Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Harry Brown (2009): A Review, Reaction and Reflection Of Sorts

I watched the Movie Harry Brown yesterday. A hard watch as it immersed itself in the urban decay of post industrial England. Michael Cain’s performance as an ex-marine and recently widowed pensioner driven to avenge his friend’s murder by the local hoodies on the estate is masterful, well supported by Emily Mortimer as a empathetic police women and a series of englich acters who were able to portray the embodiment of evil and damaged social victims with made it hard to suspend belief and watch ‘Harry Brown’ as simply a flick.

Having recently seen the post apocalypse movies ‘The road” and “The Book of Eli” I couldn’t help but make a connection between the almost sepia tone and lack of colour of “Harry brown and the aesthetic of those movies. The urban landscape was not washed of all colour by the flash of atomic bombs and the ensuing atomic winter and ash but by sorrow and grief, drugs and violence, despair and lack of hope. The unravelling of society’s fabric was in Harry Brown was as marked and as savage as the other two movies, while there wasn’t the spectre of cannibalism, there was plenty of the supposedly strong feeding off the weak.

I couldn’t help but wonder what hope from this movie what answer, what relfection other than that of police indifference and vengeance. It represented a helpless community daunted and oppressed by street crime. Hiding in their own desperate little worlds. The aloneness of Harry Brown in the midst of the death of his wife and the life he chose to live was soul crushing. The lack of any meaning and purpose, artfully portrayed by close ups the most menial of tasks, was palpable as was the equally meaningless lives of the hoodies as their world revolved round a dark underpass and they seemed to venture out into the light only seldomly to commit crime or at the beck and call of an older generation of criminals.

What got me however was that there was no attempt to offer any real hope apart from vengeance and the seemingly acceptable solution of extermination of the villains. The police were only spurred into action by the vigilante killings that they saw as a gang war and the chance for some quick and in the end dishonest press coverage.

Harry does have some compassion, shown in his response and concern for a girl caught in the vice of drug addiction and sexual exploitation. He seems incapable of the same compassion for the character of Markey, played by Jack O’Connell who portrays the enigmatic and equally damaged ‘Cook’ in the TV series ‘skins’, who is dragged into the drug culture after abandonment and sexual abuse and still victimised by crime bosses, although Harry does stop short of killing him.

I wonder about a Christian response to such a setting and context. Where is the community and care and gathering up of the elderly and the attempt to see them with wisdom and energy to give back to new generations? Where are the places and systems in place to break down the walls of isolation? What alternatives to drug culture and unemployment? Where the safe spaces for young people to congregate and develop healthily for the community to come together across generations? In the end even the place that for Harry Brown is the canter of his communal activity, the local pub becomes a centre of crime. The only time the church seems to step into shot (and it does) is an old idyllic village church where Harry drops off the thousands of pounds he had been left with after killing a couple of drug, arms and sex dealers. There was no grace stepping in. There was no alternative kingdom of God community. The solution as I said before seemed to be violence.

Even ‘The Road’, with the boy being adopted into a new family and ‘The Book of Eli’ with a community of hope, ironically installed on that Island of no hope Alcatraz, with the wisdom to correctly use the Book of Eli and a young women heading off into the world to start a new way of living gave hope. Yes in Harry Brown the sun did shine in the last sequence and Harry was able to walk into the dark underpass without fear but it left me feeling bereft of any real solution or change. I wonder if in the end it reinforces a meta narrative society tries to tell itself or does the context and the film open itself up for the hope of a new imagination, more than a glimpse of a crucified Christ in a rural setting, rather an incarnated Christ in an urban wilderness?

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