Thursday, September 21, 2006:

Bettye Swann -- Don't You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurting Me)

Bettye Swann -- Don't You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurting Me)
I just saw Battle Royale and I think I can safely say that I don't get it. It's a film in which a classroom of students is gassed and brought to an island, collared with explosive devices, given food and weapons with which to kill each other. The students are warned that trying to remove the collars will cause them to explode, and warned also that the contest will last only three days: if more than one student survies by the end of it, every collar will detonate.

The story strikes me as "The Most Dangerous Game" crossed with Lord of the Flies, but unfortunately it has none of the brevity of the former or the mounting dread of the latter. It has a real visual audacity; and the plot is superficially transgressive but deeply flawed. The scenes range from suspenseful to predictable to downright silly; and the film, in spending so long on gore and spectacle, hints at an intellectual emptiness: a blood-soaked impaling commands the attention, yes, but the more troubling premise is not how to survive, but what to do with yourself after.

The film probably makes most sense when seen as part of a dystopian sci-fi/action tradition, but it doesn't have the satisfying conclusion of either Death Race 3000 or the more recent District B13, in which citizens put through their paces for the gratification of a corrupt government manage through pluck, cleverness, or sheer cussedness to bring that part of the government to its knees. No, these citizens manage to kill their most immediate tormentor and then escape, leaving the system itself intact. It's a callous film not just because of the body count but also because of the inherent selfishness of the conclusion, which considers atavism a briefly shameful memory rather than an ongoing threat and which posits that escape in itself constitutes a happy ending. The characters indicate in dialogue that they just want to sweep the last few days under the rug; and if polite company doesn't talk about barbarism, maybe it should. At least Lord of the Flies was sensible enough to posit paranoia and destruction of community as a tragedy.

Director Kinji Fukasaku was diagnosed with prostate cancer shortly before his last film, a sequel to this one which is generally held in poor regard. He refused treatment so that he could make the sequel, and he died shortly thereafter. I like to imagine the sequel is one in which the surviving contestants spend the entire time in painful unfolding self-realization: a Bergmanesque sequel to a Bruckheimer original.
[Bettye Swann @ amazon.com]
[Battle Royale @ imdb.com]

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Comments:
Wow! This is great. I've never heard of her before.

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