The Sound of Silence “After the Battle”

June 5, 2013 by

“I used to have pyramids in my backyard!” Mahmoud yells angrily and points at the enormous brick wall which now blocks any sight of the glorious, ancient pyramids.  Reem begins to reply, but nothing she says will bring the wall down.  There is emptiness and silence.

Yousry Nasrallah’s film “After the Battle” uses background silence as a means to convey the emptiness of life that has ensued in post-revolutionary Egypt, particularly for the lower class.  Mahmoud was once a busy horseman with a non-stop clientele of tourists to entertain for business.  In post-revolutionary times, however, his life has drastically changed.  With a huge wall up, the tourists no longer visit; there are no pyramids to see.  And although he is still a horseman there is hardly any food for his horse and there is no income because there are no tourists to guide.   Mahmoud’s life, once full of excitement and energy, is empty.

Instead of elongated and dramatic music tones to convey the sadness of change, or the rising and falling palpitation of drums to convey the anger of defeat or suspense of action, the device of silence is instead employed.  Using silence rather than music in moments of intense emotion allow the viewer to engage with the weight of how the changes of the time are affecting those in the lower class.  It drives the point to a greater degree than noise could, these people (Mahmoud, his family, and community) are upset, they’re desperate, and they don’t know what to do.  The use of silence emphasizes the reality of the issues of oppression and desperation—there is no sense of over dramatization, you get a sense, rather, that the emotions and feelings are real.

Racism in District 9

June 4, 2013 by

District 9 is a dystopia film which uses aliens to make a statement about racism. Dystopias allow the audience to experience a piece of their culture that is exemplified in a new light. District 9 portrays racism between humans and aliens, which are made to look repulsive to further the gap between the two groups. The aliens are made to look somewhat like huge prawns – which was used as a derogatory term – with antennas on their heads, tentacle-like things over their mouths, and huge wide spread eyes.

From the MNU executives to the people living in the townships all humans participated in the racism. At one point during the film a man from the township is being interviewed on the news states “If they were from another county I would understand, but they are not even from this planet at all”. This is a clearly racist comment that shows the thought process of racism; they aren’t like us and they don’t come from the same place, so therefore they do not belong. Racism breeds in misunderstanding. The humans are unable to relate to the aliens; where they came from or what they value. The humans are scared of the aliens, they do not consider them on the same level as humans, and they allow them little if any rights.

Through the film another theme develops out of the racism; that understanding is the key to defeating racism. While  the main character,Wikus, is searching alien homes (participating in racism) he is infected with a liquid which begins to turn him into an alien. Quickly, the people Wikus thought he could count on, his work and family, turn on him and he has no where to turn but to the aliens who he was evicting earlier that day. In his terror and desperation to find a cure for himself Wikus befriends an alien named Christopher. Wikus learns that all the aliens want is to return home, something that as a human he would have never asked or known.

The scene in which Wikus’ reconciliation is portrayed is when the camera focuses in on his face and he had one human eye and one alien eye. He had sacrificed himself to help Christopher, and had resigned to either death or turning fully into an alien. In that shot it combines the two groups, aliens and humans, into one face; not only bridging the gap of appearances, but the misunderstanding as well.

Wikus had to turn into a alien before he was able to defeat his racism. Hopefully we won’t need to have such a life altering procedure to change our outlook. In order to extinguish racism we need only to be willing to understand each other and in the process racism will dissipate.

Reconciliation: Red Dust

May 28, 2013 by

People can be buried for years but the grief doesn’t stay down. Memories are buried in the mind and continue to stay alive. The truth is silenced under years of secrets and people continue to wonder. The past never leaves, alive under the earth, it is unhealed and unheard.  

“Red Dust” shows us a story of what happens when memories buried in our minds surface and when truths of the past are excavated from the earth. To reconcile what was buried with what is dug up many years later allows a final connection between past and present – healing recognition of grief as well as strength.

What happened to Steven Sezela? Where is his body? The plot – driven by this question and the search for answers – brought up more than a simple answer. Mr. and Mrs. Sezela’s long-suffering grief seeks to be heard. Throughout the film, they seek retribution and justice for the death of their son. Finally, digging up the dry bones, holding her son’s skull, Mrs. Sezela is allowed to grieve long and loud for the death of her son. With his physical body, her pain is validated and recognized. Suffering from years of unknowing and confusion finds some closure in reconciling past and present. Miraculously, the closure with the past yields forgiveness. After finally grieving over their son, Steven’s parents forgive Mpondo for his weakness, validating and respecting his suffering as well.

            It is not the pain of the past alone that is important to recognize, but also the stories of heroism. Mpondo digs up a list, a list of those who fought together against apartheid. It is a list of those Mpondo remained loyal to, uniting together against an unjust government. Many of these people on the list are alive and able to identify themselves, telling a truth that has remained buried for years. The truth of their heroism brings the group together once again to be recognized for their strengths. It is important for people to not only be known for their defeats but also their victories. This completes the full story of who they are. Those who fought and were tortured, like Mpono, are more than victims; they are strong fighters.  

            People and things of the past may be buried for a long time, but never the memories. Unhealed memories are those that are not given recognition as things of reality and they remain alive and active in people’s minds. To place a memory on to its source is an important part of healing. By connecting the words with the objects, the unseen is brought together with the physical acts and places. Reconciliation of these things is necessary for peace within the characters. It is this drive towards reconciliation with the past with which Mpondo demands to be shown the methods of torture. Steven’s mother holds her son’s bones to heal the memories. Discovering the farm was powerful in understanding a warped past. In doing this, restless memories can finally be named and proven real.

            In digging up the things of the past, places of truth are found. Memories are given a name and a voice when finally connected to real places and real things. Ultimately forgiveness brings everything together. People on opposite sides with opposite identities no longer see themselves separate but rather crossing over barriers to unify as humanity. Forgiveness crosses lines of separation between people and redefines relationships. People originally on two sides of the courtroom come together with forgiveness outside the courtroom. Closure of the past allows for a completely redefined future.

 

District 9: over the fence and back again

May 28, 2013 by

District 9’s designs a science fiction world in which fantasy technology shines the light on social issues all-too-familiar. Weaponry is a pervasive theme throughout the film. The scope of weapons in the film includes guns made with human technology and guns created exclusively by aliens for aliens. Further across the spectrum is scientific technology, that of humans and that of aliens.  Differences in implementation as well as lack of understanding create a wide chasm between the two groups and thus a break in potential relationship. As the film journeys along, the man character Wikus, goes through a remarkable transformation, and the choice blooms into view: maintain the distance between humans and aliens or to extend towards relationship.

 

The first discovery of scientific alien technology occurs when Wikus discovers Christopher Johnson’s science lab. Over 20 years, it is in this lab that the liquid was made to fuel the ship created to get the aliens home. Wikus walks in and immediately mistakes the science lab for some sort of weapons operation. What was a location of hope – hope in starting the ship to return home –Wikus mistakes for something hostile. It never occurs to Wikus that what he found could be considered anything but dangerous. To him, this kind of technology was unknown and unaccounted for, and therefore seen as a threat. Because it was not understood and feared, it was immediately scoffed at and confiscated. In ignorance, Wikus starts rummaging around and gets sprayed by the fuel, which, ironically, begins his painful transformation out of ignorance and into understanding.

 

An alien hand rips through Wikus’ arm, his teeth fall out, nails fall off. Dirty, disheveled, in pain, it doesn’t take long for Wikus to become totally “alien”-ated from his family and friends. He becomes intermediate, physically and emotionally. He is becoming his own enemy, literally. But a painful and unasked-for physical transformation is necessary for Wikus to bridge the gap between human and alien. He embodies this traumatizing in between state, but in no other way can he discover relationships with Christopher Johnson and his son.

 

In the beginning of the film, Wikus is bravely stepping foot onto the alien’s district 9 in armored cars loaded with weapons, on the defense. Now, the other side of the fence becomes his safety. The aliens he met as enemies once, become his help and friends. Christopher Johnson’s son is the only one that “likes him” and the only one that affectionately states “we are the same”. Wikus’ enemy has become his saving grace. Although the whole change is painful and often tragic, his relationship with the aliens is only possible because Wikus, though his suffering, has been cast off from his own people and thus desperate enough for safety. 

 

And so it is the humans he is running from. They see him as the greatest “business artifact”; a biological phenomenon to exploit for their advantage. With an alien arm, Wikus can shoot alien guns and this is extremely valuable to MNU whose only focus is on extermination of the alien side. Their efforts are in no way oriented towards negotiation or reconciliation, and so Wikus is only sought after for his capacity to shoot highly sophisticated weapons. His humanity has been stripped.

 

Yet it is true, Wikus is valuable. He is valuable in the sense that he is able to reach a kind of relationship with aliens unlike anyone else. And it is not a coincidence that Wikus, a human, is transformed into an alien. This idea is aligned with the “Jesus of Africa” theology that God – full of love for all – favors the oppressed side. Jesus himself comes down to earth to physically transcend borders and manifest the oppressed human side. Wikus’ story too demonstrates this powerful opportunity for love. Although Wikus somewhat stumbles into his transformation, he discovers love from those he initially misunderstood. He becomes the oppressed side South African society. Christopher Johnson takes care of him, helps him in and out of MNU, and promises to change him back after 3 years time. This relationship opens Wikus up to what he never knew before, that yes, they are just the same. Both sides simply want to return home.

 

And hope is real in the last scene of District 9. Wikus, in fully alien form, is making a flower. He leaves it on the doorstep for his wife. It shows that although he has been completely disowned – even pronounced dead – by his friends and family, he remains affectionate towards his loved one. Through this act of affection, it is clear that he has transcended a relational boundary and continued to love the side that considers him the enemy. He becomes alien, assimilates into the alien society, but still loves his wife. Wikus has, in a little act, ended the perpetuation of hatred. There is hope that when he is brought back to human form – in 3 years – he can bring awareness and reconciliation to South Africa.

 

After the Battle: a necessary revolution

May 28, 2013 by

“Bread! Freedom! Dignity! Humanity!”

This is the chant of Egypt’s people. It’s a motto and a demand. This is the reason for the revolution.

Yousry Nasrallah reveals the immense social gap between Egypt’s middle class and lower class through cross-cutting in his film After the Battle. Rim is an NGO worker. She works in a nice clean building full of business-casual coworkers. Her apartment has all amenities included: a toilet, living room, office, and television. She’s even got money for candy. Mahmoud is a horsemen. He waits for work that doesn’t come, because tourism is non-existent in Egypt now. His home is a stable owned by his rich uncle.

The cross-cutting from one home to the other reveals the reality of life in Egypt after the Battle of the Camel and the need for a revolution. There should not be a gap that large with no means to close it. The Battle of the Camel only happened because of the desperation of the horsemen. They were paid to attack the revolutionaries; how could they say no when there was no money coming in from anywhere else? Mahmoud has two kids and a wife to support. Of course he’s going to do whatever is necessary to provide for them while he can.

Fatma, Mahmoud’s wife, asked Rim one day, “I want my son back in school and my husband back at work. Does that require a revolution?”

The answer should be no, but it is in fact yes. Because there are no jobs and no opportunities, a revolution is the only thing that will put progress back in the hands of the people. When Fatma goes to Rim’s apartment and touches the bowl of colorful candy, the social gap is further highlighted. Fatma has two young sons and cannot dream of affording a bag of candy for them, while single lady Rim has a whole untouched bowl sitting on her desk.

It’s not fair, because Fatma has no means to close the gap between her class and Rim’s. This is why the resolution has to happen. This is the Arab Spring and it’s this revolution that allows the government and the world see that bread, freedom, dignity, and humanity are basic rights being denied to many people so they’re going to take their rights back.

The Arch of Wikus in District 9

May 28, 2013 by

In District 9, prejudice is eroded through the all-powerful act of being in another’s shoes. In this case, the fantastical scenario of the film combined with its gritty style creates a unique and effective example of feeling what it is to be “the other.” The realization portrayed in the movie is all the more powerful because it does not occur within an overtly prejudiced character, rather the film focuses on the transformation (both physically and mentally) of Wikus, someone whose discriminatory views are more subtle than the heavily armed military people around him.

     Although he wears a gleeful disposition and acts more superficially civil towards the aliens, Wikus begins the movie looking at the aliens as a species lower than himself, a species that needs to be monitored and controlled by his own. He’s finally capable of realizing the evil his own kind is capable of when he starts to change into an alien himself, the value of his life completely disregarded by his fellow human beings with the sole physical altering of his arm. Due to the position this puts him in, Wikus finally has an opportunity to understand what it is to be viewed as the other, and thus understand the plight of aliens like Christopher Johnson and his son.

     This understanding doesn’t come easily, however, as Wikus struggles with his own change, so disgusted by himself that he even tries cutting off the altered section of his arm. Self-acceptance is often a necessary precursor to accepting others. Reaching self-acceptance again may have been impossible for Wikus if it weren’t for Christopher Johnson, the alien that shows him how much more there is to his species than Wikus thought, and how much shared humanity there is between the two of them, despite the physical differences of their species.

     Because of this slow arch in Wikus’ character, the completion of the reconciliation depicted in the film does not come until the near-end, when Wikus reaches the understanding that the lives of Christopher Johnson and his son are just as important as his own, sacrificing himself (or at least, his human form), he saves the two aliens, finally able to judge by character instead of appearance. Wikus is now able to comprehend on a level he never could before the extent of what being alien (in the most literal of ways in this case), different, and minority means, having gone through an experience which turned the world he had grown up feeling a part of against him. Without that core of support backing up and reinforcing prejudiced beliefs, he is free to see the alien’s plight through an unfiltered lens, and recognizes the value of someone who doesn’t limit their good nature to their own species in Christopher Johnson.

-tim steele

Tsotsi’s Redemption

May 28, 2013 by

The art of film lies not in the story told, rather in the ways in which missense, lighting and camera angles all work together seamlessly to tell a tale. In Tsotsi it is easy to get lost in the fast paced action and excitement that is outlined as Tsotsi’s life. The audience is challenged to look deeper than the story line and see the ways in which Tsotsi’s clothes are used to bring the story to life and tell a deeper truth. Up until the final scene Tsotsi is dressed in all dark clothes, however in the final scene he is pictured in a clean, white shirt. This change in clothes mirrors his change in character and his self-transformation.

Gavin Hood, the director for Tsotsi, makes it clear that Tsotsi was forced to grow up fast. Growing up in the slums of South Africa with no mother or homemade Tsotsi’s childhood hard. In the beginning of the film Tsotsi is showed as a hardened boy, not afraid to murder for his own gain. It is very clear that he is conflicted and hardened, Hood uses multiple close ups on Tsotsi in order to allow the audience to see the pain and confusion in Tsotsi’s eyes.            

When Tsotsi finds the baby in the back of the car, his life begins to transform. He is forced to think outside of himself, and of another life. Tsotsi begins to put the baby before himself and quickly realizes he cannot give the baby the care he deserves; leading Tsotsi to be able to care for his friend and find love. This ability to care for another is what leads Tsotsi and the audience to the final scene.

At the end of the film Tsotsi confronts the parents of the baby and a police showdown. As Tsotsi stands in front of the parents, with police pointing guns at him and the baby in his arms, we see Tsotsi struggle to decide what to do. Tsotsi’s white shirt is the first hint that Tsotsi has had a change of heart. The white signifies purity and innocence. This gives us a hint that Tsotsi has begun to see his own life as less valuable than that of the baby and his family. So it is interesting that in this point where Tsotsi has come clean and surrendered, this is the moment the law sees him as guilty and proceed to arrest him. The audience is finally seeing Tsotsi return the baby to his home, and yet it is not a happy ending. Tsotsi’s freedom is taken from him just as he gives freedom to another.

 This film begins with Tsotsi taking a life and comes full circle as Tsotsi gives this baby back the life it deserves. The final scene shows Tsotsi, clothed in white, surrendering his life for that of a baby. Through camera angles, clothing and lighting Gavin Hood makes Tsotsi’s story come to life.

Racism in District 9

May 28, 2013 by

The film District 9 appears to be a film about aliens landing in South Africa and the human’s attempt to dispel the visitors from their land. When peering deeper into the film it becomes apparent that the aliens represent the black South Africans. Thus the film moves from an action adventure movie about mindlessly killing aliens, to a distressing view of racism in South Africa and surrounding District 6. Throughout the film there are two types of racism depicted; the subtle and soft racism exhibited by Wicus versus the fiscal violence of the military.

            As the military leaders enter the district and begin being met with resistance, they make it known that they are not afraid to use military force to get their way. The military does not seek to find a peaceful way to communicate with the foreigners rather they met violence with violence. The military is one thing in this film that is very consistent; the military is violent and forceful throughout the whole film. The military represents outright and violent racism.   

            The tension between Wicus and the military officers working in District 9 comes from differing views of the aliens. At first Wicus’ stance on the foreigners is confusing as he seems bent on not using violence yet takes pleasure in burning a house full of the alien’s unborn children. Burning the eggs shows the racism that is at the root of Wicus’ being. As Wicus avoids directly killing the prawns it is obvious that he is quite disgusted by them. When Jonathan’s son seeks to connect with Wicus, he is quickly brushed away as Wicus murmurs, “We are nothing alike”.

            Wicus’ clear disgust for the aliens is turned around as he, himself becomes like the foreigners. As Wicus’ body transforms his mind is forced to follow; he finds himself eating cat food, digging through trash, and performing other inhumane behaviors. Wicus sees the aliens actions for what they are, struggling to survive. Through Wicus’ turning inhumane his soul begins to hurt and feel for the foreigner. His understanding of their situation increases and in time, he becomes more humane than the humans.

            Once the viewer becomes aware of the underlying issues presented in District 9 the movie becomes a call for change. It challenges its viewers to become like the foreigner and to strive to understand those different from themselves. District 9 forces its audience to see the outright racism of the military and the social racism exhibited by Wicus.  

District 9

May 27, 2013 by

“I mean, you can’t say they don’t look like that, that’s what they look like, right? They look like prawns,” explains a police officer in the film.

            The many lenses of District 9 highlight the underlying racism being promoted through media to the public. There are four different kind of lenses: the News, the MNU documentary, the Academic interviews, and the Unfiltered lens.

            The red banner of the News feed flashes across the screen as the scene crosscuts between the aerial views of a massive fire, a derailed train, and human bodies sprawled in the streets. The tagline of those red banners identifies the perpetrators: “the Prawns.” The scene moves onto interviews with locals who express frustration with these foreign invaders and the violence that has ensued since their arrival. In one interview a woman explains the nature of these aliens as bottom feeders, all the while an alien is in the background scrounging around in the trash completely indifferent to what is going on. The scene crosscuts again, this time to more human bodies, in which a voice says, “Then they will take you, and kill you,” and the tagline reads: “More human deaths.”

            Shelves of books sit behind academics in their business attire as they report their findings on the aliens and repeat what is being shown on the News. The placed books and computers in the scene elevate the academics characters’ intelligence and authority. Due to their respected authorial positions, the racism of media is justified and accepted by those watching.

            The MNU documentary follows a team of soldiers/MNU leaders evicting the aliens, going from shack to shack in the district. Wickus, the MNU evicter, is a personable, goofy character, but in contrast to the aliens, makes the aliens look violent and uncooperative creatures that kick and beat the humans down.

However, the News, the MNU, and the academics only offer one perspective, one side of the story. It frames the aliens as the antagonists and threatening to humans. The academics view the aliens as inferior to the human race. The News treats them as a pest that the humans need to get rid of. The MNU sees them as not only bottom feeders but incredibly violent creatures and unwilling to cooperate. As media for public consumption, these lenses set up the humans as heroic for killing the alien, and encourage a racist stereotype and attitude towards the foreigners.

 

The unfiltered lens, the one that isn’t academics, MNU, or News, gives the audience another perspective. It is the perspective of Christopher Johnson and his son, and of Wickus in his transformation. It shows the story that the News, the academics, and the MNU refuse to show. By contrasting the unfiltered lens to that of the MNU, the academics, and the News, the film highlights the key agents in the cultivation of racism: the news and media. But in that contrast, allows for the true story of the unfiltered lens and to show the audience that the aliens are not actually “Prawns.”

 

District 9

May 25, 2013 by

District 9, a film full of violence and crime, is a hybrid of genres between documentary and Hollywood. This story feels as if it is being reported live on the present day news, which gives the audience a feel for Hollywood. These scenes are full of feedback and action pertaining to the hate crimes toward the aliens. The film is similar to a documentary because of all the interviews taking place at the MNU headquarters where opinions are being revealed. This story has its audience feeling one way in the beginning and another way by the end. In the beginning we are against the aliens because it seems as if they have intruded the South Africans and that they are causing harm, but as more time progresses our hearts begin to change and we find our selves rooting for the aliens in the end. This is a crisis of identity as well as a type of racism. The aliens are seen as and are called “prawns” which we relate to as, bottom feeders. These bottom feeders are at the lowest place in society and are living in the slums full of trash with little to eat or live off of. Cat food is a reoccurring symbol for food and survival throughout this film whether it is for Christopher Johnson and his son or for Wikus, a human who progressively morphs into an alien and has to fend for life on his own.

Props that are continuously used within the film are weapons. These weapons in the beginning of the movie are a form of protection and safety but as more time prevails they are used for destruction. These props create a divide between the characters. As the movie began I saw men rushing into District 9 covered in protection-helmets, thick bullet proof vests, and protective shirts and pants-I knew that they wouldn’t wear any of this gear unless they were in fear of their lives or the danger they would be put in. These props immediately put a sense of racism within me as I was against anything or anyone who would be dangerous toward the humans. I didn’t allow myself enough time to feel what the aliens were feeling or relate to the situation they were facing in the beginning but instead just quickly assumed that they were bad and that problems would be solved if they were gone. In the first few scenes as Wikus is interviewing aliens and giving them their notice of eviction, he is consistently telling his security and soldiers to hold back on their fire and to not shoot. He doesn’t want to hurt the aliens because he knows that this will cause more harm to society and create more problems. As Wikus slowly morphs into an alien and is being tested in the lab, scientists are having him use different weapons that only aliens would be able to use, to shoot at a variety of targets. Wikus tries to hold back but is being shocked and tortured to do as the scientists say. The final round of observations includes an alien as the target. Wikus with all his power and emotion holds back as much as possible from shooting the innocent alien but scientists hold out and force Wikus to do as they said. This scene was so powerful because all of the thoughts I had had previously about the aliens disappeared. And just like that, the wall I had built up against the aliens, came crashing down. The aliens are just like anyone of us.

Reconciliation played a strong role within this film through violence as well as in the main characters. District 9 shows pain through the consistent acts of violence but overcomes this pain through the relationships formed and created. Christopher Johnson (CJ) resembles a Christ like figure through his willingness to do anything in order to save “His” people. This film is not like many we have seen but it still takes a larger idea and allows the audience to experience it through its underlying figures and meanings within the characters and hardships that are brought to the film’s attention.


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