Sunday, 19 March 2006

The Violence of Truth

Warning: The following will ruin David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" for you.

I remember this ex-journalist being interviewed on an Israeli talk show for the release of his then new book some 15 years or so ago. The guy was asked by the interviewer, a famous Israeli actress whose name I seem to have managed to forget despite the fact she was then in almost everything made in Israel, for the reasons of his retirement from his career as a supposedly famous and influential journalist.
The guy said that two incidents that he found out about shook his belief in what news is all about. I only remember one of the two examples he gave: He said that some 10 years after Israel's 1973 Yom Kippur war, in which Israel was very close to losing to Egypt's and Syria's armies with record numbers of casualties and probably nuclear weapons being armed and the first global oil crisis being triggered, he had learnt that the King of Jordan had personally met the then Prime Minister of Israel to warn her in person that Israel is going to be taken by a surprise attack. Well, he hoped to break the surprise factor.
He didn't: He was dismissed as unreliable by Israel's Prime Minister. A week later, to everyone's so called surprise, Israel was attacked and tens of thousands lost their lives.
The ex-journalist said that he just couldn't accept the fact that this bit of information, which could have saved the lives of some of his friends that died in this war, was not known to the press; he discovered it by chance a long time after the war was over, and it made him conclude that most of our world's journalism work was a rather useless affair as the information that is really important is quite often left unfound or unpublished. Whatever's really worth uncovering is not always exposed, thus affecting and twisting our perceptions of what history was really like.

David Cronenber's latest film, A History of Violence, deals with this issue of keeping the truth unexposed. But it goes even further: It claims that even after we have the truth exposed, most of us just choose to ignore it and remember or focus only the bits that flatter us, forgetting all about the bad stuff.
Vigo Mortensen plays a guy who is, by all means, the fulfillment of the American Dream. A hard working man with a loving wife, a son, a daughter, and a truck (the essential dog is missing from the equation; I wonder if that's on purpose).
However, we slowly learn that there's more to Vigo than meets the eye: He seems to be really good at killing people, a talent that is slowly but surely exposed by the film.
Yet, despite being an obvious out-and-out criminal of the very harshest degree, his family and his small time friends are willing to utterly forget all of that and remember him just for what they like to remember: that until he was exposed he was just another member of society they could interact with. They refuse to acknowledge the fact that he could be a bad person because they don't want to shatter their perception of life being a good [American] dream.
In typical Cronenberg fashion, the director keeps on challenging us to say whether we are any better than Vigo Mortensen's friends and family. The film has some very graphic violent shots and some very explicit sexual content that we are not used to seeing in the cinema, and which made the entire cinema's audience uncomfortable; but that's the danger of truth, most of the time it is rather uncomfortable to digest. It is us that choose to ignore its violent edge and remember its nicer aspects.
While Cronenberg is obviously aiming his film at Americans, I believe his statement to be valid for everyone: Israelis, Australians, and all the rest. Whether it's the USA's shoddy dealings with Saddam Hussein, Israel's handling of Palestinians, or Australia's handling of the AWB incident or its handling of refugees, the truth is out in the open for us to ponder. But we choose to ignore it.

What can I say? A History of Violence is an excellent, thought provoking film. Highly recommended.

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