Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Men Behind the Sun

   Men Behind the Sun is a movie that you'll see making it's rounds on 'most disturbing' lists, and for once I'm not let down. After years of hype and ridiculous exaggeration, genre juggernaut A Serbian Film, touted to be one of the most disturbing movies ever made, just about put me to sleep. The gulf between my expectations for it, and what I got instead, are kind of the standards by which I gauge all hardcore 'most disturbing' movies. So, on a scale of "This isn't that bad, I kinda wanna go get snacks..." to "Oh god, I probably shouldn't have eaten..." This is somewhere in-between. I can handle that. I'm not scarred for life, but honestly... I don't think there's any movie out there that could do that to me at this point.
   The interesting thing about Men Behind the Sun is that unlike most movies that share it's brand of controversy and word-of-mouth, this movie is based on real events. The director went to painstaking lengths to make sure his movie was as factually accurate as possible, from the gore to the story and the characters. All of it. This lends the movie a real gut wrenching quality, knowing that this stuff really happened. Unlike shock-movies about Cannibals, or demonic spirits in the woods- Men Behind the Sun offers up lurid and grotesque content that could come straight out of a history book. It also manages to create some compelling characters and decent drama. This movie is more than the sum of it's (body) parts.

   There's a real weight to it's scenes of atrocity. It's not put on display with a kinky fetishistic side dish like Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. It's exploitation as much as it can be, but it's not played for the same kind of entertainment value that the Ilsa movies are. Which is a hard argument to make, but I do believe there was legitimate artistic intent behind this movie, coupled with a strong desire to present things as factually as possible. It's the gruesome scenes that denote the director's strong feelings on the subject. He ran the risk of making a cheese-fest if passions and tempers had dictated the script and story. The movie would've held little appeal beyond the Faces of Death crowd, but thankfully the director showed restraint.

   The movie is disturbing and unsettling because it takes it's time to build the characters and setting around the horrible content at it's core. It's not a slaughter-fest, nor is it an incessant blood bath. You get the sense that the characters in this movie feel real emotions, and aren't just hammy action figures that come with a grab bag of torture devices. It's a fine line to walk though, and Men Behind the Sun stumbles here and there, falling into the silly and overblown side of things that you can see it so desperately trying to avoid. This is a movie wanting to be taken seriously because it's about serious things. Conversations are had about morals, ethics, and human rights. Characters pose hard questions to each other about the things they're doing.

   There's real emotions in the expressions on some of the characters faces, and it says more than any line of dialog ever could. Of course, the movie doesn't have too many of these dialog-heavy moments of introspection, because the film's lurid gore and graphic torture scenes speak for themselves. If you're interested in the history of war crimes, or you just like horrific an disturbing movies- this one is for you. It's practical effects range from frighteningly realistic to hokey as hell, but the hokey stuff is a welcome reprieve from the brutally real looking stuff- so it's hard to complain. On a side note, I completely get why this movie might not click at all with some people. It might look campy, and ridiculous, and if you see it that way- more power to you, but there's a lot to unpack in this movie. You're probably not receiving a fraction of it.

   I give Men Behind the Sun top marks for being interesting and emotional beyond it's torture/death scenes, but the real gut wrenching moments are purely reaction. Consider one character, a mom, who gets her infant pried from her hands, and left to die in a snow heap outside. She snaps, and ends up substituting a small pillow for her dead infant. Eventually she's led outside to be experimented on, and a soldier yanks her pillow out of her hands and steps on it. Her screams and her crying were so realistic that it made my stomach turn. This scene was as disturbing as anything else in the movie, and that says a lot.

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