I know that it has been a LONG time since my last post, but I have been incredibly busy training for my new job and have not had much free time to write. With that said, I want to keep my blog updated and continue to write about graphic novels; so, I will commit to publishing one new essay every month beginning next month (August 2013). I am not sure if I will write several essays on the same graphic novel or write about a different graphic novel every month, but if you’ll have a preference, please let me know.
Below you will find an essay on the award winning animated film Waltz with Bashir. I highly recommend the film and if you’ll are interested, more information can be found here.
Thank you for your continued support and interest.
The Impact of Animated Violence in Waltz with Bashir
Waltz with Bashir distances its audience from the horrific events of the Lebanon war in three separate, yet connected ways: through its animation, through its surreal images, and through its reliance on memory for the basis of its narrative structure. Because this film is animated, the violence that it depicts takes on an unrealistic or cartoony quality which diminishes its impact on the audience; the violence is not shocking or appalling because it is not realistic or lifelike. In conjunction with the animation, the dull and washed out colors that are used in many of the flashbacks further reduce the impact of the gruesome violence on the viewer—the blood tends to blend into the background instead of sticking out, rendering the violence less potent. Additionally, there are even instances where the violence seems comical. For example, the film shows several people being randomly or accidentally murdered through drive by shootings, a missed sniper shot, and a bombing, while the lyrics, “at the pull of a trigger/ we can send strangers straight to hell/ sure we killed some innocent along the way/ …I bombed Beirut every day,” play in the background. The lyrics along with the images cement the fact that the violence being shown is inconsequential. The unrealistic violence along with the aloof attitude, encourage the viewer to mentally remove himself from the horrors and atrocities of war that he is witnessing.
The surreal images shown throughout the film further the dissociative effect that the animation produces in the viewer. The hypnogogic imagery allows and encourages the viewer to find the graphic violence insignificant, because the circumstances surrounding it seem dream or trance like—the violence just doesn’t seem real. For example, Shmuel Frenkel’s memory of the firefight he had in the woods has many surreal elements: the characters move in slow motion which gives them a weightless quality (they seem to be almost floating through the air), the setting is very picturesque which makes it appear imaginary, and there is very little diegetic sound (the non-diegetic classical music is overpowering) which also makes the scene appear dream-like. Due to the hypnogogic quality of the scene, the gruesomeness it portrays—a tank blowing up and a child being shot to death—seems unreal, and this prevents the viewer from feeling the immense weight of the violence that he just witnessed.
In addition to the animated and surreal images, the unreliability or undependability of memory further removes the viewer from the violence in Waltz with Bashir. Near the beginning of the film, the main character, Ari Folman, goes to see his childhood friend in hopes of finding answers about a recently resurfaced memory of the Lebanon War. Ori Sivan, his friend, does not offer him much help but he provides insightful information about the nature of memory. He explains that “memory is dynamic. It’s alive…if some details are missing, memory fills the holes with things that never happened.” This information casts doubt in the viewer’s mind about the factuality or reliability of the wartime events that are depicted in the film, since they are just characters’ reconstructed memories. In fact, it allows the viewer to distance himself from the various acts of violence shown throughout the film, because they are just creations of the characters’ minds—they do not seem real.
Unlike the rest of Waltz with Bashir—which is animated—the final scene in the film is composed of news footage showing the aftermath of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Even though this news footage does not show any acts of violence being committed, it is incredibly powerful and disturbing because it provides such a stark contrast to the rest of the movie. Unlike the surreal animated scenes that allowed and encouraged the viewer to distance himself from the violence and horror, this real and historic news footage forces the viewer to acknowledge the disturbing reality of the Lebanon war. The viewer can no longer be aloof toward the violence because it is unrealistic, dreamlike, or fragmented; the people shown are actually dead and the footage is realistic, tangible, and cohesive. Furthermore, this footage causes the viewer to realize that all the previous “unrealistic” and “insignificant” violence he witnessed actually happened; the surreal animation and the reconstructed narrative acted like a lens or barrier, which allowed the viewer to witness the violence without being affected by it. The news footage is so jarring because it shatters this barrier—it forces the viewer not only to come to terms with the weight of death that is present in the footage itself, but also with all the violence and death that was present in the rest of the film.