Director: Matteo Garrone, 2009. (NR)
Gomorrah draws to mind the biblical account of Genesis 19 when "the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah" (v.24). The reason he did this was because "the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous" (Gen. 18:20). Moral darkness had descended upon the city. Similarly, moral darkness has fallen on Naples in this tough-to-watch award-winning Italian film.
The movie opens with the unexpected shooting of several unsuspecting gangsters as they are relaxing in a tanning salon. This is reminiscent of the shootings at the end of The Godfather. Indeed, Gomorrah offers an inside look at the mob underworld in Naples, as The Godfather did for the mafia in America. But where that movie focused on the godfather, Don Corleone and his son, in Gomorrah we never see the mob boss. Rather, the emphasis is on individual gangsters as well as the individuals who come into contact with the system. It is, in this respect, a portrayal of the grass-roots level impact of organized crime.
Garrone has based his movie on the best-selling non-fiction book by Robert Saviano which exposes the crime syndicate known as the "Camorra" or "System" and the rules it ruthlessly enforces. As a result of his book and this film, Saviano has received numerous death threats from the Camorra and has to live under police protection. Unlike the American Mafia or Sicilian Cosa Nostra, where there is a clear hierarchy, the Camorra is flatter and looser, with different clans vying for power.
The film pulls five individuals out of the book's narrative and, though unrelated, interweaves their stories together to highlight the impact of crime on the criminals and their families as well as the innocent. None are ranking members; all seem ordinary people with lives and dreams. Most are living in the urban ghetto.
Don Ciro is a middle-aged middleman who handles the money distribution to the families of imprisoned clan members. Timid, he shuns violence and simply wants to get out of the system. But the system won't let him. He cannot escape without making payment for his life. Toto is a 13-year-old grocery deliverer who aspires to be part of the clan. Through an accidental incident he is given a chance to be initiated into this violent life. Marco and Ciro are two older teens who are cocky gangster wannabes. Full of small-time plans, they think they are invincible. But they cross too many clan leaders who cannot tolerate their disrespect. Pasquale is a tailor who works for a garment factory owner with ties to the Camorra. When he begins consulting for a competing Chinese company, he crosses a line. The Camorra brooks no competition. And Roberto is a young graduate who starts working for a clan businessman, Franco, who illegally dumps toxic waste in disused quarries. All five find out to their dismay just how deeply the tentacles of this crime organization extend and the depths to which the Camorra will go to exact retribution.
Retribution is an extended theme. Most of the five stories focus on this topic in one way or another. When the rules of the Camorra are broken, the gangsters seek retribution. Usually with a gun. It matters not the age or sex of the victim. What matters is exacting this retribution.
The idea of retribution focuses on meting out merited discipline, just punishment. It connotes swift revenge, a paying back for an evil done earlier. It flies in the face of Christianity. Followers of Jesus are not to take matters into our own hands like this. Paul tells us to leave vengeance to God (Rom. 12:19). But retribution in the legal sense appears in the biblical texts, particularly in the death of Jesus. Though he was innocent of any crime, and lived a life free of sin (1 Pet. 2:22), the punishment for the sin of others, for our sin, was poured out on him. He experienced the retribution of God that we rightfully should receive. In doing this, he absorbed in his death the wrath of God (Rom. 3:25).
The subplot of Roberto's introduction to illegal toxic waste management is particularly despicable. As Franco goes about seemingly helping save poor families, he is merely filling his pockets and the coffers of the Camorra while destroying the environment. Organized crime does not just focus on prostitution, drugs and gambling. Where there is "opportunity for profit" they are involved. Such schemes not only pollute the earth but damage people's health, as Roberto witnesses first hand.
We are called to care for the earth (Gen. 1:26). We have been given a social stewardship. Though it is politically correct to focus on green initiatives these days, such emphasis stems from the Garden of Eden. God's beautiful creation is our playground. If we destroy it, we will all suffer, and we will leave a damning legacy for future generations.
The world of Gomorrah is gray; its pulse is cold and cruel. All five scenarios end with, or involve, violence and death. The landscape is bleak, mostly sleazy concrete apartments. Even when the film moves outside the city, the countryside is brown and barren, under heavy gray skies. Sunshine is missing. Color is absent. Beauty is gone. Drab and dull, life has been supplanted by death.
The core values of the Camorra and those living under its umbrella are clear: power, money, and blood. The people have little choice or freedom. There is no grace, no forgiveness, no hope. Gomorrah is a chilling picture of life apart from Christ. Without these life is meaningless and can be curtailed brutally with a swift bullet. In contrast, Jesus' gospel of grace offers forgiveness for sin (Matt. 26:28), instead of retributive justice, and hope for a future (Tit. 2:13). The way of redemption is superior to retribution!
Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs