Savages – Interrogation Series: Week 4

“I don’t read much. I haven’t seen no TV,” Lado (Benicio Del Toro) dismisses his off-screen interrogator (voiced by director Oliver Stone) in Week 4’s installment of Savages – Interrogation Series. Here, Lado literally refers to the debasement of media (newspapers, TV news): “It’s good fiction. It’s all fantasy.” However, he also alerts spectators to media (literature, television) that provide the narrative form for Stone’s new experiment in serial storytelling on YouTube (an ad campaign for the feature film Savages).

Like Dickens’ serial novels, each installment in Savages – Interrogation Series reveals new connections and expresses new psychological states. This week’s installment reveals the reason behind Ophelia’s (Blake Lively) traumatized demeanor. Not just a victim of kidnapping by Tijuana drug cartel head Elena (Salma Hayek), Ophelia was also raped by Elena’s enforcer Lado. Stone asks Lively’s O his probing questions like a director coaxing a performance (“The part you don’t want to talk about, the part where you experienced great pain”). The rear-projected images express her violation through montage, composition and symbolism (a marijuana kiss). Stone’s off-screen character cues awareness of his role as auteur exploring the human dimensions of the cross-border marijuana trade.

As with the best serial television, the social pressures acting on individual characters are represented through recurring, culturally-resonant motifs. Fans of TV soap operas may recall the town square pillory of TV’s Peyton Place and might appreciate the Angel of Death in Stone’s Interrogation Series. The presence of Mexican Catholics’ Santa Muerte–Lado’s patron–in the rear-projection visions redounds upon the death toll tallied in this week’s installment. Stone to Taylor Kitsch’s Chon: “Are you familiar with six dead Mexicans in the desert?” The Santa Muerte imagery and Lado’s death mask convey the spiritual crisis that the media and politicians reduce to mere statistics.

Stone’s Interrogation expose of the U.S.-Mexico drug trade updates Dickens’ narrative attunement to socio-economic anxieties combined with television’s topicality and intrigue. American marijuana dealer Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) cites statistics to absolve himself of responsibility when questioned about the kidnap of Elena’s daughter: “That happens a lot.” As Elena, Hayek keeps it real AND personal (she requires no coaxing) to rationalize Ben and Chon’s act of retaliation: “They would do anything for their puta. And I would do anything for my daughter.” Through this expressive culture clash, Stone shows how criminal cycles of violence are perpetuated–and repressed. Stone makes serial storytelling new through the panache of pop art and the brashness of muckracking melodrama.

John Demetry’s experiment in serial culture criticism is the latest example of his unique approaches to the form–collected in his book The Community of Desire: Selected Critical Writings (2001-2007), available at www.lulu.com.

Also read Armond White’s review of Savages on CityArts.