Film Reviews

Surprisingly Spiritual Films #2: Elite Squad from Somebody Hit The Lights! Dot Com

02.14.10 | Comment?

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Surprisingly Spiritual Films #1: Elite Squad: Badasses Passing Through, First Section

By Simon Paul Augustine

“When you pass through, no one can pin you down, no one can call you back.”
- Yung-An

In Rio de Janeiro ghettos are ruled by two things: stunning poverty, and drug lords who offer potential escape from a pervasive life of want. These criminal bosses reign over the lives and economics of the ghetto with a grip so powerful it approaches a brand of free reign. As the narrator tells us at the outset of Jose Padilha’s Elite Squad, the most popular film of 2007 in Brazil, Rio de Janiero’s conventional police forces are increasingly ill-equipped to combat and control the drug lords because of a recent influx of high-performance automatic weapons into the hands of the outlaws. This advanced weaponry has created a kind of tipping point: police have lost an essential advantage that once weighed the power balance in their favor. As a consequence, out of futility and their own economic trouble, many, if not most police succumb to corruption.

One partial solution to this problem comes in the form of the Brazilian BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais), a unique police force trained to infiltrate and curtail the influence of the drug lords by means of highly-skilled tactical maneuvers. The members of the BOPE are also held to the highest ethical standard – “The Untouchables” of the Brazilian police force. And they match ethics with the power to back it up: like the Spartans in 300, each one has the aura of being worth a thousand regular policemen in combat, and they aggressively confront the drug lords with a viciousness that brooks no hesitation or doubt. The “Elite Squad” as the BOPE is known, holds cultural fascination in the same way that other highly-specialized, expertly trained military or police units do – special forces like SWAT, the NAVY Seals, Green Berets or even their ancient brethren, the Ninjas and Samurai of feudal Japan: a category of warriors possessing rare skills, who are esteemed and feared with an almost sacred reverence because their ranks are composed of men able to execute missions seemingly superhuman; men astonishing in their mastery of combat techniques beyond the reach of most others What is even more intriguing, however, is the question of how normal men become the elite; how Man is transformed into Superman. The answer is found in the training protocol used to prepare these men to exercise their seeming fearlessness.

This protocol has a self-contained, consistent logic to it: it is a deliberate process with a profound understanding of human psychology – and the way its limitations and its untapped powers can be manipulated for a specific goal. Essentially, the process consists of “breaking” the usual constraints and parameters of the Self, or conventional ego, through exposure to extreme situations intended to starve or expand or blast the senses to the point that they become overwhelmed. This “breakdown” is followed by a phase in which the Self is methodically remade: the new model may be a different version of the Self, a Self sublimated to an ultimate purpose, or an absence of self replaced by a higher state of consciousness or transcendent existence - whatever the case, however, it is fashioned in the image of both the modus operandi and raison d’etre of the group. These methods of psychological restructuring, in different variations, are used in the training and practice of groups as diverse as Zen Buddhists, Born Again Christians, religious cults, armies, corporations, and Communist and Fascist States.

A familiar case in point is training in the Marine Corps, itself an elite unit. Once a recruit enters boot camp, almost everything she or he encounters is meant to de-humanize her or him, so that a psychological organism with a strict function – that is, killing, invading, or defending against the designated enemy – can replace the conventional human self through first its deflation and then the restructuring of its psychological apparatus. (In religious cults, a variant of this type of training is known as “programming;” and two hard-to-find but worthwhile films from the early 80s – Ticket to Heaven and Split Image, graphically portray the “deprogramming” that a cult member must endure at the hands of family or friends trying to rescue them from the grip of the cult leader. Ostensibly, “Deprogrammers” have psychological training geared to reversing the effects of brainwashing, group intimidation, and sensory deprivation/overload methods.) The demeaning shouts, the rigid order, the strenuous physical demands in the Corps are all used to break down personal barriers and individuality. As the saying goes, a recruit’s “soul belongs to God, but his ass belongs to the Corps.” It is an ambitious task to prepare a person to kill other human beings halfway across the world he or she does not even know the names of, and to make this possible the conventional, questioning self must be reformed by first, trauma, and then initiation into a new mindset – one of purpose and not reflection, deliberation or hesitation.

To continue reading the second installment of this piece- Suprisingly Spiritual Films: Elite Squad, Section 2, Rites of Dubious Passage, Full Metal Jacket and Zen Masters Vs. Marines go quickly to Somebody Hit The Lights! - the movie site for sophisticated pervs.

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