Saturday, July 10, 2010

Crime Story

I suppose it’s nothing unusual that I’m fascinated with some Crime stories. A lot of people are. Some like Italian mobster fiction, some like stories of serial killers, some like hard boiled detective stories, and some like clever deductions. I enjoy some of all of that. I must admit a certain preference for British gangster films, the books of Jim Thompson, and the true-crime stories of John Dillinger, Jacques Mesrine, and Charles Bronson, but these are preferences, not hard-and-fast rules. I still think that Good Fellas, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Detour, and the Usual Suspects are all fine movies.
However, I just saw a very interesting take on crime stories in 2009’s Bronson. I suppose if you cannot be bothered to follow the links, a sentence might do the trick: Charles Bronson is the name taken by a notorious British thug who has been in prison for 34 years, 30 of those years in solitary confinement. What the movie attempts to do is let you inside Bronson’s mind for a few hours. It doesn’t propose to explain his actions, and therefore excuse them. He gives you his motivations, but it’s obvious that he’s lying to both himself and you. There’s a line in Sin City about a character being out of time; that he should have been a gladiator, or barbarian. This would be Charles Bronson. He is a man who finds comfort more in violence than in comraderie, and who is capable of art, and honor, but chooses brutality and solitude. A thousand years ago, he would have lived a much shorter life, but probably a more useful one. Still, there is wit, humour, and guile in the movie- this isn’t purely an endurance test. The movie has been compared to A Clockwork Orange, but I find a fundamental difference: Kubrick’s film, and Burgess’ book is a satire, and serves to ask “why?” while Bronson says “Why not?”. The character needs no motivation beyond impulse. That’s a frightening, almost nihilistic proposition. However, it’s the closest to the criminal reality I can imagine- Bronson presents crime as simply the man’s natural state. Mindless thuggery is simply a state of being. It’s not a larger statement. You and I are not capable of what Charles Bronson is best at doing. At the same time, Charlie Bronson could not do things we easy. I am reminded of a line Jacques Mesrine wrote, in one of his more self pitying poems- “Pourquoi vous attrister ? Pauvre chien me dites-vous ! En voilà une erreur... C'est un homme, Madame, Il est emprisonné.”
(translated: Why are you distressed? Poor dog, you say? That’s incorrect. That’s a man, madame, he is a prisoner) {Incidentally, the poem was made into a decent 80's metal song by Tru$T- Hear it here} I suspect that's the fascination for me- these are people; still recognizable as human, but so different to me as to be alien.

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