Essential Killing (2010) – A Film Review
Trace any thorny historical conflict back far enough and you could well find that its origins lie in Cain slaying Abel, Romulus killing Remus, or Set murdering Osiris. Similarly, in Things to Come (1936), the people have continued to fight long past the point where they can remember who the original enemy was or why the war even started to begin with. Indeed, in this film from Jerzy Skolimowski, we are plunged headlong into such a confusing and hostile world. Ostensibly borrowing from the so-called War on Terror in terms of Taliban fighters, water-boarding, and extraordinary rendition, there is virtually no dialogue in this film, never mind any of an expositional nature. Accordingly, all that we cab surmise about Mohammed (Vincent Gallo) is that he can handle weapons, is prepared to kill, is adept at survival measures, and has an enormous will to live, despite all of the pain, terror, and exhaustion that he is suffering from.
Indeed, what Essential Killing represents is an hour-long flight through the frozen forests of an unidentified part of Northern Europe. Mohammed does what he has to do in order to stay both alive and ahead of his pursuers. Although far from devoid of confrontations and other memorably dramatic events, the monotony of the landscape, the speechless nature of the protagonist, and the general stillness of the piece do challenge one’s ability to stay interested in this work. Therefore, despite one or two comic scenes that ensure that this is not an entirely austere work, it is best to think of this offering as being a visceral existentialist drama that affords the viewer plenty of time to ask questions regarding what he or she is witnessing. Moreover, the ambiguous ending is also a surprisingly tender one, as a voiceless human being becomes the first to show genuine generosity and compassion to another. It amounts to a single ray of hope in a world where the life of any individual counts for less and less in the face of State power.