With film narrative in mind, I’d like to discuss a sequence from a film called Red State (Smith, 2011). The film follows three small-town friends who arrange a sexual encounter with an unknown female via the internet. The meeting turns out to be trap, and the boys are taken hostage by a violent and fanatical religious group, similar to the Westboro Baptist Church in North America ("Westboro Baptist Church Home Page", 2018). The group, known as Five Points, not only share similarities with Westboro, but their journey throughout the film, which ends in a deadly battle with the authorities, is almost identical to the 1993 Branch Davidians incident in Waco, Texas (Killelea, 2018). It is important to note, that even the title gives us clear information about the intent of the filmmaker. Red State is the name given to states in the US that vote predominantly for the Republican party. The more conservative, right-wing political party (Kastan, 2018).
The sequence I want to discuss occurs just after the boys have been drugged and we, the audience, get our first glimpse inside the walls of the Five Points compound. At this stage, we have been fed plenty of information about Five Points, thanks to an earlier scene when a high school teacher is openly discussing the group with her class. This happens during a conversation about the first amendment, the part of the American constitution that protects free-speech (Rossum & Tarr, 2016). This is noteworthy, because in the last frame of this scene, a student responds to the teacher’s question, “What is our second amendment?”, to which he joyfully responds, “We get guns!”. Although this is seems like a simple line, the filmmakers are using narrative to alert us to a much deeper layer. The script is signalling to us that we are likely to see a conflict with these two principles. Free speech, and the right to bare arms, both of which are considered high priority to the Republican party. It suggests we are about to see how these ideas, in the wrong hands, can be very dangerous indeed.
The sequence I am looking at opens with one of the kidnap victims trapped in a moving cage. He is disorientated and restrictively confined. The cage is covered by a cloth, so he is unaware who is with him or where they are. This sense of claustrophobia and disorder is shared with us by the use of extreme close-ups and POV shots of inside the cage. Slowly, we start to hear the distant sound of a church procession singing a hymn. Finally, we see the leader of the group, Abin Cooper, delivering his sermon from the stage at the front of his makeshift church. He delivers a sermon about the evils of modern society and homosexuality, as his adoring followers listen with loving gazes. Throughout this whole scene, our caged protagonist is left locked up at the front of the room, in full view of the children and other followers.
Although the sermon is what we see, much more is being told to us through the use of film form. The filmmaker chooses to only show the leader from below. He is always framed as if we are looking up to him. The followers are either neutrally framed, looking up, or we see them from the leaders perspective from above. Furthermore, in the majority of shots concentrating on the leader, he shares the frame with one or more crosses. The combination of this framing and the angle of the shot is telling us that in the minds of these people, Abin Cooper is Jesus Christ, and the followers are his adoring disciples. The fact that the kidnap victim is kept in a cage and zapped with an electric prodder is a clear sign that the group considers him an animal, or a beast, as he is constantly referred to as the reincarnation of Satan. As the sermon continues, and becomes more and more offensive and crazed, so does the framing and cinematography. The frame closes in on Adin, and switched to handheld, giving us the impression of his insanity. The angles we see him from are so wrapped and steep at times that it becomes quite dizzying and sickening if one concentrates on it too long.
I think over all, this scene is telling us how these people really see themselves. It’s breaking the notion that they are just maniacs, and showing them as people who truly believe they are doing the right thing. The narrative is warning us what can happen if we go to far in protecting and executing our rights, even if we believe we are justified to do so.
Kastan, D. (2018). Red state, blue state: How colors took sides in politics. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/red-state-blue-state-how-colors-took-sides-in-politics-93541
Killelea, E. (2018). David Koresh, Waco Cult Showdown Ends in Disaster in 1993 – Rolling Stone. Retrieved from https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/flashback-waco-cult-showdown-ends-in-disaster-124074/
Rossum, R., & Tarr, G. (2016). American constitutional law (10th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Smith, K. (2011). Red State [Film]. Hollywood,LA: The Harvey Boys.
Westboro Baptist Church Home Page. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.godhatesfags.com