Monday, September 22, 2008

Film Review--Made in Britain

Made in Britain
directed by Alan Clarke
written by David Leland
starring Tim Roth, Geoffrey Hutchings, Sean Chapman, Eric Richard, Bill Stewart, Terry Richards

Set in Thatcher’s England, during mad rushes of unemployment, the vaunted “No Future”, this film categorizes a disconnect between compromising to societal demands and the frustrated, intensely personal urgencies of the individual.

Tim Roth, in his first screen performance, is Trevor, a skinhead whose affiliation is bravely displayed in the form of a swastika on his forehead between his eyes. He is rabid, unwilling to be corralled into the pigeonholes that the vast majority of goodly citizens gladly ease themselves into. He commits random acts of defiance–either smashing windows of “Paki’s”, nicking cars, and otherwise demonstrating an acute mistrust of authority. As the film opens he has been placed in front of a magistrate and refuses to back down for a second. He is sent to an assessment center where he continues to actualize his deeply ingrained aversion toward anything remotely institutional. He has left school and considers everything to be learned there worthless.

For the most part Trevor’s frustration is misdirected in petty outcomes that do nothing to dull his ever-beckoning communion with his hatred. Hate moves him and gives him something legitimate to latch onto. There’s a scene late in the film that shows Trevor disarmed and vulnerable. Yet he is also scornful. He is standing in front of a shop window and gazing in at a display of mannequins playing out a typical evening in the home of the perfect little family unit. Trevor stands before this display and there is a hint of yearning on his face as if he is trying to suppress images of what family life might once have been. There is no indication of his background which allows the film to eschew any moralization that might otherwise be implemented for the sole purpose of trying to “explain” Trevor away as merely a product of faulty parenting or an insufficient environment. Still, he is a part of a system that professes a desire to help him help himself but its actual aim, fully articulated by Trevor, is merely to break him and force him into a specific role.

This is not a story that focuses on rehabilitation. It leaves the prospect open and rather suggests any number of possible outcomes for Trevor. The script by David Leland is sharp and bitter, fueled by a singular rage that Trevor spews with glee, assured as he is that nothing they might throw at him makes a bit of difference. Yet, there is a scene that shows Trevor’s deference to physical manifestations of actual authority that is worth noting. A character known only as the Superintendent (Hutchings) comes into a room that Trevor is being held in after one of his exploits. He proceeds to employ a chalkboard to map out what he sees as Trevor’s future which in his estimation is exceedingly bleak indeed. He starts off with school and chastises Trevor for refusing to continue with his studies. He works through various points that he feels Trevor could have helped himself if only he’d complied. The schematic ends with the only option he sees open to Trevor: namely a endless cycle of poverty, petty crime, and prison.

Trevor remains speechless during the entire display. He waits until the Super is gone before unleashing a tirade to care-worker Barry Giller (Chapman) and the deputy superintendent in the assessment center, Peter Clive (Stewart) against conformity and the futility of capitulating to the demands of the social order. The film is born aloft on the mesmeric, focused performance of Tim Roth. He carries the film through the intensity of his eyes, his relentless pursuit of his own system of ideals. These include, naturally, a wholly racialist and Nationalistic outlook through which he views a world he cannot comprehend or control. Although he claims to abhor blacks, this doesn’t stop him from employing a fellow ward at the assessment center named Errol (Richards) from participating in his acts of mayhem. Errol is a rather timid boy who merely acquiesces with Trevor’s deeds without once taking any initiative or acting on his own accord. This culminates when the pair steal a van from the center and revisit the same Pakistani man’s home where the proceed to smash in his window as well as those of several of his neighbors while shouting racial epithets. From there Trevor drives a sleeping Errol to the police station where he smashes into one of the patrol cars. Then he abandons Errol to be apprehended and runs off into the darkness, consumed with a rage that is both electric and terrifying.

Trevor seems to welcome any outcome that might befall him. He is not cowed by threats or any postulations of what his life might become should he choose to continue along the same path that so invigorates him. Indeed, prison holds a certain allure to him ostensibly because it would offer him more opportunities to hone his blossoming ideology while making him even harder. Trevor responds to the idea of pain although actual pain seems something else altogether. Near the end he is smashed on the kneecap with a truncheon and is temporarily flummoxed and his face registers fear for the first time. He has bought into a hyper-masculine ethos where pain simply makes a man stronger, more “battle-ready”.

For all his crimes and his uncouth behavior, Trevor remains a sympathetic character worth investing in. He’s not easily escapable or put down as a mere psychotic. His deeds resonate because they come from one who so deliberately stands outside the simple fences that keep the rest of us hewed in. Clarke deliberately refuses to make Trevor into a romantic figure as his fury and anguish serve no purpose other than to cause distress to others. Even in the way he pushes the call button at the police station reflects his anti-authoritarian view. He refuses to let up and when he is warned to stop using his hands to push the button he pushes it with his head. Earlier he went to his case worker’s apartment building and proceeded to push the intercom buttons of most of the tenants. In this sense Trevor merely performs these petty annoyances because they amuse him. One gets a clear impression that his sense of joy has been skewed slightly and he does take great pleasure in all his deviant acts. He greatly enjoys the distress he causes and takes special pride in involving so many people, time, and money in his welfare. He’s simply a kid who does things merely because he is told not to and because rebelling gives him a legitimate sense of Self.

Trevor knows he’s cunning and capable of holding his own with the authority figures whose lot it is to keep him from escalating into a lifetime cancer against society. But he also recognizes that they don’t exactly want him and other children to be truthful because in doing so they would unleash wholesale chaos and wouldn’t be able to control it. This point is at the heart of this film. According to Trevor’s line of thinking, if youthful outrage were fully articulated, if people actually expressed their true feelings, then the social order would suffer a grave transgression. Trevor suggests that society is, therefore, built exclusively on lies. He’s searching for honesty, for integrity and demands that people say precisely what they mean. This is why he doesn’t speak back to the Superintendent; he respects him for coming right out and expressing his opinion of Trevor without sugarcoating it or patronizing him. It’s clear that Trevor is a leader who, with his obvious intelligence, could succeed in any endeavor he attempted. He is characterized as one who got away, who slid into disuse through a series of circumstances that one might argue were open to him only because of unspoken needs that had heretofore gone unfulfilled. It’s interesting that Trevor does not run with a pack of skinheads but prefers to act out on his own volition with out the conforming aspects of the group dynamic.

The use of steady cam creates a fluid, seamless cinematography which helps express the kinetic urgency of the film. Trevor doesn’t stand still if he’s managed to avoid detention. He must keep active, to hurl his body forth, as a bulwark against the tyranny of his own thoughts. His outrage is not yet fully articulated as his hatreds lack a solid ideological foundation yet he is compelled to act, to do the only things that make sense to him. Still, as he is, he is simply not focuses enough to take his belief system to the next level. He is at the ground floor and has merely picked up bits and pieces that have yet to be formed into a vital, workable philosophy. Interestingly enough, if he were to land in prison, he would merely gravitate toward those with more experience, who have studied certain incendiary texts and who have become more effectively entrenched in the posits of a particular ideological system. He would most likely come out more ardent, more virulent and potentially dangerous then when he went in. Again, Trevor has the capacity to lead and would make a formidable teacher and assimilator within the movement. Prison would do nothing to change his basic world view; in fact, it would only prove to accentuate what had already been inculcated into him. So, on an unconscious level Trevor welcomes prison as a place to gain the only kind of knowledge he deems useful.

The performances in this film all resonate with tremendous clarity and vision. Tim Roth is dynamic from start to finish and the screen vibrates whenever he’s on it. His performance is controlled and disrupting. He’s a criminal with seemingly no future yet he comes across as charming in his own way. This has everything to do with the relentless of Trevor’s approach to everyone who claims a desire to help him. He’s gleefully snide, disruptive, and impossible to corral. Roth creates a character that one longs to see get it all straightened out against the terrible odds he is facing. We want Trevor to be alright, to not suffer the humiliation inherent in incarceration and we want him to gain more insight into the flashpoints that cause him so much consternation. Geoffrey Hutchings has a virtuoso turn as the Superintendent. He is utterly authoritative in conveying the hardline institutional position. He provides a nice counterpoint to Trevor’s rages and proves to be the only authority figure able to calm Trevor down.

Overall, this is a gritty film that offers legitimate insights into the nature of conformity and those forces which, due to a baffling array of circumstances, are not able to be so easily acclimated into the social order. Trevor merely represents a group of outsiders with bleak prospects who feel no sympathy toward a society they feel has condemned them to a life of servitude. Trevor doesn’t want to be anyone’s lackey and he sees legitimate employment as a noose he is unwilling to place around his neck. With millions of unemployed in Thatcher’s England, this film addresses the problem by focusing on one of the more extreme examples of an individual who has drifted into the open arms of an extreme position just to find some sense of meaning in his life. His anger is not explained in this film nor is his viewpoint extensively expressed. We get hints as to the impetus of his frustration but nothing that purports to solve anything. For this reason, it remains an important film that conveys ugliness towards an end of commenting on one specific character whose life is mired in contradictions and who owns the key to his own salvation.

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