Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Edukators

This is one of the most provocative movies I've seen this year. It explores rebellion, capitalism, greed, grassroot revolutions, society, and morality, amongst other topics. I knew about it when it was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, and had always wanted to see it but never had the chance.

The movie is about two young men who break into rich people's houses, re-arranging the furniture, and leave a note say "The days of plenty are numbered" or "You have too much money". They call themselves 'The Edukators', to 'educate' rich people that it is 'crime' to hoard their wealth when many poor people are suffering. The girlfriend of one of them was indebted to a very rich CEO, Hardenberg, for 100,000 euros, after totalling his car during a car accident. She had to work her whole life to pay back the debt. When she found out they were The Edukators, she persuaded them to break into Hardenberg's mansion. Hardenberg eventually saw them breaking in, and the three of them kidnapped him to the mountains. There, Hardenberg revealed that he used to be a rebel like them when he was their age. A week later, the three realised that it was wrong for them to kidnap him, so they drove him back to his mansion. Hardenberg initially was not going to report to the police, but later changed his mind and reported them. Luckily, they knew he was going to report them early on, so they had left before the police came.

One of the most striking revelations in the movie was that Hardenberg was once a live-free-or-die rebel like the 3 youngsters, but eventually became a capitalist himself. How could someone so full of ideals and aspirations become such a confirmist? After he got married and have children, he had a lot of bills to pay, so he began wanting the next promotion and the money that comes with it; and before he knew it, he became a hard-hearted capitalist, chasing after wealth and material. He admitted that he once thought of giving it all up, moving to the suburbs with his wife and becoming a school teacher, but that thought never became reality. The 'crime' of being a capitalist today, as one of the young characters said, is that workers at the bottom are being exploited by people at the top to produce fat profits for the company, and therefore fat bonuses for people at the top. 'Factory workers in Vietnam who make 30 euros a year would also have appreciated a fair pay,' the girl said. The line, 'inventing the rifle is different from pulling the trigger', points out that the problem is not in capitalism itself, but in the people who exploits workers to achieve maximum profits in the name of capitalism. Unfortunately, in the current age, most capitalist systems are riddled with people who twists capitalism into something inhumane and unsustainable. The same has been true for communism, which historically has been twisted to achieve inhumane goals.

From Hardenberg's eventual conformity, it follows that one of the main contentions of the movie is how our surroundings shape our sense of morality. It is metaphorical that Hardenberg was kidnapped from his lavish mansion in the capitalist city, and brought to this basic wooden hut at the top of the mountains, where he can't even reach the nearest store without driving for half an hour. For a week, he had no access to money and the luxuries of urban living. He was 'removed' from the capitalist world. Living with The Edukators reminded him that he was once like them, a young anti-capitalism, against the system and surrounded by 'free love'. You can feel his gradual assimilation into the group of rebels, and voluntarily forgave the girl of her debt. One would almost think that the experience has cleansed him of capitalism. So it was not surprising that, upon returning to his lavish mansion, where he was alone with his material belongings, he almost became a wreck and plunged into a moral crisis, questioning his life and what he has become. In an unexpected twist of events, he reported The Edukators to the police. Surrounded again by material and capitalism, he can't help but act to protect his properties and way of life, forgetting his transformation in the mountains. Fortunately, The Edukators were one step ahead of him, and had long left their residences, going on a trip in exile.

Hardenberg's 'relapse' is a reminder that what we do and think are often shaped by our environment and what others think. It is very difficult to go against the flow and most people don't succeed. The Edukators left the note "Some people never change" in their residence before they left. In an interesting parallel, while Hardenburg was having his moral crisis, one of The Edukators had his fragile moment. The guilt from the kidnap had been too much, and he almost gave up the fight. Luckily he was rescued by friends who strongly believed in his ideals; if he were to fight it alone he would certainly have given up.

In a way the movie challenges not only the capitalist norm, but also the social and legal structures built to enforce capitalism. Is it right for the law to require a penniless person to payback debts incurred in an accident, to someone who is so rich he never needed the money? At the same time, why is it legal for a company to pay its workers close to nothing (e.g. 30 euros a year) when the company is making ridiculously huge profits? The movie frequently provokes questions about the concept of property (i.e., the legal ownership of material objects), most obviously by The Edukator's breaking into the lavish mansions, an act that 'breaks the law'. By simply rearranging and not stealing the objects (and one Edukator lecturing the other that it is immoral to steal), the movie cleverly tricks the audience into believing that it is a legal act, when it is clearly illegal to break into someone's house.

The ending of the movie was very cleverly done. For all I can tell, The Edukators have committed many acts worthy of prison terms under current legal frameworks, and the movie could easily have ended in a sour note. Instead, the ending became a moment of re-affirmation and even triumph for The Edukators. It was important for it to end that way, to inspire hope and to continue the fight. The movie started in a slightly chaotic fashion, with pieces of clues here and there, and the audience is slowly brought into this hugely criminal kidnapping act, where all parties involved start to reflect upon themselves, finally coming to a resolution, and even a surprisingly reassuring ending. The story seems unreal but the acting was convincing and, unlike Hollywood movies, the filming and the sets were so realistic the story felt real. At the same time, it provokes many thoughts and questions in the viewer's mind, which is what a good movie should do. It is certainly a movie worth seeing!

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