Saturday, July 17, 2010

THESE ARE THE DAMNED (Joseph Losey, 1963)

Our future contained in a stone prison, the progeny not of dividing cells but splitting atoms. Director Joseph Losey’s science fiction film is anathema of a future age, where black leather is no protection from deadly radiation. Losey’s bipolar narrative begins like contemptuous proclamation against the wicked and bored youth before splicing into a cautionary tale about cold war ethics.

The title creates a false expectation that the motorcycle gang, led by the charismatic King (an exemplary performance by Oliver Reed, perhaps a future echo of Kubrick’s bratchny protagonist), are the generation cursed. Contrasted with a girl on the cusp of womanhood coupled to an older man, and her incestuous brother dressed in cruel black leather, the roaring engines become the scream of predators looking for their next victim. Losey’s art house style is a cross between Godard and Brando, allowing the camera to linger upon sculptures, twisted like bodies pulverized by radiation, while Reed ruptures with hipster rebellion.

Suddenly, the story takes a turn for the surreal as the characters inadvertently stumble into a secret government compound and discover a terrible secret: children, isolated from the world since birth, are part of some mysterious experiment. These children thirst for physical contact, never having known their parents, their only contact with adults through closed circuit TV. But their love kills the very ones who desire to save them, their touch venomous, their fate unkind.

The group attempts to escape and lead the children from their prison, but these mutants are bred to survive a nuclear holocaust, to carry on the English Way through an irradiated winter…and beyond. This secret devours all who become tainted with the knowledge, gunshots the epitaph for the unlucky. And as the film fades to black, a child begs for help from within stone, screaming for release, but their time will come when the world is dead.


Final Grade: (B)

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