As I have stated before, this blog has become something of a study in violence. Which is interesting, because apparently studying themes of violence is a theme in my very family.
I am proud to say that I am the cousin of brilliant (obviously I am biased) Hollywood screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski. Aaron wrote Prisoners before he wrote the first film that was produced and distributed by a major Hollywood company, which was Contraband (2012). Both films are violent, and both films are studies in fatherhood, masculinity, family ties and obligation, illegal activity, drugs, and the distortion of humanity.
Where does my family get this fascination with the darker side of human reality?
Our great grandfather was an eccentric man. An intellectual, an enigma, something of a patriarchal myth and legend. The story goes, when acquired enough wealth, he bought property and constructed not only a house but also a man-made lake, and within this lake was a mound of Earth, and on top of this mound of Earth was a bathtub.
See, he was eccentric. He was not violent, as far as I know, but he was somewhat detached. Sometimes he communicated in short, simple sentences like the person he was speaking to had walked in on the conversation in his head. At least this is what I gather him to be like, I do not know for sure because I was there. A legend.
Aaron’s movie Prisoners has narratives that are eccentric, like the all the mazes and the pig’s head in the sink. But what really struck me while re-watching this movie, is that the anti-cathartic ending has a resonance within my perception of the world as well, possibly through my systematic study of human engineered violence, which is a theme explored in the film. When Aaron first achieved success, it coincided with my study of Leni Riefenstahl and her influential Nazi propaganda films, so as an experience for me, looking to cinema as an art form was an important thing to do if I was going to understand how societies worked.
One of the plot lines in the movie is about torture. Dover, the aggressive and out of control father of one of the abducted girls, himself abducts a one time police suspect and subjects him to similar treatment found in the CIA torture report, like the use of extremely cold water on the body, deprivation, beatings, and general psychological terror. Clearly, the characters in the film are not as sophisticated as the American government, but as I observed previously, there are only so many ways to torture a human being. In a similar frame of mind, Dover is a survivalist who believes that there is a constant threat to his safety, as seen in the beginning of the film when he tells his son that he has to depend on himself because at any moment the grocery stores could stop carrying food. When there is a threat to his family, he takes things into his own hands. This is a similar narrative as to why so many Americans are currently accepting torture as a status quo. If there is a threat to us, then we throw the rule book out.
In the film, Dover’s actions circle back to him. He becomes a prisoner himself, reaped of his own violence sown out of a heart filled with sorrow and pain and actions taken out of aggression and dominance. Dover’s own use of violence makes him a victim, literally of Holly, the psychotic character responsible for this whole mess, and causes his family’s own victim hood to continue even further with his disappearance. They are still traumatized, and the violence did not cause a catharsis.
Violence also interferes with the necessary understanding of nuance. While drawing the map, which appeared to be a maze, Bob Taylor, the only living and functional victim of Holly, appears to be fucking with Detective Loki. Loki doesn’t have time for this shit, and smashes Taylor’s face into the table. That’s it. Taylor decides, fuck it, I can’t talk normally, I can’t explain after all these years of being silent about the torture and the mazes and the abuse and I’m fucked up over it, I’m just going to grab this police officer’s weapon and commit suicide (Hollywood drama, sure, but it’s a great scene and shocking the first time). Some people just do not communicate like the rest of us. Taylor was indeed drawing a map, it was of a maze, and no one would take a moment to understand. Everyone just got violent instead.
My cousin’s work is fiction, but the narrative of violence is based within the truth about violence. The circular path just continues to show up until the cycle is broken.
How to break it without more violence? I think that’s the question we can’t answer, and possibly won’t.