Sunday, January 25, 2009

Prisoners of Memory

Ari Folman is an Israeli documentary filmmaker whose most recent film is the animated WALTZ WITH BASHIR and it tells the tale of the filmmakers attempt to recovery his memory of a time when he was a soldier in the Israeli army during its invasion of Lebanon. The strange recurring dream of a friend sends him on a journey into his own past which he has all but suppressed the memory of. Was he a part of a massacre that killed Palestinian refugees (in the Sabra and Shatila camps) or was he just a silent collaborator and passive observer of a horror akin to the killing of Jews in German concentration camps? Using voice overs from actual participants in the events of the time this is the kind of movie that could only be made with the freedom that animation allows and his style seems to only accentuate the horror of what he experienced. Memories are like movies that can selectively choose which scenes to present to the audience (the soldier) and which to leave on the cutting room floor. You are mesmerized by the images and the message which cannot be heard often enough - that war continues to exact a price on its participants long after the actual fighting has stopped. It shows the lengths that the mind will go to too protect the soul from knowledge too traumatic to face. I know if I was still teaching high school Social Studies especially the grade 12 curriculum that focuses on the wars of the 20th Century that I would include this movie. War is often studied as this huge event between nations but in truth its the quiet stories of ordinary men and women and those standing nearby in the conflicts that most accurately reflect the experience (including post traumatic stress and the survivor's guilt). They say that soldiers don't fight for nation or ideology but for the guy next to them and this movie like few before it champion that point of view. My father was a soldier who luckily served during the time of the cold war where there were no battles for him to fight. I have often thought if I could have been a soldier myself. They would have had to get me when I was very young because I know too much now, have seen too much and experienced too much of life to ever point a weapon at another human being when ordered to do so. No wonder they try to get the men to boot camp before they are 20. The best age to train a killer. One scene in particular got to me. There is a red car that has been driving around Beirut killing Israeli soldiers. The overkill that the Israelis employ just to destroy that car and its occupants illustrate the futility of armed struggle. No matter if you use a sniper or artillery or missiles from jets there will always be another red car the next day to threaten you till the reasons for fighting no longer exist or are settled by political means (which is essence only postpone the fighting for another day). How can anyone view such events and not conclude that war is madness.

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