Stone dulls anti-war message

December 1, 1999


Stone dulls anti-war message

Directed by Peter Antonijevic
Produced by Oliver Stone and Janet Yang
In cinemas from December 2

By Jonathan Singer

Savior, the new Oliver Stone film, depicts the spiritual death and moral self-discovery of a US anti-terrorist, Joshua Rose (played by Dennis Quaid), who assumes the name Guy when he becomes a foreign legionnaire and then a mercenary for the Serbian forces in Bosnia.

Joshua/Guy's life takes this course after his wife (Nastassja Kinski — she appears only briefly, despite her listing as a star in the film) and son are killed in a bombing in Paris and he responds to this with a murderous rampage.

In Bosnia, Guy takes responsibility for a newborn infant and her mother, Vera (Natasa Ninkovic), a Serb who has been imprisoned by the Muslims for a year and raped before she is released in a prisoner exchange and then gives birth. The emotional bond he develops for these two helps return him from monster to human.

The writer of the screenplay, Robert Orr, found inspiration for Savior in a true story. Unfortunately, this has not translated onto the screen, despite the best efforts of Quaid and Ninkovic. The film starts in a Hollywood pastiche of sentimentality and blood, with some scenes bordering on the unbelievable. Once the main narrative begins, this improves a bit, although the film's story is quite predictable.

Although the setting is the Bosnian war, you can learn only a little about this war from Savior. The Serb husband of a Croat woman tells Guy that before the war there was "no difference", but now everyone is "stupid in the head".

This is true as far as it goes, but it hardly gives the viewer a feel for the role of Serb chauvinism in the government and army in Serbia/rump Yugoslavia in opposing self-determination for the various Yugoslav republics (and Kosova) — especially Bosnia, where, as a result of a common working life, the barriers between the different ethnicities had largely broken down.

Instead, Savior, as a movie with an anti-war message, is about any war and tells us that all war is hateful and evil. Muslims and Serbs alike commit atrocities, on each other and even against themselves.

That's wrong. Wars are fought for varying purposes and by varying means in accordance with the interests of the people who are fighting them. Widespread systematic terror is necessary only to defeat a popular movement.

In the Bosnian war, there is evidence only against the Serb chauvinist forces of "ethnic cleansing", the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war and concentration camps for members of the population seen as opponents.

The Bosnian government forces were not "Muslim", but Bosnian — that is, composed of Muslim, Croat and Serb citizens of the Bosnian republic, fighting for an independent state that would recognise the rights of all citizens.

Of course, fictional cinema presents material emotionally, not analytically. Joshua/Guy, however, is just one thing and then another; there is no ambiguity to play out the problem before us. His brutalisation is sudden and individual, not systemic; no use is made of his situation as the "enemy"; and the apparent message that guns are no solution seems to cut across any consideration of the social causes of war. Savior doesn't come up to Stone's usual standard.

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