Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Movies: Gruz 200 (Cargo 200)

An amusing list of pithy comments ("so bleak and horrifying that you might think Francis Bacon served as DP;" "incredibly perverse and weirdly fascinating;" "a goth cousin to Delicatessen;" "as vile (and strangely aesthetically pleasing) as anything you might see in contemporary torture porn") promised more than this film could quite deliver; I left the theatre feeling only mildly sordid and mostly confused.

The soot-clogged industrial landscape of Leninsk offers little redemption for the well-meaning Professor of Scientific Atheism. He is on his way there to visit his mother with a trunk full of groceries when his jalopy breaks down in a desolate area. The nearest sign of life is a rural compound where a rifle-wielding utopian serves him excessive quantities of vodka out of a jar. A Vietnamese servant fixes his car while a homely woman sets the table with mushroom soup, brown bread, and pickles. The utopian and the professor argue about the existence of God, the utopian insisting that with the abolition of religion comes the abolition of ethics. The professor remains firm that ethics predate religion.

Meanwhile, the professor's niece is at home sleeping while her gawky, wannabe rockstar fiance goes to the disco and picks up her best friend. They leave the club and he drives her to—you guessed it—the same rural compound which, we now begin to understand, is a vodka outpost. He leaves the girl in the car and goes inside to get the booze; the professor has just left and the utopian isn't in a very good mood. They start drinking. When the girl gets spooked by a ghastly face staring at her through the window, she comes into the shack just in time to see her companion fall over, dead drunk. Meanwhile, the utopian has begun leering at her.

The woman of the house makes a half-hearted attempt to protect her, locking her in another shed for the night with a rifle. But the ghastly man gets the key and finds her, taking the gun right out of her trembling hands and shooting dead the Vietnamese mechanic before instructing her to remove her underwear and get down on hands and knees. He dispassionately molests her with the neck of an empty vodka bottle; the next morning he handcuffs her to his motorscooter and drives her to—you guessed it again—smoke-spewing Leninsk, and his mother's apartment. There, he handcuffs her to the bed while his vodka-chugging, television-watching PTSD or mildly demented mother ignores the screaming and crying from the bedroom: the ghastly man has, incidentally (because of his position in the military), received the body of the girl's paratrooper fiance, who had been serving in Afghanistan, and deposited it in bed beside the girl. As it rots, he brings in another man to rape her (again, from behind) while she cries and he watches dispassionately, reading aloud letters her fiance had sent to her (which he has procured by visiting her distraught parents, who trust him as a government detective looking for clues.)

It is onto this scene that the mushroom soup wench, livid that the utopian was arrested (and subsequently murdered by prison guards), breaks into the ghastly man's apartment and shoots him dead. The girl, still cuffed to the bed, is nude and howling between two—and now three—men's dead bodies, but the wench stomps off, leaving her there. The demented mother still says nothing, except "we've got flies," which is something of an understatement, thanks to the rotting bodies in the bedroom.

We never see the girl saved. Instead, we see the professor enter a church and inquire about the rite of baptism, and we see the fiance befriend another young man (incidentally, the professor's son) at a rock concert and invite him to join in a smuggling venture. Then the credits roll. The utopian, then, would appear to be right: a Godless country is beyond dangerous. But this is not a very compelling argument; my take is that a country without mental health care is beyond dangerous. Clearly the ghastly man (who almost never even touches the girl, but stares at her incessantly, and calls her his wife) is mentally ill, as is his mother. The utopian and the fiance are alcoholics. The wench has suffered to the degree that she no longer empathizes with another woman's suffering. In fact, dispassion, a total lack of human empathy, is rampant, from the guards who beat prisoners to death to the fiance who never returns to his betrothed's apartment, where she cries in her mother's arms. Is this because of Godlessness, or because of psychological damage inflicted on an entire class of people?


joao said...

i instinctly knew when i had finished this morbid piece of mind-rape that under no circumstances whatsoever the depicted story could be "based on a true story" as the viewer is informed both at the beginning and the end ("second half of 1984") and that the characters are not based on a disintegrating society but based on the sickened mind of an author.
thanks to "aschenker" i have been able to confirm this notion.
i have been lured into this malicious propaganda piece because of fraudulent advertising.
had i known that i would be exposed to such an unbearable insult at humanity and film-making i would have rejected even glancing at one minute of it.
the hypocricy of this film is mind boggling:
it pretends to mirror a "sick society" when it actually just exploits this "setting" to project the sick constructions of an embittered author (Faulkner) and film-maker onto this setting and into the brain of the viewer.
i would advise others not to watch this trash for the sake of mental and moral hygiene.

joao said...

your ideas presented in the final chapter are pointing in the right direction.
what i find sad and scary is the idea that the audience is deliberately exposed to receiving a secondary trauma from simply sitting through this movie.

i have decided that a film-maker who is either too ignorant or greedy to allow this is not going to be added to the "good people" in my book.

(i am sorry for having to post 2 comments, but i ran out of characters)