Some films grab you by the throat and don’t let go…films that cross the boundaries of fiction and shatter your cosy world. “Johnny Mad Dog” is one of those films. Released in 2008 and directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, it is based on the novel “Johnny Chien Méchant” (2002) by Emmanuel Dongala.
It follows a group of child soldiers fighting during the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. In their march towards the capital Monrovia, they travel through towns and small villages, where they terrify, rape and kill civilians on a rampage fuelled by drugs and fanatical brainwash.
I have made very good friends over the years. They have enriched my life in countless ways and helped me overcome painful situations. Yet, I have never met some of those friends in person. They belong to the world of fiction and an impenetrable barrier sits between us. Well, that is not entirely true…every time I have sought their help they have generously shared valuable lessons and inspiration. They have never asked for anything in return but I feel I owe them and perhaps this humble entry will go some way to repay my debt.
The first one is a Greek king, who went to war in order to “rescue” another man’s wife and experienced the most eventful journey home ever written. Over two thousand years, he has enjoyed an awful reputation as a womanizer, hedonistic and impious scoundrel but in my opinion, his story is one of the best metaphors of human existence ever composed.
Odysseus was extremely resourceful and had in his extraordinary intelligence the key to fool even the wrath of the gods and defeat his enemies. He taught me to pursue one’s goals relentlessly and endure setbacks and pain when they are required to achieve a worthy goal. He was no angel, his hands were covered in blood and left most of his ideals shattered by his journey through life. Yet, he was not afraid of the truth and always loyal to his friends. Odysseus is the only king I would greet with a bow and inspired me with an everlasting fascination for Greek history and myth. I cannot stop wishing that, perhaps one day, I will encounter the old rogue and get to ask him about Troy, Circe and Polyphemus and hear his own account of the tale. More importantly, I would try to convince him to tell me about those other stories that the blind poet forgot to sing about.
Liz Wirth: What do you care? What do you care about Black Rock?
John J. Macreedy: I don’t care anything about Black Rock. Only it just seems to me that there aren’t many towns like this in America. But… one town like it is enough. And because I think something kind of bad happened here, Miss Wirth, something I can’t quite seem to find a handle to.
Liz Wirth: You don’t know what you’re talking about.
John J. Macreedy: Well, I know this much. The rule of law has left here, and the guerrillas have taken over.
Variations of the same story have been told many times but I find this one especially moving. The old knight wears a cheap suit and his eyes show the pain of old wounds. His body has withered but not his determination to repay a personal debt and stand up for decency. We are not told much about him but his actions speak louder than words. Continue reading
Elsa: “My father says there’s only right and wrong – good and evil. Nothing in between. It isn’t that simple, is it?”
Steve: “No, it isn’t. It should be, but it isn’t.”
Do we just know right from wrong? Or do we actually develop that conviction (if at all) over the years? Where do our moral codes come from? How far will we go to uphold them? I dare to guess that the answer to the first questions is a combination of innate traits, upbringing and other social influences. As for the last question, I believe it to be the real measure of a human being…
Those questions come to me after watching a rare gem of a film, “Ride The High Country” (1962), regarded by many as the first great film directed by Sam Peckinpah. A moral tale set in the last days of the West, when the first cars were driven in California and most of the old gunslingers were already dead or scrapping a living as ageing circus attractions. Continue reading