I Stand Alone: A Work Of (Disturbing) Art
Dir. Gaspar Noe (1998)
I recently watched Gaspar Noe's Seul Contre Tous, or I Stand Alone, and I gotta say, for once I managed to catch a flick worth the hype. The movie was about an unnamed horsemeat butcher known simply as "The Butcher", who served a prison stint for almost killing a man who had tried to take advantage of his daughter. He was released from prison, his daughter was put in a home, and he tries to start a new life, without his daughter, upon release. Prior to this, in a very quick montage that summarizes the man's life up to now, we also learn that he harbors secret sexual desire for his daughter. As the movie really gets started, we have learned all we need to know about The Butcher: that he is a sexually repressed, lonely, fucked up human being. Unfortunately for him, as his release from prison coincides with a terrible downturn in the economy, he is left dependent on a rich mistress that allowed him to work in her shop. This is where things start to take a turn for the worse for our antihero.
His mistress is pregnant, so they decide to move together from the city to the suburbs, where she will give him some of her fortune to open his own butcher shop. However, as he finds what he believes to be the perfect shop, his mistress puts her foot down, telling him its too expensive. This leads him to feel that he's being controlled, and leads to a particularly vitriolic view of his new woman. As things progress, and he feels more and more bitter towards her, he eventually views her as the enemy, culminating in him beating her in the stomach and inducing the miscarriage of their child. He discovers that his mistress keeps a gun in their apartment, and he takes it and runs away, knowing that this act of violence will lead him back to prison. The last act of the movie is his subsequent return to the city, where he tries and fails to set himself up with a new life, discovering that all of his friends from his old life either can't or outright refuse to help him, further fueling his despair, desperation, and loneliness.
Much of the dialogue of this film is made up of the internal ramblings of The Butcher, and we are led down the rabbit hole of madness and anger that develops his character throughout the movie. He is clearly disturbed, and is full of anger and blame for everyone he comes into contact with. It is here that our character development really leads to how I personally view The Butcher. I think that he is a narcissistic, nihilistic, prick that doesn't take any responsibility for his actions. He blames everyone else for his own mistakes, and truly seems to believe that there's nothing wrong with his actions because they serve him, and he deserves it. He seems to be a true sociopath, only concerned with his wellbeing, and seems to lead himself to believe that what suits his wellbeing will also suit that of others around him, especially those he cares about. There is no better example of this than the way he treats his daughter. He has abandoned her for many years, and, as his life is reaching its ultimate depression, he decides that everything will be better if he "rescues" her from the institution that she is being kept in and takes her home to fulfill all of his desires, allowing both of them to happen, and fuck the world if they don't like it. Obviously, this is a terrible decision, but the film ends before we ever see him have to be held culpable for anything he does during the movie.
Gaspar Noe is, quite frankly, a genius. Now, don't get me wrong: he's absolutely a pretentious director. It's clear in the art of his movies that he thinks much more highly of his work than even his fans do. Here's the interesting thing about those who are described as avant garde: If you describe yourself as avant garde, you are incredibly pretentious and egocentric. If someone else describes you as avant garde... well, that's pretty much one of the best compliments you can ever receive as a director. It means you're artsy, but that your art has meaning. And honestly, I believe that Gaspar Noe is avant garde at its best. He is artsy while still meaningful and, most importantly, watchable, and I Stand Alone is a perfect example of that.
This film, with its subtexts of pedophilia, incest, and murder/suicide (a brilliant sequence near the end of the film that is preceded by an actual on-screen warning with a countdown to leave the theater if you're easily offended), truly disturbed me.
Like this: Pretty cool, and one of the first of its type I've ever seen. I'm not disturbed easily, as my movie choices on this blog attest, but this film did it. The ending is so nihilistic, while at the same time being so hopeful about all the wrong things. He finally sees a bright future for himself, yet he, out of all of the other characters in this movie, is the least deserving of any future of all. He is the hero, yet the antihero. Noe allowed us the look inside a madman, and we are left supposing to feel pity for him. The only thing that was left unclear to me was the direction that Noe was leading my emotions: was I supposed to pity the Butcher? Or was I supposed to be disgusted? Or both? I guess I was left feeling a little of both. I definitely was disgusted by his attitude and his actions, but I suppose that anyone who truly feels that way, who truly feels that nihilistic, that alone, should be pitied.
Bottom line: This movie is brilliant, and will leave you with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. Absolutely worth a watch for anyone who can stand subtitles, and unless you speak French you'll need them. As good as his other masterpiece, Irreversible in my not so humble opinion.