Shortcake #18 – “Conscription”

Whenever we think of war and its repercussions, we almost invariably have in mind an entire string of cliché pictures from the dying soldiers, through holocaust victims, refugees, to pretty much who looks like he has lost someone in the midst of some kind of military conflict. It is not my intention here to somehow depreciate the importance and the powerful message of said pictures that we immediately associate with the horrors of war, but there are things we rarely think or speak of, that also fall into such category.

“Conscription” by Jack Bottomley is just that – a powerful example of how war breaks human spirit. It’s a single-take story (a criterion to enter One Shot Movie Competition, where it clawed its way to the final screening) about a man whose life is terribly disturbed by the war. So, accompanied by a radio speech of Winston Churchill’s (which is pretty ironic given how the story unfolds in the end, against how Churchill’s speeches are widely considered the pinnacle of uplifting patriotism) the man struggles with the most difficult decision of his life.

It’s simply stunning how much one can stuff into a single camera shot that lasts about 2 minutes. I mean, I’ve seen things before that tried to look smart by shoving all kinds of nonsense into the frame, but “Conscription” by way of minimalism in shooting with attention to detail gives the story a sense of depth without steering towards pretentious moralizing. I think Jack Bottomley has accomplished something here, because he invariably forced me to think what I would do if I were in such a position myself. Where does my patriotism end and where does it begin? How do my personal beliefs and moral code fare against what my country could expect from me? And do I even care enough about it all…

I reckon that most of the so-called difficult decisions we face during our lifetimes are on a completely different level to what is posed in here by “Conscription”. At no point in life do we want to choose how our lives would end… And at any given point in time, chances are that somewhere in the world someone might be faced with a dilemma of just that nature – and it scared the living hell out of me more than any other horrors of war. After all, the mass-media and Hollywood have made me somehow immune to the bulk of the violence that is associated with military conflicts, but this amazing, creepy and ultimately disturbing short film broken through this thick shell of indifference that had encapsulated that little part of my brain that is responsible for empathy. Well done, Sir!

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