Alpha Dog and the Banality of Evil
Yes I know I said I was keeping silence for a while, and I really mean it. What happened was that I just saw a movie that had probably the greatest emotional impact on me since I saw Blue Velvet, twenty years ago, and my silence is being broken by a wail. This is not because it's a great movie, however (it isn't), but because the the tale it tells is, to the best of my knowledge (i intend to do research) true. And though I am usually rather thick-skinned about these things, for some reason this tale has cut me to the quick, leaving me dazed and confused and melancholic.
Alpha Dog left my psyche duly mauled by the grotesque depravity of our times. Seems like there should be a new word coined for this sort of thing, because “tragedy” just doesn’t do it. It’s not a tragedy, at least as the movie shows it, because these are not noble characters undone by some basic flaw, they are intrinsically worthless people, soulless beings. Yet I don’t think the movie was successful so far as showing that, either. Because either these kids are lost souls, damned to evil acts by their own tormented, twisted lives, or they are just robots, TV babies. The movie didn’t really make its mind up about that, and the kids seemed too “normal” somehow, to be party to such an atrocity. You could argue that this is the point, that it is becoming “normal” to just go along with stuff like this, just more “whatever,” total desensitization. But if so, these kids are really just zombies, and the film didn't give that impression. Instead, the film made the characters likeable at the same time they were utterly loathsome, so it was difficult to believe they could really have done what they did. This is especially true of the Timberlake character, and I think the flaw was in the script itself: there was nothing to show that he was so weak or morally vacuous (or so stupid) as to go along with the murder as he did.
Cassavetes was definitely going for a Larry Clark effect, and he did a decent job of it, but the film needed to be rawer than it was, and even more intense. Traumatic as it was, it actually went easy on the audience—a movie that really captured the appalling evil of those events would have left audiences stunned, reeling, like they’d been in a head-on car wreck, barely unable to get up out of their seats at the end of it (I mean the kind of intensity that Lynch got in the Frank scenes of Blue Velvet, or de Palma in Casualties of War).
I am always a sucker for a movie that portrays just how deeply fucked up—beyond all redemption for sure—our current situation is, and Alpha Dog certainly succeeds at that. It’s a powerful movie, but like I say, there seemed something lacking there. Even so, I wonder if it wasn’t too intense for critics, because it didn’t get that well reviewed, and yet it’s easily the best work Cassavetes has done since his early films (Unhook the Stars, She’s the One, after which he went straight to hacksville), and it’s definitely one of the best films of its year.
The film will stay with me, because of that poor kid and what he went through, such a truly senseless death. I guess it goes to show that evil really is banal. Like I say, “tragedy” doesn’t do it justice.
In the on-going Trial to determine Humanity's Fate - whether mere apocalypse or total extinction is to be the sentence - the case for the prosecution might well rest on the evidence provided by Alpha Dog and the horrendous events depicted. Because humanity entire is to be judged by the actions of the worst among us, as well as the best, and what is the case for the defense? It is hard, to say the least, to imagine any single act sufficiently profound in goodness to counterbalance this grisly evidence. We await Christ's testimony, of course. The devil's argument is long and convoluted, consisting as it does of the last 7000 years of human history. But unless Christ has a bona fide miracle up his sleeve, I fear God may well shrug and say, "Oh well. You can't win 'em all. Send them all straight to Hell."
Satan makes work for idle hands? Welcome to the Age of Leisure, in which evil is apparently the only adequate relief from the crushing banality of living.
In the holocaust, six million people died for a madman's dream. Yet that event cannot
surpass (for me) the horror of a single act of wanton and senseless violence like this. You might wonder what could be the reasoning behind such a statement, but it's very simple. However appalling, we can at least understand why the holocaust happened.
What could be more "evil" than an act that is utterly devoid of meaning?
See the movie.