Hamlet 2 & Tsotsi
I watched two films last night, both by mistake rather than planning, practically the only way I see films these days.
I started watching this and in an early scene when Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) was emoting I turned to my friend and said “God I hate actors” which was appropriately misplaced as many of his friends are actors. So in slight shame I stuck with the film and gradually became engrossed. I really couldn’t see where it was going. I was annoyed and embarrassed by Steve Coogan’s rendering of the over-emotional main character. When the finale came along it all became clear and while it ended the film, a little like the end of the recent Nativity 2, it also popped the bubble with a message that was, what else should I expect, very ordinary and mundane: you the adult seek your father’s understanding and through recognition of that come to offer (shout out) your forgiveness to him. But that is where I feel uncomfortable with my own reaction. Why do I continue to find films which offer a resolution to a crisis unsatisfactory? On a naive level I continue to tell myself some narrative about life not actually being like this, as if resolution was never actually found, as if maintenance of conflict was somehow more honest than what is a temporary resolution at the best.
Immediately following Hamlet 2 a film started which also caught my attention. Earlier that day I had been on the telephone to a friend who has been recently deported back to Zimbabwe after over 10 years as an asylum seeker in Britain. He is struggling to find a new life in Zimbabwe and I, along with a handful of his other friends here, and offering him some limited financial support, hoping that this will get him through these initial difficult months. When I started to watch this film which is set in South Africa I was suddenly brought face-to-face with a question: where I had my friend been sitting when I was speaking to him? What sort of life surrounds him back in Zimbabwe? What level of difficulties is he facing and with who does he face this?
Tsotsi tells the story of a young man, nicknamed Tsotsi (thug), who following an impromptu hijacking of a car finds himself taking care of a very young baby. His relationship with the baby and the substitute mother he finds to feed the infant, lead him back through the emotional tragedies that brought him to such a state of alienation, resulting in a change of nature? A new way of acting? Once again the film offers a positive resolution to a violent and difficult situation.
I read a review of this in the Guardian following the film which criticised it precisely for its eventual comforting message. On one level I can see the sense in this. The social, economic, political, the material conditions of life insist that disturbed and violent people emerge. Yes, this cannot be overcome by the appeal to particular circumstances around engagement with a bourgeois morality embodied in a young baby, the notion of natural impulses having on some level a beneficial impact. Yes, the changes need to take place at the structural level. But why the disgust at resolution being shown?
The idea which is reviled is that this is a sop to the masses and above all a way for the negation of responsibility. That the notion of personal redemption, in this instance through a form of psychological maturity, is to avoid the issue at hand, to negate the value of large-scale social reform. So the true radical in this context would do nothing but share the bad news, avoid people who had found ways out, do the opposite of the newspaper that I find sometimes distributed locally, Positive News. So I, rather like the young woman Melanie I once accompanied to film about a couple’s relationship collapsing, who cried greviously during the film, I find myself not comforted by the resolution but not disgusted.