It’s the end of the millennium, and a family is about to celebrate New Year’s Eve, 1999, in a bunker deep beneath the Earth.
I’ll confess I’m a bit amused by the “interviews” Peter Watkins has given about his films: he wasn’t happy with the questions reporters asked, so he turned to writing his own, where he asked himself the questions he wanted to answer.
Which means he has said very little about his strange and unique films but an awful lot about his anarchistic politics.
This is a shame as his work is eccentric, unique, and fascinating from a technical point of view. He particularly enjoyed making films which mirrored the style of television news broadcasts and would do goofy things like make a movie about the battle of Culloden as if reported by a BBC TV news show.
Here he offers a surprisingly dense future world whose details emerge slowly from the endless television broadcast running in the background. The USA and USSR set aside their differences and rule the world jointly. The fear of terrorism has lead to increasing security efforts and the loss of most freedoms. It’s all a bit heavy handed, but his world is very clearly drawn, and the official story — a New Year’s visit from the brother of the main controller of this heavily guarded Swedish nuclear waste facility — ties in nicely with his main political themes as the brother is a bit of a radical.
You’d think in a political climate like this that a radical would have learned how to do so quietly, though.
All in all, it’s rather well done and plays out nicely, conveying a lot while keeping it interesting. Particularly noteworthy is the lengthy early sequence where they watch their visitors work their way past the three checkpoints (American, Soviet and Swedish) on the apartment’s monitors.
However there are a few curious lapses — for example, the moments when images of dying African children get inserted for no obvious reasons, which seems at odds with the very conventional attitudes of the announcer; or the moments when his politics seem more angry than coherent.
But I suspect that was fairly common for the radicalism of his day.
I suppose a lot of people might find this a bit dry, or get impatient waiting for the car crashes (there aren’t any), but those who are interested in something more venturesome or even intellectual will find this one interesting, as will those familiar with Peter Watkins’ work. And it is intriguing to see how Watkins visualized the future. While we might say it turned out very differently, it is curious how, thanks to incidents of terrorism and violence, and the threat of school shootings (with a little global warming hysteria thrown in), we are now ready to accept far more government control over our lives.
Fortunately The Trap has surfaced on Youtube (which is particularly welcome as his other films are relatively hard to find) so you now have no excuse not to check this one out.
So retreat to the safety of your concrete bunker, pop up some non-nuclear corn and be careful what you say.
You never know who might be listening.