What would you fight for? What would you die for? Who is your enemy? Who would you kill? Who would they have to be for you to do it? What would be your war?
War, abstract and awful, is the thing nightmares are made of until you’re in it. Once you are, how can you hope to remain human in a fundamentally inhuman situation? The answer is often to make a monster of the other side. Make a cause so great and true that anyone on the other side must be, by definition, inhuman. You can hate a monster, people are harder. They have ways of getting to you, making you see their side, of being not half as bad as you thought and twice as good as your feared. Best to keep your distance. Which is exactly why you shouldn’t keep your distance at all and why films about demolishing the space between friend and foe are so fascinating to watch.
This Friday, Fresno Filmworks is proud to present “Tangerines“, a film about that space shrinking into nothing. On a small farm in conflict riddled Georgia, Estonian farmers are determined to stay long enough to harvest their tangerine crop, but suddenly find themselves housing enemy soldiers. The two men from opposite ends of the conflict are badly wounded, but both vow to kill each other as soon as they are able. As the time drags on and they convalesce together their growing understanding of each other begins to make their original pledge impossible to carry out.
In 2012, filmmaker Cate Shortland took one of the ultimate villains in history and made a film about the journey from human to monster and back to human again. Lore is a young Nazi desperate to lead her younger siblings to safety at the end of World War II. As the young family moves across the Black Forrest to what they hope will be refuge in Hamburg, they are forced to reckon with what their Nazi party member parents have done to the world. When the safety of the strict belief system she grew up in is stripped way, Lore begins to recognize the humanity in those she had written off as sub-human. While Cate Shortland sends Lore on a journey breaking down her prejudices and bigotry she asks the same of the audience. Lore is not the only one who has to reexamine conceptions of humanity as the audience watches a journey of self-discovery from one of history’s worst monsters.
One of the joys of genre film is the outlandish structures that allow us to talk about the things we cannot talk about. Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 film District 9 takes full advantage of this to examine the way we create monsters out of people to make it easier to kill them, by making an actual monster out of a person. Sharlto Copley stars as a police officer Wikus Van De Merwe who is assigned to patrol District 9, an outlying shanty town housing an alien population that has been segregated from the rest of humanity. District 9 is made up of little more than a slum and its residents are forced to live in poverty and violence. But it’s ok, right? Because they actually are monsters! They look different and talk different and they’re from another planet! Van de Merwe is confident of the rightness of District 9 and the benefits of the segregated system he’s helping to enforce, until an injury and an infection turns him into a creature resembling the inhabitants of District 9. While the premise is fantastical, “District 9” offers an intriguing take on how often our own prejudices and world views are a matter of happenstance. Born here and fight on this side, born there fight on that side. Blomkamp gives us an extreme version of putting yourself in your enemy’s shoes, but the point remains the same.
Fae Giffen studies at San Jose State in the School of Library and Information Science graduate program. She serves on the Filmworks board, working on marketing and development.