Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mad science: This really calls the methodology of the Martyrs group into question.

So, for those who missed the review of the much-discussed French import shocker Martyrs, the plot of said film revolves partially around a cult of atheistic spiritualists who endeavor to gain hard evidence of the persistence of life after death by torturing captives into a nebulous state of being suspended between mortality and life.

Apparently, that method kinda sorta but doesn't really work.

According to a 1984 study recently rediscovered by the brains at Mind Hacks, one out of every four hostages put in "life-threatening situations" experiences intense visions. "Isolation, visual deprivation, physical restraint, violence and death threats" contribute to the experience.

Unfortunately, these visions are hallucinations.

The 1984 study included case studies from a wide variety of subjects: people who have been held captive by terrorists, kidnappers, rapists, robbers, enemy troops, and even (alleged) UFOs. (The latter were added to include cases of unverified periods of captivity.) The paper is free, but the repeated stories of captivity make for intense and not particularly fun reading.

Now there's no reason that the makers of Martyrs knew of this study, but it is interesting. Given the fact that one of the characters in the film has a hallucinatory avenging spirit hanging about her, would it be totally roaming off the reservation to theorize that this cult is really just repeatedly abusing folks in a hallucinatory state. But they, unaware of how common hostage hallucinations are, have convinced themselves that they are receiving visions of the beyond. Consequently, this cult just keeps torturing folks on the basis of a handful of mental breakdowns they erroneously take to be "visions."

Could that be why Garrett Vader kills herself after telling her follow cultist to "live in doubt"? Perhaps it isn't a mean-spirited act, but one meant to save the cult from becoming disillusioned and realizing that they been not only murderous, but utterly moronic? That would make her the titular martyr, in a way.

I like the idea that one of their victims – the one with the attached faceplate – serves as an allegory for their entire project. She literally cannot see, but they continue to whip her into what they assume will be a visionary state. She's a nearly literal example of the blind leading the blind.

Makes the whole thing a sort grim comedy of misinterpretation.

6 comments:

Al Bruno III said...

Well said and I think this is one of the reasons MARTYRS will endure is that it leaves the viewer with questions to haunt them as well as imagery. The fact we will never know what was said to the cult leader was a masterstroke because now everyone has their own idea what was said.

It is like the ending of LOST IN TRANSLATION but with a body count...

spacejack said...

One word: MacGuffin!!

Anonymous said...

I think you're giving the ending (and entire plot) more thought than the makers did.
The only reason Martyrs leaves the viewer with questions is that the entire plot (and title) simply don't make much sense to start with. Given the presentation of the "visions", however, I'm fairly certain that the viewer is supposed to believe that Anna (or whatever her name was) really manages to catch a glimpse of the afterlife.
The cult leader killing herself makes no sense whatsoever (unless there is no afterlife, but Anna definitely sees something and even if she didn't and told the truth, I don't think the cult leader would believe her) and I don't see how anything in the "confession" could've prompted her to realize how moronic the entire cult is.

CRwM said...

Anon,

As I said in my review, I pretty much side with Spacejack on the role of the cult in the movie. Neither their means nor motive are internally consistent enough to convince me that the afterlife issue is anything more than a giant MacGuffin.

I bring this up simply because I ran across the story and I like the idea that Martyrs could actually be a sort of dark comedy about the abuse of the scientific method.

Anonymous said...

I know and I also like the idea, but can something be a McGuffin when the makers believe that it isn't?

To me, the real comedy is that Martyrs can be read this way despite all the earnest insistence that the cult isn't a McGuffin, but I guess Al's comment distracted me a bit.

Jenn said...

CRwm, you said, "I like the idea that one of their victims – the one with the attached faceplate – serves as an allegory for their entire project. She literally cannot see, but they continue to whip her into what they assume will be a visionary state. She's a nearly literal example of the blind leading the blind."

Very intriguing - perhaps since Anna removes the aformentioned victim's faceplate (in the one scene that made me squirm even more so that the skin removal), they choose to make her their next visionary. Well, that, and perhaps her affiliation with Lucie, the one that got away.

Excellent post and rock on