Monkey Reviews

Through the Eyes of A Chimp

Monkey Reviews
November 12, 2006

Monkey In Manderlay

I wasn’t too sure but I wanted to give it a chance. Maybe it was the slow pace that threw me off originally or maybe it was the stage-type minimalist set that I had to accustom myself to. But within 15 minutes or so I was drawn in and was able to settle down to watch a movie that was intriguing/entertaining at an intellectual level. If you could apply the label “morality play” to a movie, Manderlay would fit the bill. However, not morality in the traditional conventional way but a morality play that exposes the underbelly and the immorality of all characters involved: slave and slave-owner alike. Like Dogville the movie is set in a collective “town” called Manderlay and like Dogville there is a character that re-emerges. Grace makes a visit to a “gated-community” otherwise known as a plantation whose plantation owner has just died. Manderlay is out of step with the rest of the world in that the law of slavery is still in operation (70 years after slavery had been abolished) and this is where it all begins: the idealism and promise of “freedom” and like any Lars Von Tiers movie, this is where the unraveling begins.

Like any good critique, no one escapes judgment. There is no good or bad characters but rather everyone is culpable and everyone is touched by the system that calls itself democracy. I think the director would go as far as to say everyone is destroyed by democracy, duped by democracy and ultimately enslaved by “democracy”. Of course it’s a movie about America but it’s much more than that. Personally and I’m not sure Lars Von Tiers would even go there but I think Manderlay transcends the category of nationalism and borders; it cuts into our human propensity to think that we can save the world through our systems of freedom, through our “well-meaning” idealism. The voice of judgment speaks volumes and it speaks loudly but, like Dogville, the question that is left hanging is: what about “Grace”. What about the self-transcendent power of forgiveness. Where is the re-creation when nothing is left standing.