I Stand Alone (1998)

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*. “Oh how I love my country. France! Poor France! All the world’s misery is upon you. No more factories. No more work. Nothing but ruins and unemployment.”
*. When did French culture become so depressing and nihilistic? I’m tempted to say WW2 had something to do with it, but Céline was writing his big books in the 1930s. So 1871?
*. Whatever the root cause, it’s clear they still haven’t gotten over it. This book is much of a flavour with a lot of postwar French literature. It’s particularly close in spirit to the novels of Michel Houellebecq. All of the same obsessions are here, from the reductive pop Darwinism (life is a rumble in the jungle, morality is just a meaningless social convention, we’re only here to spread our selfish genes) to the idolization of Robespierre. Even the first-person monologue or rant is part of the same sensibility.
*. Going even further back, isn’t there something of Balzac’s Rastignac in the Butcher’s declaration of war against the world, “seul contre tous” (the original French title)?

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*. As always with a film that crams us into the head of an anti-hero, we have to put a guard up on our empathy. How much can we relate to the Butcher? Aren’t we all a bit sick of the world? That unattractive wife and her mother, that hideous wallpaper, the disco music the truck driver has cranked up . . . the Butcher has a point, doesn’t he? This is an awful world.
*. Philippe Nahon was concerned about getting typecast as a heavy due to being associated with roles like this (it’s why he initially didn’t want to be in High Tension). And you can tell why. He just nails the part of a bitter, violent, middle-aged man.
*. I’ve never thought of slices of meat before as looking like female genitalia. Thanks for that, Gaspar.
*. Itself a sequel to Noé’s first film, Carne, this one in turn leads (a little awkwardly) into Irreversible, where we get a brief intro with the Butcher explaining what’s been happening to him lately.
*. The connections to Irreversible are more thematic though. The Butcher has a speech about the irreversibility of time’s arrow, and yet both films play off such a reversal. Irreversible is a movie told backwards and here we get the erase and rewind of the Butcher’s fantasy of killing his daughter.
*. Both movies also end with a snatch of classical music to go along with what might be taken as scenes of redemption. But both endings are also undercut, so it’s not clear how ironically Noé wants us to take them.
*. Another thematic similarity lies in the way they present the inefficacy, if not entirely self-defeating nature of revenge. The Butcher isn’t getting any payback against the people he sees as his tormentors, and even if he did it wouldn’t do him any good.
*. So what is morality then? Just the strength to act out your biological urges? The will to power? I’m guessing that may be all the point there is to it. And the message: don’t end up like the Butcher, surprised by the void. Gird yourself for battle. And please get more bullets for your gun.

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