Thought provoking “Punishment”

“No man is fit to inflict punishment until he has banished hate from his heart.” – Saint Augustine.


Last year, I wrote up a piece over what I then believed to be the most emotionally stimulating film I had seen to date, “Compliance.” Mere months later, that film has been surpassed in grand fashion.

Last night, I chose to forget about my homework and watch a film. I chose to shut out the world as I followed the advice of my good friend, Austin Zwibelman, and watched/live-tweeted the 1971 pseudo-documentary, “Punishment Park.”

As Austin put it, this is the movie that Hollywood doesn’t want you to see (it was unanimously rejected by film companies and audiences after its premiere at the New York Film Festival). Drenched in political and social conflict, it focuses on the story of two groups of youthful subversives who choose the mysterious Punishment Park as restitution for their individual crimes.

Put simply, these members of the anti-war, feminist, and civil rights movement are given the choice to serving 15-20 years in a federal penitentiary or 4 days at Punishment Park — a 53-mile long desert course where the convicted must evade national guard pursuants to gain their freedom. When it comes down to brass tacks, this movie is a jacked up, realistic “Hunger Games.” Not to mention, British and German camera crews are following and documenting this madness to bring back to their own countries.

A clear objection to the right-wing ideas that run the show in this alternate universe, this movie raises a multitude of controversial ideas and concepts. Rights are nonexistent and pacifism is essentially illegal in the midst of the Vietnam War. And the conservative civilian tribunal in charge of condemnation — unshakable in their weak logic — sits stubbornly as the condemned speak with unrivaled clarity on their most deeply held beliefs.

This is a story of heightened truth and reality that is certainly of its own realm. Each actor has the perfect balance of quiet dignity and grace that in turn collapses when they fight for their passions, and the number of plot holes and fallacies in such an unbelievable situation is remarkably low as well.

I particularly love films that give philosophy to my life, such as Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York;” films of this nature always have some great climactic monologues. The following is said by the sole defendant in the second group of the convicted when asked if he has any closing remarks as to why they shouldn’t be essentially put to death.

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the tribunal, I would like to read you something —

“The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might and the republic is in danger. Yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order or our nation cannot survive.”

We might all be forgiven for supposing those to be the words of our President. But they are not. Those words were uttered in 1932 by Adolf Hitler.

We know what kind of law and order followed in that country.

You ask me if I have anything to say to show cause now why sentence should not be passed. Other than that these are young people with all of life before them. Full citizens of the United States of America, to whom the Constitution and the Bill of Rights apply — no I can’t think of anything.”

A satire on propaganda and arguably nationalism, this film is one of a kind. It has characters that bridge the gap of time, utilizes improvisation and unconventional techniques from amateur actors, and goes all in with cheap cinematography goes above and beyond, shooting genius frames that are easily overlooked — these factors create a chilling realism to what most would deem a ridiculously far-fetched scenario.

“Punishment Park” got my heart racing, my blood boiling, but most importantly, my brain churning. And not just about the film and its controversies, but about life in general. For months it seems I have been in a cognitive slump as I slowly succumbed to senioritis. But no longer, I feel refreshed, I feel rejuvenated, I feel… good.

So go grab some enlightenment of your own and check out “Punishment Park,” start a fire in your soul and educate the masses. You can watch the film in its entirety on Youtube here. As always, you can email me at [email protected] or follow me on twitter @thehippestcat with questions, comments, or concerns.