The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

An Animated Look at the Horrors of War: Waltz with Bashir

Written by: Andrea McPherson, Special to CC2K

Image“Give Peace a Chance.” If John Lennon were alive today, he’d be disheartened to see the sentiments of his anti-war anthems gone to waste. For every well-publicized conflict that finds its way onto our airwaves every night, there are just as many stories that fall through the cracks; true life tales of war crimes, genocide and other atrocities that go undetected.

Shortly after viewing the film, Waltz with Bashir – an animated rumination on the state of modern warfare – I found myself sitting meditatively and wondering what Martin Luther King, Jr. or Ghandi would think of humanity’s torturous spirit; it’s that kind of movie. I had always believed that animation was reserved for Saturday morning cartoons and children’s films, but the memories reenacted in Bashir would have been too much for those with the strongest of intestinal fortitude if fully rendered. When it comes to matters of war, the audacity of the human spirit that would cause others to suffer for their own gain is always baffling.

On a lonely, rainy evening, a former soldier, once active in the Israeli Army and an old friend, recounts a reoccurring nightmare to Ari Folman – director of Waltz with Bashir – every night the same dream. For Folman, dreams have been as equally disturbing and obscure, yet in every waking moment he is unable to remember the massacre that occurred inside the walls of Palestinian refugee camps almost three decades passed. He is determined to set out and uncover the truth.

In dreams that often portray lackluster, stormy nights; the lead character is confronted by terrifying nightmares of his past that simply won’t relinquish their grasp on his conscience. In every dream, the man is hunted by blood-thirsty hounds. The number is always the same; 26 dogs … barking and mad. The lonely cityscape and painted yellow sky that becomes a permanent facet throughout the film serves as insight into the troubled psyche of a former Israeli soldier.

Throughout the film, a patchwork of intermittent flashbacks and interviews with old combat buddies compose the story of his past. During flashbacks, a dilapidated and war-torn city is only underscored by somber music; the year is 1982 and Israel is a recovering battlefield. Lebanese President Bashir Gamal has just been assassinated after a botched attempt at occupying the 60-year-old country and implementing a Christian regime.  A dreary landscape and the pale-grey skin of characters, seduces the audience into an entranced dreamland where nightmares cannot be differentiated with real life; an affect that would have been impossible to duplicate with conventional cinematography.  

 “I went to war to prove myself,” says Folman’s animated self in the film. Indelible words that would prove to be ironic, as Folman now searches to  prove he and his friends theory; that their mission for the Israeli Army and the 1982 Lebanese war are connected to the truth about why innocent Palestinians were unfairly massacred so many years ago.

Waltz with Bashir is a film that is dream-like in and of itself, and is propelled forward by interviewees such as; Ronny Dayag, who was abandoned in the midst of an ambush and later found by his infantry, and Shmuel Frenkel who had the misfortune of murdering a young boy with an RPG. An organic and intrinsic quality is created through an utterly honest and brutally candid unveiling of a sad truth; a heartbreaking testimony to the cruelty of human nature. With the film being animated, the audience is able to push through the jarring imagery of blood and dead bodies and instead focus on the story of human tragedy; children left without families, the open eyes of dead infants strewn across destruction and rubble and forces one to accept the breadth of humanity’s intolerance.

After the film has ended, the music quiets and the “terrible silence of death,” literally takes the stage as real-life footage of the Sabra and Shatila massacre is displayed. The muted and drab colors of the film are a bleak contrast to showing of dead bodies and crying wives and mothers asking, “Why?” in their native tongue. It is a sad and untold story.

Some twenty years after the murder of an estimated 3,000 people which would later be named the Sabra and Shatila Massacre, Arik Sharon was appointed Prime Minister of Israel; only deepening the wound and perhaps creating the urgency for a film such as Waltz with Bashir to be created.

War is never the answer…so why is it so often the answer? Waltz with Bashir doesn’t offer the solution, but it does force us to ponder the question. And if enough people think about it…REALLY think about it…then maybe John Lennon’s message will finally land, and we will start to give peace a chance after all. Better late than never.