Saturday, 4 November 2006

Free Will, The (Freie Wille, Der) (2006)

Free will is the greatest intangible (and some say imaginary) characteristic of humanity, so integral and important that any attempt to deprive an individual of their free will is a crime. Take for example, the crime of rape, where one is forcibly robbed of control over their bodies, and forced to participate in what is normally a freely-given act. Such an act, incidentally, opens the film and promises that the rest of the 2.5 hrs will be similarly uncompromising - but then, you had the free will to step into the cinema, didn’t you? Or the crime of emotional abuse by parents who dominate their children so completely that one is unable to extricate their individuality from the suffocating ego of the parent.

Incidentally, this describes the situation that both protagonists in The Free Will experience. Prior to his release from a psychiatric home, Theo (Jurgen Vogel) suffered from a violent social and psychological disorder that made him attack, batter, and then rape 3 women. Now rehabilitated from his illness and possessing tremendous guilt over his past actions, does he possess that measure of free will to deny the urges from his past, from his mental condition? Can he be the normal guy that he says he wants to be, a man with a job, friends, and a woman to love? And prior to cutting all ties with her family, Nettie was suffocating lfor the past 27 years of her life in the grasp of her father, a respectable owner of a printing facility that the rehabilitated Theo works at.

For a man who longs for a decent relationship with a woman while being unable to relate properly with them, perhaps the ideal partner would be a woman who longs for a decent relationship with a man while unable to relate or interact properly with them. Perhaps there can be hope and redemption for an ex-rapist and a girl who dresses very much like a boy, especially when the first words they utter to each other are: “Let’s skip the conversation. I don’t like women.” and “That’s fine. I don’t like men either.”

On paper, both Theo and Nettie are unsympathetic and flawed characters that audiences learn not to like in conventional movies, but the pensive camera, the striped down lighting, the harsh digital video look conspire, together with the sensitive script and the intense acting of both protagonists, to eke out every drop of empathy from viewers. Both are painfully alienated from normal society, and have to deal with their crushing loneliness, with the free will that is implicit in the numerous dating clubs, bars, sex-filled advertising and easy availability of pornography. It is a free will whose existence each struggles to prove to themselves. Vainly, painfully, yet hopefully as they seek each other out from behind the heavy shrouds that contain both of them from normal society.

The up close and personal, almost documentary-like cinematography and the languid pacing of the film prevents audiences from making hasty judgements of all its characters, and for audiences to mull over each shocking or heartening development. The film does not come with any political baggage or agenda aside from its suggestion to viewers that they suspend their judgementality for two and a half hours, and to take a second look at society’s malcontents and misfits with a human eye. As the writer has gone on record to say in every screening he has attended, “I hope you do not enjoy the movie.” I hope this movie does provoke you to think – not just about society’s downtrodden, and not just about the alienating effect of the modern world, but also about the universal loneliness that lies in the hearts of us all.

First published at incinemas on 23 November 2006

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