Tuesday, October 04, 2005
This is not a new film. The first I ever heard of it was when Harry Knowles listed it second only to Fellowship of the Ring as his favorite film of 2001. And this ten months after having seen it. Battle Royale is one of the most amazing, disturbing, and profound pieces of film you're ever likely to see.
The premise alone is deeply unsettling. A group of 42 junior high students are taken to an island and forced to kill each other off, one by one, until only one of them is left. They are each given a bag with rations and a weapon - weapons ranging in usefulness from a pair of binoculars to a machine gun (too bad if you get the short end of the stick). They are fashioned with special collars around their necks that keep track of their vital signs and location. If anyone tries to remove their collar, it explodes. If, at the end of three days, there is more than one child left alive, all of the collars explode.
There is very little set-up as to who the children are or what they've done to deserve this. We're only left to guess about that. But we get to know the children over the course of the battle. They're not all problem cases - they were chosen by lot to go to the island. They seem to be a fairly random sampling of the various personalities at their school. There are some flashbacks to several characters' lives at home and/or school. But we get to know who they are through their actions on the island. Some of them resort to suicide rather than participate in the game, some ruthlessly kill the other children (even their friends) in order to stay alive, and others band together to try and figure a way out of the situation.
Something that I feel adds to the horror of the film is that the children are all played by children. These aren't twentysomethings playing 12 and 13 year olds. These are actual kids. And seeing them dropped into this nightmare, as well as seeing them fight it out in true Darwinist fashion, is absolutely terrifying.
This film was never released in the US, for reasons that are fairly obvious, but you can catch it on DVD if you feel up to it. This is a specific kind of satire, in the manner of Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal. Nothing in the movie plays for laughs. It's all very real and serious. The deaths are shocking and you really feel something for all of the kids - not only when they are killed, but for the survivors who have to hear the names of their schoolmates who have died announced on loudspeakers and who are left to deal with unspeakable choices. Definitely not a film for everyone, but it's certainly worth checking out if you think you can stand it.