Playing with Expectations
By: Teo Shu’En
No One is Crazy in This Town by Wregas Bhanuteja was released in 2019 and in competition for the SEA Short film competition. This film makes use of our ability to make judgements of characters and situations to tell the protagonist’s story in a way that is engaging. The story follows the protagonist but never reveals his thoughts and perspective (he is silent for most of the film). By changing our perceptions and expectations, an expected event can become a plot twist. To shape our judgements, the director controls what to show and when to reveal important details.
In the first scene Marwan, the protagonist, suddenly stops the car. We see a homeless man lying on the side of the road. Did he hit the man? Is he dead? Marwan’s face is indifferent as other men load the man’s body onto the truck.
Later we see that these people are be mentally ill, and the men from the truck take sadistic pleasure in taunting and abuse them, finally chasing them into the forests. The use of the outlandish horse mask and electric tasers, coupled with the men crawling on fours on the floor, highlight the far fetched insanity of the situation. There is also a disconnection between the remote setting of the town and the dystopian-esque situation taking place. Marwan does not participate but he is also indifferent to the abuse, painting him as an antagonist rather than the protagonist we expected. With all these mismatches and questions, the film effectively hooks us into the story.
Cutting to the hotel, we learn that Marwan is simply carrying out orders from his boss. There is no dystopian, mask donning circus show, only the capitalist system we all know and love. Marwan’s is less a villain and more of a guy doing a job he dislikes. The outlandish situation is now put in context and justified.
Marwan’s image is further redeemed when we are shown his living conditions, a stark contrast to the luxuries of the hotel. At night, a new uncertainty is presented to the audience. He goes back into the forest in the dead of the night to pick these people up. We do not know why he is doing this but we assume he is doing this to help these people, based off his now redeemed image. There is an evil system in place and we think Marwan will be the one to rebel against it.
In the next scene the tourists are portrayed as naive and juvenile as they compete to dive for a jackfruit seed. Marwan then leads one of them to a shop with masks before bringing him to the basement. The repeated use of childish, comical masks literally signals masking the truth from the audience again.
The film knows of our expectations, and our desire for clarification as it tracks the movement of Marwan and the tourist into the basement without revealing the rest of the room.
A pause lingers on the empty space as Marwan and the tourist exit the screen, and then:
The circus freak show is revealed in one shot. The gawking audience, the mentally ill people we assumed Marwan helped, the masks and the payments all make sense.
The very tourists that we scoff at end up being the ones who are most familiar with the system of abusing the mentally ill as they find ways to exploit the locals for their personal gain. There is no one in the town that does not contribute to this exploitation, and it drives home that these vile actions are calculated and a product of the system. After it is all over, we look at Marwan getting a cut of the money, before driving off with Pineapple girl and a child.
Pineapple girl is Marwan’s wife. Even the “crazy” are not actually crazy, playing up an act to enjoy the benefits of this system that the hotel’s business has created. The ending of the film comes full circle and we find out Marwan does all this underhand manoeuvring for his family. The heartwarming scene of Marwan, Pineapple girl and their daughter at the pool gives an optimistic outlook on the scenario, that all the exploitation seems justified by a family being able to spend time together.
This short film masters the craft of using the audience’s prejudices and judgements to engage us in the story, and has a tight rein on what the audience is able to see and thus interpret. While the film is only 18 minutes long, slowly revealing the truth of the situation brings the audience through a journey of discovering the systemic exploitation of the town, sparking reflections on the role of an individual within the well-oiled clockwork of a corrupt society. proves that no one is in fact, crazy in this town.
– Teo Shu’En