Two statements of truth:
I love films.
I fall asleep during everything that I try to watch on DVD at home.
This means that my filmic enjoyment rests entirely on a weekly visit to the cinema. Here, after paying for the luxury of having somebody else sit in the house while my children are asleep and avoiding the lure of the food on offer in the foyer (I smuggle in my own; sshh, don’t tell anybody – I can’t afford cinema snack prices as I’VE PAID SO MUCH FOR THE BABYSITTER), I can enter into the dark realms of the screening room, sit back and enjoy the film without concerning myself that I could simultaneously be catching up on some reading, planning lessons, writing assignments, washing up, hoovering or any other number of menial and mundane tasks that force my attention to take note … or of course, simply (as mentioned earlier) falling asleep.
Having a small window of opportunity means that I have to take what is on offer. I really wanted to see 12 Years A Slave, my friends didn’t. They wanted to see The Wolf of Wall Street but it didn’t finish till after midnight so that was no good for the babysitter. We agreed on Dallas Buyer’s Club. When we got to the cinema, despite the unheard of phenomenon of being early, we missed out on our preferred option. Essentially this was because it was being shown in a room pretty much equivalent to the size of my front room and all the seats save a couple at the front were already taken. In the time it took to have a complicated discussion as to whether it was worth getting a cricked neck in order to see the performance that was likely to gain Matthew Mcconaughey an Oscar, the seats had gone. Luckily, our ticket seller had a great idea; ‘see Lone Survivor, you won’t regret it’. His enthusiasm was charming, I’m a sucker for a Mark Wahlberg film and as there was no alternative, in we went.
I enjoyed the film, as did my friend. We both learnt that war is hell, soldiers have an unenviable job and Mark Wahlberg still looks good in black pants (yes, even in a film about Navy Seals and guess what, only one survives – did the title give that one away? – a pants shot is necessary, okay, two actually but who’s counting?)
I will see any film, on any subject, at any certification and with any audience. On some strange level I can probably admit to enjoying elements of Wolf Creek and Saw but admit I had to draw the line at The Human Centipede. There is only so much torture porn a sensitive soul can stand in a lifetime after all. During this film however, I found myself questioning what I was watching. There was something distinctly unsettling about watching events, which I knew to be true, played out for entertainment in such an overtly heroic, flag waving way. The men were brave but also stupid. Was that the ‘right’ way to perceive them? I only have the film to judge this by but assume that the events we watched were what the director chose to highlight and the long reel of pictures of the actual soldiers which played out over a cover version of ‘Heroes’ before the end credits certainly lent credence to my impression that their families were happy with the portrayal. I felt uneasy that from the start you knew this was going to end in a bad way and that somehow prevented me from empathising with the characters. If they were going to die anyway, why invest any emotional energy in them? I began to think that I wasn’t a very nice person. A multiplicity of impressive blood spurts and splatters raised it to the 15 certification but it was the bone crunching falls over cliffs (spoiler alert, they all went over twice. I mean what are the chances? Once is unfortunate, twice is careless), the unlikely results of which were one broken leg, that made me begin to distance myself further from the subject position I was being encouraged to assume. Am I saying I wanted to see more injury to make it meaningful? I don’t know much about falling over cliffs, it is something I have managed to avoid in my life thus far and long may that continue. However, I’m pretty sure that when watching this heroic escape mechanism, it wasn’t the time to start an internal dialogue about the effectiveness of the diegetic sound and how in comparison to other films (The Monuments Men, I’m looking at you), there was a distinct lack of non diegetic sound to signpost the approaching plot and manipulate the audience emotions.
Being aware that I was engaging with the film on two levels did not mean that I found it boring, or too jingoistic, or indeed so testosterone fuelled that I felt like enlisting on leaving the cinema. However, it did mean that the experience was very much one of judging and as a consequence, judging myself because I could not accept that the choices made (you know the radio doesn’t work? So don’t go further into enemy territory when you know that you need the radio to get backup) were necessary.
Equally, at the moment of the inciting incident, the choice made appeared to occur because one of the characters was concerned that doing the wrong thing would result in a media frenzy. This struck me as at odds with the ‘honourable’ soldier which he was portraying. Yes, he wanted to do the ‘right’ thing, but not because it was morally right (don’t kill the poor natives, you have no argument with them), simply because he didn’t want to be found out – the private made public.
Reflecting on all of this during the film made me aware afterwards that perhaps because it was filmed so naturalistically, it actually became a very unnatural construct of a combat situation and that this acknowledgement which at the time I hadn’t thought important, actually resonated more than I had cared to notice. In the end, my thought processes and the conclusions I drew about a group of men who gave their lives for their country revealed more about me and my preoccupations than it did about them. By watching this film, I had spent more time than I usually have the opportunity of to be in my own headspace. In processing my reactions to a set of circumstances that were completely out of my own experience, I discovered an alarming lack of empathy and a cynicism that next time, I will try to leave at the door. Unless of course, there is a gratuitous underwear shot (J J Abram’s Star Trek, anyone?), In which case, the cynic may escape just for a moment.