Thursday, May 26, 2016

Recommended: Wild Tales (2014)

I loved this film despite hating its underlying premise.

As the title suggests, and the opening credits make explicit, Wild Tales is based on the notion that we’re a heartbeat away from “regressing” to our animal nature. As expected, this nature is characterized by: violence, vengeance, irrationality, lust, the reflexive defense of kin and tribe, greed, and gluttony.

This sort of speciesism – which itself underlies a great deal of racism, sexism, and political repression - we can and should avoid, particularly in works that aspire to political satire or social criticism. Director Damián Szifrón has discussed the film’s theme:
Despite the clear common theme of violence and vengeance, what connects the accounts, according to the director, is ‘the fuzzy boundary that separates civilization from barbarism, the vertigo of losing your temper, and the undeniable pleasure of losing control’. This is explored through the concept that human beings have animalistic features. Szifron considers the main difference between human and animals is the capacity one has to restrain oneself as opposed to animals who are guided by their instincts. Humans ‘have a fight or flee mechanism, but it comes with a very high cost. Most of us live with the frustration of having to repress oneself, but some people explode. This is a movie about those who explode’. It deals with ‘daily life’ aspects and ‘is a movie about the desire for freedom, and how this lack of freedom, and the rage and anguish it produces, can cause us to run off the rails’. The main issue, according to Szifron, ‘is the pleasure of reacting, the pleasure of reacting toward injustice’. (my emphasis)
The Freudian distinction between a repressed “civilization” and a “barbarous” freedom, in addition to isolating the human characters with their alleged instincts and drives, presents an obstacle to working out a real approach to political freedom and social justice. As I said, I loved the film, but it could have been a much stronger work of art, a stinging and biting social satire, had it questioned and challenged received wisdom about “civilization” and “barbarism,” “human” and “animal,” rather than reproducing it.

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