Mar 9, 2012

Michael (2011)

There are few members of the human race as worthy of contempt as the pedophile, and no I'm not going to go on a rant about the well-documented effect childhood sexual abuse has on the individual or society as a whole. Rather, I disagree with pedophilia on grounds of (a) it is arrested development taken to its most pathetic extreme and (b) why would ANYONE want to fuck a kid? Pedophilia to me is the most extreme form of social retardation, in which a delusional man-child who has not spent enough time with actual children to realize that however intermittently amusing they may be from time to time, kids are iron-willed little shits with terrible hygiene, awful taste, and precious little life experience (duh), or who has spent plenty of time with kids and finds the above qualities boner-inducing. Sure, there are plenty of why's, often pointing to abuse in the pedo's own childhood, but do we weep in sympathy when we see a thirty year old man decked out in Spiderman PJ's playing Xbox in his parent's basement? A pedophile is essentially that guy, only instead of trying to grasp onto childhood via video games or buying seasons of beloved Saturday morning Hanna-Barbera shitfests on Blu-Ray, he tries to re-live the sexual excitement of playing "house" for the first time.

You see, most of us at some point or another, have better, wetter, and altogether more satisfying sexual experiences when we "put away the childish things" and make our way through high school and into the early years of adulthood. This is when the human being of either sex is both at peak physical form AND often blissfully unaware of the power the wield over interested parties, thus enabling schlubs like us to experience the divinity of silky smooth skin, taut firm breasts, rock-hard boners and abs, and the incomparable beauty of age-appropriate braces. This is why "teen" is probably the most popular category of pornography, at least in terms of search results. Pedophiles, I'd say, tend to be those who missed out on some of those pivotal experiences and continued to fixate on the only sexual experiences they've had, be it playing house with their sister or showering with pops. Of course, I'm sure some pedophiles are such without rhyme and reason, and that wanting to fuck someone who in a year or two will be of no interest to them sexually (sounds like most relationships, though, but I digress) is an "orientation", though only in as far as a rapist could claim that donning a ski mask is a part of his "orientation", and something to take pride in. However fringe, there are groups like Nambla (Ginsberg dug 'em) and "activists" like Lindsay Ashford who attempt to put a "human face" on the affliction- a pasty, doesn't-get-out-much, relies on checks from mom, collects Star Wars memorabilia face, but a face nonetheless. Guys who take great care in stressing that somehow being a "girl lover" or someday-diddler of boys doesn't translate into being a "molester", and that often feel isolated from society at large, ostracized for their "beliefs", and as a result, are often suicidal. On the flip side are parents groups, the media, and politicians, who use the fear of these failures to rally the public into all kinds of hysterics. Just look at all of the "ritual abuse" at daycares in the eighties, in which prosecutors, law enforcement, and bewildered kids worked themselves into a frenzy and used the mere spectre of childhood sexual abuse to send countless innocent people to prison, people who no doubt could not understand what the fuck was going on. Who would want to "schtup" one of those little snotnoses anyways?

Which brings us to Michael, an Austrian film that neither weeps for the titular pedo nor works itself into hysterics over its subject matter- five months in the life of man who keeps a young boy locked in his basement as a sex slave. Michael is in many ways the textbook pedophile- a fairly immature man-child, isolated from society because of his compulsions, but still managing to shuck and jive his way through an office job, some strained "surface level" friendships, and keeping the family at bay with tales of a long-distance girlfriend. Michael Fuith, with his shy, nerdy countenance, male pattern hair loss, and pale "doesn't get out much" complexion, is dead-on in the title role. Where Michael differs from many pedophiles is that, rather than simply beating off to Tiger Beats in view of playgrounds or offering to babysit his sister's kids, Michael has himself his very own Wolfgang (a heartbreaking performance by David Rauchenberger), a ten-year old boy kept locked in the basement of his state-of-the-art flat. The film is an extreme exercise, not in terms of the specifics of what is shown onscreen (in fact, there is not a single scene of molestation in the entire film, and the only questionable moment- of Michael exposing a non-plussed Wolfgang to his flaccid penis- was achieved via split screen), but in restraint, giving us only enough details to figure out what Michael is foisting on the young boy (seeing Michael, in an earlier scene, wash said cock in the sink after leaving Wolfgang's lodgings is the first overt reference to what precisely is going on). Director Markus Schleinzer, a long-time casting director for Michael Haneke, takes the cold, clinical ambiance of his mentor's best films to new heights, refusing to cut the audience any slack through lazy moralizing. Nor does he attempt to instill outrage by assaulting our senses with any over-the-top imagery whatsoever, instead cultivating a thick blanket of unease via static camera non-movement and letting subtly unsettling moments linger uncomfortably throughout and letting our own imaginations add the necessary pathos and horror to Wolfgang's situation.

As the film wears on, a surprising amount of jet-black humor enters the fray. Rather than view Michael as an 'stache-twiddling super villain, we are treated to the site of a pathetic sociopath whose life outside of his fuck slave is one sad encounter after another, whether it be painful attempts to connect with other men on a ski trip, a particularly humiliating go at having sex with an adult woman, or having to dodge the advances of a smitten co-worker. As his exterior life continues to be awkward and ungratifying, Wolfgang begins to fight back, first by attacking Michael's idealized view of their relationship (such as giving Michael a crayon drawing of a mommy and daddy for Christmas), and then by physically attempting to put up a resistance to Michael's advances and planning his escape. Michael, with no idea of how to treat a child aside from as a sexual object, meets these road-bumps with physical aggression, condescension, and eventually, in a scene that rides the creepy/comedy divide expertly, by attempting to kidnap Wolfgang a companion to assuage the boy's loneliness (and no doubt replace Wolfgang, as in one chilling scene of misdirection we see Michael clearing a spot in the woods when Wolfgang exhibits a high fever that Michael, understandably, can't seek medical attention for). The film also skirts the thin line between tragedy and hilarity in a scene resulting from Wolfgang's fever, when Michael, walking to a pharmacy, is struck by a vehicle. The absurdity of the situation is drawn to almost painful suspense as we witness Michael's extended hospital stay, all the while wondering what is becoming of the ill Wolfgang, hanging on to life in the basement.

Michael is as bold an achievement as I've seen in the cinemas all year. The effect it has on the viewer is not unlike that of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in the way it respects us, the audience, enough to show the realities of a resolutely unsympathetic, destructive main character without having to beat us over the head with how evil and disgusting he is. And unlike a comparatively "Hollywood" flick like The Woodsman, there isn't some underlying message about "kidfuckers are people, too." What we're given is a reality that is experienced by unlucky nephews, altar boys, and Thai pre-teen "sex workers" on a daily basis, from a purely objective standpoint. Sure, we see the terrible effect this has on the defeated Wolfgang, whose tears mean next-to-nothing to his bulge-stroking captor, but Schleinzer trusts us to draw our own revulsion from his plight without having to rely on any showy speeches or risque imagery, and when the boy does strike out and become insolent, I for the only time in my adult life found myself rooting for a kid to be as annoying and "difficult" as possible. As the film nears its end, unexpected occurrences foreshadowed earlier on ratchet up the tension considerably, creating a true-to-life horror film with none of the familiar trappings of the genre. Watching it with an audience was definitely an experience, as groans and often showy "need to convince others around me of how horrible I find this" gasps gave way to nervous chuckles, then outright laughter, then further groans, and in the ending scenes, a tension-enhancing hush that made it all the harder to bear. All in all, a masterpiece that I won't be revisiting any time soon, and one of the only films to examine this particular subject manner with honesty and candor.



Anonymous said...

Have you noticed how, in the media, jokes about pansy queer pedo's are regarded as funny where-as jokes about heterosexual pedo's are regarded as offensive, thats a very strange and disturbing double-standard that seems to be occuring with-in our society. Its obviously a loathsome and hideous conspiracy instigated by all the pansy queer filth that unfortunately runs Hollywood and the media in general. More evidence of that is that 97% of all (so-called) pedophilia is heterosexual and yet the faggot scum that runs Hollywood wants to make people believe the opposite. DEATH TO ALL PANSY QUEER PEDO'S, LONG LIVE ALL (SO-CALLED AND UNFAIRLY DENIGRATED) HETEROSEXUAL PEDO'S AND THE HETEROSEXUAL BUGGERY OF GORGEOUS SEXY LITTLE 8 YEAR-OLD GIRLS. Lets have some truth in this world instead of the lies and hypocrisy that we have got.

Anonymous said...

Reveiws and articles like this always get on my nerves, A: Because i hate and despise pansy queer bastards, and B: because 30 years from now the word "pedophile" will have about as much resonance in society as the word "witch" does in our society. I`ve explained this to you time and time again but you still prefer to be in denial about the future (like those people who were still in denial about electricity and flying machines 100 years ago). The people who run this site are obviously astonishingly intelligent so that makes it all the more strange and bizarre why they seem to be determined to be in denial about this one key aspect of what the future is obviously going to revolve around, namely: The complete legalisation and normalizing of what we still unfortunately refer to in our hideously sexually repressed society as "pedophilia". Get with it lads, soon the Heather O`Rourke lookalikes will completely take over and will be sexually pleasuring everyone left, right, and centre....LEGALLY ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

When I hear the word pedo I always think penis. yum. Those Pe's make me wet ;)

665+1 said...

Thank you Hamster Boy for perfectly illustrating everything I am saying about the infantile mindset of a pedophile. You live only to bugger girls and troll this website, no doubt while your mom brings you down glasses of milk and grilled cheese sandwiches sans crust to your own basement abode (in which you are held prisoner only by the fact that you are nearing your forties, unemployed, and wearing a pajama set adorned with cartoon characters). Our cumulative intelligence around these parts is indeed astonishingly intelligent, but that has nothing to do with our opinions of child buggery. It is just the fact that we are ADULTS, and have had actual life experiences, and lived outside of home, and have had sex with ADULT WOMEN, that makes us immune to the "charms" of the "circle circle, dot dot" set. I've also noticed something- for all your obsessing on the shortcomings of the British, you've spelled the word "center" as "centre", you confused, Limey bastard. You, Jervaise, are living proof of just how annoying someone with Asperger's Syndrome can truly be. - J-C

Phantom of Pulp said...

You fellas have beaten me to the punch with this review. I was very impressed with MICHAEL, and you've nailed its qualities.