If some exceedingly effete cosmopolitan leftist art fag attempted to remake Ridley Scott’s culturally pessimistic science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner (1982) as an avant-garde Brechtian chamber piece with video art elements and set it Amman, Jordan during the Jordanian Civil War instead of dystopian Los Angeles, it might resemble the asinine celluloid abortion that is British (anti)sci-fi flick Friendship's Death (1987) penned and directed by English film theorist Peter Wollen (Penthesilea, Crystal Gaze) and starring arthouse diva Tilda Swinton (The Last of England, Only Lovers Left Alive) and Bill Paterson (The Killing Fields, The Witches). Indeed, a film theorist trained in French twaddle like structuralism and critical theory who co-wrote/co-directed a number of films with his postmodern feminist film theorist wife Laura Mulvey—a rather frigid looking chick who utilizes outmoded neo-Freudian hocus pocus to complain about ‘phallocentrism’ and ‘patriarchy’ being supposedly secretly hidden in cinema—Wollen (who is the co-publisher of various journals, including one with the curious name 'New Left Review') certainly seems to have a pathologically passive ‘female touch,’ or so one learns whilst watching the intolerably idealistic slave-morality-laden pomo sci-fi piece Friendship’s Death. The quasi-philosophical tale of an alien robot in archetypically white British female form (quite arguably Tilda Swinton at her physically finest) that somehow develops a quasi-marxist ‘revolutionary’ Weltanschauung and joins the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) after getting mixed up in the events of ‘Black September,’ Friendship’s Death is so ridden with phony bleeding heart idealism of the pedantic armchair revolutionary sort that the eponymous extraterrestrial machine protagonist actually makes the absurd 'post-human' complaint, “I can’t accept subhuman status simply because I’m a machine.” Indeed, if you are hoping to see bold and beauteous blond beast biorobotic androids like the replicants in Blade Runner in Wollen’s noble-savage-saluting arthouse agitprop piece Friendship’s Death, you’re going to be in for a major disappointment as the film mostly wallows in philosophizing about how innately evil humans are, especially of the Occidental sort, as well as the misery of being a person without identity and without home, so as to make the viewer's heart bleed for Palestinians and whatnot. For whatever reason, my girlfriend and I assumed that Friendship’s Death would be similar to an Ulrike Ottinger film, so we were exceedingly disappointed. While my beloved could only handle 10 minutes or so of seeing Tilda Swinton sporting an Arab chādor, spewing insipid intellectual masturbation, and failing to seem like anything resembling an alien robot, I braved through the entirety of Friendship’s Death and must admit that 70-minute work felt much longer than watching Fassbinder’s epic Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) in its entirety. Indeed, if you ever wondered why Swinton finally decided to move out of the arthouse world, Friendship’s Death provides more than enough reasons.
The setting is Amman, Jordan during the ‘Black September’ civil war of 1970 and stereotypical white liberal British journalist Sullivan (Bill Paterson) is sympathetic to the cause of the PLO. Naturally, the Jordanians are hoping to rid the PLO from its city-centers. Sullivan is asked by members of the PLO to help identify a seemingly Anglo-Saxon woman named ‘Friendship’ (Tilda Swinton), who has no papers nor passport and has been captured by the Palestinian ‘freedom-fighters.’ For whatever reason (maybe he thinks he has a chance at bedding her?), Sullivan pretends to know Friendship and brings her to a fancy hotel, where most of Friendship’s Death takes place. Friendship proclaims to be a space robot from the planet of Procryon who was heading to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) but experienced a major malfunction during ‘atmospheric entry’ and somehow landed in Amman where within a matter of hours she managed to get lost in the middle of a tank attack and inevitably become captured by the PLO. After hearing Friendship’s story, Sullivan makes the cynical remark, “Spectacular performance! A woman in jeopardy, a reckless act of self-destruction; it all adds up to nonsense, doesn’t it?,” but the literally soulless extraterrestrial super robot is not laughing. Of course, after much plying and prying for information, Sullivan eventually begins to believe Friendship’s spectacular tale. Meanwhile, Friendship, who was quite disturbed to see her Palestinian tour guide taken hostage by the Jordanian army, begins to forget her mission to MIT, starts sporting typical Islamic garb, and begins sympathizing with the PLO, even though she is not human, let alone an Arab Muslim. As a 'spacey, if not severely self-righteous, chick from another planet that says a lot of pretentious things like, “I dream of succulence…the flow of carbon and acid metabolism…hunters and gathers…Hijack victims,” Friendship seems like she was the victim of a liberal arts college lobotomy, but Sullivan still manages to learn things about her home plane Procryon. As Friendship explains to Sullivan, “Where I come from all the biological life-forms are extinct. After the nuclear winter, they died. Only the computer survived. Of course, they were already far more advanced than any computers you have here on earth.”
A preposterously sanctimonious and unintentionally silly piece of hipster humanist celluloid hogwash that would only appeal to the science fiction fan who thinks Spock of Star Trek is a leftist hero and appreciate his Judaic Vulcan salute, Friendship’s Death is nothing short of an archetypical bad British arthouse film from the 1980s. As someone who rather enjoyed the quasi-feminist dystopian flick Closet Land (1991) directed by Indian auteur Radha Bharadwaj, I can say my disdain for Friendship’s Death was not simply due to its cliché globalist humanistic ‘we-are-the-world’ message but mainly due to its outmoded postmodern Brechtian and conspicuously contrived directing style, grating theatric tableaux, and almost childlike essence, as if the film was specially made for the children of left-wing MPs living abroad at boarding schools as a sort of cinematic therapy for their homesickness. Undoubtedly, director Peter Wollen is probably best known to cinephiles for his first film credit as the co-writer of Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975) aka Professione: Reporter, which also features a deracinated journalist as a protagonist and also deals with themes of rootlessness, loss of identity, and civil war. In fact, Wollen would once state of Friendship's Death that it is a sort of “a sequel” to The Passenger, albeit more “enclosed and claustrophobic,” which certainly sounds like an unappetizing prospect for a film and the British auteur certainly delivered in that regard. While I am not fan of The Passenger, it demonstrates why Antonioni was a master cinematic craftsman and Wollen is a pedantic professor of plodding pretense who approaches directing films the same way a scientist looks through a microscope, with Friendship’s Death being nothing more than a failed experiment of a film theorist's hypothesis for what might make an interesting ‘avant-garde sci-fi’ flick. In a favorable puffery-ridden review of the film written by German film scholar Thomas Elsaesser, who is a comrade of Wollen’s, he revealed that, “In the early 1990s, at a conference in Vancouver about avant-garde, modernist, anti-narrative and neo-narrative filmmaking, Peter Wollen proposed a new category: films without a passport. What at the time was may be a lassitude with labels seems in retrospect to have been a programmatic announcement. Wollen’s first solo film as a director is literally about existence without a passport, and is much more an exploration of the attendant state of mind, than a psychological study of two characters or of the generic complications resulting from a sci-fi plot in a polit-thriller.” Rather unfortunately, with the dissolution of European film industries and the rise of international co-productions, Wollen’s warped liberal wet dream of ‘films without a passport’ has come true, albeit not in the way he probably imagined. Of course, Wollen has not directed a single film since Friendship’s Death, thus demonstrating you cannot get too far artistically without an ‘artistic passport’ (i.e. serious sense of identity, kultur, and nationality). More banal than bizarre, superficial than sincere, whiny than witty, derivative than diacritic, pedantic than provocative, and cold than charismatic, Friendship’s Death has confirmed that I will never dare to watch any of the other experimental films that Wollen co-directed with his wife. Featuring a pansy cuckold xenophile as a male protagonist (a stand-in for Wollen perhaps?) who cannot even manage to seal the sensual deal with the exotic extraterrestrial, as well as a truly intellectually ‘out-of-this-world’ fem-alien robot that tries to make an argument about the ostensible connection between the big toe and the supposed oppression of the fairer sex, Friendship’s Death is guaranteed to be aesthetic torture for cinephiles and sci-fi nerds alike, which is certainly at least one achievement on Wollen’s part. Indeed, if the Israelis want to scare the Palestinians out of the holy land for good they should maybe consider screening Wollen's Friendship's Death all around the so-called Israeli West Bank barrier.