Monday, 4 May 2009


“Man! The only animal in the world to fear.” - D.H. Lawrence

The weekend was one of glorious autumn weather, with beautiful fine, sunny days in which the temperature was around 18˚C, but extremely pleasant. The temperature dropped at night to single digit figures, but it meant a very comfortable night under the doona! We went for a drive and visited friends in Emerald, in the Dandenongs, on Sunday, which was very nice, but I also managed to do some work on my projects. There was even time on Sunday evening to watch a movie.

It was the rather gruelling 2004 documentary by Canadian film-maker Velcrow Ripper, “Scared Sacred”. This documentary is an intense and confronting view of some of the “ground zeros” of the world: Bhopal, India (site of the Union Carbide factory pesticide leak that killed 22,000 in 1984); the Killing Fields of the Khmer rouge regime in Cambodia (where at least 200,000 people died between 1974 and 1979); the Nazi extermination camps (where six million Jews were murdered); Afghanistan with its thousands of Taliban victims in the 1990s; World Trade Centre in New York (where on September 11th 2001, nearly 3,000 people died); Hiroshima, Japan (where on August 6th, 1945 the first atomic bomb attack occurred and killed 140,000 people); Israel/Palestine where continuing conflict claims victims on both sides; Bosnia, Pakistan and other such terrible sites…

The documentary’s punning title reflects Ripper’s wish to find some hope in the darkest moments of mankind’s history. The documentary took five years to make and Ripper had to undergo some serious soul searching himself in order to be able to cope with what he encountered worldwide. The film is intimate because Ripper narrates it and it is often in a way that is almost like a diarist writes – to satisfy his own needs. We feel a voyeuristic embarrassment by watching and listening to this exposition of mankind’s most terrible deeds in a way that forces us to confront our own fears and repressed emotions.

The theme of the documentary is violence and how we react to it. Ripper tries to convince us that while our primitive human nature seems to prompt us to respond to violence with violence, our higher civilised self motivates us to react in a different, more intellectual (and ultimately more emotionally satisfying) manner. Some of the most confronting of scenes for me were those of Palestinians and Jews who had lost their children. Children that were accidentally shot in the crossfire of the conflict. The way that the parents reacted to this loss was in an amazingly courageous and highly civilised way. Their pain was not lessened more effectively thus, nor was their loss recouped, but the way in which they acted was astounding and possessed of a magnificent dignity and altruism…

Ripper can get a little too nebulous and “flower-childlike” in some ways, taking in all of the blackness, destruction, negativity and sheer terror, and exhaling sunshine and positive energy. This Polyanna-like mentality can grate on some people’s nerves. However, he means well and the examples that he gives in support of his interpretations and reactions rescue his new-ageist point of view. In fact when the people in the midst of the disasters begin to give their own personal accounts of their survival and relate how they coped with the immensity of the grief that they had to confront, it is then that the documentary is at its most powerful.

Overall, I would say that is a documentary well worth seeing, despite its faults: It is a trifle too long, episodic and meandering, sometimes reminiscent of an amateur film (perhaps this is not a disadvantage). I suspect, however, that it is sermon that is directed towards the converted and the preaching of Ripper is only effective when it is directed towards those who are already sensitized to the sacred and scared aspects of humanity’s ground zeros.

Watch it, it’s a good one!

1 comment:

  1. good review. sounds like a gruelling movie. i am watching lots of martial arts movies at the mo - i often wonder if this is my way of harmlessly displacing some of the anger and emotional violence in my gut.