Dir. Zeki Demirkubuz, Turkey, 2002, 118 mins, subtitles
Cast: Serdar Orcin, Zeynep Tokus, Engen Gunaydin, Demir Karahan
Based on the Albert Camus novel The Outsider, Fate is an unflinching disquisition on what Camus took to be the absurd position of the individual in society. While in most films the audience will identify with the central character, in Fate this is remarkably difficult because the character does not conform to social or cinematic norms. His name is Musa and his apparently passive, taciturn and non-committal stance distances himself from both the viewer and the other characters. Perhaps the most famous cinematic precedent for this minimalist school of acting lies in the films of Robert Bresson. Musa’s apparent indifference is intended to embody an existential attitude. He is true to himself, rather than what people expect of him, because he does not show more emotion than he feels nor say more than he means to say.
Musa’s mother dies and he barely registers the fact. His girlfriend proposes marriage, he’s involved in a crime, his boss betrays him and, as in the source novel, he’s accused of murder, but he greets these vicissitudes with apathy. It’s a dour performance by Serdar Orcin and perhaps a little too sullen for my tastes but it serves to show that Musa is no intellectual, as opposed to Camus for example, and barely a hero except in the broadest existential sense. In The Outsider there is something more exultant in the central character’s defiance of social norms. In Fate there is no place for ecstasy. The characters, including Musa, are imprisoned in the narratives that society has imposed upon them, perhaps most ironically exemplified by Independence Day, the US blockbuster that Musa goes to see at the cinema.
In Independence Day the hyperbolic acting style is such a contrast to that of Fate as to seem completely absurd. In showing an excerpt from the US film director Zeki Demirkubuz implicitly satirises an overblown school of acting and filmmaking, suggesting that there is a similar pressure towards insincerity, or hypocrisy as Musa would have it, in society generally. The grand narratives of the American Dream, God and the nation, of which the first is the most obviously anachronistic in Turkey, are abstractions meaningless to Musa yet others will fight and die for them. In the cinema the viewers sit slack-jawed and passively imbibe what amounts to social programming. The title ‘Independence Day’ is therefore resonant and ironic on a number of levels, and contrasts suggestively with ‘Fate.’
While watching Independence Day Musa reaches out to a woman in a sexual way, for perhaps the first time, thus asserting his independence from his dead mother. Probably one of the major acts necessary to assert oneself as an individual is to break from the hegemony of one’s parents yet at the end of the film a state representative takes an explicitly paternalistic attitude towards Musa. Musa is asked to justify why he isn’t upset about his mother’s death; why he doesn’t defend himself against accusations of murder and generally speaking, why he acts in the way he does. Musa doesn’t know but neither does he pretend to. For Camus, at least, this made his character superior to the courtroom, in which rather banal narratives of simplistic cause and effect might be employed to reduce a person’s motivations to one thing, as is too often the case in the movies. This is a film that, like Musa, gives away little in the way of motivations.
So if society and religion are paternalistic, constraining rather than empowering the individual, then is Fate an argument for secular society, for the small state, for market liberalism as it stands today? No indeed, in Fate the narratives of consumerism and big business, those of films such as Independence Day, are shown to be no less constraining. You might protest that if we’re to live together then a certain amount of hypocrisy is necessary, even comforting. If we’re to repress malevolent urges, to work together rather than against each other, then we must sacrifice some individuality. Indeed, aren’t individual desires another form of entrapment and, hold on, isn’t ‘the individual’ a social construct anyway? I don’t think that Demirkubuz is attempting to usurp society so much as to show certain of its alienating effects.
You may not ‘like’ the film that results – it’s stark, to be sure - but that’s partly the point. Given the current ascendancy of liberal capitalist values and the drive to tighten the law against terrorist threats from within and without, including those laws governing free speech, it’s a propitious time to re-examine our notions of individuality and crime and punishment; to remind ourselves that there are concepts of the individual, and of what freedom might entail, beyond consumer choice. Equally that law is a matter of the interpretation of evidence and that if we can’t finally be sure why someone does something, then can we really be sure of how and why we judge them? If you’re interested I recommend that you see Fate and judge for yourself.
Discuss this film here