Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Trap (Klopka) -- a moral dilemma

Director: Srdan Golubovic, 2007.

Parenting is a tough and often thankless vocation. It can be painful, even sacrificial. More painful, though, is to watch a son or daughter suffer helplessly. What would we do, what lengths would we go to, what would we give, to save one of our children? That is the question that we face in this movie.

Set in modern Belgrade, The Trap is a strong atmospheric Serbian drama focusing on a moral dilemma. When his son, Nemanja (Marko Djurovic), comes down with a serious heart condition causing seizures and risk of imminent death, only surgery can save him. But this surgery must be done in Berlin and is expensive. It is more money than Mladen (Nebojsa Glogovac) and his wife Marija (Natasa Ninkovic) can come up with. When all else fails, Marija takes out an ad in the paper begging for help. The shocking answer to this ad, and to Mladen's need, comes in a cell phone call. A man offers to pay the entire amount plus expenses if Mladen will kill a businessman in return. So, here is the dilemma. If Mladen refuses this offer his boy will inevitably die; but if he accepts this offer he will become a murderer, saving his son but losing his soul. Trap shows the huge divide between the wealthy and the workers in Serbia, a country in transition, struggling to find itself. Mladen is one of the workers. When Marija, a teacher, agrees to privately tutor one of her students, she sees the divide first-hand. The student's home has a picture frame that costs more than the surgery her son needs. Literally, this frame is worth more than his life. Post-war Belgrade is filled with such paradoxes.

Two scenes epitomize the sense of helplessness and despair. In the first, we see Mladen rush Nemanja to the hospital unconscious. As his son is wheeled away on a gurney, the camera moves with it leaving Mladen at the end of a long corridor looking on, shrinking in perspective. There is nothing he can do. His son is leaving him. He stands forlorn, a picture of impotence. second scene has Mladen and Marija sitting in their old Renault at a red light in the pouring rain. As the wipers swish back and forth, the couple sit there silently. The traffic light, reflected in the surface water on the road, slowly turns from red to yellow to green and back to red. They are in no hurry. There is nowhere for them to go or to turn. They are in a sea of despair, alone yet together.

Golubovic uses close-up shots of Mladen's and Marija's faces to show the inner turmoil and emotions. He also has Mladen talk directly to the camera, almost an act of religious confession, even from the start. He wants to do the right thing. But what is the right thing to do in these circumstances?

In a film like this, it is clear that there will be no happy ending. This will end in tragedy, though it is unclear who will die or how. It is apparent that Mladen, in sheer desperation, will accept the offer since there is no other option. But making a deal with the devil is indeed a terrible thing. The devil is a liar (John 8:44) and does not always make good on his promises. The trap is set and ready to be sprung.

The Trap in some ways reminds us of the Hollywood Indecent Proposal. There, millionaire Robert Redford was attracted to Demi Moore and wanted to sleep with her. He offered her and her husband $1M for one-night of sex with Moore. That indecent proposal was itself a moral dilemma. But in that case both parties could walk away the next day. Sin might occur, guilt would still result, but no one was left dead on the floor. Here the dilemma is much more deadly. Trap has some intriguing twists and turns along the way, especially as the victim's wife Jelena (Anica Dobra) comes onto the scene. Murdering a businessman is one thing. But he also has a wife and a child. Killing him leaves a widow and an orphan. Mladen can see the devastation that one bullet could cause.

The Trap paints a picture of a father in pain. Fathers are supposed to be strong, able to provide for their children in times of need. Fathers are supposed to make things better. When they cannot, something is wrong. When it is a matter of money, there is a sense of social injustice. When the rich can buy baubles to beautify their homes while beautiful boys lie dying in hospitals needing these baubles to buy their lives, something is indeed amiss. The wilderness of the cityscape has invaded the souls of its inhabitants.

What would we do? If this were your son, laying amidst the tubes and monitors in a hospital bed, would you commit the unthinkable to save his life? If it cost you imprisonment or death would it be worth it? If you got away with it but lived a guilt-racked life, would it be worth it? On the other hand, how painful would it be to sit with your son and watch him die slowly in front of you. Moreover, would his death haunt you, change you, perhaps even bringing on separation and divorce? Ethically, the solution is clear. It is a sin to commit murder (Exod. 20:13). Accepting the proposal would be unbiblical and unethical; the resulting guilt could be soul-consuming. But denying the proposal would be killing off a part of yourself. Ultimately, life lies in the hands of a good God. He can work miracles. He can provide when provision is impossible. But he does not always do so. Perhaps the right thing to do would be to trust and pray that God would work his will in his way. Do you have the faith for such a prayer?

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

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