Academic journal article Jewish Film & New Media

Failure to Think, Failure to Move: Handicapped Reasoning in Waltz with Bashir

Academic journal article Jewish Film & New Media

Failure to Think, Failure to Move: Handicapped Reasoning in Waltz with Bashir

Article excerpt

Introduction: Politics and Rhetoric of Memory

Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir (Israel, 2008), his autobiographical chronicle of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila Palestinian massacre during the first Israeli-Lebanon war, seems in principal a prime cinematic candidate for illustrating a collapsing society, for the horrific events portrayed deservedly attracted unprecedented international interest. However Folman's autobiographical quest for his own long-forgotten memories of the massacre seems to use the political element as an excuse for a primarily subjective journey, through "detachment from the national collective memory," as Raz Yosef argues.1 The memory trauma the director experiences invokes psychoanalytic interpretations, and the captivating animation reveals the surrealistic character of dreams and hallucinations, effectively extending the realm of the subjective beyond its historical-documentary source.2 But what conditions this memory trauma, which seems to persist even after truths about his own past are finally revealed to Folman?

It is not enough to argue that facts long suppressed explain the predicament that haunts both Folman and his fellow soldiers in the film, even if the search for past truths launches the narrative of Waltz with Bashir. What is more interesting and overriding in the film is an accelerated failure of reasoning performance, and its consequences in both contemporary actions and later individual reflections. It comes as no surprise that intentions and decisions regarding personal safety and survival inadvertently give their place to a framework of catastrophe which negates these very same intentions and decisions. But Waltz with Bashir condi- tions this sad truth in two ways. First, all the miscalculations of reasoning follow a prescribed, almost behavioristic trajectory from intended personal security to abhorrent war activities. It would be unfair to argue that Israeli soldiers should be able to coldly deliberate when they are really in danger or to think twice before committing acts of violence in the middle of a feverish war atmosphere. Yet not only will alternative possibilities of action (feasible or not) be left unexplored twenty-six years after the war, in the accounts Israeli war veterans give to Folman; their very possibility of being implemented seems to be negated via a programmatic failure of reasoning and discourse about reasoning that places itself as a necessary accompaniment of all war involvement.

Second, Waltz with Bashir hides this failed reasoning performance and absence of subsequent discourse about it behind a veil of high-profile, scientifically minded rhetoric about memory, autobiography, and the war. The direction this narrative process takes (memory facts need to be unveiled for the trauma to finally enter a healing process) can be questioned: a person who finally learns all the facts there were to know about his or her own past actions can still be left in the dark concerning how his or her own failure (even if justifiable) to deliberate, select among different routes of action, and distinguish between personal safety and unnecessary violation of the rights of others finally determined the past actions. This kind of discussion about the failure to perform rationally is substituted in Waltz with Bashir with an overriding discourse about hidden facts that autobiographical memory can provide, and which would presumably settle both the feeling of guilt and the question of moral responsibility-even though the film itself reveals the shortcomings of this approach.

In the section that follows, I turn to Thomas Hobbes's philosophical theory of reasoning as reckoning and calculation of consequences (laid out in his Leviathan [1651]) to investigate the cinematic narrative of Waltz with Bashir.3 The breakdown of drawn inferences from perceived events almost defines the interviewees' accounts in the film, and has far-reaching effects that extend to the present failure to understand the status of past actions as something other than automatic and necessitated. …

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