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Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright 
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Post Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
Hello Film Club! This is the discussion thread for Wake in Fright. I will be watching it tonight and will post my thoughts later. So go ahead and start the discussion!

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Mon Mar 04, 2013 2:07 pm
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
Just finished Wake in Fright. Thoughts will be posted tomorrow; Overall a very interesting film.

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Tue Mar 05, 2013 1:05 am
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
I wrote this very general overview a couple weeks back when I first saw the film:

The history behind director Ted Kotcheff's Wake In Fright is almost as interesting as the film itself. Originally released in 1971 to decent critical acclaim but public disapproval in Australia, the film essentially disappeared without a trace for a span of over 30 years. A print was rediscovered in the early part of the last decade, and was rescued in the nick of time from being destroyed. That print underwent a long restoration process, and the result is what you see on the recently-released DVD/Bluray. So the film has had a unique journey to get to where it is today, but that wouldn’t matter all that much if the actual film itself weren’t anything worth remembering. Fortunately, Wake In Fright is pretty damn good, and it deserves to be seen now that it has received a newfound spotlight.

In a sense a dark feature-length ode to Australian hospitality, the film follows a young schoolteacher as he passes through a small town on the way to Sydney for a vacation. While there, under the influence of the town’s friendly inhabitants and more than a little alcohol, he loses all of his money gambling. Disillusioned and desperate, he gets roped into all manner of seedy activities, culminating in a grisly kangaroo hunt (the footage of which was taken from an actual hunt). In a strange way, it reminded me of horror films like The Wicker Man, where the friendly exteriors of the townspeople mask a hidden darkness underneath. Wake In Fright is not overtly a horror film, but there is an unsettling intensity through it all that makes the comparison seem appropriate. The performances from Gary Bond and especially Donald Pleasance are terrific, but the real star of the film is the Australian landscape, which, very much like in other Australian films such as Walkabout and The Proposition, is dry and sunny, barren and dangerous.

Obviously, I'll have more to contribute when others join in with their own thoughts, but I found it overall a compelling and impressive piece of work.

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Tue Mar 05, 2013 1:44 am
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
Still recovering from a pretty nasty ear infection, so I'm not up to writing to much now. But I agree pretty much along the lines Blonde Almond, and I agree Donald Pleasance delivers a terrific performance as the disgustingly seedy doctor. I thought Gary Bond was a tad bland and wooden, but that worked well enough as he's mostly the audience's surrogate into this world.

Also, if anyone's interested, there's some pretty good interviews with Ted Kotcheff from Australia's movie review show. Here's the first, and here's the second.


Tue Mar 05, 2013 4:27 am
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
Blonde Almond wrote:
In a strange way, it reminded me of horror films like The Wicker Man, where the friendly exteriors of the townspeople mask a hidden darkness underneath. Wake In Fright is not overtly a horror film, but there is an unsettling intensity through it all that makes the comparison seem appropriate.


This was the same vibe I got from the film as well. I read all of that hidden darkness as a statement that people, at their core, are pretty barbaric. We use facades of civilization, sophistication, and education as ways to convince ourselves that we aren't, but when left to our own devices, well, the plot of Wake in Fright seems about right.

I found it pretty clever that the movie is about an educated schoolteacher on his way to the big city who loses his way in the uncivilized Australian outback. It's a really cool way to contrast those lifestyles. I also liked that it was a Christmas film set in an area where it was unfathomably hot. That could possibly be read as some kind of allusion to Hell, but I'm not sure I necessarily buy that. Although, there is something to be said about the main character's journey being something of a descent into moral chaos. He certainly goes deeper and deeper as the film progresses.

Overall, I thought the film was well done and effective. For whatever reason, Gary Bond reminded me of Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. It was mostly just the way he looked and some of his mannerisms than it was anything similar between their characters. I didn't think the movie ever really approached greatness, as once you realized John Grant wasn't getting out of this town and was going to continue down this path, the film got a little tiresome. As Awkward Beard Man stated, Grant is more surrogate for the audience than real character, so there isn't a whole lot of emotional impact that goes along with his journey. It's a more intellectual film than visceral. That in itself doesn't keep a film from being great, but the intellectual side has to be pretty mind blowing and Wake in Fright is just interesting. Again, a good movie, but not one I'd consider amazing.


Tue Mar 05, 2013 10:14 am
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
Really, really sorry about the late posting guys, professors are slamming us with assignments this week since it happens to be the last week before spring break.

Anywho, I’m sure my fellow club members will forgive me. I finally watched Wake in Fright last night, and I must say it was quite an experience. This film is definitely a slow burner, and one that will resonate with you long after its over. Wake in Fright harnesses so many themes, but the main two that I feel are most relevant are the aspects of masculinity and escape. There is quite a bit to discuss here, so if any of this is fragmented or makes no sense, I apologize.

The film opens up with a wide, long shot of a desert town—one that only has a schoolhouse and a small hotel. The only remnant of civilization is the railroad, a classic element of the western. In many ways, the setting that is presented in the opening shots of Wake in Fright is very reminiscent of the open ranges of the Hollywood western. However in this town there is no excitement, no gunslingers or outlaws, just emptiness and longing. We can see this in the faces of the students in a small schoolhouse, and its teacher, John Grant played by Gary Bond. Grant doesn’t care for these small towns, he’s an educated man, what does this place have to offer him other than a measly income? Grant wants out, we can see his longing for a women in a bathing suit while he dreams on a train bound for someplace else, somewhere with different scenery.

However, the scenery that John escapes too isn’t all that better. This place is sweltering, with a heat that seems to constantly remind the viewer of the figurative hell that John Grant is experiencing and trying to escape. But John can’t escape this place, so it’s better to dull the pain—the experience—with a cold one, yet this isn’t a town where one drink is enough. Alcohol plays a huge part in this film, characters are constantly guzzling down beers like glasses of water, for all intents and purposes beer is water for these people. Having a drink with a stranger is a right of passage, it’s a sign of hospitality or is it?

The characters that offer John drinks are of the mysterious sort. One can feel an unusual vibe from these people, almost evil, but softly subdued—much like the tenants in Rosemary’s Baby. These people challenge John, and constantly push him to drink another, and another, and another. Hesitantly John agrees, and he lets himself fall into the grasps of this place and its people.

This is where the film truly gets interesting. John is given a means to escape the boring life that he has been living--a flip of the coin so to speak. After John tries out his luck, our character begins to descent into a place that resembles nothing of the civilization that John is possibly in search for. Which brings up a good question, what is John in search for? Yes we know he wants out of his job, maybe a different life, but this film puts John on a path that conveys so much more. John is in a place where education doesn’t seem to matter, a place where a man is judged by the amount of beer he ingests. This is a place where one must put his manhood on display.

John doesn’t come across as the most “manly”, in close up shots he looks almost feminine. Johns journey will change this though; it will change his appearance, and most important his mindset. By the end of it, John will have reached an almost barbaric side of himself, a side that can use violence as means of entertainment.

John earns this masculinity throughout the film, but does he loose it? There is a scene with John and Doc Tydon (played by Donald Pleasence) that is full of homoerotic innuendos. After this scene,John becomes infuriated, and eventually comes back to Tydons shack to kill him. Is John out for Tydon because he took away this earned masculinity? Or is it something else? Does John see himself in Tydon—in an educated man that has lost himself to thee brutal nature of this place? Does John think that once one looses himself in this place that there may be no means of escape? After all there only seems to be one way out.

I think this leaves some nice room for discussion, so I’ll stop :)

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Wed Mar 06, 2013 2:20 am
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
JackBurns wrote:
John earns this masculinity throughout the film, but does he loose it? There is a scene with John and Doc Tydon (played by Donald Pleasence) that is full of homoerotic innuendos. After this scene,John becomes infuriated, and eventually comes back to Tydons shack to kill him. Is John out for Tydon because he took away this earned masculinity? Or is it something else? Does John see himself in Tydon—in an educated man that has lost himself to thee brutal nature of this place? Does John think that once one looses himself in this place that there may be no means of escape? After all there only seems to be one way out.


Nice write-up, Jack. I think John sees himself in Tydon and is angry at him not for taking away his earned masculinity, but in seeing what he's starting to become. It's a bit of transference, where John isn't just trapped in The Yabba (no matter how much he'd like to pretend he is), he's willfully playing along and enjoying "the other side". He hates himself for it, despite being wholly unable to stop participating. He aims to take that out on Tydon, but realizes it at the moment of truth and turns his gun on himself. If anything, he's trapped in the hell that is the glorified, typical mind of a "masculine" male, not The Yabba.

You get the feeling that everyone in The Yabba has the same kind of lost, depressed feelings John has (and Tydon likely had at one point), even if they're incapable of articulating those feelings. They'd rather indulge those base desires for violence, sex, and thrills and forget about them with alcohol than really truly continue their search for self. The Yabba is a place where a human's search for self goes to die. So sure, it's about masculinity (the lack of women clued me in to that) in that it shows how misguided most of it is.

Also, weird correlation, but after typing this I'm reminded of Barton Fink. It's another movie that uses a physical setting as a metaphor for the mind (the Hotel Earle in that film), evokes hell, and uses the similar-mindset-of-fellow-inhabitants idea to great effect. Seeing as how each movie explores completely different ideas, I doubt there's anything to the correlation other than really good writing in both movies, but it's still pretty cool. Those accidental convergences are always neat.


Wed Mar 06, 2013 9:05 am
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
Quote:
There is a scene with John and Doc Tydon (played by Donald Pleasence) that is full of homoerotic innuendos. After this scene,John becomes infuriated, and eventually comes back to Tydons shack to kill him. Is John out for Tydon because he took away this earned masculinity? Or is it something else?


you do realize Tydon raped John, right?

funny story about that scene:

Quote:
Dread Central: Another controversial moment was the implied rape scene between Donald and Gary Bond? Did you find that was that another tough moment for audiences too?

Ted Kotcheff: You know, back in 1971 when I was at the Cannes Film Festival screening, as I was sitting there, there was this voice behind me kept saying, “Wow- what a scene! Great! This is great!” So then when the homosexual rape scene came up, he said, “Oh my God- this guy has gone all the way! Wow!" and that's all I kept hearing from this 25-year-old American kid sitting right behind me the entire time.

I knew he had to be in the film business because of where he was sitting in the theater so later I asked our PR guy who it was, and he said, “Yeah, he's some young American director that's only made a flop so far. His name…oh yeah, it's Martin Scorsese.” And of course, he was right- I HADN'T heard of Martin. But when Wake in Fright was found again and word got around that there was a new print, coming, Martin was one of the first people to ask for one. I guess he remembered my work after 38 years or so and since he heads up the classic film department at Cannes now, he declared Wake in Fright a Cannes Classic.


Wed Mar 06, 2013 2:05 pm
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
calvero wrote:
you do realize Tydon raped John, right?


I can't say that I immediately knew that John had been raped, but I did surmise some sort of sexual encounter. My questions were addressed to look at what it meant to the themes at play, not to question my own understanding of the scene--- I would say I have a pretty good grasp on what the scene in question entails.

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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
calvero wrote:
you do realize Tydon raped John, right?


Nooo, I don't think so. Really? What, just before they cut to John waking up on the floor (to button up his pants), weren't they on top of each other, looking into each other's faces all, I don't know, lustfully? If anything did happen, I get the impression that it was consensual rather than rape. Did I miss something?

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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
ram1312 wrote:
calvero wrote:
you do realize Tydon raped John, right?


Nooo, I don't think so. Really? What, just before they cut to John waking up on the floor (to button up his pants), weren't they on top of each other, looking into each other's faces all, I don't know, lustfully? If anything did happen, I get the impression that it was consensual rather than rape. Did I miss something?


I'm with you ram, theres no way to 100% say that John was raped by merely what the film conveys, yes the director can be interviewed and say what the scene was supposed to mean/or be, and thats fine--I just wouldn't call it a successful representation of that act. Of course the limits of what could be shown during that time come into play as well.

I'm also with you that the scene felt very consensual, if consent can be given considering the intoxication of both parties.

What were your thoughts overall ram???

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Thu Mar 07, 2013 1:26 am
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
PeachyPete wrote:
Nice write-up, Jack. I think John sees himself in Tydon and is angry at him not for taking away his earned masculinity, but in seeing what he's starting to become. It's a bit of transference, where John isn't just trapped in The Yabba (no matter how much he'd like to pretend he is), he's willfully playing along and enjoying "the other side". He hates himself for it, despite being wholly unable to stop participating. He aims to take that out on Tydon, but realizes it at the moment of truth and turns his gun on himself. If anything, he's trapped in the hell that is the glorified, typical mind of a "masculine" male, not The Yabba.

You get the feeling that everyone in The Yabba has the same kind of lost, depressed feelings John has (and Tydon likely had at one point), even if they're incapable of articulating those feelings. They'd rather indulge those base desires for violence, sex, and thrills and forget about them with alcohol than really truly continue their search for self. The Yabba is a place where a human's search for self goes to die. So sure, it's about masculinity (the lack of women clued me in to that) in that it shows how misguided most of it is.

Also, weird correlation, but after typing this I'm reminded of Barton Fink. It's another movie that uses a physical setting as a metaphor for the mind (the Hotel Earle in that film), evokes hell, and uses the similar-mindset-of-fellow-inhabitants idea to great effect. Seeing as how each movie explores completely different ideas, I doubt there's anything to the correlation other than really good writing in both movies, but it's still pretty cool. Those accidental convergences are always neat.


These are great insights Pete; and I really like your take on the bolded section. You said the use of setting as a metaphor reminded you of Barton Fink, and I can't disagree--one can certainly see similarities in some of Scorsese's earlier work as well.

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Thu Mar 07, 2013 1:41 am
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
I'll chime in to say I assumed some gay stuff happened, but didn't think it was rape. John seemed to be ready and willing when the film cut away from the two. You might be able to argue Tydon took advantage of John, and of course there's a fine in those situations between consenual and rape, but from what the film showed, I didn't get the impression that John had been the victim of the violent, angry act I normally associate with rape.


Fri Mar 08, 2013 10:12 am
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
the director and writer said it was meant to be rape.
its all over the commentary & interviews(and reviews from that time)

Quote:
You might be able to argue Tydon took advantage of John, and of course there's a fine in those situations between consenual and rape, but from what the film showed, I didn't get the impression that John had been the victim of the violent, angry act I normally associate with rape.


many women have quite a different view of rape(its often enough to get a rape charge if a drunk girl regrets or can't remember much of a sexual encounter the next day)
I guess its different with 2 dudes.


Fri Mar 08, 2013 1:38 pm
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
calvero wrote:
the director and writer said it was meant to be rape.
its all over the commentary & interviews(and reviews from that time)

Quote:
You might be able to argue Tydon took advantage of John, and of course there's a fine in those situations between consenual and rape, but from what the film showed, I didn't get the impression that John had been the victim of the violent, angry act I normally associate with rape.


many women have quite a different view of rape(its often enough to get a rape charge if a drunk girl regrets or can't remember much of a sexual encounter the next day)
I guess its different with 2 dudes.


You're absolutely right. That's why I qualified my statement by saying there's a fine line in those drunk kinds of situations. Personally, I think those situations are very much moral gray areas, but there shouldn't be any difference between hetero or homo in those cases.

I won't argue with directorial or authorial intent. If they say it was meant to be a rape scene (which you're right, they did), then I'll say it was. I don't know that the movie does a particularly good job of conveying that, but maybe that has something to do with the film's age and the time it was made. Or maybe not. I don't really know.


Fri Mar 08, 2013 2:19 pm
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
I like the idea that John was raped by what he would see as his intellectual equal (or even superior). John arrives in the Yabba, and he almost holds amusement at how backwards he pictures the rest of the population. The uneducated, hard drinking, uncivilised creatures. He's both intimidated and feels smugly superior, due to his 'intellectual' status as a teacher. But then he meets Tydon, who is not just a doctor, but also seems to show a degree of self awareness lacking in John. Like meeting his bizarro intellectual equal, but in this case he's a grubby, disgustingly seedy alcoholic. In a way it shows that John isn't as better as he thinks he is, merely a product of a different (emasculated) environment. And given that people generally hold doctors in a higher regard than teachers, he no longer feels like the smartest man in town.

It also seems that John is a very insecure man, especially in regards to his masculinity. I doubt his 'flashback' and the picture of the girl in his wallet actually represent what his life is actually like (more a mere fantasy). Which is why he's so willing to try and get it on with the other women. He doesn't seem to show much genuine affection towards her, he just wants to feel like a man. But he can't even do that. So John, seduced by this untamed environment, goes on a quest to essentially claim his 'manhood'. But time and again he keeps failing. He barely manages to kill the small kangaroo, and he certainly doesn't do it in a particularly glamorous or manly way. And at the end of it all, Tydon captures him, holding a knife as he would to a kangaroo. Whether what follows is rape or not doesn't really matter. It's clear that John isn't the dominant one in this situation, and has whatever's left of his masculinity taken from him. By no other than his intellectual equal. He's lost in every attempt that he's tried to claim some semblance of self-worth. That, to me is why he want to kill Tydon. And then when the moment comes, he's not even man enough to pull the trigger, instead taking it out on himself.


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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
PeachyPete wrote:
You're absolutely right. That's why I qualified my statement by saying there's a fine line in those drunk kinds of situations. Personally, I think those situations are very much moral gray areas, but there shouldn't be any difference between hetero or homo in those cases.


There should not be a difference. Absolutely right. But there always is this difference placed by "society". Hetero/homo, male/female...does not matter, "society" will find a way to attack. A co-worker of mine, a male teacher, was interrogated because of a rumor, not an accusation, a rumor of harrassment that never happened. We're curious if this would occur with a female teacher, with similar "rumors."

JackBurns wrote:
What were your thoughts overall ram???


I should tell you JackB what most other old-timers around here already know about me. I'm not the greatest at dissecting and analyzing themes in movies. I'm mostly in here for an education. Already in the scant few posts of our second viewing together, I've learned a bit on how to interpret what I've seen. I will tell you some of my initial...random impressions of the movie though...

1. Holy shit, that is my hell, being a teacher at a high school where half of my kids fail is a "normal" thing. Maybe that's not exactly what John is going through, but his emotions (passed through to me by the visuals, as well as some spoken, of the film) of where he is teaching has him regretting his choice to teach altogether. John, I'm with you there, said to say.

2. How do you escape this? By drinking, of course (*bullshit*). One thing I've been doing a bit of lately, sad to say. As some of you know, I've been through some shit a couple years back. I drank a lot during that time and still do some times. This film though, put a mirror up to my fucking face and said, "Look at what you've become motherfucker..."

3. If I could gamble my way out of teaching as simply as John attempted to, I would try it just as quickly as he did. The film made the possibility of getting out of it just that easy. Doesn't happen that way, man.

4. Where all the women at?

5. Can I tell you how many times these sorts of "fights" happened with me in college? Especially when drunk. Is it really how the director described it as a need to "touch" someone, or is it the need for a man to exert his masculinity? Or is it that your just drunk? Or what the fuck?

...

Amongst other thoughts, but here I am feeling I'm gonna lose what I've written if I don't post it already...

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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
Awkward Beard Man wrote:
I like the idea that John was raped by what he would see as his intellectual equal (or even superior). John arrives in the Yabba, and he almost holds amusement at how backwards he pictures the rest of the population. The uneducated, hard drinking, uncivilised creatures. He's both intimidated and feels smugly superior, due to his 'intellectual' status as a teacher. But then he meets Tydon, who is not just a doctor, but also seems to show a degree of self awareness lacking in John. Like meeting his bizarro intellectual equal, but in this case he's a grubby, disgustingly seedy alcoholic. In a way it shows that John isn't as better as he thinks he is, merely a product of a different (emasculated) environment. And given that people generally hold doctors in a higher regard than teachers, he no longer feels like the smartest man in town.

It also seems that John is a very insecure man, especially in regards to his masculinity. I doubt his 'flashback' and the picture of the girl in his wallet actually represent what his life is actually like (more a mere fantasy). Which is why he's so willing to try and get it on with the other women. He doesn't seem to show much genuine affection towards her, he just wants to feel like a man. But he can't even do that. So John, seduced by this untamed environment, goes on a quest to essentially claim his 'manhood'. But time and again he keeps failing. He barely manages to kill the small kangaroo, and he certainly doesn't do it in a particularly glamorous or manly way. And at the end of it all, Tydon captures him, holding a knife as he would to a kangaroo. Whether what follows is rape or not doesn't really matter. It's clear that John isn't the dominant one in this situation, and has whatever's left of his masculinity taken from him. By no other than his intellectual equal. He's lost in every attempt that he's tried to claim some semblance of self-worth. That, to me is why he want to kill Tydon. And then when the moment comes, he's not even man enough to pull the trigger, instead taking it out on himself.


So is the movie about what it takes to be a man? This is masculinity? I'm not attacking you or your opinion BeardedOne, I'm just asking..

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Sat Mar 09, 2013 4:01 am
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Post Re: Film Club Discussion: Wake in Fright
ram1312 wrote:
So is the movie about what it takes to be a man? This is masculinity? I'm not attacking you or your opinion BeardedOne, I'm just asking..


I don't think the movie is about what it takes to be a man. More the characters believe this is what it takes to be a man. That the actions they perform are an attempt to gain a sense of masculinity. Especially when otherwise they're relatively powerless. The film doesn't take a firm moral standpoint with regards to this. As Kotcheff says in one of the interviews I provided, he's the characters' greatest witness. We're not support to agree that this is good behaviour, or that it represents masculinity or anything like that. We're supposed to see that this is how the characters feel, and understand why they feel that way, and how their environment shapes their attitude and actions.

I think the characters behave in pathetic, self-destructive and often awful ways. But the film offered me an understanding of why that is. And I took that a lot of it is due to feeling like a man. Feeling powerful, in control of one's destiny and environment. And ultimately about John losing that, and feeling like he's lost his masculinity.


Sat Mar 09, 2013 4:19 am
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