faith, life, depression, struggle

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Down and out: Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone

I am a Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is indeed the way, the truth, the light, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him (per John 14:6). And perhaps it owes something to the path I sojourned to reach this point, all by His guiding, but I maintain an interest in the various arts of absolute despair. Perhaps I know the place it describes so well, and even from a point above the abyss, it still calls to me. Or perhaps I feel called to go back there, at least now and again, so I don't become too complacent in this walk of faith with my Savior. Maybe it's something else entirely, or some of each. I don't know. It is what it is.

I am a movie-holic, though, and it's the cinema of the rough, the violent, the harsh that---when done well---often grabs me. (I also need the airy cinema of, say, Ernst Lubitsch or Bill Forsyth or pre-Peeping Tom Powell and Pressburger to lift me out of this, but then I need Cronenburg or Haneke or Pasolini to take me back down after that, and so on.)

Or Gaspar Noe.

I just watched Noe's Seul contre tous (I Stand Alone) for the first time. It's easy enough to see how this debut full-length feature was compared to Taxi Driver---isolated protagonist, continuing voiceover narration, compelling use of sound and music to punctuate the main character's epiphanies, etc. I was also reminded of Joe, John Avildsen's pre-Rocky character study of the ultra-reactionary reality behind Archie Bunker. But Noe's film, for all its bows, stands on its own.

For one thing, Philippe Nahon's performance as the nameless butcher is searing. Nahon must like these roles; I remember seeing him in the splatterfest, High Tension, as well as the ultra-creepy (but pretty dumb) Calvaire (The Ordeal).

Make no mistake, this film is absolutely brutal, and there isn't much room for air. In fact, I wouldn't recommend most people even watch it; while the more cinematically adventurous won't find too much here that hasn't been done elsewhere, Nahon's disgust with himself and the world he inhabits---one which he has, as even he admits, partly made for himself---managed to draw me into his character's plight, pathetic though it is, even though he is in part to blame for his circumstances. (The French economic downturn of the late '70s/early '80s sets the scene here, and the difficulties of urban life in Paris and the illusory "retreat" to a smaller town deepen the sense of hopelessness ...)

What makes this film so much more than just an exercise in cynicism and disgust is the struggle for some semblance of humanity within the Butcher. He fails---miserably---ultimately, even as he's reaching out for it in the worst way possible. In Noe's world, nothing decent can survive, and while the Butcher is not decent, he is certainly aware of how corrupted (and corrupting) he is. Indeed, there is something very true about I Stand Alone in its brutality and blackened heart as a reflection of the world we live in, always. It's not the whole truth; but it is an essential truth that we humans are very corrupt in our hearts, even when (and sometimes especially when) we seek to paint our corruptions as virtues, as character traits, even as "rights" and "entitlements." And we all pay a very high price for that lie.

That, to me, is an apt expression of sin's ugly reality. I've seen enough of it, indulged in enough of it, in my years walking apart from God; I am still too close to it, in some ways, even as I struggle to love God more and love the world I lived in (by slavery to my desires) less. Noe's film served to remind me of what that world is really about, ultimately. For that, I was thankful, and more so, for the God who saved me from that and set me on a new course, I am beyond grateful.

Picking up from ...

Felt I needed a fresh start. The two old posts are here. I'll put all the new stuff right here, though.