Thoughts On: Elite Squad - Cathartic Truth


Elite Squad - Cathartic Truth

Quick Thoughts: Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite, 2007)

A special ops team are assigned the task of securing and ensuring an area of Rio de Janeiro is safe for the arrival of the Pope.

Elite Squad is a truly tremendous film. It is one that fits into a very specific class of film to me among the likes of Rocky, Goodfellas and Whiplash. All of these films - Elite Squad included - whilst they have some links, are only connected in my mind for the manner in which they seep into your bones, tauten the fibres of your muscles and make you want to scream out at the screen: "FUCKING--COME ON, SON!!".

As idiotic as that may sound, part of the reason why I love Elite Squad and the mentioned movies comes down to the fact that they build up wave after wave of subtext, character and plot that is imbued with complication, fury and a subtle tenderness (maybe weakness is the better word) that climaxes at multiple instances with overwhelming grit, aggression and violence. It is being able to ride these waves of tension and release that makes these films so physically brilliant. So, whilst I believe that there is much more to the likes of Elite Squad, Rocky and Whiplash than this cathartic aggression (which, whilst it can be attached to violence, isn't inherently malicious in such a manner), it is their sensory elements that drive and humanise the more cerebral elements.

With Elite Squad, for instance, we have a film that is about individuality; about struggling to keep yourself and your family alive. To some, community is a pass time and a pseudo-passion. To others, community is work. The some in Elite Squad are the rich, pot heads, whilst the others are the team of elite cops. Superseding all of this, however, is the universal struggle of the individual that is embedded into the being of the average Brazilian citizen, the cop, the drug dealer, the rich pot head, etc. It is individuality that creates a bureaucratic system so twisted that it cannot escape itself, yet it is also individuality that keeps people alive within the system and is the only reason for it being. Elite Squad explores such an idea perfectly, showing the strain put upon individuals who try to not think only of themselves, but attempt to untangle society from its terrible webs.

Whilst there is much more that could be explored and debated in regards to this subtext, it has to be noted that what makes this story so visceral, direct and affective is the mentioned aggressive catharsis. Not only does this hook you into the film and emotionally engage you, but it emphasises the idea of struggle and the fact that not only is the world not simple, but that it is extremely exasperating to confront. The reason why a response to this movie that goes along the lines of "FUCKING--COME ON, SON!!" seems stupid is because, in my view, it is just as direct and without illusion as the story is: this movie implies a concept and to perceive it as true is to react in parallel to its characters genuine emotional outbursts.

Feeling catharsis in a movie is then, in a way, a form of physical spectatorship and an understanding of truth. To cry at a sad movie it to understand that it is tragically truthful. To laugh at a comedy is to understand that it is, in some way, embarrassingly truthful. To scream at a complex action, crime-thriller, is to understand it is explosively true. Catharsis can signal the personal recognition of truth. Not all forms of catharsis are genuine, it must be said. However, I believe this to be true of Elite Squad.

However, those are just my thoughts on the film. What are yours?

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