segunda-feira, janeiro 30, 2006

a critical analysis by Tiago R. Santos


“Dead Man’s Shoes”

directed by Shane Meadows

written by Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows.

“God will forgive them. He will forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can’t live with that”

Everybody loves monsters. We see them everyday on TV. They are permanent residents on the headlines of our daily newspaper. You can buy ‘murderabilia’ on eBay - hair samples, fingernail clippings, socks, letters and autographs of serial killers. We get our thrills from them on the big screen. Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddie Kruger and so on, a long list of de-humanized killers representing pure evil. But these formulaic films forget one thing, an essential point that is very present on ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ and transforms a common slasher movie into a character study. That all evil is human.

It begins with two brothers walking through England’s Midlands. One is Richard, an ex-military returning home after seven years away; the other is Anthony, a mental handicapped boy. There’s no dialogue, only a sense of grave sorrow, intercut with Super 8 images of childhood, Christmas parties, badly dressed parents, momentarily happiness. But we, the viewer, know from the start that this is a revenge story. Images in black and white suggest the younger brother was abused by a group of wannabe gangsters, a backstory that’s gradually revealed throughout the film. At first, it seems that the gang only want to get Anthony stoned and laid, nothing that merits the level of violence that will fall upon them.

But “Dead Man’s Shoes” is an example of how the audience’s perception of the story and its different characters shifts accordingly to the information they are given. Richard’s obsession for revenge seems exaggerated and out of proportion at first, a psychopath who couldn’t care less about the consequences of his behaviour. He comes face to face with the people he is going after but never flinches or even denies his actions. Instead, he tells them exactly what he plans to do. So, at this point, he not only looks and sounds insane, he’s almost suicidal.

Fast-forward all the carnage and bloodshed. In the final sequence, Richard faces the last living member of the gang, a man that now is married with two children. At the same time, we learn the truth about what happened to the brother - after being abused and abandoned on the outskirts of town, he hanged himself. So Richard’s actions, condemned by the audience from the start, assume a different dimension. They never became acceptable, but the ruthless killer is now transformed into a disturbed human being, someone who knows no other way to deal with his personal pain. And the constant presence of his dead brother by his side, like a ghost or a flesh and bone materialization of his grieve, makes him into something even scarier: a haunted man. “Did my brother scream for me? Yeah, he still does”.

At the end, it’s as if you’re inside the killer’s head, seeing things from his perspective. “You, you were supposed to be a monster - now I'm the fucking beast”, Richard says; as if he realized for the first time that even decent people make terrible mistakes. When he implores to be killed in the final scene’s climax, you understand that he’s the one who’s dead from the beginning. And, as you step into his shoes, the movie changes in your head and asks a question that most of us hope never to answer. What would you do if unspeakable violence knocked on your door? Would you be men enough to turn away or would you become a monster yourself?