Monday, November 29, 2010

Fish Tank

Fish Tank is a story through the eyes of Mia (Katie Jarvis), a 15 year old girl from the slums of Essex. Mia is living with her mother and her sister in a neighborhood infested with poverty. Her mother is jobless and an almost hopeless individual. However, her mother manages to find herself a decent and gentle boyfriend, Connor. In a way, he’s all that anyone could ever hope for. He treats the girls gently and their mother with respect.

Mia is aware of how trapped she is. She sees herself in all the animals bound by chains. On one occasion she tries to free a horse that’s bound inside private property. When she gets caught, the result is one of the most frightening scenarios imaginable. She is seized by two of the owners with an imminent threat of rape. They let her go after what seemed like ages of agony both to Mia and the viewers.

The film brilliantly portrays the complex relationship between Mia and Connor. For a great portion of the film it is unclear whether their relationship is paternal or erotic. The sexual tension is palpable in all of their scenes together, but since we see things through Mia’s eyes, we are unable to determine if his actions are sexual or if he is a fatherly character. That dynamic is a result of great performances and very well timed shots from director Andrea Arnold.

Michael Fassbender (300, Inglorious Basterds) plays Connor who maintains a fishy sort of goodness. His calmness and easiness is out of place in a stress ridden family and yet it seems to provide a much sought after tranquility. His confident presence in the family gives them a sense of serenity and comfort, yet Connor is too unhinged, too level-headed for a family whose members erupt to full blast at the slightest opportunity. His life seems mysterious but less so as Mia tries to invade it.

Perhaps one of the most reflective scenes of the dynamic between Connor and Mia’s family is when he takes them to a pond. With patience and gentleness catches a fish with his bare hands. As the fish is dying, gasping for air, he inserts a stick into its mouth through its body as this is the more humane thing to do.

The movie is captivating in showing a profoundly dire situation of poverty and a set of dysfunctional relationships that have formed in such a place. Mia seems to have a knack for severing good ties she has. Part of her doesn’t want to believe in any goodness that might be presented to her. She’s right to suspect everything, for in her world nothing can go right. Oddly enough after the harrowing threat of rape, she fearlessly returns to the scene to look for the bag she left behind.

The movie never ceases to show us the world through Mia’s eyes, taking its time to do so. There is something bleak about the outlook with which we are provided with for 122 minutes. We slowly uncover the reality of her world at her own pace. In the end we have a riveting story and we see is what it’s like to be a fish inside a tank.

Fish Tank won 18 awards including the BAFTA award for Outstanding British Film in 2010 and was nominated to win 15 more awards including the Golden Palm in Cannes.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Duality of Egyptian Police

Policemen are human beings. It’s true, even though it might be hard to believe. It is one of the most overlooked facts in Egypt. Perhaps the reason as to why cops cannot be viewed as humans is because of their excessive and unnecessary violence. Our mental image of them today is close to the traditional view of criminals in the past. It is a view that rarely looked upon a criminal with sympathy. A criminal or mobster sets out to inflict harm on society to some other person’s benefit.

But despite these current notions, many will attest to having had experience where policemen have acted in a humane fashion and with a sense of justice and mercy. After all, one of the most compelling reasons to become a policeman is to be the good guy and seek justice.

The police show a blind unprovoked brutality during protests. Most non-fabricated news about protests is about police brutality. Yet within these clashes are unreported traces of humanity. Many protesters have encountered humane police personnel when they let their guard down and spoke their mind. This sometimes took the form of a personal conversation was during times when soldiers and officers were not given orders to beat and arrest.

In one of the encounters, some of the protesters asked a cop why he was doing this, i.e. shouting and screaming at us and hurling us with insults. We inquired as to why was he so rude about moving us and why was his attitude so hostile filled with serious threats to hurt us. His tone was changed by our sincerity in wanting to find an answer. He said: “Everyone says ‘yes sir’, who am I to say no?” He reasoned that everyone must say yes in order to survive. He then proceeded to say, “Deal?” as he made a thumbs up sign, “or no deal?” as he continued and rotated his hand so that his thumb was pointing down. As he walked further from where the rest of the protest was being held his tone changed and his face smiled. It was difficult to envision that he was the same person we started the journey with.

These sorts of anecdotes are consistent. Sarah Carr, a journalist and blogger, relays her experience with one of the soldiers in black during a Khaled Saied protest:
“[He] enjoys using the Internet, has Yahoo email, downloads songs but doesn’t look at news sites. The soldier seemed unusually willing to talk, and said that if he hadn’t been conscripted into the riot police he would be standing where we were standing.
- Why do you obey orders if you know we’re in the right? We asked.
- Because disobeying orders means 10 days in prison, he said.”

Also in the Khaled Said protests that took place in June 2010, Gehad bears this testimony, “A woman said to the policeman, ‘I hope the same happens to your son’. He was enraged and offended. I was surprised at his reaction.”
Gehad was surprised that policemen understood injustice. They too feel powerless in the face of tyranny, their own tyranny. In a religious place like Egypt, the cops are wary of God. In the same protests, amidst all the violence and arrests, one of the officers gathered people around him and after retelling the falsified statement released by the ministry of interior he said, “I only do what my conscience tells me, because God is watching.”

The police truly turn into demons not when they don't follow orders, it's when they actually do. When they are left to their own power lust, they can do horrible things, but it gets worse when they're ordered to do it. Most of the commands they’re ordered to do are illegal and unconstitutional. Yet orders override any sense of right.
This can best be exemplified by the women’s rights protest that took place late 2006. “The police were being very nice to us. They were being protective of us as well.”

Heba Habib confirms this report having been at the same protest. It appears that in this protests there were no orders for the protest to get ugly.
If the police can be so nice, what is it then that causes so much brutality?

The goodness of an Egyptian policeman is derived from personal morals rather from a general sense of institutionalized goodness. It is important to remember that just like the ministry of Interior sometimes hires criminals to do the job of policemen, they also hire good men to do the job of criminals. When asked to act according to the strategy put forth by the ministry, the police end up being sinister bullies. When left to their own discretion, it’s fifty-fifty. Some have values and act on them protecting and serving people, others have none at all and abuse their power in order to gain more out of people. One thing remains certain, they are not held accountable by the system.

A lot of policemen are good men doing bad things. But what constitutes being good? Is it enough for goodness to be in the heart? Is it really goodness not to object to injustice?

Policemen, much like other people, are motivated by fear; Fear of punishment, fear of failure and fear of everything but God. The duality of the nature of the police as both oppressed people and the oppressor might be vital in changing their attitude. The police are highly underpaid and that makes them vulnerable. For such a sensitive position, the government has chosen to have the policemen driven by necessity rather than by a sense of duty. It feels as though we should organize a protest on behalf of the police asking they be paid better wages. The most terrifying aspect of a protest like this if it were to take place is that the police would probably turn violent and disperse the crowd anyway.

The news doesn’t report that in one instant a cop laughed at a joke he overheard and the next he was ordered to crush the joker. Humans are driven by fear but are motivated by love. One question remains: when the police that are sworn to protect us end up hurting us, and good policemen are controlled by bad ones, who do we call on to protect us?

The words of Edmund Burke cannot but come to mind:

“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”