Friday, December 4, 2009

Have you ever seen a movie...

...that, hours (and, I expect, days, weeks, months, years) after the fact, still makes you want to scream and cry and scrub your brain with an SOS pad??

Let me start by saying this: I originally posted this entry back in May, under lock and key, in my private blog. Over the years I've had a lot of people tell me I should start an actual movie blog, since I see so many films (and a lot of them are not playing at your local cineplex or sitting at your nearest Blockbuster; I go out of my way to find stuff that isn't dumbed down for the tween set). Perhaps I should. Maybe I will. But in the meantime, I wanted to post about this film in a public forum, because I want to know who else has seen it, and how much more violent my reaction to it may have been compared to, say, yours.

So. On with it then. Here's my post from May, only slightly modified, and IT DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS, but you'll have plenty of warning before you get there.


May 15th, 2009

Have you ever seen a movie that, hours (and, I expect, days, weeks, months, years) after the fact, still makes you want to scream and cry and scrub your brain with an SOS pad??

I alluded to this in my last entry, but because I was on my way out I didn't have time to get into it. Now I'm laying in the dark and I simply cannot get those images out of my head. I honestly don't recall the last movie that did this to me.

The movie is called "The War Zone", directed by Tim Roth and starring Ray Winstone and Tilda Swinton. It's based on a novel that, by all accounts, is actually more horrifying than the film, though I really have no idea how that's possible.

And that's all I'm going to say about it before I break this post up again, because there are a number of you who will NOT want to read this. TRIGGER WARNINGS AHOY. If sexual abuse-related material will upset you, just stop here. Please. [Ehch's Note: In my private blog, I'm able to put things behind a cut; that feature doesn't appear to be available here, which is unfortunate. If any fellow Blogger users know of how to do this, or to at least cut the post off with a "Read more..." link, I'd love to know how! For now, though, I've made the most horrifying spoilers very, very small, so odds are you won't accidentally see something if you're trying to scroll past.]



I'm a big Tim Roth fan; I have been for years. I should've known better, though, than to get this on my ZipList (the Canadian version of NetFlix) when the reason I heard about it was because I was looking for an answer to a question I had about the film "Irréversible" (Monica Bellucci & real life husband Vincent Cassel) and it was recommended in a thread on IMDb about that horrifying film. (If you're interested this is an interesting review/analysis of "Irréversible" that does NOT show the nastiest, most graphic scenes; it stops short and spares us. It's still NSFW, though, as we do get to see the gorgeous Monica sans clothes a few times, but in a perfectly sweet context.)

Some of you saw my early-morning freakout on Facebook. I was finally watching "The War Zone" after waiting for more than a year for it to become available through Zip, and when I got to something that I'd seen referred to as "the infamous Bunker Scene", I was...paralyzed. I wanted to make it stop, but I just...couldn't. And then I had to reach for my garbage can, because I was absolutely certain that I was about to throw up. I didn't (despite having done so in the past - once when I saw "A Clockwork Orange" for the first time at the age of 11, and then the first time I ever saw the Nine Inch Nails "BROKEN" movie, when I was about 20). But I think the reason I didn't was because I actually went into literal shock.

(I suspect I'd have been sick at Irréversible, too, but the truth is that I've actually never been able to watch the whole rape scene; the two times I've attempted it, I can only get so far before I have to hit fast-forward and look away from the screen. There's another scene in that movie - those of you who've seen it will know what I mean when I refer to it as "the fire extinguisher scene in the nightclub called 'Rectum'" - which very nearly sent me running to the bathroom, but again, I've never watched it in full. I can't.)

So. The War Zone.

Here's the basic plot summary from IMDb - I suppose it should be considered a fairly major spoiler, but it's nothing you probably wouldn't find out from reading the description on the back of the DVD, or that you would figure out for yourself only a short ways into the film:

***KINDA SPOILERISH PLOT SUMMARY (but does NOT give even HALF of what ends up happening)**

An alienated 15 year old (Freddie Cunliffe), forced to move away from his friends in London when his family relocates to rural Devon, struggles with the change and becomes an observer of the family. His mother (Tilda Swinton) is pregnant, his dad (Ray Winstone) is vocally abusive, and his 18 year old sister (Lara Belmont) is sexually active and open to her brother. However, the boy guesses at and finds that he is correct that his father has had sexual relations with his sister.

Now, first let me say this about the movie: It is beautifully shot and directed, and the performances are extraordinary. The emotional notes these actors hit without so much as a word are incredible. Tim Roth did an amazing job adapting the book in such a way that there's a lot more of a gray area to certain elements. As movie-making goes, this one really deserves accolades.

But then there's that "infamous Bunker Scene". I really had no idea why this was called The War Zone and what this "bunker" was - if it was literal or figurative or a metaphor for whatever-the-hell - until that scene. And despite the constantly growing uneasiness that pervades the film up to that moment (and no, it's not the end, or even the climax, of the movie), there was nothing on earth that could have prepared me for what I saw.

Before I go 100% spoilery on you, let me show you two of the only three bits of trivia featured on the IMDb page for it. So help me god, if only I'd read these first... Maybe I wouldn't have seen the film at all, but at the very least, if I had seen it nonetheless, maybe I'd have been more...ready? I don't know. Here's what it says (spoiler-free):

  • According to director Tim Roth the bunker scene was so difficult to film that the sound man almost ruined a take by crying into his microphone. Ray Winstone also found acting the scene upsetting and nearly left the production because of it.

  • At a public screening of this movie during the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival, one viewer was so upset and devastated that he rose to his feet and shouted that he couldn't take any more, then headed for the exit, intending to pull the fire alarm. Tim Roth, who was in attendance, intercepted him at the door, and it took 20 minutes of intense conversation to calm the man down.

Uh...yeah. I probably could have used that information beforehand. My own fault, I know. But I'd probably have found the idea of someone bolting from their seat at the TIFF, shrieking and heading for the fire alarm, laughable had I not seen for myself why someone would react like that. I'm not laughing now.

So, now, some of you who are reading this are dying to know what on earth could be so awful, especially knowing the kinds of things I can watch or read and remain relatively unaffected. And a couple of you probably need to know for sure what the Bunker Scene is, so you can decide for yourselves if this is a movie you can handle. I'll tell you.


The scene in question takes place when Tom, the 15-year-old son of this family, follows his suspicions about the things he's seen and heard as far as the relationship his sister and their father are having, and he walks out to this bunker that is on their property. (They're in the middle of nowhere, near the shore in Devon, and this big concrete outbuilding is at the edge of their land - I'm not sure if it's ever explained what it was originally for, but that's inconsequential.) The bunker has a foot-wide gap that runs around the perimeter of it, which allows Tom to look inside when he hears something.

That "something" ends up being - filmed in one excruciatingly long, unflinching shot from a bit of a distance, presumably to give us Tom's true perspective as someone on the outside looking in - his sister Jessie, on her hands and knees on the cement floor, and their father pulling off her clothes and then his own, before he viciously sodomizes her (and yes, it is later made very clear that it is forcible anal sex, if it wasn't evident already). The shot is such that we don't really get to see Ray Winstone's face, and as I said, the camera doesn't move at all. It neither pans out nor zooms in. You see what you see. And you mostly are seeing Jessie's face and body, as well as that of her father behind her (up to about his shoulders), and she is crying out in agony while he hammers relentlessly at her for what felt like an eternity. It is graphic. The sounds made by the father, intermingled with the weeping and cries of pain from the daughter, were enough that, even if I'd closed my eyes and had only heard what was happening, I would be haunted forever.

There are two more huge spoilers that I'll share here, in the interest of full disclosure. One is that their mother (Tilda Swinton), who is apparently oblivious to what's going on, has just had a new baby girl, and when a night comes that the baby has to be taken to hospital because she's "bleeding" (I don't think they get specific about that, but...the implications are very, very clear), Tom finally tells his mother that she needs to keep baby Alice away from the father. He doesn't say why; he doesn't have to. The look of horror on his mother's face as she stands beside her baby's hospital bed says it all.

The second is that this new-found knowledge of the incest between his father and his sister really fucks Tom up, even more so than he already was, and it is heavily implied at the end (once the father is out of the picture - I'll leave that bit alone) that the cycle begins again, as Jessie finds Tom sitting in the bunker, and asks him what they're going to do now...and Tom gets up and shuts the bunker door, closing them in together. In the novel, it is explicitly stated that yes, brother and sister do go on to have an incestuous relationship; Tim Roth chose to leave the ending ambiguous in the film, but it was clear to me even before I'd read up on it. Tom had already turned his anger toward his sister after seeing what he saw in the bunker (and seeing several other disturbing things as well), going so far as to beat her up, burn her with his lighter, etc., as though he believed she'd seduced their father and it was all her fault. But he later defends his sister and faces his father with what he it's hard to say whether the sexual relationship between Jessie and Tom has evolved out of some twisted kind of love, or if Tom is simply using Jessie as a means to let out his fury over his family being blown apart, and Jessie is giving in because she's been a victim for so long already.

An additional point: Someone in an IMDb thread said something about the fact that Jessie had agreed to carry on serving her father and not telling anyone, as long as he promised he would never touch the baby. Obviously, since the baby had to be taken to the hospital because of this mysterious bleeding, the father didn't live up to his end of the bargain. That seems to have been what pushed the two older kids to confront him at last.


I don't really know how to make these images leave my brain. I've already seen another movie in the meantime, have been out with a friend, have conversed about fluff, and yet my ears are still ringing with the sounds from that bunker.

Have any of you seen it? Or have you seen something else that has messed you up as much as this has done to me? Am I the only one who has been driven to physical sickness from watching a damned movie?? How on earth does one go about deleting it from one's brain? Or is it there forever, because there's no such thing as being able to "unsee" something??

I'll leave you with a completely safe YouTube clip of the review Roger Ebert gave back in 1999, when it first came out. Then you can decide for yourselves if you would ever be willing to experience this film, for the sake of seeing an excellently made movie, and in spite of it being something you may never be able to wish away.

1 comment:

_illuminated said...

In my first year of uni, we were forced to participate in the psych honour students' research studies. One of the studies used both the rape and fire extinguisher scene from the Irreversible movie (although I've had no idea until now what movie they were from). Both of them from start to finish.

You're right; I knew IMMEDIATELY what film you were referring to the moment you said "fire extinguisher".

Those two scenes scarred me for life. LIFE.

There's also a film I watched when I was little; it was a foreign film, but I vividly remember this woman being gang raped. It was brutal and very, very detailed. I remember nothing else of the film, but I had nightmares for many nights afterwards. *shudder* Over 10 years later and I still remember it as though it was yesterday...

Point: you're probably stuck with it forever D: