Thursday, December 4, 2008

"Turtles Can Fly" and Movies can Hurt

So I saw a film called "Turtles Can Fly" a while back and ended up having to write a paper on it. Really I never wanted to think about it again, but when I do all of my pent up feelings about it explode. So I'm going to write about the most painful experience I've ever had watching a film...

"Turtles Can Fly" is an unconventional but painful, politically subtle war expose. It follows an orphan named Satellite as he goes about life along the border between Iraq and Turkey in an area called Kurdistan. A natural leader and genuinely likeable protagonist, Satellite organizes a huge gang of orphans and other children in order to make money and survive in a world torn upside down by war. Frankly, even though "Turtles Can Fly" was well done and beautifully handled for the majority of the time, it made me sick. After seeing that film I sat sobbing, heartsick and repulsed to the core of my being. Maybe that means the director achieved his objective. I saw a new face to war and I’ll never be the same — but I feel like I was manipulated into getting there. The director crossed a line.

I would do anything to erase a single scene from this film from my memory. When the prophet gives talks on pornography and how some images once seen will never leave us — the images they’re talking about don’t hold a candle to the horrible scene I had to watch. It’s burned into my brain. The image of the little boy looking frightened and calling for his mommy, his dad, anyone. The girl who should have been protecting him, picking him up, looking into his angelic tear stricken face. The little boy’s tortured expression easing at the sight of one who he trusts. He doesn’t understand that the day before the girl had left him in the middle of a mine field to die. He has no idea she sees him and is filled with hate because he reminds her of that night. The night her family was killed and she left in a broken pile, raped with horrifying memories that will haunt her forever. The boy doesn’t understand as she ties a rope around his little body and sets him awkwardly on the ground. He’s at the pond where he let the turtles they found go free. She’s beside him, pushing the large rock tied to his waist closer and closer to the water. The little boy’s wide, innocent eyes blink before the boulder crashes into the pond and everything goes black. Cut to the girl slipping out of her sandals and stepping off of a cliff.

That scene haunts me. And I’ll never be able to forget it. I don’t care the cause merits that kind of emotional response — there is no reason to create that type of pain for your viewer. No one with any shred of human decency could sit through that without falling to pieces inside. So what — because I’m a sensitive human who cares about children and can’t even think about this scene without crying—now I’m going to agree with the film maker’s view point? Yes, war is horrible in ways as a sheltered American, I cannot truly imagine. But I have not been moved an inch closer to the director’s cause—rather, I’ve gone the opposite direction. To have created child characters for the audience to come to love and care for and then rip those children’s lives apart with suicide, murder and atrocity after atrocity, I can label it as nothing other than manipulation. And it makes me sick.

And yet my film analysis trained mind betrays my heart and asks if the film accomplished its purpose. If the director’s intention is to cut to the heart of a human atrocity and reveal it for the painful, senseless reality that it is — can he cross that line? Why not? In war, far worse scenes play out. Why should we be sheltered from the worst when it actually exists? If a director wants the world to see what horrible realities are truly happening and provoke his viewers into trying to change something, can he cross all lines no matter how painful? Was using children to elicit such a strong response a cheap trick or was it a genuine reflection on haunting realities?

I’m not sure what I think anymore. But it hurts.