Monday, October 21, 2013

The Final (2010) and Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal (2010) : High school re-enactment as microcosm

The Final (2010)
dir: Joey Stewart

Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal (2010)
dir: Emil Chiaberi

Initially, this entry was going to be solely about The Final and how it was a fantasy role play that was probably made by people who were either outcasts themselves or by people who were trying to enter the minds of the kids who do mass shootings.  Initially, it was going to be about life lessons and how the direction was actually pretty good, and how the movie is also a bit of a warning sign saying treat people better.  Because, really, we need more of that.

In a fit of happenstance, I stumbled upon Murder By Proxy immediately after watching The Final. The former is a documentary, and the latter a torture-porn horror film.  The former is about workplace environments, the latter is about high school. The former is, in part, about the failed 2008 thrust of Washington State House Bill 2142, the latter is about a Halloween party.  On the surface they seem like such disparate movies, but they are so intrinsically tied together.

Murder By Proxy documents the rise in workplace violence that started in the 80s, and increases to this day. It starts with the first case of workplace mass murder, in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1986 by Patrick Sherrill at a post office.  It continued with the 1991 mass shooting in Royal Oak by Tom McIlvane, and focuses on his case for its intent.  Murder By Proxy does also look into many other cases beyond these two, but these are the most in depth cases given its use of Charlie Withers.

The "official" story (and, on the Wikipedia site it still is this story) was that McIlvane was a post office employee who had a history of altercations and had gone postal after being fired due to insubordination. Interviews in the film indicate that the management had become caustic and aggressive, and had started writing up McIlvane for stupid inane things, such as wearing shorts that were too tight.  Director Emil Chiaberi found help explaining the case in the form of Charlie Withers, an employee at the time of McIlvane's rampage who wouldn't stay quiet about the injustice he was seeing.

The thing is, Murder by Proxy is about the workplace bullying that occurs in everyday society.  There are no protections from it.  These range from usual harassment to downright belittling and condescension.  In the 1970s, the Postal Service had been pseudo privatized, where it was separated from the US government getting money, and was now responsible for making itself rather self-supportive.  This meant that the Postal Service was now available to using the same hostile management tactics that started pervading all management in the 1970s and moreso in the 1980s, and still pervades to this day.

In interviews found and conducted within Murder By Proxy, post office employees repeatedly said that they didn't agree with what McIlvane did, but they understood it.  Having your fellow workers say they understand why you went on a shooting spree, is damning evidence pointing towards a shitty management in the work place.  Your employees should not be "understanding" of another employee mass murdering the management.

Since the 1970s, the majority of the laws passed have been to protect the rights of the employer.  Murder By Proxy spends part of its time focusing on Washington State House Bill 2142, which was an anti-hostile work environment bill.  Charlie Withers even flew to Olympia to speak on behalf of the bill.  It was sponsored by 7 representatives.  It died in committee in February 2008.

In 2008, there was a case here in Washington, Spain vs Employment Security Department.  In the case, Spain had reported constant verbal abuse by her employer, who also made employees stand outside in the rain amongst other allegations.  She was denied unemployment insurance, and sued all the way to the State Supreme Court, which ruled that she had "good cause" and the ESD commissioner had discretion to say that she did.  The Supreme court ruling came down in June 2008, four months after the anti-hostile bill died.  Which would be OK news...except in 2009, Washington State house and senate passed a bill that stated that "good cause" was not a good enough reason anymore, and also reduced the taxes that employers had to pay.  This was passed in February 2009.

Let's go through that timeline again.  In early February 2008, Washington State rejected a bill that would made it punishable to have a hostile work environment. In late February 2008, Spain vs ESD was argued to get unemployment money for quitting due to a hostile work environment. In June 2008, she was allowed to collect unemployment.  But, in February 2009, Washington State passed, with the help of many democratic senators and representatives, a bill that not only rolled back that ruling (allowing for hostile work environments to have no legal ramifications) but it also cut the taxes of employers.

One of the reasons people shoot up their places of work is that they are intrinsically tied to their job, and they otherwise feel helpless.  At least, that is what Murder By Proxy says, and that's rather conventional wisdom.  If an employee is very tied to his job where it is his friends and life, then losing his position, especially by claims of insubordination or a newly hostile environment, is likely to set off a catastrophic mass murder.

Murder By Proxy also sees the ties to this type of hostile environment to the high school environments that are created.  Murder By Proxy directly links going postal to Columbine.  The filmmakers state that we frequently go for the too-easy answer: Drugs, video games, movies.  In trying to explain what turns a yellow card of warning into a red flag after the fact, Chiaberi explores his own too easy solutions.  He explores fame, and isolation.  But, he barely touches on a few reasons that seems rather easy and obvious to some: revenge, leaving the world a better place, and educating people.

The Final doesn't even hold back on those lessons.  In The Final, a group of outcasts, who have been mocked and harassed daily by the various cool kids, set up a Halloween party where they plan to torture and disfigure the kids in order to teach them lessons.  The outcasts don't want to actually kill their tormentors because that would be too easy, and the tormentors wouldn't suffer enough.

The Final addresses, briefly, the whole fame angle.  And, it also posits that the outcasts have all survived on a diet of horror movies, trying to claim it is more dangerous than it is.  By the end, fortunately, The Final decides that the fame angle exists only because it is intrinsically tied to the lessons the outcasts want to teach the world.  The outcasts ramble on and on about how harassed they were, and how cruel the tormentors were, and how this will be a lesson to everybody to stop being such high school shits.

And, the causality and morality of the outcasts is where The Final is most interesting.  Outside of the speechifying, The Final is a typical torture porn where the kids disfigure, dismember, coerce, split spines, and all sorts of other violent and brutal acts intended to inflict the pain they're feeling.  And, to be fair, the outcasts really to want to inflict pain and vengeance.  But, an outcast really wants to teach lessons.  This is why the outcasts in The Final made sure they have a captive audience.  This is why the outcasts feel so compelled to speechify.  This is a fantasy concocted by somebody who has been an outcast, or at least knows the minds of those who are  This is a fantasy of vengeance that is inflicted at the highest order.

Whether The Final is scary or not depends on your stomach for the torture porn genre.  It really is pretty well made for a low budget affair.  The acting ranges from decent to occasionally awful.  The cinematography is actually really good, and the pacing is decent.  It is actually a solid movie inside of its own little techniques.  But, The Final is trying to say something about the mindsets that really hadn't been explicitly put down before.

Gus Van Sant's masterful Elephant or Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin both have different takes on the outcast, neither of which get close to what it really is.  Elephant gives the atmosphere for the killing, but ignores the reasoning of the killers.  We Need To Talk About Kevin posits a sociopath is needed to kill people.  But, as Murder By Proxy points out, anybody could be a killer in their workplace.  And, similarly, anybody could be a killer at school.  Give the right atmosphere, and anybody could be a powder keg.

What The Final is trying to be is that fantasy lesson given by the outcast to everybody else to not be such pieces of shit to everybody. Murder By Proxy is the real life results if these lessons aren't learned by the time people get into business.  The Final is a solid low-budget torture porn movie that, while bloodless and not all that scary, rarely delves into stupidity.  Murder By Proxy is a masterful documentary that ties in everything you have been worried about the business sector, and how that's turning all of America into a powder keg.  Separately, they're amazing films.  Together, they provide an interesting and horrific conversation.

No comments:

Post a Comment