Thoughts On: No Man’s Land (Ničija Zemlja, 2001)
This is a film made by Danis Tanović and is our Bosnia and Herzegovinan film of the series.
No Man’s Land is an excellent film. Its narrative is confined, for the most part, to a trench which lost soldiers escape to after wandering into no man’s land. When their enemy investigates, a stalemate occurs with both sides armed, but in need of each other so that neither army destroys the entire area. What’s more, when a soldier whom everyone assumed was dead awakens, he finds himself placed on a mine and so unable to move. When numerous international entities attached to the UN as well as the media try to intervene, the situation only becomes ever more convoluted.
As a parable, No Man’s Land is not based on a true story from the Bosnian War, but is much rather a wider exploration of chaos and how it infects social groups in a snowball-esque manner. This is a subject we discussed in connection to the atomic bombings at the end of WWII and Kaneto Shindo’s 1964 film, Onibaba. In the context of war, chaos seems to be a force that can only be successfully confronted by peaceful order – and this is exactly what No Man’s Land explores. However, not just a tragedy, No Man’s Land is an open question. Through this narrative Tanović, the director, essentially questions why there is a structural tendency embedded into institutions such as the UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) that has them lean on a crutch called “complicated”.
We could look past the politics of this film, however, and see this narrative as one that is not entirely about the UN, instead, how humans confront chaos. In my opinion, this is what makes No Man’s Land such a poignant film; we all understand that people will very readily try to escape responsibility by claiming a situation is “too complicated”. Whether its from your child not wanting to do homework, your friend in a terrible relationship or your country facing international calamity, we’ve all heard this phrase, and the catalyst of this seems to be entropy. Much like the universe is constantly devolving into states of increasing complexity (essentially by just falling apart), so are human social constructs. This is why you have to clean your house every single day; to fight entropy. Whilst everyone does make an awful lot of mess, hence the house is a wreck, belying this is a mere consequence of human existence; eggs have to be broken to make an omelette; houses have to be wrecked to a certain degree so we can live our lives.
However, though most will want to, you can’t give up cleaning your house just because it will end up messy again. This is essentially the crux of this film’s critique. Wars often start because violence is a simple and direct means of getting things done, one which all conflicts threaten to boil down to. Violence on a national or international scale is then a result of civilised human interaction being seen as “too complicated”. Moreover, war can often be seen as two countries giving up on trying to clean the house and build it into something better. There is a tipping point, however, and we discussed this in the Onibaba post; there is a point at which someone needs to be kicked out of the house, or the is house simply torn down to its foundations and built back up again. Whilst this is a fact, it is certainly never something to aspire to. Tearing the house down or kicking someone out in this context is an ultimate act of chaos, and it can manifest itself in the form of an atomic bombing – which was/is one of the scariest facts of living in the 20th/21st century. If the house isn’t cleaned and kept in a good condition, there will come a point at which it is destroyed – and the foundations won’t be there to build up from.
What is so brilliant about No Man’s Land is how it reflects this paradigm – though, not on a scale as great as an atomic bombing – with the added use of the media. In this film, the media acts as an eye of introspection as it attempts to reveal how the proverbial house is falling apart. The media is then a form of consciousness if we were to personify the entirety of humanity. Just like you hopefully know what’s going right and wrong in your life and in your body, the media attempts to serve all of those willing to be informed with the same service. This is why transparency, fact and truth are so incredibly important at all levels of society; we are lying to ourselves, binding ourselves to ourselves, without them. With the media as one of the most significant channels through which this is done, for it to dysfunction is a very dangerous situation. As is demonstrated in No Man’s Land, when the media doesn’t act as an all-seeing eye or is fooled into blindness, chaos is allowed to continue infecting a system.
The parable of No Man’s Land is then one best defined by its title. Without considering society as a enlarged human body, or a home, because it is too complicated, society will cease to be run by humans, much rather, no man. In place of civilised human action will be the short-sighted whims of lazy animals willing to let entropy wash them out of existence.
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