Ah, Brandon. Well said on MARTYRS. I'm surprised to find myself agreeing with you on it. It's a horrible film to watch, but it's smart. And that's its saving grace. Despite its extremity, it's intelligent enough to refuse to be another entry in gratuitous extreme cinema. Whether or not one wants to argue that it ultimately cannot escape its gratuity, one still should realize how it reflects on itself in a very meaningful way.
It seems we both caught the PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC
homage. You're very right – Anna's resemblance of Falconetti is quite
deliberate and instantly recognizable. Even right before she is flayed,
there is a close-up of her shaved and battered head that would be
simply unmistakable to anyone familiar with Dreyer's film. I think it
was at that point that I started to perk up a bit. I was revolted, but
intrigued. After she's flayed and enters her state of euphoria where
she no longer feels pain, I was again worried though, even if I felt
some relief in knowing there was a modicum of alleviation to her suffering. I
just didn't want the film to make a point about learning to accept
suffering, therefore, validating the designs of the torture society and validating its own violence/brutality. This, to me, would have been way too cruel a statement to make after all we had been forced to sit through.
But the film's final turn is 100% crucial to its ultimate
refutation of its own violence and the very nature of cruelty and
torture. Anna enters a euphoric state and presumably gains insight into
the afterlife. She passes on her knowledge to the leader of the
torture society, and the leader shoots herself in the head over it. The
meaninglessness of her torture has been reveled. In the end, Anna is a
witness to Nothingness. There is no validation of violence.
In THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC
or AU HASARD BALTHAZAR you have creatures who passively accept their
suffering, and there is the sense that their suffering will ultimately
be justified or redeemed by the grace of God. But the world of MARTYRS is
godless. And in this godless world, there is no one to soothe those
whom suffer, no one to redeem their pain with eternal love in the
afterlife. Those who suffer, suffer in vain. In this way, by having
Anna bear witness to Nothingness (to the meaninglessness of suffering),
the film denounces those who inflict suffering and the very nature of
violence and pain. By positing complete and utter bleakness over the
existence of violence and cruelty, it argues that neither shall ever be
justified or redeemed. The best one can hope for is a state of euphoria. But this world and all if its hell shall never be transcended. Violence is pointless; torture is cruelty for its own sake.
In arguing this, the film's ultimately hypocritical. It denounces violence, but it displays it freely and with great detail.
It's a paradox it cannot escape. Like when Deleuze challenges the idea
of reason, but must use reason to prove it. I would still say though
that MARTYRS is less hypocritical than something like FUNNY GAMES
because it refuses to make its violence comical or enjoyable. It's interesting that yesterday I wrote about the humor of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE.
I think there is a real dark humor to that, even as it is all kinds of
nasty. There's nothing humorous about MARTYRS, however. It doesn't
allow you to laugh at its depravity like TCSM or to remove yourself from
it in a meta way like FUNNY GAMES. It forces you to confront the despicable reality of its violence only so it can affirm to you how truly despicable it is. So yeah, not your average torture porn movie.