28 Weeks Later, Iraq, and the political urgency of the un-metaphor

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I’ve been thinking a lot about metaphor. The simulacra and illusions of postmodern capitalism is an entire world of metaphors. Money (and perhaps credit) is the metaphor of metaphors for our time. We have become adept at interpreting postmodern capitalism’s doublespeak, it is the second language of almost the entire world.

I generally subscribe very strongly to the spirit of the idea that all art is indirection. Art says things without saying it, obscures things to arrive at an even more striking truth, a truer than truth. But when our world is full of truths that are truthier than truth, might metaphor not work in the opposite direction?

Videos and more after the jump…


  The politics and mechanics of anti-war art

In Ngugi Wathiongo’s Devil on the Cross, as in much of his work, we see this action at work. His magical realism, of course, is more real than real. Instead of embedding capitalism as some arcane concept to be critiqued, he lays the true nature of capitalism bare, as experienced by real people. Whenever the word “capitalism” might be said, Ngugi instead substitutes “theft and robbery.”

Thus I am here writing in praise of a certain raw and sanguine poetic praxis in this age of Patriot Acts and Iraqi Freedoms. It is in this spirit that I praise Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later.

As 300 (and the Patriot Act) teaches us, fascism now lives out in the open, normalized. We live with it until it smells like home. Perhaps this choice has already come to us, perhaps there never will be such a point, but I predict that should the final tipping point to utter fascism come, it will be like the choice between butter and margarine.  

I was concerned, of course, about whether or not 28 Weeks Later could carry the mantle of its predecessor. Boyle moved to a reduced role, going from director to producer, but fortunately that may have been the best such move since George Lucas took a backseat from directing for The Empire Strikes Back.

 Zeitgeist

Fresnadillo has nailed the zeitgeist of international tension more than any contemporary film that I’ve seen in my lifetime. This director’s grasp of genre, filmic technique, and ability to boil down an enormous budget into a heart-pounding 90-minute film without an inch of fat are technical achievements worthy of lengthy analysis in and of themselves, but it is Fresnadillo’s ability to simultaneously signify on so many of the fears nipping at the edges of our vision that is so startling. The idea that globalization, the enormous power of Big Pharma, and the unchecked military-industrial complex may produce diseases unlike any the world has ever seen, embodied in SARS, drug-resistant TB and many other diseases, as well as anthrax, is one of these fears. Another, the idea that terror and total social collapse could happen overnight in our most secure fortresses, like New York, London, and Paris. Terror, of course, struck in 9/11. Thus, the idea that this is primarily an anti-Iraq War film is reductive, which has been advanced by both exponents and detractors.

But it is Iraq, the rawest of American wounds as this film was released, which is the entry point for Fresnadillo’s metaphoric technique.

Sequence Analysis

Iraq is instantly recalled as the protagonists are transported into the “Green Zone,” a sanitized and US military-controlled island in the midst of infected London and the UK in general. The returnees are pilgrims of a sort, coming to reclaim their land. They stay in hotels, surveilled by military snipers through their scopes (crucially, one of the perpetrators of this is a very sympathetic character, showing that it is our friends and family who operate these government control apparatuses). Government-military surveillance. Too heavy-handed? Or just heavy-handed enough in this age, where even this metaphor escapes most? Sometimes it’s simplification, or rather, a different form of clarity, that’s needed.

 

 

 

 Of course, all hell shortly breaks loose, and infection reaches the Green Zone, triggering Code Red, the military’s containment plan. The snipers are at first instructed to shoot only the infected in the coming crush of fleeing bodies. Here, the metaphoric screen almost collapses completely in the most notorious use of the particular poetry I am highlighting here. Disembodied voices with almost video game-level acting skills muse incredulously “I don’t see who’s a target,” and “Man, this is FUBAR.” This is the worst acting of the movie, it is cheesy, alienatingly so, and it may be in part due to the generic actioner nature of the dialogue, and it may be due to a simple shortage of talent here, but I believe that here we see instead the almost total rejection of the metaphoric apparatus by Fresnadillo. We are seeing here a metaphor that is something more and less than a metaphor. It is almost directly portable to the situation in Iraq, for through the government’s covers sometimes a poet’s bludgeon is necessary, to break through hegemony’s grasp on our skulls. This is not acting, this is not cinematic technique, this is the closest thing to documentary reality that can be mustered in a fictional film. It lays its cards on the table, its agenda, its manipulations, its mythmaking, but it is from here that we get a sense of things. We are shocked to a certain twin consciousness as the film’s diegetic events and its Iraq War referent come into focus.

As the stampede becomes a flood The Wire’s Idris Elba (Stringer) orders the snipers to “abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything…We’ve lost control.” The acting improves, and the movie’s action hits its stride action. John Murphy’s fantastic Godspeed!-aping “In the House, in a Heartbeat” builds to its climactic swell, and the film’s magic becomes evident. With all of the suspension of disbelief required of a genre film, a military/zombie one no less, and just having been hit with heavy-handed and politically strident metaphoric technique, Fresnadillo sweeps us up all the same. The violent paranoia and bedlam into which we are thrown is not simply gutwrenching but heart-rending. Again, it is the virtuoso command of these cinematic, generic, political, and emotional scales that makes this film and its director so special. I was hit emotionally by this film harder than any I’ve seen since, perhaps, Kurosawa’s Ikiru.

The American snipers’ shooting becomes increasingly frenetic and emotional, and utter chaos envelops. The human wave rushes down steps into a hail of chain-fed gunfire and Fresnadillo breaks away, his mission accomplished.

 Blackwater: A different sniper video, a different approach to documentary

I am reminded of nothing so much here as a youtube video I dug up years ago of Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq. Everyone that I’ve shown it to has been utterly disgusted by it, so of course watch at your own risk. Little metaphoric separation is available here.

 

 

The video is a side view looking at a Blackwater sniper perched in a nest on a rooftop with a group of snipers. The sniper fires almost continuously for the entire length of the 7 minute video, and generally we are given very little idea as to how he is picking his targets, who they are, or how often his bullets are making contact with human flesh. Then, all comes into sickening, horrifying focus when at the 5:01 mark the sniper exuberantly exclaims “Jesus Christ! It’s like a fucking turkey shoot!”

Has a more American statement been made in Iraq?

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