Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Noise -- sympathetic listening, empathetic suffering

Director: Matthew Saville, 2007.

This debut full length feature by Australian writer-director Saville is a complex psychological thriller. It starts with a bang, ends with a bang, and in between plays off the character of Constable Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell).

A young woman, Lavinia Smart (Maia Thomas), carrying a large photo boards a subway train. As the train starts moving, a woman sitting near her slowly falls to the ground. Going to help, Lavinia discovers the shocking truth. The woman and other occupants of this carriage are dead, murdered in a heinous criminal act.
A second heinous crime has left another corpse in this town, linked somehow to the subway slaughter. The police are under pressure and a caravan (trailer) is set up near the second crime scene to allow witnesses to easily come in and give interviews to the police. to Constable McGahan. Disoriented, he collapses at the foot of an escalator, dizzy from a hearing problem. Diagnosed to be tinnitus, he is given a doctor's note and expects to be put on medical leave. But he is sorely disappointed. His superior ignores the note and instead of sick leave McGahan is sent to serve caravan duty.

Noise interweaves the stories of McGahan and Smart until their final intersection. Smart is scared. She is the lone survivor of the massacre, and the murderer somehow made off with the photo which has her name. Of the two detectives assigned to the case, one is blatantly unsympathetic while the other is more relational. But Smart thinks it is a case of good-cop, bad-cop.

McGahan, on the other hand, has his own problems. Tinnitus could be caused by a tumor. He has fears of cancer. Even the thought of it causes problems with his policewoman girlfriend.

Saville brings a discordant score to Noise that is uncomfortable. Yet this puts the viewer in McGahan's shoes, or rather his ears. At one point, he comes home with a loud ringing in his ears. So loud is it, that he turns on anything and everything, hi-fi, TV, faucet, radio, just so this other noise might drown out his inner noise. We get a real sense of how much noise, both external and internal, can affect a person.

But this noise problem has an impact on McGahan. He becomes a more sympathetic listener. As different people come into the caravan at night, he grows more patient in listening to them. Lavinia's photo turns up with a slogan spray-painted on it, the detectives won't tell her what it says. They are simply focused on the case, not worrying about the impacts on the victim. As the two narrative stories reach confluence, she asks McGahan to tell her what it says. She wants the truth, not some cockamamie platitude. Sensing her pain, he goes against police protocol and tells her.

Noise highlights this sense of empathetic sharing of suffering. Without his hearing problem, McGahan would not have been in this post. And it would have been unlikely that he would have resonated with Lavinia in her pain. In some ways, this illustrates the biblical idea of comfort arising from the ashes of suffering. Paul tells us "we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God" (2 Cor. 1:4). God will comfort his children in their hour of suffering. In turn, when we see others in trouble, we can proffer the hand of comfort. Having experienced it ourselves, we can empathize with others.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

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