The absurdity of war

An analysis of the depiction of death within the movie Waltz with Bashir

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2013 12 Pages

Communications - Movies and Television



1 Introduction

2 Involvement and detachment

3 Escapism

4 Symbolic death

5 Real death


1 Introduction

“ death stories are less about the dead than about the living ”

(Hume & Kitch, 2008, p. xiv)

Using this statement as a point of departure, this paper will analyze how death stories are depicted in a documentary war movie that the director himself calls a “ meditation on memory ” (Peaslee, 2011, p. 223). Thinking about various war centered feature films like Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998) or Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick 1987) the emphasis on the act of dying/killing is in focus. Even documentaries which are considered to be more neutral show sometimes long and exhaustive scenes of death (Nichols, 1991, p. 82), despite the fact that these most of the time need to be re- enacted (DelGaudio, 1997, p. 190). Obviously in animation there are boundless possibilities to depict whatever - no matter how ungraspable the story might be or long ago it might have happened. Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman 2008 1 ) has been praised by the critics its brilliant intertwining of memory, dreams and reality. Although the film is just 4 years old at the point where this paper is being written2, scholars have already examined it under various viewpoints, mainly dealing with questions of authenticity (e.g. DelGaudio, 1997) and memory (e.g. Landesmann & Bendor, 2011).

How authentic can an animation movie be? “ Documenting the undocumentable ” (Nichols, 1991, p. 57) is a philosophical as well as a technical challenge and the lack of a ‘scientific’ basis to memory might make it difficult to categorize WWB as a documentary in the first place altogether (DelGaudio, 1997, p. 190; Pinzon, 2009, p. 10). On the other hand, since their beginning3 documentaries have been used to illustrate abstract concepts (DelGaudio, 1997). To mould those concepts into something comprehendible the creators of this movie (Folman, 2008) could not imagine any other way than using the skills of an animation artist to make the audience understand (Sofian, 2005, p. 9)4.

Combining intangible memories and dreams with classical journalistic methods like talking heads (Saunders, 2012, p. 13), Ari Folman exploits the boundless opportunities of animation and documentary. As his film is purely created from scratch, he has in addition feature film elements at his hand like sound/music and colour/light to underline the meaning (Folman, 2008). The outstanding use of colours, sound and perspective becomes clear when watching the movie. But the message Ari Folman wants to get across isn’t always that self-evident when seeing WWB for the first time.

Aesthetics and ‘popularity’ of wars stand in close correlation (Kleinman & Kleinman, 1996, p. 10) - sometimes broadcasting “ close-ups of limbs blown off ” (Kleinman & Kleinman, 1996, p. 10) can enhance the public’s awareness about a certain war, in other cases the everyday news barely cover conflicts due to their overwhelming violence (Campbell, 2004, p. 60). The massacre in Sabra and Shatila had been broadcasted and printed worldwide by all major media and therefore left a certain trace on the audience’s memory that might or might not be identical to reality (Kingsepp, 2007, p. 371). In this media-constructed reality nowadays (Baudrillard, 1990, p. 90) we feel like a “ witness ” (Hume & Kitch, 2008, p. xvii f.) of those events in a certain way. But who is to tell what reality is really like? Hume and Kitch state that every tale of war is “ filtered through memory ” (Hume & Kitch, 2008, p. 171). So in a movie mainly based on past memories, it depends on the one who remembers how violent or clean (Andén-Papadopoulos, 2009) the story will be told to the audience. And it is up to the artist who decides which pictures are suitable to transport the message. Realistic photographic images are often unconsidered taken as the naked truth within documentaries (Höijer, 2004, p. 515), whereas animated content can put the audiences into the right mindset of opening “ up for a powerful and potentially emotional experience ” (Sofian, 2005, p. 7).

Guiding the audience through his (and his comrades’) personal experiences, Ari Folman opens a two-folded path:

On the one hand WWB is a personal “ therapeutic outlet ” (Andén-Papadopoulos, 2009, p. 929), a dialogue between Ari Folman and his comrade “ externalizing ” (Andén-Papadopoulos, 2009, p. 931) their experiences in front of an audience, just like other virtual forums.

WWB is in this respect no different to other war movies. On the quest for his lost memory we follow him down through different stages of his memory, slowly dissecting actual memory from dreams. On the other hand, WWB is a general payback with war (Folman, 2008). Ari Folman wants to raise awareness about the horrors and utter senselessness of war and violent conflict (Folman, 2008). Choosing the mean of animation was also due to the reason that he wanted to engage young people: a different look might prevent the often cited “ compassion fatigue ” (Höijer, 2004, p. 528) - but “ the younger, the less compassionate ” (Höijer, 2004, p. 518), so which means does he eventually employ to engage the audience? Does he bluntly “ expose ( … ) disaster ” (Höijer, 2004, p. 529), is he following the “ myth of modern warfare as clinical ” (Andén-Papadopoulos, 2009, p. 524) or is he being “ cynical ” (Höijer, 2004, p. 529) ?

Paying attention to how live covered reality (interview scenes, talks, etc.) and non-reality (dreams, memories, and hallucinations) are intertwined and how they are represented through colours, sound, perspective, and graphic, this paper will analyze the depiction of death and war in the animated documentary movie Waltz with Bashir.

2 Involvement and detachment

The purpose of a documentary is to involve (Höijer, 2004, p. 520), to engage the audience in the topic, to arise interest. Involvement can be achieved by different means in movies: Music, lightening, camera perspective, colours, etc. (Saunders, 2012). The fact that this documentary is - except for the last scene - entirely using animated pictures, creates a consistency which is establishing an extraordinary bond between the audience and the characters (Skoller, 2011, p. 201), some scholars go even so far to say that animation is “ essential for its disclosure of reality ” (Landesmann & Bendor, 2011, p. 354). Butchart argues that an animation is merely a reflection “ of the intentions of the filmmaker ” (Butchart, 2006, p. 443), but as the purpose of WWB is to show Ari Folman’s reality, his world (see Nichols, 1991, p. 109), this movie - through its 1st person narrative - “ acknowledges [a documentary ’ s] interpretative intentions ” (Godmilow & Shapiro, 1997, p. 83). AF doesn’t attempt to give “ a comprehensive description of the movement of events ” (Godmilow & Shapiro, 1997, p. 83), he doesn’t want to explain any of the parties positions (Folman, 2008); it’s a personal story. How much is Folman opening the doors of his memory for us to get emotionally involved? According to some scholars, we are basically biologically preconditioned and cannot help but experience a movie (see Hetrick, 2010, p. 83; Landesmann & Bendor, 2011, p. 354). But is it really that simple, does watching a movie equal a real experience (Sobchack, 1992, p. 10)? Based on the assumption that not, what methods does Folman apply to make us truly experience the horrors of death and war?

In animated film the conscious selection of every camera perspective is even more evident than in other genres. In WWB what and how we see death ranges from rather artful feature-film-like mise en scène to a direct ego-shooter-like experience of the actual act of killing.

Folman alters between involvement and detachment. He lets us witness war from the eyes of the narrator; we are standing on the roof of a building, watching a family being shot. We watch from the inside of a tank through crosshairs or lay in the trench, scanning the surrounding through a pair of binoculars, the camera (or our head) is slightly shaking. We hear the loading of guns around us - but at the same time the subtle melody of a piano or strings reminds us, that this is not the present reality.

We see his characters shooting, but most of the time aimless at “ everything ” (‘21) and nothing. Very seldom are we witness of the actual act of killing. And if, we hear no sounds of moaning or horror by the victims.

Our gaze shifts from the perpetrator to the victim. In one moment we are releasing a bunch of bullets from our weapon, see them exploding in the dark night sky (‘22). In the next moment we see the deadly ball approaching us (‘40) and the bushes shake through which the responding bullets strive before hitting us yet in the position of the aggressor (‘41).


1 in the following abbreviated WWB

2 World premier at the film festival in Cannes on 15th may 2008 (http://waltzwithbashir.com/home.html)

3 E.g. Disney; Sinking of Lusitania (1915 Winsor McCay) (DelGaudio, 1997, p. 190)

4 “ Another question, and it ’ s a philosophic question, is a drawing, done by very talented artists like the guys who did this film, less real than a camera that is shooting now at us, and still now it is … the image is done by pixels, and by lines, is our image coming out of the camera more real than the drawing? Because the voice is the same, and who decides? ” (Folman, 2009)


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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490 KB
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Institution / College
Stockholm University – JMK
Waltz with Bashir Ari Folman Media and Death War Death in Media War movie Documentary Animation



Title: The absurdity of war