Thursday, May 10, 2012

The House Of Islam: The Raid Redemption

It's difficult to say at exactly what point you realize you're watching a masterpiece during The Raid: Redemption, because there just hasn't been a film like it: it's not just the incredible fight scenes, but the unusual violence and the fear of this kind of situation the film sets-up being real, and you being trapped within it. Then, at some point, you realize, "It is real, and I am trapped in it."
The apartment building that has been "off limits" to the law of Jakarta because of the absolute sway the crime lord holds over it. At the end of the film, the apartment hasn't been won, but it's crumbling and the crime lord is dead, so it won't take much for a group to go in and, as Andi says, take it down brick by brick, which is the intention.
This is the story of Rama, a rookie elite cop in Jakarta, Indonesia, getting ready to go into work, to make the raid. The first image is of a watch, ticking, then we see Rama on his prayer rug, reciting the Muslim prayers, Rama does a grueling physical work out and says to an old man, "I'll bring him back." Great film makers know the first images are always the most important because they form and shape the audience's expectations; it's also a way of giving the audience information.
Rama during his morning workout. It's imperative for us to understand that his prayers and spiritual strength are every bit as important to the upcoming battle as his physical strength, even more so, because at one point, his physical strength is about to give out, but remembering his wife and baby strengthens his heart and soul so he can go on.
In Indonesia, Muslims are a majority of the population, Christians being greatly outnumbered, and Muslims are advancing in taking over the country. It's significant, then, that the first image of the main character is in the religious majority. The watch we first hear and see in the opening, however, is a symbol of history (as well as the old man Rama speaks to) and no one keeps better track of their history than the Muslims. So we all ready know that this story will be about Muslims on a larger scale and what is that? Restoring the House Of Islam to Muslim rule through a political jihad.
I am a convert to Roman Catholicism and this makes a difference in my viewing of the film; I would like to say again that this film is really a masterpiece, it's just incredible how good it is, and I agree, wholeheartedly, with all the praise it has received from various awards committees because it deserves every bit. (Many people simply hate anything that has to do with religion, whether it's Christianity or not, and will adamantly protest my incorporation of a religious interpretation of the film simply because of their dislike; please note, however, the title of the film, The Raid: Redemption, "redemption" is a religious term and that invites a religious understanding of the events as well, again, as Rama on his prayer rug).
As the cops are entering the apartment building, they see a man who lives there trying to get in; they stop him and the captain doesn't want to let him go into the building, but the man insists that his wife is sick and he has to get her medicine. Rama protects the man so he can get back to her, then later, Rama brings one of his wounded friends to the apartment where the man and his sick wife live and beg shelter of them. Reluctantly, they agree, Rama's friend cursing Rama that the couple will turn them over to the crime lord and Rama insisting, "He's not one of them." It's an interesting situation because, if following this line of analysis, the man can be taken as a Christian, his sick wife would be the Church (probably ill because of the sins of her members, myself included). The man hides Rama and his friend in a false wall, symbolically translated could be, from a Islamic perspective, a reservoir of sympathy towards Islam (for Christians, it would be more like we do good unto others because of the Good Christ did for us, and because what we do for another, we do for Christ, but this is why it's an interesting film, these kinds of "discrepancies"). In hiding, one of the crime lord's thugs sticks his sword into the wall where Rama's face is, running the blade into his cheek. This becomes an interesting situation to interpret because Rama, it appears has "lost face" or been "defaced" by accepting the help of a non-Muslim, whereas the non-Muslim are rewarded with their lives because they helped the Muslims in need..?
Having aired my biases publicly, it's really a simple, but effective, plot: the apartment house symbolizes Indonesia itself, being run by a "democratic constitution" that should be run by Muslims (territory controlled by Islam is considered "the house of Islam"); the 20 elite cops symbolize the Muslim effort in Indonesia to take control. That Christians are the "ruthless outlaws" because anyone outside the law of Islam (Sharia Law) is an outlaw. So the purpose of the film is to get control over the House of Islam (the apartment building) and establish law and order (Sharia Law and Islam).
Tama, the crime lord holding full reign over the 30 stories of apartment the elite--but rookie--cop team enters to try and wipe him out. The problem is, he knew they were coming. There are at least two levels of corruption in the film, the type of personal corruption exhibited by Andi, Rama's brother (more on that below) and the professional corruption seen in the cops being bought and paid to leave the apartment and Tama alone. In this sense, going with the religious interpretation, the film can be seen as a critique of Muslim leaders who deal with Christian leaders instead of fulfilling the requirements of Islam (Rama, who is pure and who has a wife with child, symbolizes the unadulterated future of Islam in Indonesia once all the corruption is wiped out). Young Muslims might be tempted to criticize an old practice of Islam, that is, non-Muslims being allowed to worship in their own religion with the paying of a fine for not converting to Islam; devotees of Islam might be wanting that to be eradicated so there is a stricter policy of conversion for the non-Muslim population; why? In The Raid: Redemption there is a nearly intolerable level of corruption, and that would be inexcusable in Islam, hence, a potential movement to end the option of fining non-Muslims. The barbarity of Tama reflects the way Muslims view the history of Islamic-Christian relations (especially colored by The Crusades).
What I most appreciate about the film is the way physical violence is translated into spiritual warfare, the battles we see, individually and collectively, are really the clashes of the spiritual world and not physical fights; materialists--specifically atheists--will denounce this viewpoint, however, I hold that nearly all violence in art can be traced back to inner-turmoil being expressed, either spiritually, politically or emotionally, and doesn't exist for the sake of violence, rather, violence is always about making a statement on where violence comes from within the culture. The Raid: Redemption carefully constructs scene after scene of gruelling violence that you think just can't get any worse,... until it does. Here is one small scene of the film:
An interesting detail regarding the apartment is that Tama, the crime lord, promises to give free rent and permanent residency to anyone killing the cops, most of the residents being criminals themselves. In Christianity, this makes sense, because all Christians know they are sinners (criminals, basically, against God's commandments and laws) and Tama's invitation to his residents is rather comparable to the promise made to suicide-bombers that they will go to heaven for witnessing for Allah. (Christians aren't rewarded for taking life, but for giving their life for Christ, and this is a slight, but definite disagreement between the two religions on the shared, but differently understood, concept of martyrdom).
Andi (Rama's brother) on the left with a similar wound on his face and "Mad Dog" on the right who is small, but an incredible fighter and really, really mean.
There are two more characters needing to be discussed: Andi and Mad Dog. Tama, the crime lord, has two right hands, Andi the brains and Mad Dog the enforcer. Andi happens to be Rama's brother and, seeing his estranged brother in the apartment's security cameras, goes to save him. When Andi goes down into the elevator to the floor upon which he expects to find Rama, on the elevator wall is written in large, graffitied letters, "GAUL." In what today is largely France, old Gaul was a region which was Christianized (and could be an encoded reference to "the West"and the medieval conflicts between Islam and Christianity from deep within history). Andi's "being away from his family" means that he converted over to Christianity (a real crime in Islam) and Andi refuses to return with Rama even when Rama tells his brother that he's "going to be an uncle" which is a prophecy: children symbolize the future, the next generation, and Rama tells Andi that the future is Islam, not Christianity in Jakarta, and Andi needs to make his decision.
Jaka, the police squad leader, and Mad Dog. Mad Dog could easily pull the trigger and kill Jaka, however, he tells Jaka that the hand-to-hand combat is where his rush comes from and insists on fighting Jaka to the death; poor Jaka doesn't stand a chance. Like a dog, Mad Dog drags Jaka's dead body back to Tama to show his boss what he has done for him, whereas Andi will come back empty-handed.
Andi returns to Tama after his brief conversation with his brother and Tama is furious that Andi has returned "empty-handed," so Tama takes a knife and stabs it through Andi's hand (an act familiar to Christians because Christ was stabbed through the hand with the nails). Tama then gives Andi to Mad Dog and Mad Dog works at beating Andi up, slowly killing him.
Andi, Rama's brother and Tama's right-hand.
So who is Mad Dog?
"Mad dog" in Catholicism probably refers to the Dominicans which is formed of two Latin words for "dogs of God," who were created to tackle heresies both inside and outside of Christianity. Writings by various Dominicans have... upset Muslims over the centuries and the Church's continual dependence on their learning and sanctity has made them a bane to those who attack the Church. When Mad Dog has Jaka at gun point, and it would be easier to pull the trigger and kill him, but Mad Dog wants to fight him instead, that clearly references the Dominican love of Scholasticism and the "argument for the sake of the argument" which they are so famous for, even to this day.
Tama and the sergeant of the police force, Wahyu, who is there (risking the lives of all the rookie cops) because he wants a big payoff from Tama who refuses to give it to him. Tama was alerted that Wahyu would be coming by his superiors who wanted to get rid of him. This is the kind of "corruption" which devout Muslims may be critiquing in the film, that Islam is being used as a vehicle for personal gain, rather than spiritual redemption.
When Rama walks into the meat locker and sees Mad Dog beating on his brother, he silently challenges Mad Dog to a fight, to fight both Rama and Andi at the same time. It's perhaps the most intense fight sequence I have ever seen, but one of the injuries which Mad Dog sustains in the battle is a fluorescent light bulb is rammed into his neck. Because the neck symbolizes what guides us, or that to which we are yoked (the way an ox is yoked to the plow, for example) it shows Mad Dog is yoked to "illumination" because the light bulb, being a source of light, symbolizes Light, i.e, truth and inner-illumination; hence, Mad Dog's (Dominicans') desire for illumination is really his death because the light bulb is broken, they seek illumination from the Broken Body of Jesus, instead of the teachings of Islam. Throughout the film, a person's physical strength and fighting capability communicates to the audience the character's deeper, spiritual level, so then it's all reconciled. That injury, the light bulb in the neck, is at least something I have never seen before, and the uniqueness of the inflicted injury speaks volumes to those willing to listen.
Mad Dog taking someone down.
Back in February, I posted a trailer for an internationally acclaimed documentary called Position Among the Stars which follows an elderly Christian woman in Indonesia where Muslims are gaining power and wanting more:
Which ever side we are on in the battle, we are all involved, and no one can excuse themselves. Again, The Raid: Redemption is an absolutely fantastic film, incredibly well done and I suggest you watch it regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack of). I've advocated many times in the past the use of violence in art as a means of conveying deeper, internal struggles, and The Raid: Redemption certainly does that and then brings the inner-struggles back into the public, political arena for the whole world to watch and we should be watching. The extended clip below contains four different fight scenes: