Rated: 2.5 / 5
So this is what I call an interrogation film. Films primarily about one, maybe two people trying to get information out of someone, and spending most of the film trying to do that. It’s primarily courtroom dramas that are composed of this, with two lawyers (the prosecution and the defense) trying to get something out of who ever is on the stand (ex: A Few Good Men, Anatomy of Murder, Primal Fear). But honestly, up until now, I’ve only seen two actual interrogation films: 2006’s Five Fingers with Lawrence Fishburne (forgettable and meh), and 2010’s Unthinkable with Samuel Jackson (actually not too bad). Though I suppose 2010’s Buried with Ryan Reynolds could count.
Often when it comes to interrogation films like these, they tend to be lopped in with torture porn flicks like Saw (2004) and Martyrs (2008). Most of the time though, films only have some scenes that are like this, as opposed to having an entire film wrapped around them (ex: 1984). That’s because it’s particularly difficult to wrap an entire film around this, especially when only two actors are in it, and when it tends to take place in a single room (for the most part). It’s been done before to varying extents, like with Twelve Angry Men, but rarely succeeds in being a solid movie. It more often is tried in an episode or two of a television series (like Babylon 5, and Star Trek: The Next Generation).
I bring all this up because, off the top of my head, I’m having a difficult time comparing this film Closet Land to any other film I’ve seen, specifically. So I’ll just get to the review itself.
The film stars Madeleine Stowe, and Alan Rickman, both giving solid performances. The film keeps things a bit vague beyond the fact that she’s being interrogated and being forced to confess that she put subliminal anti-government propaganda in a children’s book (perhaps more than one). Just mentions of the government wanting her confession, implications of totalitarianism (without any mentioning of it). No mentions of what country they’re in, the time period (though the cassette players give it away), the state of society, etc. Things are kept basic and simple, just these two in this room.
The film brings up a theme that is quite relevant, and is effective with the nature of it all. That children are highly susceptible to the influence and messages of others. Easiest to manipulate, easiest to brainwash, easiest to conform. Which is one of the primary reasons the government is paranoid of what goes into children’s books. And this all comes full circle when it shows that the author has her own psychological childhood trauma that shaped her mind a certain way. In a manner that makes her defenses against violent forms of interrogation stronger than the interrogator anticipated.
Because she had an stepdad (or boyfriend of her mother) who sexually abused her ever since she was five years old.
And it’s at this point that I had to roll my eyes a bit, because even back then I think this was a dumb trope to have in movies unless there was a very good reason for it. In all fairness, they do give a good reason for it, but it leads to the one thing I just knew was going to have happen. You see, when a man is on the receiving end of an interrogation where violence is allowed to be inflicted upon him, he really gets it. In Five Fingers, he gets his five fingers chopped off. In 1984, he gets all sorts of stuff (stretching out, electrocution, threats of rats eating off his face). In Unthinkable, he also gets a decent amount of physical torture. But when it comes to women in interrogation films, well, they tend to get off easy, and this is no exception. The only exception was the film Martyrs, but that’s because the entire premise of the film hinged on them taking things that far (you’d understand if you ever saw it). Oh, and for you smartasses, slasher films do not count (any Saw film beyond the first is a slasher film, and even then the first Saw film is probably still classified as one).
While the lady in this film does receive some physical abuse, it’s rather tame by comparison. Even when this moment comes when she’s getting one of her toenails removed, that didn’t seem all that bad because the camera never shows it, and never shows the after-effects of it (nor even any blood spots on the floor). But that’s not the main reason why I have a dislike for this movie. The main reason is because she bests the interrogator. She has the whole, “You won’t break me!” outcome.
Now before I get into why that’s a load of shit, I’ll talk about the upsides to why the film went this direction, and the lessons to take from it. Like I said, this has a theme of childhood trauma, and how children are highly susceptible to changes in personality, ways of thinking, even ways of living as a result of either trauma or brainwashing. This can also be applies to just reading any typical story, watching any typical film, being around any typical adult or any other typical kid the same age. Just about anything can influence a child when they’re growing up. And how they are influenced can determine their mental fortitude (assuming they are mentally strong enough from the get-go to develop their minds in such a way). While there are implications of the government wanting children to think a certain way, their worry that others who belong to another mindset that favors a different form of government over the current one (think Nationalist Socialists vs. Communists around the WWII time in Germany and Russia and Italy), there is another aspect the film brings up. That a traumatic childhood event could inadvertently cause one to become much stronger mentally against other traumatic experiences in the future. In this film’s case, being repeatedly raped at a young age by her father-figure allowed her to mentally find a way to escape to her own fantasy land, closed off from the real world. It’s what she calls Closet Land. Others may call it a safe space. Thus she is able to escape from the current troubles into an imaginary place in her mind where they cannot hurt her. A mental form of escapism. Something a bit similar to the themes in Where the Wild Things Are. Something similar to this was done in a portion of the novel Wizard’s First Rule (first book in the Terry Goodkind series The Sword of Truth).
And it got me to thinking about the reason why people make films, or even create stories, in the first place. To escape life’s hardships temporarily. To let out your mental torments in a creative and constructive/healthy manner. Which thus becomes beneficial to others who find joy in the story. Just as the victim in this film implements a personal method of mentally escaping from her own torments, so do the stories she tells serve to act as a form of escapism for children from their own sets of troubles in life. Just as we all need a form of escapism from the troubles government organizations can bring (from any form of government from any country).
A pleasant message, no? Now here’s why it’s bullshit the way the film handles it. Like all forms of escapism, they are only temporary, a way to relieve and relax the mind so it can rest off the stress it has built up from it all, so that it can be prepared to deal with it all over again. In this film’s case, just her being revealed to have this ability due to the revelation of what her childhood trauma caused her is apparently enough to cause the interrogator to give up. “Welp, guess she’s a lost cause. Can’t force her to sign a confession now. Guess we can’t be troubled by trying to forge her signature to convince the public of all this, and then have her get conveniently killed like Epstein did or something.” What a crock of shit. Where the hell’s the electrocution methods? Let’s see her mind take her away from that. How about various drugs to inject her with? Or the several torture techniques implemented by the Greeks, Romans, and evil WWII scientists? And better yet, they’re seriously only giving up after a couple week’s time (bullshit they did this over the course of a year)?
The thing is, if they have enough time, interrogators and torturer’s have enough methods that can be utilized to make the mind snap. No one is this mentally tough, not in such a way as to where they can keep their wits about them while doing so. And most importantly of all, they wouldn’t have interrogator’s like this he would turn out to be pansies in the end. Similar shit irritated me about this one episode of Star Trek: TNG, which was obviously a rip-off of 1984, but at least it had the excuse of giving the interrogator a limited time to do this interrogation.
Plus this doesn’t take into account the downsides of managing to escape into a mental safe space, a permanent fantasy. Or haven’t you ever seen Brazil (1985), or Repo Men (2010)? However strong the mind is, it can only take so much before it snaps, then you’re in the closet land forever, permanently.
The film simplifies the thematic concepts and the lethal nature of interrogation and torture. And I can’t help but suspect the reason for this is because it’s a female protagonist, who needed the “sexually abusive father/uncle figure” trope to help make her strong, like they did in fucking Split (2016). You know, I’d like to see a film where the roles are reversed. Where some guy was sexually abused by a woman when he was a child. What, you don’t think that could be traumatizing? Well then let me explain how it could be. Picture some 10 year old boy who is home alone with a fat bottomed overweight and ugly as fuck nanny who is 50+ years old (for bonus imagery, picture her with piercings on several portions of her body, and has moles, and has blue or red dyed hair). Then one day she takes off her pants and panties, revealing her old grey oyster of a vagina, and shoves the boys face into it. She sits on him, nearly suffocating him, forcing him to take in all the smells, juices, and gasses. She even lets out a pussy fart while smothering the boy with her cunt (say what you will about men, at least they don’t fart out of their dicks).
See how fucked up that can be from the male perspective?
So anyway, despite the thought-provoking aspects of the film, the great acting from both actors (even if Rickman had to struggle with making the later aspects of the film work), and the atmosphere it creates, it falls apart with its believability during the final act. The message is good, but it’s not done effectively enough. Regardless, it’s worth a watch to ponder on some of the lessons that can be taken from it.