Sunday, October 4, 2009


Yesterday I hired a DVD with the intriguing title, LOOK. I'd read the blurb on the cover and the premise appealed to me. Released in December 2007, LOOK claims to be the first full-length feature film recorded entirely on CCTV. Directed, and written, by Adam Rifkin, it examines the possibilities of compiling a perception of life, its participants and events, purely from collections of CCTV footage. The film is one of a number of 'convergence' genre films that work on the principle that lives can intersect in unusual ways. Fortunately this film doesn't try and converge individual subplots in a completely artificial denouement!

One of the subplots concerns the misdirected affections of a teenage high school student and the object of her obsession, her English teacher. The CCTV footage reveals an intensely directed plan, if inept in its execution, and a teacher taking evasive action to avoid what is becoming an inevitability. It is worth noting that our teacher is married to a heavily pregnant woman and appears to be conventionally happy in almost every respect. Moreover, he is clearly aware of his professional obligations and gives no indication of being attracted to our barely pubescent vamp in any way whatsoever. Eventually, however, the approaches of our femme fatale result in a lapse of moral and legal obligation, and our English teacher indulges in an unsatisfactory liaison with the obsessive lolita pursuing him. Things do not go well, and, in response to rumours circulated by the coquettish juvenile, our English teacher berates her, resulting in her suggesting that she may take vengeance, although not in so many words. Sure enough, we next see her giving a statement to the Los Angeles Police Department, accusing our errant English teacher of rape and sexual assault.

The plot then appears to take a fortuitous twist for our naively ingenuous teacher. I say "appears", because it is evident from the facts that the accused is not to successfully avoid the consequences of his actions. The CCTV footage of the incident proves that the informant, our juvenile temptress, is, in fact, misreporting the facts. There is ample visual evidence of her seduction, and the entire event is clearly 'consensual'. The problem here, of course, is that it cannot be consensual, because our lolita is a minor, and the law makes it clear that it is impossible for minor to consent to sexual relations. Under Californian law, the jurisdiction in which the offense occurs, it is unlawful for an adult over 21 years of age to engage in intimate relations with a child of 16 years of age. In this case, the teacher, in a revelatory scene involving his attorney, becomes aware of the fatal nature of his momentary weakness.

Our teacher's attorney informs him that he must plead 'no contest' to the charges, given the weight of evidence against him, and that the minimum compulsory tariff for commission of such an offense is 10 years in gaol. In addition, the hapless teacher, will have his details entered onto the Sexual Offenders Register and will be unlikely to ever enjoy anything more than supervised visitation rights when his child is born to his now estranged wife. Naturally, as a sex offender, he will not be able to resume a career in teaching, a pursuit he clearly had a passion for. In other words, life as he knows it has ended in almost every respect.

So, we end up with a plot that provides for an ambivalent internal discourse. Where do our sympathies lie? Are we to feel sorrow for the extent of the loss suffered by our teacher, a loss suffered as a result of a momentary lapse of judgement? Does the promiscuous behaviour of our temptress in any way mitigate against this loss of judgement? Should it? Or do we apply the law in precisely the manner prescribed; the offense is, after all, a statutory offense? It's a conundrum that faces courts in numerous instances.

Rifkin's film manages to convey this issue with a clarity that provides a stark reminder that behavioural indiscretion can have severe consequences, regardless of what we may view as grounds for mitigation. I suspect this is achieved by the fact that the images purport to be realistic facsimiles of what is captured on camera in normal circumstances. We are even privy to an assault by father on daughter when it becomes evident that the basis of her accusation is, in fact, a lie.

Anyone seeking insight into the difficulties of moral and literal application of the law would do well to hire and view this film. It's by no means perfect, but it does provide a perspective that is worth contemplation. The remaining scenarios explored in the film are entertaining and confronting too, so it will be an entertaining diversion...

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