(2007) dir. Scott Wiper
Often I will pick a couple of movies to play either as a double feature or simply to watch in comparison. I find it an interesting approach, comparative but also potentially enlightening, allowing one to shed light or perspectives on the other. Sometimes just for a good ol’ double feature…fun, fun, fun.
What I didn’t realize, having just watched the documentary American Cannibal: The Road to Reality (2006), was that by placing The Condemned, the “Stone Cold” Steve Austin “star vehicle”, that I had stumbled on an interesting point of comparative analysis about “reality television” and culpability in lowering the cultural bar to the absolutes of depths.
Whereas American Cannibal: The Road to Reality was a documentary about a cheapo reality show in which the contestants think that they have to eat someone at the end of the day to win the game, The Condemned is about “reality internet” (not television, but same difference) in which 10 condemned death row murderers are culled from “third world country” prisons and set on an island to fight to the death. Winner gets freedom and money, losers all die.
The irony, and this is real, true irony, is that this film, a violent action film about people killing each other with a lot of fighting and rooting for the good guys over the bad guys (even in death row killers ranks there are good guys and bad guys), is that the film is ostensibly critiquing the blood-thirsty nature of the humanity that pays to see this stuff. And the highest point of criticism is the megalomaniacal producer who dreampt up all this stuff and sets everything into action. While the film is all about the culture of violence and support for it, it often likes to forget that it is what it is critiquing, minus a real self-awareness.
The film does flicker back and forth between the diegetic narrative (fight sequences, torture, rapes) and the audience watching on a big screen in a bar, alternating between rooting for the hometown hero (Austin) and being hugely disturbed by the violence and brutality. And as the finale seems to have played out, a pundit, after having interviewed the producer (who is of course the most evil guy in the film), points the finger at the “millions” of viewers and the culture that eats this stuff up.
Wait a minute. Wasn’t this film produced by the WWE?
To take irony even further, the film is actually not unentertaining. And Steve Austin, no longer stone cold, is actually utilized well enough.
I don’t discredit its attempt to deconstruct cultural violence. It just doesn’t seem fully aware of the whole “pot” and “kettle” relationship when definining “blackness”.