sense of perspective of the issue. Furthermore, seeing footage from the documentaries prevented conceptual ideas and notions from stealing away the conference's purpose, as seeing real people, places and issues at hand helped keep the conference grounded and down to earth.

 


週三, 02 一月 2013 16:01

Review: Writings that Weave Waves

Living in today's ever-changing globalised world is threatening traditional cultural practices and identity. The history of the Taiwanese indigenous peoples is evidence of this with the island's history marked by previous Chinese and Japanese rule and today, more generally, the rule of modernity. Thus, for the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, although they primarily live in smaller, rural areas, maintaining a strong sense of cultural belonging, identity is a challenge. Cerise Phiv's documentary Writings that Weave Waves: East Formosans and the Pacific World explores this challenge, glimpsing into the lives and perspectives of several indigenous Taiwanese individuals living in a changing world and their relationship with the indigenous way of life of their ancestors.


週五, 02 九月 2011 17:35

Mom, Bye: A Review of Wang Molin's Play


Wang Molin (王墨林)is clad in a Che Guevara t-shirt, the same one angry teenagers and naive politics students across the world are probably wearing at that same moment. His manner is distracted during the Q&A, and, as in the interview we conducted with him previously, he brushes off any difficult questions with a sneer and a "Do I have to explain everything a thousand times?", seemingly a smoke and mirrors technique to evade addressing any of the arguments directed against him. The assumption that anyone who disagrees with him is illiterate or locked into a capitalist ideology that only he and people who agree with him are able to see through makes conversation with him tiring. This was mirrored in the way the play was presented, tiring.

There were a few very basic errors from a practical point of view that, given the director's long career in the "Little Theatre" (小劇埸), were preventable. These were little details, like a semi-transparent cloth hanging mid-stage with a light shining from behind it, that made the subtitles of the Korean dialogue in the play (the play was performed by a Korean theatre troupe) difficult to read, and resulted in people stretching their heads in different directions to try and look past the cloth. This wasn't aided by the reams of dry ice that were pumped out at random intervals throughout the performance, that made the subtitles slightly more difficult to read and triggered the asthma of a guy in the row behind me.

The play was about an iconic protester in 70s' South Korea who fought for the rights of labourers and died at the protest and his mother's reaction to his death. Although the topic was interesting, it was delivered stiffly and the attempt to humanize the hero through the mother/son relationship didn't move me as it must have attempted to. The play read like a union propaganda film, with martyrs of the protest flashing up on the screen with rhythmic drums. It was then unsurprising to learn in the Q&A that the actors were in fact not actors but social activists and that the play had a very one sided political message to preach. This was then reinforced when Taiwanese "labourers" (I put quote marks around this word because in Taiwanese popular usage the word for labour "勞工" includes white collar office workers), who were basically people who had been hired by the government to do the same job as civil servants without the benefits of being a civil servant, bemoaned their plight. At one point one of them stated that their situation was worse than Korea in the 70s and worse than the plight of foreign labourers (外勞) and workers (工人) in Taiwan. Although to be fair I don't understand completely the nature of their situation, even though it has been quite high profile in the media, to be honest this seemed like a massive exaggeration as many of the plethora of documentaries about foreign workers in Taiwan can attest to. The preaching style of the play, did no justice to the issue, and the images and dialogue were cliche, reminiscent of the early works of Taiwanese literature and mainland socialist literature. The cliched dialogue and symbolism reinforced the image of the protagonist as an idealized hero, and had none of the depth of understanding of the disenfranchised classes of society of works like Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman or John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. This suggests the distance of Wang Molin from the working class in Taiwan, as he only seems to conceive of them from a theoretical, iconic ideal as opposed to exploring them as more complex human beings with aspirations and vices.

On my way home from the theatre I saw the director again, grabbing a beer by the roadside with a group of youths that I supposed to be members of the stage crew, still wearing his Che Guevara shirt, and most likely still spouting the half-baked idealism of a 1st year politics university student.

 


週四, 07 七月 2011 16:47

A review of the play 'Take Care'

Directed by HSU YEN LING
Taipei Blooming production
Length: 1 hour and 30 minutes

‘Take Care’ is the first production of TAIPEI BLOOMING, a theatre group founded by Hsu Yen Ling last year. The show will be performed at Guling Avant Garde Theatre from July 1 to July 10 2011. The main question raised in this new production deals with abandoned and injured animals through the story of a lesbian couple; one is a veterinary surgeon, the other a teacher. Italso raises the question of the complexity of the relationships between human beings, between human beings and animals, and between animals.

Hsu Yen Ling, well known as an extra gifted performer, presents her fifth show as art director: “I tried to find a new way to write a script. Before, I was used to writing it first and then ask my actors to perform it. For this production, we started from improvisation and wrote the script together; talking about the issues we wanted to focus on, and cutting or rewriting some parts.” This collective work is based on the main characters’ lives: the vet, the teacher, the businessmanand the student. She aims to show their relation to their particular jobs and to one another, usingvery ordinary dialogue, classical stage design and everyday life costumes to stick to the reality she wants to portray.

“How can we take care of the other?” This is the underlying question in the story told by Hsu Yen ling. “I wanted to talk about the animal issue too. In the big cities, many abandoned cats and dogs can’t take care of themselves alone. We have to pay attention to them and take care of them.” This issue leads her to think about animal relationships more based on touch. “I also ask the actors to play the animals in order to focus more on the touching; work on the emotion, the movement and gesture. We often pay too much attention to the sight or the talk. But there are other senses we can use to have contact with the other and in Taiwan, few people touch each other; Taiwanese are not used to physical contact.“ For example, when we say "goodbye" in Taiwan, we never kiss the other on the cheek. In this show, the animals talk and could be seen as examples that the main characters could follow in their own life, they even advise their masters when they face difficult situations in everyday life and relationships.

To embody one of the animals, she asks Fa Tsai to join her production: Fa Tsai, a famous talented artist had already played with the most famous art directors in Taiwan and we can assure you that his performance in this show is excellent and very detailed. Hsu Yen ling, in her role as art director, works on every detail with her actors, even with the non-professional ones such as Liu Nien Yun. She used to be Hsu Yen ling’s producer in ‘Sister Trio’ and ‘A date’, two successful shows she presented a few years ago in Taiwan.

“When Yenling asked me to be her actress in ‘Take care’, I could not refuse it: I was reallyinterested in the topic and wanted to support her production. I’ve known her since I was in senior high school, before I began to study women’s working conditions at university: she was the teacher in our theatre club. I also wanted to try to be an actress even though I sometimes feel alittle scared. For me, it is difficult to act a relationship, but I really want to work more on theatre projects, because since I began working for the labor organization* I have not had much time for theatre.” Her role is to be the vet and take care of the injured animals and the people who bringthem to her office.

“When Yen Ling told me the story she wanted to write, I found a connection between my actual job and the character of the veterinary. In my job, I have to take care ofinjured laborers – women who used to work for RCA (Radio Corporation of America), an American electric company sold to Thompson, more than 20 years ago and who later got cancer.They have been fighting for 10 years to get compensation. Many questions come to my mindwhen I am tired: why do I want to be an organizer? My character has the same questioning andfeeling.” One may have seen Liu Nien Yun on TV, the morning the Legislative Yuan passed thebudget for Taiwan’s fourth nuclear power plant; she was one the persons thrown out by thethstpolicemen in front the Legislative Yuan. As an activist, she is involved in the anti-nuclear andlabor movements, yet, all the while she is deeply implicated in her work, listening to the harmedpersons and helping them as best she can.

So, if you want to know what lies behind ‘Take Care’, we recommend you have a look at the show, partly presented as a comedy...an ordinary life comedy we should say.

* Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries, based in Taipei City. www.hurt.org.tw
(Photo courtesy of  D. Vandermolina)


週四, 05 五 2011 17:27

Re/turn


My teacher gave me some tickets to see this performance, by the Tainaner Theatre Troupe. I'd been to the theatre in the Xinyi branch of Eslite before to see a play inspired by the songs of Chen Qizhen, a Taiwanese singer (膚色の時光 Once, upon hearing the skin tone). I remembered so clearly having been there before because the stage is slightly unusual, in that it is a round stage that divides the audience into two sections at either side of the stage, which means they enter through two separate doors. The last play I'd seen staged here had been interesting technically but weak in terms of plot. This play was similarly weak plot-wise - think a school production of Back to the Future fused with the cheese factor of popular Taiwanese TV dramas (Meteor GardenThe Devil Beside You). The story dealt with several connected love stories gone wrong. The death of the female protagonist's mother halts her wedding to a closeted gay man, and her mother comes back through time via a magic doorknob acquired in Tibet from an antique seller (who was portrayed with possibly the weakest piece of acting in the whole play). This sets off a series of events which changes the lives of the protagonists (in Sliding Doors fashion), so that they get the chance to "Re/turn" to the scene of their unresolved regrets and "amend" them. The female protagonist is, through this supernatural interference, reunited with her lost love, and the gay man is accepted by his best friend as a teenager (again thanks to the magic doorknob) so gets the confidence to come out early in life and so avoids the pitfalls of soliciting rent boys and using (God help us all) marijuana (there is an amusing scene where there is a major police bust over one joint).

The major problems with the play was not the acting, which was convincing, but rather the whole concept upon which the play was structured, certain elements of which seemed to be lifted right out of Taiwanese popular culture and films. The obsession with making the play "international" without incorporating any international actors was also a problem for the play. It pandered to the Taiwanese obsession with European and Japanese culture, in that a lot of the play was set in London - where the male lead Charles had apparently grown up with an American accent; there was also a Taiwanese actress playing a Japanese dancer, two very Taiwanese sounding Americans as well as a Taiwanese playing a British postman. Only the latter was vaguely funny, with deliberate use of British English terms designed specifically to make the audience laugh, and none of them sounded natural in english. The director and writer Cai Bozhang (蔡柏璋), though a good singer, was a little self-indulgent as he sang in Taiwanese inflected English through most of the play. My companion for the evening, one of my classmates, pointed out something that I think speaks true of my experience of the contemporary Taiwanese Theatre: that because the writers of a lot of the plays produced nowadays also act as director and actors, the scripts that they write are not really the focus of their work, and do not stand alone as literary works. Rather, the event and the production takes first place. The result is the rather paltry, soap-operaesque dialogue seen in this production. It was a pity that the talents of the actors wasn't put to a better use, more worthy of the stage, otherwise the only role of theatre in Taiwan would seem to be to give a live experience of soap operas.

If we are to take the piece seriously as a piece of theatre, the other thing I was not comfortable with was the moralistic pedagogy of the production, and its assertion that there is "right" path in life that we are diverted from, which seems a rather simplistic and egotistical exercise in self-affirmation by the director (people who don't follow my liberal ideology are following the wrong path). Any deeper exploration of the idea of regret and "fixing the past" is absent, sexuality too, receives quite a superficial treatment in the play. There are two major gay stereotypes in action within the play. The director plays the role of the "gay best friend" of the protagonist. She describes him as her "妺妺" (little sister) whom we "might think is a little unusual". There is, however nothing unusual to a Western viewer about this kind of character: the emasculated, non-predatory inocuous gay male referred to by terms usually reserved for females (think of a slightly updated version of Are You Being Served's Mr Humphries, or a character lightly based on Taiwanese celebrity Cai Kangyong (蔡康永). His "one true love", Peter, (pause - wipe off the vomit - continue) is dead, so his sexuality is essentially safely removed from the present for the audience. The closeted gay fiance's reversion to type after coming out also suggests that his previous masculinity was but a ruse, and at the end of the play he is shoe-horned into the "gay best friend" role as evidence of his acceptance of his sexuality. The other two representations of gay men, are also stereotypes, the predatory older man who chases the closeted gay man when he is a high school student, and the rent boy, whose brazen sexuality and drug-use lead him to arrest, which can be seen as divine justice within the play. As opposed to representing sexuality in a more diverse way, the production instead polarises the representation of alternative sexual and gender roles.

To sum up, the play is easy watching, its ending is predictable and safe. This is the territory of liberal morality and its pedagogical unfolding is suitably bland. None of which is what motivates me to go to the theatre, why pay 600NT or more to see a low-budget, albeit live, rehash of a feel-good movie. The night I went the production overran by about 40 minutes, so expect to be impatiently looking at your watch while you watch the happy-ending play out at length to the crooning wails of the directors singing.

Don't expect much and you'll have a long but vaguely entertaining night. 2/5

Performance attended: Friday 15th April 2011, 7.30pm. Poster taken from the play's blog, which can be viewed here.

 


週一, 01 十一月 2010 00:00

A Whispered Life (2010) Marie-Francine Le Jalu, Gilles Sionnet

This film dealt with superfans of Japanese writer Osamu Dazai (太宰治). At first sight, given that the focus of obsession for these fans is an author and his novels, these fans might seem to transcend our expectations of the vulgarity of worshipping popstars, or cultural icons, it is soon clear, however, that this is not the case. The fans' obsession differs little from the teenage girls who scream hysterically at boybands. Throughout the course of the documentary the fans consistently glorify suicide and death, all the characters in the film were slightly repugnant in this way. Suicide in the film was ironically portrayed as another way to become eternal, similar in a way to the very egotistical act of writing or to the very concept of American Idol. The dramatic pathos of suicide is an attempt to endow their empty lives with meaning; an attempt to supercede the boundaries of life and death. I remember one of my teachers telling us about a Chinese poet who tried to launch his fame by commiting suicide after the completion of his book, in an attempt to mimic the suicide of other literary greats in Chinese literary history, like Qu Yuan (屈原) and Lao She (老舍). His plan failed because his writing was so bad, so he garnered attention by his suicide but his work was quickly forgotten. Each of the characters implied that "they were writing" and are attracted by suicide and mental illness as a way of marking their imaginary genius. This marks their lives with melancholy and depression, which they suppose to be central to the creative project when it in fact is seemingly incidental to creativity. The character in the film who writes her blog believes herself to be writing something of great value, and ties this value to depression and suicide, but what she is writing is the mundane description of common depression. The film echoed Dazai's call for "Love and Revolution", the directors went on to explain that they had interest in Dazai for the French qualities of this very call. This call rang false for me though, as this urge to mark one's life in the taking of it, is in essence a strong statement of one's belief in the world; one has to believe in something to be subsequently disappointed in it. Every one of the fans seemed to me to be no different from those desperately untalented people who attend American Idol auditions with so much self-belief, only to realize that talent is not a state of mind. The message that the documentary communicated to me, was similar to that of shows like American Idol; to embrace the ephemeral nature of life, and renounce attempts to hold onto this world beyond the bounds of death and to live averagely.


Film Rating 4/5


週一, 01 十一月 2010 00:00

Journey to the end of craziness

A review of documentary ‘Crazy’ directed by Heddy Honigmann, Netherlands, 1999, Digi-Beta, color, 97’

Crazy is a documentary on memory and on the way one deals with the memory of traumatic experiences. In her movie, Heddy Honigmann interviews a series of Dutch soldiers who have all experience in a war context as members of the UN forces/army. The movie is remarkable for its use of documents such as photo scrapbooks, news footage and personal films, letters and postcards… The interviewees are most of the time comfortably sitting in their living room, or in a restaurant. Sometimes they are accompanied by their spouse or companion as they recount their experience of wars in various parts of the world such as Lebanon, Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

Thus the contrast is even stronger between the violence and horror of their stories and the environment and items that surround them now: a cozy and bright room, a park, an expensive bottle of wine… What Honigmann succeeds in capturing is precisely the moment of the recollection, this indescribable moment when a painful or traumatic memory mightily comes back, bringing to the present a past that one might have shut off.

crazy_3So there are two kinds of memory: a voluntary one and an uncontrolled one. The first one comes from the effort of remembering, it also rebuilds a story, gives an order and a signification to events. It is also the one that overcomes in a certain way the absurdities and the horrors of the war by choosing carefully what one wants or can remember. For instance, a soldier evokes the refugee camps in Rwanda: when asked if it was terrible to see, he just replies that one gets used to it; he’s then asked how quickly he got used to it, very fast, he says, as for the horror scenes he could have witnessed, he just brushed them aside, using what he calls the “blinders’ technique”. In his role as a strong and efficient soldier, he denies having showed any weak feeling during his mission, for him, it is a matter of survival.

crazy_4On the other hand, Honigmann also invokes another kind of memory aroused by music in her movie. Each soldier is asked to introduce a song linked to their experience of war time. From the Stabat Mater by Pergolesito Guns n' Roses' "Knocking on Heaven's Door", the soldiers all used a song of their own to find a bit of peace and comfort in a context of violence and dehumanization. So the camera just films them as they are sitting on their home sofa listening to these songs that carry such a heavy recollection. They stop talking but their silence is even more eloquent than all the stories they just told, eyes begin to float, sweat beads on their foreheads, hands are twisted together as if supplicating under the torture… And in fact, the special signification that these different songs carry for all the protagonists reveal precisely the banality of horror and the way craziness arises from the trivial.

This importance of music and its power of reminiscence have been evoked before in French novelist Celine’s “Journey to the End of Night” (Voyage au bout de la nuit). The novel also describes the absurdities of war and its impact on the mind as the story starts with the narrator enrolling for First World War after following the gay music played by a brass band! In fact Celine’s book is punctuated by music: the author himself named his writing “the little music”; describing the decay of age as the moment when “one has no more music inside to make life dance.” In another quote, the narrator says: “In fact, nobody resists to music. We have nothing to do with our heart, we give it gladly. Y’have to hear at the bottom of all music the tune without notes, made for us, the tune of Death.”


週五, 28 八月 2009 02:53

Fear in the post-apocalyptic movies of the 90’s-2000's

In the last decades, the movie industry has produced hundreds of blockbusters in the post-apocalyptic genre, i.e. science-fiction movies picturing the end of civilization and the human race after great disasters such as a natural catastrophes, nuclear wars or plagues. These films, often considered as “B genre” movies, might have a certain cathartic function beyond their mere entertainment value. In some ways, they concentrate the popular anxieties of their time and push the possible scenarios of the reality to their limits, oscillating between plausibility and over-exaggerated violence. This is especially the case with post-apocalyptic movies which exploit the fear of pandemics and viral plagues such as Outbreak (Wolfgang Petersen, 1995), Twelve Monkeys (Terry Gillian, 1995), 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002), the third sequel of the movie based on the eponymous video game, Resident Evil: Extinction (Russell Mulcahy, 2007) and I Am Legend (Francis Lawrence, 2007), inspired by Richard Matheson’s novel (1954).

Primal fears

These movies are first meant to create feelings of horror and fear in the spectator, the primal fear being that of death. Thus, these movies do not only display images of dead people but they play with the suffering and the deformation caused by illness. The first characteristic of the viruses is the rapidity of their spread, airborne contamination being the fastest type, as in I am Legend, where people get infected merely by breathing contaminated air.  In the other movies, the virus mostly spreads by contact with infected fluids or biting, which also allows for more spectacular fights splattered with blood.  Indeed blood plays one of the important roles in these movies, as it is the most visible representation of the deterioration of the body. In all movies, except Twelve Monkeys where the virus and its effects are almost not shown, once one gets infected, one does not only die, but also has to endure the intense pain of being deadly sick, as in Outbreak where the agony is described by an officer of the U.S. army: “When the patient first gets the virus, he complains of flu-like symptoms and in two or three days, pink lesions begin to appear all over his body along with small pustules that soon erupt with blood and pus (…). These particular lesions become blown. They feel like mush. There is vomiting and diarrhea and bleeding in the nose, ears, gums; the eyes hemorrhage, the internal organs shut down, they liquify…” Outbreak gives a very realistic representation of the symptoms, as the virus called “Motoba” is directly inspired from the Ebola virus and its own symptoms. Thus, the mask of death quickly replaces the one of the living and becomes the antithesis of the sanitary mask worn by the doctors and scientists.

Indeed, what is also at stake in the conflict between the sane people and the sick people is their humanity, and what could be more fearful than death if it is not becoming a monster, especially a zombie or a living-dead. Thus, except for Outbreak and Twelve Monkeys, the pandemics turn the infected people into zombies (or vampires, in the case of I am Legend). The main characteristic of the zombies are their beastliness and their inherent stupidity, they are the extreme metaphor of monstrosity as their body is mutilated, their moves are not human anymore, they are awkward, mechanical and they attack indifferently, usually starting with family and friends. In 28 Days Later, the virus named “Rage”, inspired by rabid viruses, turns infected people into mindless and vicious creatures; when Selena, one of the main characters, is asked how she knew that her friend who she just executed with a machete was infected, she replies: “I didn’t know he was infected, but he knew and I could see it in his face. If someone got infected, you’ve got between ten and twenty seconds to kill them. It might be your brother or your sister or your oldest friend, it makes no difference.” Each person is a potential monster as each one can break the boundary of humanity and pass to the “other side” once infected. The virus seems to awaken the dormant beast within us as it forces the survivors to fight and kill for their existence.

 

The animality of humanity

The themes of war and battles are omnipresent in the movies which all develop the topics of hunting, of the relationship between man and animal, predator and prey. Animals indeed play an important role in all the movies. The recurring animal is the monkey, who is the carrier of the virus in Outbreak and more specifically the chimpanzee in 28 Days Later. This movie starts with scenes of experimentations and torture of chimpanzees which are, among other cruelties, forced to watch clips of extreme violence broadcasted on TV. The line between humanity and animality is then crossed when we no longer know which one is the crueler between both. Ironically, in the movie mentioned above, it is the attempt by animal activists to save the monkeys that starts the virus outbreak when one of the chimpanzees infected with the “Rage” virus bites one of the activists. Twelve Monkeys also exploits the theme of animals ill-treatment, drawing a parallel between the way monkeys serve as guinea-pigs and the way a “healthy society” treats its mentally-ill subjects, segregating them into asylums or making experiments on the prisoners. And, at the asylum, one of the internees affirms it to Jeffrey, the main hero: “Torturing experiments. We are all monkeys (…) Maybe the human race deserves to be wiped out”. Furthermore, in the post-apocalyptic future drawn by this movie, men are forced to live underground while animals occupy the surface: the encaged ones are no longer the animals, they’re the humans.   

So, one of the other fears also exploited in these movies is the transformation of man into a prey: man is no longer the dominant species as we are close to eradication (many of these movies explicitly indicate the level of infection e.g. Twelve Monkeys mentions5bn people, leaving only 10% survivors,) and sane people are hunted down by zombies who feed on them. Survivors have to live hidden, always on the watch for a danger which surrounds and outnumbers them; the environment has become hostile to them, cities are deserted, without electricity and drinkable water (I Am Legend, 28 Days Later), its also explained by the heroine in the beginning of Resident Evil 3: “The virus didn’t just wipe out human life; lakes and rivers dried out, forests became deserts and whole continents were reduced to nothing more than bare wastelands. Slowly but surely, the Earth began to wither and die.” Then, besides escaping from zombies, the survivors have to sustain their more elementary needs: food and water. I Am Legend describes in length the daily routine of Robert Neville, the main hero, who endures a solitary life during three years, scouring the city of New York and visiting abandoned flats in search for supplies. During one of his excursions, he spots a stag which he aims at with his rifle, just before a lion pounces on the prey. In fact this scene can be seen as the counterpart of the one when Neville is caught in a trap set by the vampires and attacked by infected dogs, he barely escapes but his own dog and only companion gets bitten and he has to execute her, grieving inwardly.  

 

The conspiracy and the cure

The survivors are then isolated and left to ones’ own devices, they cannot even trust other sane people as some of them reveal themselves to be worse than the zombies they fight: in Resident Evil 3, a bunch of stereotypical rednecks set a trap to capture the heroine, they are obviously only motivated by cruelty and sadism and the heroine has no other choice than to kill them indifferently, in the same way as she exterminates the zombies. As the human race comes close to extinction, the humanity of those remaining appears to vanish too. It is also noticeable that the survivors are mostly youngsters, kids or the military. They are then divided into two groups which could be roughly summarized as the “goodies” and the “baddies”. The masses themselves identify two different types of people: the zombie crowd and the army. Apart from Twelve Monkeys, the army and associated medical researchers play an important role in the movies chosen here: In their own way, all these stories celebrate the triumph of individualism over the masses and the success of guerilla over big-scale war. In Outbreak for example, the U.S. army knows beforehand the existence of the virus and as they plan to use it as a biological weapon, they are ready to all means in order to protect its secrecy. They even destroy a mercenary camp in Africa and order the bombing of the town where the virus outbreak occurred. More generally, the outbreaks of viruses in the different movies are all parts of diverse conspiracies or products of experiments made by mad scientists (Resident Evil). When the origin of the virus is unknown, the army still seems to aggravate the situation by its incapacity to contain the infection and to control the panic of the crowd, and the crowd is the ideal place for the virus to spread.

Contrary to the masses of dead and undead, the survivors are scattered and have to move around restlessly, either to escape to their assailants or to reach a territory which hasn’t been infected by the virus. Thus, as the heroine of Resident Evil 3 states at the beginning of the movie: “The few survivors there were, wanted to keep on the move. We avoided major cities, if we stopped any place too long, they would be drawn to us. Only a few at first, but then more and more, a never-ending army of undead. Staying on the road seemed the only way to stay alive.” The last contacts with humans are messages left on a notebook (Resident Evil) or transmitted by radio (28 Days Later, I Am Legend), a digital voice which leads the survivors either to their destruction or their salvation. The survivors mostly head towards the North with the hope to find other sane people in some regions where the cold weather might slow down or stop the progression of the virus. In Twelve Monkeys, the main character, James Cole, even travels back in time to collect information on the virus and eventually obtains an original sample of the virus so a cure can be made. Then in some of these movies, emerges a certain image of the hero/-oine who is also somehow ‘superhuman’ like Alice (Resident Evil) who was genetically modified by the same corporation that created the deadly virus and who carries the cure in her blood; or – to a lesser extent – Neville (I Am Legend) who possesses a natural immunity to the virus and finally succeeds in his researches to find a cure, for which he sacrifices himself at the end of the movie. 

At the end, the hero is still above all a human, vulnerable even when immune; he/she is still primarily driven by the intense fear of dying and suffering. To overcome this fear, the supreme step is to tame the monster that lies dormant within a ‘normal’ person, might it be by becoming oneself this monster as Jim from 28 Days Later experiences, when he kills savagely the remaining soldiers. Just as the spreading of a virus in Outbreak is a chain of events where the virus travels from a monkey to a man who brings back the virus on a plane and contaminates a whole theater, the final raison d’être of the hero reveals itself in his very ability to break that same chain of doom.

 

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