Punishment Park Reviews
I found Peter Watkins' 1971 film 'Punishment Park' to be more relevant today than ever. With the current state of political upheaval by newly elected American President Donald Trump and his cabinet of millionaires/billionaires, one can draw extreme parallels between the reign of Richard Nixon and America's current political apocalypse. 'Punishment Park' is frighteningly pertinent in the 21st century even though it was released 46 years ago.
The film is a mockumentary following the arrest and sentencing of numerous anti-war protesters during the Vietnam War in California. A pseudo-documentary film crew follow the defendants while they flee for their lives through the torturous California desert. All of the accused have the option of going straight to federal prison for an egregious amount of time or partaking in Punishment Park for up to three days.
The movie is set in 1970 during the intensifying war in Vietnam. Anti-war sentiments were at an all-time high in the United States during this period. Many of the respondents were of all different sorts of movements including students, democratic socialists, the Black Panther party and the feminist movement. These people were vilified and ostracized by there then current political administration not unlike the current climate of right-wing extremists who want to Nazify the United States.
Although it is fictional, the tortuous techniques applied in the film are horrifyingly relevant to the practices involved in places like Guantanamo. They are withheld food and water in 100-degree weather while running blindly through a desolate landscape trying to reach the final goal of obtaining freedom. Being hunted by the police state in the process, they band together in order to stay alive and finish the course. It reminded me a lot of 'The Hunger Games' trilogy in which a similar scenario plays out. I wouldn't be surprised if this film was the inspiration behind that trilogy of books.
Overall I thought it was very well acted and directed. You get a sense that these are real people who are going through a very real tragedy of American injustice. It comes across like there was a lot of impromptu dialogue and adlibbing going on with the cast in the movie. That just makes the film resonate much more realistically. It's as if they truly were experiencing the desperation and anxiety of facing hard time in a prison or playing this weird game of criminal justice.
The effects of people dying from gunshots in the desert was strikingly realistic. The greatest thing about this film is that it comes across as very true to life. Suffering dehydration and starvation while striving to survive under such extenuating circumstances is almost heartbreaking. You can't help but root for the accused and the hope that they make it to the flag at the end of course and that their sentences are expunged.
The only drawback I really found with the film was the finale. Without spoiling it, it leaves you wanting to know more about the outcome of some of the characters and perhaps if there will be any retribution for the police state that is so overtly corrupt and ignorant. It is highly reminiscent of our current and future state of affairs in America.
At the end of it all, this film should be watched with the current political climate in mind. I found it to be extremely apposite of what our future holds, which looks kind of bleak at this point. But I think if we continue to strive for transparency in our government much like the young people do in this film we can reign in on the injustices and fallacies that are perpetuating our modern administration.
Even while fictional, Punishment Park is as real as it gets with its unprecedented political commentary which brings towards many disturbing as well as thoughtful moments regarding justice and violence all under a format that adds to its political stances and to the harsh feelings it wants to convey.
The pseudo documentary switches between the harrowing experiences of those who are forced to run through the Mojave in the scorching midday sun and whether the freezing heat of the night and those who are standing trial to allegations of dissent against the establishment of the govt.
The characters are portrayed realistically and with appropriate attire - with those advocating dissent shown to be dressed up in casuals and no concern about how they're dressed and those who are sitting on the bench in proper formal and dignified attire.
Through these polemical discourses, the director seeks to provoke a dialogue or start a debate among the national leaders or all those who want to have a say about the issues that plague America and which has caused so much unrest and friction.
This documentary is certainly one-sided but also it is trying portray the chaotic times that America had witnessed earlier in the sixties in a pictorial and allegorical form, where trust between the authorities and the citizens were at their lowest. Thus is it renders a necessary viewing to those who seek to learn about the ideas that were in the political climate. And also the totalitarian nature of those who run the power.
What is striking is the thin line of difference between past times and today: the conservative, narrow-minded social/political/economical quotes that the authorities use in order to justify their "merits" and actions forcefully imposed over any geographical area with an 'x' amount of population, AND the idealized version of the rebellious ambitions that have influenced the stream of thinking and action of modern youth, who nowadays come to be our parents. If God allows it, we may have children too, yet self-justice and selfish proclamations over the rights of an individual have always caused the same outcome everywhere: violence (raised to any level you want: manifestations, riots, guerrillas, wars, genocides).
The more decades pass, the more blind souls should realize that there is only one solution to the problem of international social injustice: Christ in the hearts of humanity. Trust in man's limited judgment, and you're officially f****d.
Though it feels like a half an hour film stretched out to 80 minutes and it's very much a movie made for the late 1960's and doesnt have much ressonence today.
It does have a great last 30 minutes or so which is done brilliantly