The Kids Aren’t Alright
(Confessions, Tetsuya Nakashima, Japan, 2010, 106 minutes)
Confessions is the tale of a teacher’s revenge on the schoolchildren who killed her daughter and the spirals of violence that generate. When the man next to me walked out after a mere fifteen minutes before the spirals were even spiralling, muttering something like “Why is this happening?”, I thought him a little premature to judge.
Many is the time I’ve stayed and the movie has improved. Sure, it had started poorly, its disjunction between sight and sound, its square compositions and its slow-mo stylisation seemed pretty heavy-handed. Sure, the vengeful schoolteacher’s monotonous revenge tale seemed awkward rather than ominous. And sure, these phone-flicking, camera-courting kids were pretty odious. But isn’t that the point, to set up these grievances and then sate the audiences bloodlust with the promised fifth-act carnage? And this in turn would surely force us to question our own temperaments and raise issues of whether man, even in immature form, is innately malicious. Right?
That man next to me made the right decision. That man was spared a further hour of glossy dross. That man could have gone home and watched Fukasaku’s Battle Royale, Anderson’s If…, or read a few chapters of Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Hell, he could have watched any of the films about the Columbine shootings (Van Sant’s Elephant, Moore’s Bowling for Columbine), or even have read Larkin’s “This Be The Verse” (“They fuck you up your mum and dad”) at least a hundred times. He might, then, have experienced what we call “thoughts” on some fairly monumental issues: what it is to be violent to another human, whether our miseries are natural or nurtured, the sins of the fathers, the sins of the sons.
Lucky him. What I sat through was a film flirting with these issues. Coquettishly batting cosmetic eyelids, it raised its school mini-skirt to flash some thigh, and then scurried round the corner to giggle with friends.
The relentlessly slow sequences of aestheticised things in mid-air/dripping onto other things/chopping things/spurting onto things (what we call “slow-motion”) ceased to be humorously appalling after about twenty minutes (which is presumably why the wise one left) and then I was left with a film pretending to take on the big subjects, like a child tottering around in its mother’s heels.
Rather than trying to grapple with the fact that violent people may be complex for a variety of reasons, Confessions chooses instead to pin their individual actions on singular causes: vapid and purfunctory allusions to the mother complex, parental failure and the tencho-literacy of youth ensue, and, no further explanation of man’s violence to his fellow man required, the hyped photography goes into overdrive, accompanied by copious music that makes the film resemble a nighmarish MTV binge.
But there is a purpose to this. Perhaps aware of what the Virgin Suicides would call its “insufficiency of explanation”, Confessions tries to compensate for its frankly token psychology with another reason: Emo. The music and style link into a propensity for Emo that pouts as a justification for the darkness of kids via the vague sense that, hey, they’re just tortured teens. Battle Royale, to which Confessions clearly owes a great deal (starting with an apology) taps into, amongst other themes, the anxiety of puberty: crippling factionism, isolation, bullying, and self-loathing are all manifest in the conceit of last-man-standing violence on which the film rests. It is an allegory of the cruelty of teens and the consequent callousness of adulthood.
Confessions’ response to this is to put on inch-thick mascara and look impassively on as the things in mid-air glide by (their motion has been slowed you see), and do a lot of screaming. But even if you don’t see the allegorical potential of Battle Royale it doesn’t matter, because the dubious ‘entertainment’ of these kids turning on one another is still disturbingly compelling. In Confessions, these characters were so lacking in dimension or any sympathetic node whatsoever that they simply couldn’t kill each other quickly enough for my liking.
One thing I’d thought that Confessions could boast was a fairly low budget (because screaming is free), but it even blew that in an especially smug CGI extravaganza at its end. Some of this money, incidentally, was provided by Adidas. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason one schoolteacher only wears Adidas tracksuits, and as he is so boring as to not be worth killing, the sports and leisurewear company clearly thought this product placement worth a few bucks. I could try to proffer a reason as to why he wears these – perhaps something to do with treating his class like a sports team but the irony (spelt i-r-o-n-y, although the r is silent) is that they’re actually a fractious and isolated collection of individuals – but I think this is giving the film way too much credit. I reckon, like most other things, it simply didn’t think it through.