In the Wake of True Horror…

With the shudder of the Connecticut school shooting still shaking the bones of the country, I don’t feel comfortable writing about horror for a little while. I’m going to be true to my word and finish up the vastly overdue third part of my Tomb Raider diatribe, but then I’m going to take a little time to think about the grief clinging to that small town.

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If Only You Knew Me…

So I didn’t publish the intro post as a false harbinger of the Tomb Raider finale installment just to be a time troll. I really expected to follow up with the final bit and move on (currently, a sizeable hunk of it sits in my draft tab,) but had cause to put it on hold due to some travel to the homeland. Clearly, I’m able to connect to the internet, but listen: I’m on dial-up in the literal middle of the woods, ya’ll. Beyond the perversely nostalgic robot sing-song that rings in a connection, the happy capabilities are tenuous at best and I don’t want to trust my prose-heavy ramblings to the same phone line that scurries into a virtual locked cellar every time it’s damp out. I’ll be back in the vicinity of wireless wizardry early next week, so keep that anticipation primed!

Tomb Raider Pt. 3 Foreword & Introduction: Some Notes Before the Breach (Please Read First!)

When I look through all my notes about the controversy and follow the spawning tangents…let it stand that I have more to say than can be said in a venue that isn’t a research paper. So, the post imminently following will be the last unprompted one about Tomb Raider until I get to spend some time with the game (which I am looking forward to!)

To Link or Stream-write?

I posted earlier that I’ve been too drained to have any opinions. Seems they’ve returned in a pretty well-ordered rush, which is fabulous because getting a bookend on what I started (silly me) has been an insistent nag (really, so silly). This post will be–100%–personal editorial. Tried to diligently include citations/links in my earlier posts on the subject, and many of the points I want to make in the final installment are reactions stemming from a plethora of cite-able sources. But this isn’t a research paper.

For reasons ranging from continuity to selfishly making sure that what I truly want to say gets a voice I’m not planning to link any further material unless I get a specific request. If you read the posts so far and are interested enough to join me in the finale, I like to think that you’re doing so with your own exposure to previous, external material. Very likely experience of conversations or articles that I haven’t read.

If any point I argue or summarize for sake of context strikes you in some way that makes you want to see the source, please feel welcome to ask. I will do my best to provide. Conversely, feel positively cheered on to link to any material you feel relevant. My stats meter shows a flattering amount of regular visitors but precious few comments. I’d quite like to hear from you on any point you have, even if it’s just to tune me in to a better way of fostering a communicative environment!

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that the final post won’t have any links. Maybe a quote or two but probably not, once I get rolling. External material sparked the content but–since opinion shapes said content–isn’t the focus for structure. I plan to generalize external arguments ONLY if they’re iterated in more than three major sources (because that’s pretty fair, right?) Holla if you want specifics.

Content Warning; Subject Reassurance

There may be medium to high trigger warnings regarding domestic/sexual abuse (but for my own sake, I’m going to try to corral them to a concentrated portion and then move on quick.) I’ll only include it if it is relevant to my point; nothing gratuitous, self-pitying, or off-topic. 

At the core of this vibrant topic is a void. People on all sides of debate try to cover it with blanket terms like rape, sexual violence, feminism, misogyny,  and so on but the void exists unexplored yet vital to the real-world impact of such an arena discussion. That void is human experience and, since I only have just the one life, I can only light one modest candle in the breach. At the end of it all, this is just a faceless blog in a vast data stream droning on about a video game snit and I have no control over any resulting impact (if any!), but the reality of the issue is so close to home that–for those same reasons, really–I feel compelled to use this space for a hot second to do my droning.

Finally, (yes, finally! Even I am sick of hearing me over-anxiously giving every goddamn thing preface!) I want to assure you that the post will fo’ REALLY relate directly to Tomb Raider and video game’s societal responsibility. I realize that after I’ve dragged you all over the map with this foreward there is room for concern that it’ll end up being a diary piece. No good sirs, madams, and all: look past my dubious over-set up and trust that if you trundle onward, we’ll be talking about Lara, games, and life straight on once more. Okay, before I can stuff in any more words, let’s go!

Introduction: The Identity Problem

Within a living progressive movement such as feminism (in the broadest sense of the term), there are two tiers to consider in defining the stance of critical/emotional evolution and thought, for active participants and neutral parties all. The first, personal identity, is by nature of social issue often swept to shadow by the second, communal identity. I think that’s a major sticking point in debates such as the Tomb Raider one.
When one’s communal affiliation is at work on issues/changes to basic social structure then it’s acceptable to give up the identity of the individual for the general culmination of the group, but when the focus stops on a thing–something inert elevated as a symbol–the generalities (statements of cause-and-effect, arguments, meaning) no longer reasonably acknowledge the individuals of the community and the movement can splinter. Maybe this is just a cosmic fallacy in all instances where the many speak for the solitary on issues whose core importance is inextricable from the near-infinite set of unique individual experience. Maybe I’m just over-thinking an aspect that is both immutable and unimportant.
At any rate, I feel that in this case I’ve become a splinter inside the feminist community. The statements of condemnation for both game developers and games consumers from powerful feminist vocalists, accusing sexism, misogyny, perpetuating rape culture, white knighting etcmade the divide between my identity and that of the tribe an open wound of (what I felt at first) betrayal, even dismissal.
To try and put it simply: this controversy put me at odds with the feminist community over core facets of my personal identity, specifically the ever-raw part of me that is both victim and survivor of domestic/sexual abuse. It stopped me stark, made me doubt then re-evaluate, and now reply even though (as an individual speaking to a community) I still fear being cast out altogether for failing to connect in this minor entreaty.
But most of all and true to my nature, it makes me angry.
That anger defiantly shouts to my own community: STOP SPEAKING FOR ME.
Okay, but why should they? Where does all this quasi-philosophical cork whittle down to “STFU” in conjunction with Tomb Raider? Uh, well, let me see if I can rein myself in and spit it out.                                                  [Cont’d Part 3]

Dark, Ugly, Brilliant: ‘The Snowtown Murders’

When I think about enduring an illness during winter months, I envision a lot of couch-lounging movie marathons. Unfortunately (and this will be the last whaaambulance call about me being sick, promise!) I’ve been so sick that sleep took priority over my inner film freak. I did manage to watch a few, so let me kick off my return with one of the most intense movies I’ve ever seen: Australian director Justin Kurzel‘s debut The Snowtown Murders.

Reviewers say “[a specific disturbing] film made me feel so dirty that I had to shower after watching it”, but I never empathized with the sentiment. My experience with dark and disturbing films is extensive, so does that makes me some kind of insensitive degenerate? Dunno. After watching The Snowtown Murders, I can say that I finally understand what everyone else means about a movie temporarily impacting their moral self-image.

Australian Tragedy Breeds Australian Cinematic Genius

***TRIGGER WARNING: Pedophilia, Homophobia, &  Animal Cruelty***

The Snowtown Murders is a harrowing dramatization of the people and events surrounding Australia’s worst serial killer, John Bunting. In fact, Wikipedia states the details of the case were suppressed to the public until the producers of this film petitioned for them in order to make the film.  In addition to being among the most prolific crime stories of the country, the murders are unique for involving six perpetrators of the serial killings (usually no more than two are involved.)

Kurzel’s film does a masterful job of developing the involved characters. While the film has scenes of nakedly brutal violence and abuse, the choice to focus on the group of personalities successfully brought home the stark horror better than gore-sploitation could ever do. The acting is flawless to the point that these people seem like the real deal.

Our main POV is Jaime (Lucas Pittaway), teenage son of Elizabeth Harvey. Early on in the movie we witness Elizabeth’s boyfriend being sexually inappropriate with Jaime and his two younger brothers in scenes that are not horrifically explicit but are so poignant that they don’t need to be. When police do nothing, the opportunity for John Bunting to melt into and over their lives through mutual friend Barry (a pre-op transexual with a young boyfriend named Robert,) is opened.

Bunting (spectacularly portrayed by Daniel Henshall) is a charismatic, passionate personality known for openly loathing pedophiles (and homosexuals) and talks of taking action. Bunting becomes a father figure to the boys, bonding closely with Jaime. Can’t say enough about the acting; Henshall makes Bunting a truly charming figure, fully realized in his care for the boys just as he is in his twisted fury against pedophiles.

Slowly–this movie is paced with measured cadence–impressionable Jaime is drawn into Bunting’s escalating hatred and violence. We hear a voice mail from Barry stating that he is leaving town while his boyfriend Robert is indoctrinated by Bunting. We see slices of Jaime’s closest friendship with a drug addict named Gavin. We watch the neighborhood through Bunting’s gaze, focused on the wayward and the not-quite-right. We see a boiling danger underneath a mending family finally finding the love and guidance of a dominant male figure.

We don’t see any on screen brutality until two-thirds of the movie has set a scene so gritty and grim, so tense and foreboding that I actually had to press pause a few times to take a cigarette break in another part of my house just to remove myself from the bleak immersion. (That’s not something I’d normally do, you guys. Even now, writing this, I need to listen to some upbeat music.) The details are yours to learn either from the film or the written history; it’s not so much that there are major spoilers, but there is no need for me to give the play-by-play when the events speak for themselves.

What should be noted is the portrayal of Jaime’s unwilling but unavoidable journey into this irredeemable hell. It’s amazing, it’s haunting, and it’s at the heart of “dirty” feeling that settled over me after I finished the film. Watching such a lost, hurt soul in the full revolution of transition isn’t a new story arc but is at its zenith in this film. From innocence taken to influence to systematic mental break down to breaking point to assimilation, Pittaway’s performance as Jaime is so horrifyingly stark (and as far as I can tell, true to history) that it’s harder to deal with in the film’s immersion than Bunting’s ruthless madness. I knew going in that it was based on reality, but goddamnit, it was so mind-blasting realistic that it almost breaks the fourth wall somehow.

If you are planning on watching this movie, I have a specific suggestion to enhance your viewing. Normally I would be wary of this kind of influence but since it made such a difference for me I thought I’d at least put it out into the ether: read about the details of the real murders (not the film!) before you watch the movie. It will help greatly in keeping track of who is connected to who and how in the film since it is a true-to-life dramatization; the cast is relatively small but the accents and frank, open story-telling have a few “wait, who is that?” moments.

It will also elevate the last ten minutes or so of the film from frighteningly foreboding to sickeningly bleak. Why exactly would I want to do that to myself when the rest of the film is so harrowing, hmm? you may be wondering. Well, depending on how much aftermath you are willing to subject yourself to, the real benefit lies with the finality of Jaime’s character development. For me, this is not a film that I’d want to go back and watch again to pick up what I missed, so I’m grateful that I conducted some research beforehand. 

Last Thoughts

I think The Snowtown Murders is a brilliant film. From the cinematography to the impressive acting, Kurzel took prolific Australian history and made an honest masterpiece. It’s also taken the place of the darkest, most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen. (Overtaking Irreversible, Martyrs, Men Behind the Sun, and many Cat III’s.) Do not sit down to watch this on a whim, or if you have any overpowering triggers from pedophilia, homophobia, or raw cruelty. The Snowtown Murders is available streaming on Netflix or DVD if you decide to add this one to your list…just don’t let it be said that I didn’t try to warn you that this one will be with you for a while after the credits roll.

*Quick Note: The majority of professional and amateur reviews put out about this film blithely throw around the term “white trash” when referring to the community at whole portrayed in the film. I wish the folks disposed to use such a term would cut it and shut it ASAP. Calling a demographic of people “trash” is 1.) not justifiable because of the race qualifier, 2.) an inherently violent dismissal of each individual’s self-worth within the group (especially the children, for chrissakes!) and 3.) an act of burying one’s head in the sand about the vulnerability of all communities to dominant personalities by putting oneself’s societal status above those who have proved to be susceptible. I’m sick of seeing the term in film reviews just as I am sick of seeing the term “faggot” march merrily around the gamer lexicon. Struggling lower-class folks aren’t trash; people who do wicked and cruelty to them are the trash. Make the contrast.

Seriously, This Weather, You Guys!

Just coming around to feeling like a human rather than a husk, but I am hoping to have a new review or two posted later today. I know there isn’t a “PART III” to the Tomb Raider op-ed just yet, but I’ve been so ill that I haven’t even managed to have opinions lately. Gross.

Take care of your immune systems, brothers and sisters and everyone, and I’ll see you back here later today!