Moorings, halls absorbed our world. Yet it stayed on faces, and crossed legs on settees, like a running joke. Among euphemisms, we preferred those that, becoming glacial and unreasonable around lives, were like an old hat climaxing upon a head: You couldn’t put it down—the city shown, or told. I would touch it with a ten foot pole.
What did it look like, after your life depended on it? Rain tumbling; a Socratic yawn—different bodies of statistics, like pieces of trash. Eventually puffed its. Thank god we could begin as youths, shaping our faces in one direction or another, out of the corners of our disclosed eyes—yet somehow still cast into the strict sense of somebody else’s childhood…where we stay, same here, placed on the side of no caution. Who are these extreme literalizations of the future, walking, talking, crapping laughter, falsifiable only by still further exaggeration, their projections poor, tiny, and basically unelectable? Yes. We seem to get it better as a downtown than as a production of Jaws.
Will they marry me?
Proceed this way, slight shebang. The chords state it well. The plot is basically unchained. You can tell. It does nothing to keep the intruders out. The sun watches the desk. Then the poor device begins to ring. The senses warm, civilian in different places, tables of fruit. We note a dysphoric blondness being put into the sky, like a bell. But hey. We make these things talk. What shall we say we wanted?
As we left the theater after seeing The Act of Killing the other night M. said, “That might be the most moral film I’ve ever seen.” I’d agree: has a more gripping demonstration of the medium’s power as an instrument of ethical inquiry ever been made?
In part this involves the forthright (because unintentional) indictment of Hollywood’s spectacles of domination, and the forms of mimesis they entail: quondam self-fashioned low-life movie-scalper thugs take their revenge on the communists who threaten to deprive them of their livelihood (by calling for a reduction in the number of crowd-pleasing Hollywood blockbusters that come to town), and moreover take that action by fashioning their revenge after Hollywood gangsters, whose name — “gangster” — we hear repeatedly means “free ones”: an ad lib etymology (at least in English), but one that pulses with valid information about liberalism’s historical course.
So that’s a first layer of “poetic justice” at work, and it is not insignificant to be reminded, even at this late date and notwithstanding all the munitions this nation-state has deployed at a distance, that a no less damaging form of power has been its spectacular evanescent projections, the movies as mighty as the missiles, those reels spooling out not so much the banality of evil as its stupidity. [ A friend asks a relevant question here: “what do you make of the fact that the film tends to downplay the direct military (as opposed to merely cultural) role of the U.S. in the massacre?” (for more on wch see here). ]
But the film’s real power is produced in the second layer of “poetic justice,” isn’t it?, which works by cutting against the grain of the first, albeit by means, in part, of the first’s momentum…. I mean the one that takes hold as the technicians of genocide are given permission to recreate the scenes of their crimes by American filmmakers (whose nationality no doubt served as a lure that exacerbated the attraction of the exercise) on behalf of their own professed commitment to “the truth,” licensed by a political culture that still runs on cartoonish anti-communist fumes and celebrates their crimes as acts of heroism in the national interest, thus setting the stage for a glimpse of a form of recognition I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed or partaken in before.
I realize I’m trafficking in crude Aristotelianisms, but do so encouraged by that moment of dry-heaving at the end of the movie, when Anwar Congo, in the actual locus of his bloody praxis — where he efficiently and “hygienically” strangulated his victims with a wire (a TV producer at one point says he killed thousands) — cannot quite succeed in retching: a moment of katharsis captured on film. The scene before shows pity and fear play across the face of Congo as he watches, flanked by two grandsons deployed as human shields, a recording of a graphically re-enacted torture scene in which he plays the part of the victim. Attempting to articulate the act of recognition the representation triggers, he says something to the effect of, “I now know what my victims felt,” but is corrected by the filmmaker, and told that in fact he does not know what his victims felt, because he knew during the re-enactment that he would not die. Which raises the question of whether the katharsis was “successful,” what it accomplishes, and whether it’s triggered by an insight into what’s not being recognized. [ A colleague pointed out to me earlier this week that to go by the difference in Congo’s hair-coloring between these scenes, the retching would in fact have preceded his review of the torture reenactment — wch makes me want to say that the artifice in this instance increases the success of the film’simprobable poiesis: the filmmakers chose to dislocate a causal sequence in order to make an ethical sequence visible. ]
As M. NourbeSe Philip puts it at the beginning of her afterword to ZONG!, ”There is no telling this story; it must be told.” The film is of necessity an elliptical device, both in George Puttenham’s and in Lauren Berlant’s senses: falling short but in so doing exposing what goes without saying by showing what’s somehow never been seen before, least of all by the doer of the deeds committed and depicted. A ricochet of recognitions.