By Don Simpson | July 1, 2012
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Writers: Jerzy Skolimowski, Ewa Piaskowska, James McManus
Starring: Vincent Gallo, Emmanuelle Seigner
Why did you not tell me that Essential Killing is essentially a silent film? Well, okay, it is not exactly silent. In fact, sound does play a pretty major role in the film; so much so, that even the few lines of spoken dialogue become just another part of the sound design.
The main character — Mohammed (Vincent Gallo) — never utters one word, just a few grunts, moans and cries here and there. Mohammed is a Taliban terrorist fighter in Afghanistan. Early in the film, Mohammed kills three Americans — one soldier and two contractors — who would have killed him if they saw him first. (This is Mohammed’s first essential killing.) Soon thereafter, Mohammed is captured by the United States military. (Judging from the sound design, Mohammed’s hearing is apparently damaged during the process — this may or may not be why he never talks.) Mohammed is promptly brought to a prison where he is aggressively cross-examined and brutally tortured (including waterboarding). Next, he is shipped off in a plane to the snowy mountains of Eastern Europe.
Out of pure coincidence, Mohammed ends up on the run. The environment is brutal. He does not have ample enough clothing for the frigid temperatures, nor does he have food. Occasionally, his life is threatened, thus forcing him to kill his adversaries. It is very important that all of Mohammed’s violence is defensive. Like an animal, he fights to survive with every remaining ounce of his will. Mohammed’s apprehension to act out violently is showcased when he has the opportunity to shoot a deer. Knowing that the deer will not hurt him (and the gunshot might giveaway his whereabouts), Mohammed opts to eat bugs instead.
Vincent Gallo’s purely physical performance is accentuated only by occasional cries of pain and fear. For the most part, Gallo’s terror and agony is internalized, reflected only by his deep dark eyes. It is a transcendent role, one that carries the entire 83-minute running time on its shoulders.
Somewhere deep within the silence of Essential Killing is a parable that is so understated that it has become oblique. It is very clear that writer-director Jerzy Skolimowski has something to say. Placing a Taliban terrorist fighter at the forefront of this narrative — and justifying each of his killings as essential — certainly means something. Well, what does it all mean? You might presume that Skolimowski wants the audience to forage for clues and come up with our own conclusions. I just have no freakin’ idea where to begin searching for those clues.
Essential Killing is currently available on home video in the United States courtesy of Tribeca Film.