Task One continued (Or how John Hillcoat can get screwed for being awesome)

Posted: March 6, 2012 in Stuff other people make, The holy tasks
Tags: , , , ,

The following scenes are taken from the 2005 Australian Western The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoat and written by Nick Cave.

The  scene depicts Mikey Burns being lashed for crimes of rape and murder, cut with scenes of his two brothers, Charlie and Arthur,  and other outlaws deep in outback Australia.

What grabbed me the first time I saw this film, let alone this scene, was the poignancy of all the characters’ stories. In what is portrayed as an uncivilized wasteland, all the characters have carved out enough of a living just to get by. This, along with the sharp juxtapositioning of shocking violence of this world create an engaging conflict.

When I saw this scene for the first time, I felt very uneasy. The beautiful singing Samuel, who turns out to be one of the most violent characters in the film, sets a conflicting, heart wrenching tone to the flogging of Mikey, the most innocent and child-like of all the characters in this film. The music creates connection between the brothers, despite their physical distance and differences.

The mise-en-scene is stunning. The harsh reality of the place is captured in the worn and dusty costumes, the thousands of flies, the endless brown surrounds. Wide angle shots let the viewer become immersed in the world, and the people looking on. It is almost like a close study. You can see the weariness in their eyes, the flies on their backs, the pool of blood splashing onto the ground.

Ultimately the horror of the scene is the moment the music ends. The viewer is plunged straight into the audience of townspeople, watching indifferently the violent punishment. Forty lashes, and blood is being squeezed into the dust. The dull thud of the whip and the incessant counting the only sounds now. The beauty of the singing, the longing and the loneliness, make the real world seem very cruel and bleak.

It’s this violent, captivating scene that is a major turning point in the story. All is lost for Stanley, who is left feeling guilty for punishing a likely innocent man, breaking his promises and finding himself jobless. Charlie, who has struggled in his loyalty to his brother Arthur, has not killed him, breaking his promise. This cruel, indifferent world has reached breaking point, and so have the characters, leading them to their final showdown.

It’s these sorts of scenes that although make me feel very uncomfortable, stay with me for a long time. So bravo, Mr Hillcoat. You’re just lucky Nick Cave found you first.

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