The façade of civility

Gasper Noe has managed to do something very rare with his new film ‘Climax’. After the viewing, the audience is guaranteed a daze that resembles a high dose of the drug the movie’s characters ingest. For at least one hour after the movie, I for one, felt myself walking hazily and disturbed; both fascinated and disgusted at what I’d seen. Everything, for this while, seemed cloudy.

The premise of the movie is simple. It starts with interviews of dancers who express their insecurities, their aspirations and animalist urges. Then, the movie starts with a dance routine which is followed by a celebration. It is in the latter that ecstasy gets ingested by the dancers. And then, the movie takes a dark turn. All of this we see already in the trailer.

The dark turn I mention is important to our discussion in many ways. The movie reminded me of the Stanford Prison Experiment where, the conclusion of the cancelled project declared that when we lose the social constructs that bind us to act in civility, we become animals. That, it is in our innate nature. Since then, Zimbardo, the chief investigator, has (rightly) revised his findings to reveal that those prone to some behaviours, will undertake them if the environment around them allows them to. In the experiment, the fact that the prisoners were dehumanized (by giving them serial numbers instead of names), the police officers were made part of the power dynamics where they had to enforce their hierarchy and lastly, as they were given a certain degree of anonymity (no name, big sunglasses); a behaviour was observed that will find no place in any social setting.

Climax deals with the same experimentation where the drug takes away the chains that bind us to be, for the lack of a better word, human. Once those restrictions are taken away, we see the display of pure animalist instinct. Some viewers argued that the actions on display are too extreme. That, you have to be especially inhuman to act in such a manner. These objections instantly brought me back home and led me to the conclusion that, maybe, the said criticism is unfounded or, we, Pakistanis, are part of that special breed.

An English daily recently published the interviews of the children of Shama and Shahzad Masih. The whole reading is haunting but there is this one line that sticks to you and will continue to cause you shivers, hours after you’ve read it: When Sonia, their daughter, was first brought to the rehabilitation center, she kept on repeating ‘Mummy papa nu saar dita’ (They charred Mummy and Daddy).

This is not a critique of the ridiculous Blasphemy Laws. The readers of these columns can bear witness that that has been done several times before by this author. On the contrary, the mention of Shama and Shahzad is to emphasize that we are not as humans as we make ourselves to be. Yes, Yusuf Gujjar and his platoon did exploit the law for their own advantage but, they are not under the spotlight right now. It is the hundreds who somehow felt it justified to burn a couple, the woman 8 months pregnant, in a kiln just for an accusation of burning some pages of the Quran. Of course, there were other reasons why they did that. Maybe, some of them were frustrated from their work, frustrated from the Christian population occupying their area, for jobs that were given to them rather than the local Muslims. Or, maybe, they were just plainly mad who, in the famous words of the joker, just needed a push. The same of course can be said about the crowd that found sense in killing Mashal and those who continue to go sleepless on the mere idea that the life of the acquitted Aasia bibi will be saved.

These days my bed time reading is limited to ‘Edhi: A mirror to the Blind’. The first time I heard the title, the naïve me had understood it to be implying Edhi as a messiah who could help those who were gravely destitute. Now I see that the title was insisting on Edhi being a conscience. And, yes, he was. Unfortunately, we failed, as a nation, to acknowledge his whispers. Even, after his death, we pursue the anti-thesis of his philosophy even at his expense. Case in point, my copy was sold to me for Rs.200 more than the printed price by a shopkeeper at a posh bookstore, claiming that the books were in shortage after Edhi’s death. I never got the explanation for the increased price and he refused to offer any, asking me to give back the copy or pay the new price.

Morality when limited to religion alone is a problem. Especially when the religion in question is in a language no one understands and there exist several interpretations of its many versions. Our modern systems have shied away from taking morality seriously and this contributes to theirs and the nations downfall. They, and indeed the common man, does not need a dosage of ecstasy to reveal the ugliness hidden behind the façade of civility; the blatant immorality. This is a scary world we live in.


The writer is a Dissertation Researcher based in Finland. He conducts research on political, regional and societal changes with special focus on religious minorities in Europe.


The writer is a Dissertation Researcher based in Finland. He conducts research on political, regional and societal changes with special focus on religious minorities in Europe.

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