Waltz with Bashir
Sony Pictures Classics, 2008
If our brain has built-in mechanisms to block out traumatic memories and if memories are the source of our personalities, then what role do traumatic events play in shaping who we are? That question, along with many others about the nature of memory and personality, underpins the new animated documentary Waltz with Bashir.
The movie details Israeli director Ari Folman’s quest to unlock memories of his involvement in the massacre of Palestinian civilians during the Lebanese Civil War. After Folman undergoes his first flashback to the war, he contacts a psychiatrist friend to help him determine if his flashback represents a real event or a manufactured memory created by Folman’s subconscious.
Folman’s choice to use animation rather than live action for this autobiographical work may strike documentary buffs as odd at first, but it ends up serving his subject matter well. A live-action movie might have struggled to represent Folman’s intangible psychological experiences visually, whereas animation allows Waltz with Bashir to communicate the experience of vivid flashbacks, falsified memories and the alienation induced by post-traumatic stress disorder. The movie mixes recreations of actual events with impressionistic fantasy sequences and interviews with Folman’s friends, comrades and psychiatrists.
At the movie’s U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival, Folman said he was inspired by research that described a repressed memory as a nut in a shell. Although other memories fade over time, the repressed memories remain fresh but inaccessible within their casing. Folman made Waltz with Bashir for the specific purpose of cracking that shell, exhuming those memories and exploring his subconscious to find out who he really is. In doing so, he created a rare glimpse into the psychological effects of war.
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Reviews and Recommendations."