Once Were Warriors Essay, Research Paper
Filmic technique plays a vital role in the way an audience looks at a character or society in a whole. Lee Tamahori’s film “Once were warriors” uses filmic technique in the crafting of the characters, the roles they adopt and the society they live in.
Filmic Technique helps to exhibit the Heke family as trapped in society, with a vicious cycle of alcohol, violence, male domination, unemployment and pointless parties. In order to try and free themselves from the vicious cycle or to just find peace and happiness; each character has a way of escaping the harsh reality of the society they live in. The choice to escape is theirs, and the route they take can be looked at as either real or fantasy.
The opening shot of ‘Once were warriors’ begins with an idyllic and placid landscape, stereotypical of the beautiful scenery of New Zealand. It is presented as pure serenity; it can be any place, any time. The picture is frozen, pretty as a picture. There is no pollution or garbage to be seen. No signs of human life, and is free of all the hustle and bustle of city. The music supports the idyllic image, with a serene and tranquil tone in the flow of the music. The music benefits the picture, and helps the audience create a perfect moment in their mind.
As the camera pans left, the audience is feed the sound of busy city life. The complete opposite to the image the audience had experienced just moments before. The soundtrack is vital, as it creates a direct image to match the visual that the audience sees. The audience at this point must recognise the difference between the two scenes and realise why it was used. The use of soundtrack and carefully structured images creates an uneasy tension in the audience’s mind. As the camera pans across to a highway, a heavy-metal guitar begins to roar and create an unstable position for the audience. As the camera moves to the traffic below, in the industrial setting, the audience if forced to realise that the beautiful surrounds they had seen before was merely a highway billboard. That moment of serenity is the perhaps the last, until the end of the film.
‘Once were warriors’ focuses on the unsettling downfall of an urban family trapped in society, violence and alcoholism. The Heke family is portrayed as being, yet another family stuck in a rut, society. Where the male is the protector and spends all day in the pub, getting drunk. Wife beating, although brutal, is expected, especially if the woman has a problem with keeping her mouth shut.
Filmic technique plays a large role in the first scene as it emphasises on the differences between what the world would look like in a perfect world and what it looks like in reality. The billboard symbolises the world outside the horizons of the industrial city. It suggests to the audience that they are no longer in the beautiful lands of New Zealand, but the slums.
As the camera pans and presents the audience with a panoramic view of society we observe the groups which have formed and see them in their own habitat. Much like animals this society tends to stick with their own kind, and form groups for support and strength. We see the muscle men, bulking up and pumping iron, focusing on their physical strength, for some form of identification, the reggae influenced youth, who have moulded a self image form what they have seen on movies and been influenced by, and we see the bikies, who depend on their image for what they truly are.
Specific filmic techniques such as audio help the audience notice the truth behind this trapped society. The music and soundtrack have a bouncing and free beat, implying that the atmosphere is free and there are no worries. However, all the young hide behind their sunglasses, as a way of creating a false image, while blocking out the reality. It is suggested that what we are viewing is a routine everyday atmosphere for this society. At this point the audience has the upper hand and can see that these individuals are trapped by the way they live and act in their society.
The introduction of Beth, is the first indication of an individual escaping the harsh environment of their society. We see Beth in a close up of her face, placing her sunglasses over her eyes as a form of blocking out her surroundings. Across the highway we see Grace and the two younger children under the large tree in the backyard, listening to one of Grace’s stories. The positioning of these two shots assist in the contrast between the Heke’s home life and the way society works.
Throughout the film, the audience is able to recognise that each member of the Heke family is trapped, either by their own actions, ending in their own downfall, or by other people’s actions, affecting their own freedom.
Jake Heke can perhaps be seen as the most troubled and trapped member of the Heke family. Jake is a volcanic character and is the bomb that rips the Heke family apart. The problem is that no one knows the extent of his fuse. The audience seems to wait for the moment where Jake loses his temper once again. Jake is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. At first glance Jake appears to be a normal Maori guy, maybe with a bit of an ego trip to deal with, but normal all the same. This image is maintained until the audience experiences one of Jake’s eruptions of volcanic anger. Jake’s anger is illustrated by using close ups of him as he grunts, spits and grinds his teeth like a bear gearing up for an attack. But other times he seems calm and collected, and appears to have a split personality.
The first shot of Jake is a good example of his typical shot throughout the whole of the film. He is looked at through an uptilted angle, giving him the advantage of looking overpowering and important, when compared to the others around him, looking less significant.
The first shot of Jake, using uptilt not only gives the impression that he is an important role, but also that Jake, himself knows that he is physically stronger and is a more powerful individual. We see through Jake’s expression that the young men are close to nothing in his eyes. They are the young dogs and he has the upper hand. He is physically stronger, and we can see that it brings pleasure to Jake to know that he has this image.
It is Jake’s need to be seen as physically strong and in control, which makes his image so important to him. Through the use of filmic technique we can see that Jake feels the only way he can communicate with people is through violence and the use of physical strength. With the shots and angles used to convey this, we are able to recognise this as a way for Jake to escape, from things he cannot handle.
Jake has many forms of escape; these include alcohol, violence and his image. The first time we see Jake escape at the pub, is when the police bring his son Boogie (Mark Heke) home, after being caught stealing a car radio. By the use of cross cutting between shots of Jake at the pub and Beth at home dealing with Boogie, the audience is able to recognise that Jake is ignorant when it comes to his family. The use of colours from the two scenes works hand in hand to make the pub look dingy and like a trap. The use of shadows, brown-ochre colours, and smoke, make the pub like entrapping and evil compared to the shot of the Heke’s at home in their green back yard. The colours that are used in the Heke’s backyard are very clear and lively compared to the colours used in the pub. Ironically Jake goes to the pub to escape his troubles, but realistically Jake is just creating more problems and is quickly becoming trapped alcohol.
The audience is placed in a position where they see both sides of the story and are encouraged to feel sympathy for Beth and Boogie, (as we know little about his reason for resorting to crime), and feelings of loathing and disapproval of Jake’s actions. As the audience watches Jake drink beer and laugh with mates, the audience is put in a position where they begin to question whether Jake is the cause of the Heke’s family troubles, due to his escaping to the pub, every time there is a sign of trouble.
Jake has two homes. One with his family, and the other at the local pub, where it seems to the audience that he spends most of his time, drinking himself happy with his mates. The audience can realise that Jake goes to the local pub, merely as an escape route of his troubles, and family life.
Going to the pub, isn’t the only form of escape for Jake. It is suggested to the audience that it is common for Jake to go to the pub and end the night by bringing a number of his mates’ home for a party. Using filmic technique the audience is able to recognise that the party scene is not uncommon in the Heke household. As Jake’s mates barge into the Heke’s home, arms full of boxes of alcohol, worshipping the great Jake “the mus”, and bragging about how great he was at the pub, by bashing up a man who deserved to be taught a lesson. It doesn’t take Beth long to realise that Jake has invited a party to their home. Instead of showing any signs of disapproval or disappointment, Beth joins in with the party and becomes trapped in the cycle of drinking as way of being happy, like Jake.
The use of filmic technique plays a large role in the significance of this scene. This scene features the first time the audience sees Beth and Jake genuinely happy, together. The moment where Beth and Jake sing together pin points a moment of true happiness and love. Throughout this scene, by the use of filmic technique, the audience is persuaded to think that maybe they were wrong about Jake and he really isn’t a bad guy after all. The shot is taken form a straight level angle, with Beth and Jake both equal is stance. Creating the first moment in the film where we see Jake and Beth both equal, and Jake caring more about Beth than his beer. The use of lighting creates a spotlight on the couple, which emphasises on the importance of the scene showing their togetherness.
Around the room, everyone seems to be coupled up and singing, smiling and showing signs of being happy and enjoying themselves. Cross cutting between Beth and Jake and Grace in her bed awake listening to them sing, emphasises on the affects the moment has on their naive children. “ Aren’t they beautiful when they are like this. I wish I could see them.”
The use of colours on Grace’s face as she cherishes the moment of knowing her parents are truly happy, helps to convey that this moment frees Grace, as well as Beth and Jake. Although this is a form of escape it only lasts of a short period of time and has no real gain, in the end. The blue-grey tinge to the shadows on and around Grace’s face symbolises the mood that has been set. The use of cool colours such as the blues and light greys, creates a tranquil and calm atmosphere the while special moment lasts. Even though, this one moment conveys the Heke’s as happy and free, the audience is brought back to the harsh reality of their society, by the negativity that still hangs in the air. “They’re drunk that’s all”, Boogie unlike the rest of his family doesn’t seem to be affected by the atmosphere and his parents actions, instead he remains levelheaded and realistic. Boogie’s reply creates a certain tension, which suggests that he is not impressed by his parents’ actions and knows how it will end.
The same idea is again presented on Nig’s arrival home. The use of filmic technique by panning over to Nig’s facial expression, implies that he is also ware of what is going to end up happening. The use of Nig and Boogie, both foreshadows the event that ends the night.
It is Beth realisation of her actions, which ends the night in violence. When Nig asks for some money from Beth, clearly drunk Beth slurs to Nig, “Money? What do you need money for, you got everything you need right here. We got food, we got booze…” This moment on its own symbolises hoe Beth has become entrapped, by herself and what she has let herself become. Beth is forced to face the harsh reality when she slaps Nig, when he mentions that she is drunk. The use of colour and music helps to convey Beth’s shock and hatred of her actions, which is similar to Jake’s violent personality. The use of ochre- brown colours symbolises the emotions that Beth feels as she realises, she has become just like Jake. Beth is pushed further when a mate of Jake’s enters the kitchen and tells her to cook him something to eat. The use of a close up on Beth’s face after he says this, illustrates to the audience that this has finally tipped the scales to the point where Beth doesn’t want to be ordered and pushed around by anyone. Jakes’s reaction when he first walks in on Beth, in her emotional state, is patronising and he mocks Beth, ‘just cook the man some eggs”. When Beth is pushed over the limit, she starts to show her anger by throwing eggs on the floor, in the front of Jake.
This is the first time the audience sees Beth stand up for herself as she yells at Jake ‘I’m not the fucking slave around here”. This is perhaps the first moment Beth realises that she has become trapped.
As the audience starts to hear a change in the music, Jake begins to fume with anger. A close up of Jake’s anger gives a clear impression that Beth has now lit his fuse, and he is about the blow up in an anger. As the music begins to grow into a fierce beat, which foreshadows the event which the audience soon learns is Jake using violence as a way of solving Beth’s rebellion against Jake’s way of order, in his home.
It is not long before the scene evolves into a violent rampage of Jake throwing Beth around the room, like a rag doll. When Jake smashes the mirror above Beth’s head, it symbolises Jake shattering Beth’s dreams; due to a previous scene where Beth looks into the mirror, lifting her hair around her face, starring into her reflection. Suggesting to the audience that she is thinking about what she has become and how she is trapped in a world of no hope. Symbolising that she still has thoughts about whether she could still turn her life back around.
Throughout the fight scene, we see Beth, get beaten up violently, the use of the filmic technique, cross cutting, between this image and the Heke children scared for their mother, helps to convey the Heke family as trapped. They are trapped physically by Jake’s violence and his drinking, leaving them not choice but to hide away and be scared. The shot of the children and Grace, features them in the dark, covered in shadows, the colours of the shot is dark and gloomy, which helps to emphasise their entrapment. They are huddled together, under a bunk bed, acting as a shield. The youngest children huddled under Grace’s arms, like baby birds under their mother’s wings, being protected against anything that threatens them. The soundtrack is extremely violent; the sounds of Beth’s cries and body being thrown around the house can be heard. The sounds of the children crying over laps and echoes throughout the scene, creating a distance between them and their father Jake, who is so trapped by his violence that he cannot see that what he is doing is ripping apart his family.
The shot of savage dogs, outside the Heke’s home, scavenging for food splits the end of the scene with morning. This is a form of filmic technique, which symbolises how Jake has turned so savage, hi is like a wild dog, scavenging for what in can.
The next morning the audience is able to recognise the different ways each member of the Heke family members escapes the harsh life they are trapped in.
Grace, who is perhaps the most innocent and naive member of the Heke family, gets up and begins to clean up the mess, which has been let from the previous night. The audience is able to recognise this act as a way of covering up the damage and picking up the pieces, and getting things back to the way they were. This symbolises how society works. Instead of leaving the mess for Jake to see, Grace cleans it up, which suggests that she is heading on the same parallel path as her mother, Beth.
When Nig, comes into the lounge scavenging for any change, it symbolises how trapped and low they have become. Nig is so desperate that he resorts to any thing he can get his hands on.
The scene with Beth in the bed, after the night of violence and rape, we see her in an aerial shot taken from above her. We are able to see her in the middle of the bed, with Jakes laying across her, with his arm across her waist and the animal print covers up around her tightly. Her face is puffed up and bruised, and rests on a blood stained pillow. The use of this set creates the image that Beth is trapped by Jake’s control, he has a firm grip of her and is willing to do what ever he wants to get his own way. The animal print covers, symbolises that their bedroom acting is similar to an animal.
The moment Beth gets up, she goes to the bathroom and looks at her appearance in the mirror. When Beth looks in the mirror, its dirty and implies that he dreams have gone and things aren’t ever going to change unless she does something about the way she has become. Even though Beth looks terrible, she still puts on a brave face and is optimistic “Nothing a good coffee won’t fix”. Suggesting that she isn’t going to do anything about what she has let happen.
The scene where Mavis comes around, the use of filmic technique and the script, help convey how Beth is trapped. The comment Mavis makes about Beth’s appearance says a lot about the way society views their life. They make a joke out of the harsh reality. ‘God girl, was that a result of one hell of an orgasm or what?”
We are able to see that Beth’s only form of escape at this point is to try and cover up what has happened. And to try not and think about it. “ Some old story, gotta learn to keep my mouth shut.”
The best thing Nig knows to do, as a form of escape is to join forces with others and create another sense of feeling needed. It is Nig’s lack of love, which drives him to joining a gang, as a way out of his problems. The audience is aware that Jake shows little to no, signs of affection towards any of his children. The audience learns that Jake had once loved Nig when he held him in his arms as a baby, but once Nig showed signs of weakness, such as crying Jake put him down and walked away.
It evident that Nig knows that his father has become trapped, and in turn, doesn’t want to become like him. Ironically, by joining a gang, influenced by strength and violence, he is following down a parallel path as Jake. We are able to recognise Nig’s escape as a downfall, which places him in a situation just an entrapping as his home life.
By the use of filmic technique we are able to recognise Nig’s initiation test, as a savage and brutal entrapment. The down tilts on Nig and uptilts on the gang members, creates the image that presents the scene as an arena. As we see Nig getting beaten up, the audience is put into a position where they see this as an act of savageness and brutality. The soundtrack helps create this illusion, by the sounds of dogs barking in the back ground to enforce this gladiator style initiation.
We are later able to see Nig uses his tattoos, as a form of escaping and hiding behind the harsh reality of entrapment.
Grace, plays a mother figure to her siblings and reads her stories to them, as a way of given them something to look forward to and free them from their surrounds by creating false hope for a short time. Grace’s stories she writes, is a way for her to escape the reality and bring happiness to those around her, especially Toot. Toot is Grace’s best mate who spends most of the day sitting in the front seat of a broken down car he calls home. Toot looks to Grace for a form of an escape of his hopeless life. By listening to Grace’s stories, he is released from reality for a short period of time, similar to the way Grace is released from her entrapment.
Toot has a dream, which is his form of escape. He wishes to one day go on the dole, fix up his car and drive on out of there. The audience is able to see that is purely a dream and has little chance of actually happening.
The use of filmic technique when Grace and Toot are together conveys their togetherness as a form of escape. They are filmed under a bridge, blocking out the world around them; the colours are plain and symbolise peace. The soundtrack plays the most vital role as it muffles and blocks out the sounds of the life around them.
After the scene where Grace is raped, we see her differently. She escapes to Toot and asks for something stronger to take away her pain, such as glue. The audience is able to recognise this is a downfall and a negative escape. Stoned and laughing uncontrollably, outlines the escape, but the happiness ends when Toot innocently tries to give Grace a peck on the lips. From the way Grace reacts the audience is able to see that she is pushed over her limit, much like the way Beth was by Jake, and no longer see Toot as someone she can relate and escape with. ‘I hate you! Your just like every one else” The use of shadows on Grace’s face when she says this symbolises that she is once again trapped. We see Grace left with no where else to go. The use of contrasting and composing ideas, in a juxtaposition as she walks down a street passing a choir singing a holy song, and a several women prostitutes. The use of symbolic costume helps to convey Grace as similar to them.
As Grace walks past alleyways, in the dark we are given the idea that she is lost and has nowhere to escape to. When Grace is drawn to looking down an alleyway shedding light we are given a split second illusion that she might be trying to find some good in the light. Ironically in the past light has symbolised an escape or something good, but now that Grace had lost all hope we are exposed to the harsh violence only found here. The use of filmic technique helps to convey the image that violence and crime everywhere in the world and there is no escaping it. As two men stand under the light boxing, a red filter used creates the illusion of anger and violence. The profile shot of Grace’s face cross cuts between the two images, which emphasises on her emotional state.
Grace’s hope is crushed even more, when Jake rips up her book, in volcanic anger. The audience is able to recognise this event as a foreshadowing, as the music begins to swell and roar like it has in the past, when signifying bad events. The soundtrack is a manifestation of how Grace feels, unable to break free from the vicious cycle.
Grace’s final escape is her death, as she could not handle the pressure of the violence, alcoholism and male domination in her life. Her last resort and only escape is to hang herself and end the pain.
The scene when Jake realises that Grace has committed suicide, is the first time we see Jake as insignificant and worthless. The shot of Jake in the doorway, standing in shock staring at Grace hanging from the tree, suggests that he is unable to do any thing and he is impotent and unable to do anything. The soundtrack is very dramatic and is drowned often by Beth’s screams.
The next morning when Beth is arranging for Grace to be buried in Beth’s home lands, Jake tries to regain his control by stating that Grace isn’t going to be taken there. This shot is the first time we see Beth take control of her family’s life, by telling Jake that he is no longer going to have a say in the way things are run. ‘Our people once were warriors. But unlike your Jake, they were people with munnah, pride; people with spirit .If my spirit can survive living with you for eighteen years, then I can survive anything.”
The use of filmic technique, at Grace’s funeral helps to convey the release of the Heke’s entrapment. The use of soft tones and a sun setting sky creates a sense that they are at peace now. Jake and his influences no longer trap them.
Throughout the film “Once Were Warriors” filmic technique is used to convey each member of the Heke family as trapped in one way or another. If not by their own actions, resulting in their own downfall, then by their influencing society.
Lee Tamahori takes full advantage of filmic technique to create a powerful and dramatic film. The film captures the audiences not just by looking at domestic violence, but the way it affect those it reflects on.