Dear War Zone,
Relationships are a funny thing – especially the relationship between a man and the art that he experiences in his life. We talk about art reaching out and touching us, changing us, granting us insights and experiences we might not otherwise have known. Yet, as with many things in life, art can sometimes defy logical or systematic nomenclature. Can one truly be said to love something which has affected him to the point that he does not know if he could ever witness it again? But can he also be said to hate it if he was deeply and rapturously involved in it at the time? Is there an analogue in the world of human romance that could be applied to the important and welcome event that should never be experienced again?
I ask this now because of the way I feel just moments after your final credits slipped off of my television screen. Throughout the duration of my time with you I was struck by the artistry of your compositions, the subtly of your music, and the quality and fearlessness of your actors. Yet even though I know, acknowledge and appreciate your importance in terms of artistic expression and bravery of subject matter, I don’t believe I will be ready to see you again for quite some time. I would, of course, encourage any of my friends to see you, though with the understanding that you will be a movie to be appreciated, not enjoyed.
From the outset I knew our time together would be plagued by such a conundrum. How, exactly, can a work that deals with the enduring tragedy of incest and its impact on a family in general and the children of said family specifically ever truly be an object of adoration? Movies are comprised of visual and narrative storytelling elements, and as such can be judged and recommended based on separate merits, but it is the best of films that apply these two elements together so that one can never act as anything but a catalyst for the other. Even if you were the best film ever made, would it even be proper or technically correct to say that I liked you?
To your credit, you unflinchingly portray both the act and fallout of an incestuous relationship and yet somehow avoid becoming preachy, exploitative, or tacky. You handle the revelation of the crime with such deftness that an inattentive viewer could almost miss it. Your pacing is slow enough to make the audience feel the same dreadful and confusing stasis that Tom, your 15-year-old protagonist, feels. There is a desire for action, for catharsis, that seems as though it can never come. Even when Tom knows the truth, the manner in which he should handle the evidence and knowledge never makes itself clear to him.
Tom’s family, his mother, older sister, father, and newborn sister, are all quietly happy in the way that any family would be after a move from the city to the countryside. They are tense from having to adjust to their new life, and all are without their usual structures of social and societal support. Indeed, Tom spends most of the time alone, sitting in a state of catatonia because he cannot physically or mentally handle the weight of the dilema before him.
That you act in this way, with the presence of mind to allow your characters to languish in their private hells and purgatories, is a testament to the sureness of your director and screen writer. A lesser film would fill the uncomfortable silences and weighty pauses with melodrama and histrionics. A lesser film would be truly be detestable. Even at the end, when someone poses a series of questions seemingly meant to offer an out of pre-packaged tidiness, there comes no answer.
It seems almost sacrilegious to laud your camerawork as well at this point, but I feel I owe you at least one caveat-free piece of praise. You create – through environment, weather, lighting and composition – a British countryside of such unerring and otherworldly aesthetic characteristics that it is hard to say whether the landscape is pretty or ugly. Your scenes are set with such a cluttered, haphazard manner that they feel inhabited and organically cultivated rather than created. The conversations at the outside of Tom’s bubble of perception are half-heard and take on a sinister ring inside of your damp cottage and low-lit pubs.
I might call some of your scenes a tad predictable, but not because they are well-worn tropes or lazy cliches. Rather, they are the inevitable and sadly plausible outcomes of the story before us. They are the logical offshoot what happens when a boy who barely looks as though he fits inside of his own skin is suddenly made to be the protector of a family inside of which he no longer feels safe.
War Zone, you are beyond a shadow of a doubt a powerful, noble, well-crafted piece of film. Were the talents and strengths that you have in your favor applied to another subject I might be able to say that I would love to see you again and again. However, the bleakness and discomforting nature of your subject matter makes another encounter between us something that I fear will not occur for some time. Don’t fret though, you are not alone in this artistic limbo – you stand among such powerful works as Requiem for a Dream and Revolutionary Road.
With boundless admiration,
Brian J. Roan