Thursday, February 01, 2007

Catch a Fire: Integrity? Justice? Peace? Terrorism?

(This post contains spoilers about the movie Catch a Fire)

Real life stories are tough to tell, because you can only take so much liberty in how the story plays out, and in a movie like Catch a Fire, you really see how complicated real life is.

The rhetoric of this film is a gray one. Normally if a film was about a human rights struggle the principal character would be noble and just, and their eventual victory would be highly worth celebrating. It's that emotion that made a film like Hotel Rwanda or Schindler's List so moving.

Yet Catch a Fire deals with the apartheid in Africa, through the real life story of Patrick Chamusso, excellently played by Derek Luke. Initially Chamusso gets wrongly accused of a terrorist activity. Yet the reason he's wrongly accused is partially linked to his calling in sick to work and sneaking off to visit a woman whom he had an affair and a child with. Chamusso does something morally wrong, and at the same time his punishment is incongrous with his crime.

Yet the terrible torture he under goes pushes him to care about the white/black struggle in South Africa, even though before he avoided the controversy and tried to remain under the radar. So now his 2nd wave of ill behavior is in alignment with his first punishment. Yet, this only distances him more from his wife and family, and really creates a dilemna for a modern western audience.

It is obvious that the apartheid is very evil, and as I really saw in the book Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog, you really see that the atrocities by the African National Congress, and the white minority were equally horrific, and it is no different in this film, although Phillip Noyce tries to tell the story as though the ANC (African National Congress) is completly honorable for fighting against injustice. Yet, a western audience has got to also question to appropriateness of the ACN planning massive small cell terrorist attacks, thinking of recent terrorist attacks in America, Europe, and the Middle East.

In this regard, I think Catch a Fire is excellent film for discussion. What does it say about integrity? Justice? Peace? Terrorism? And the follow question then, is do you agree with the message of Catch A Fire?

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Wasp Jerky said...

Terrorism is a complicated thing. Technically the Boston Tea Party was an act of terrorism, for instance, despite what we'd like to tell ourselves. It's understandable to want to the world in black and white, but real life is as gray as can be.

Anonymous said...

RC, my husband and I just watched "Catch A Fire" a few days ago. Like you, I felt very conflicted throughout the movie. As wasp jerky points out, "terrorism" IS in the eye of the beholder. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. I appreciated that the producers had the courage to depict the complexity of the larger struggle against apartheid and of the individual Patrick Chamusso. It was a nuanced and honest portrayal and I think that was what made it so unsettling.

While I was appalled at the brutality of the Boers, I found myself struggling with the issue of violence as a means of liberation. If it is wrong for the oppressor, is it not also wrong for the oppressed? I did like that the movie ended on a positive note, focusing on the liberating power of forgiveness.

BTW, thanks for the book suggestion you posted on my blog.

Anonymous said...

RC, this is exactly the kind of post we need! However, I have yet to see this film, so I don't have any comments on my perceptions.

A couple great films that also deal with the questions of terrorism: Heaven, Paradise Now.

Pfangirl said...

As a South African (fortunately born at a time when apartheid was being dismantled), Country of My Skull was a heart-wrenching read.

If you haven't seen it, check out the movie, starring Juliette Binoche and Samuel L Jackson (directed by John Boorman). Like the book it provided a refreshing balanced view of atrocities in SA's past.

James said...

My primary concern with this film was Tim Robbins. I thought he did such a great job at humanizing the cop that I wound up rooting for him instead of Derek Luke. At the end when the voiceover called him a monster, I was a bit taken aback, as I realized how excellence made the film miss its mark, at least for me