Battle Royal is one of those films which come out of Japan and make people look and say to each other “WTF Japan”. The film shows the rapid creation, destruction and perseverance of family structures. That’s academic talk for explain how and why people create families in tense situations. It happens all the time. Look at high school or your workplace. People have roles they fall into and they see themselves as a family unit. It’s kinda creepy to portray your local BDSM club as your family, but hey, not everyone can have the white Christian nuclear family held together by alcoholism and underlying bitterness. If you can’t relate to what I said, f*ck off and go back to skinning women ya freak. Where was I?
Oh right, Family. Family is important because we as humans need to be in groups for a whole bunch of reasons I won’t get into here. Freud has some interesting things to say about this. That’s right horror fans, I’m going to bring Dr. Freud into the equation and show you how and why people need families and how the family structure can be used to create some truly horrific scenes. It will make you look at the kids playing in your local playground a lot differently.
I equate Battle Royal to be Lord of the Flies on meth. Instead of children degenerating into madness over time, you have a classroom of children put inside a zoo and given weapons. Oh sh*t, I guess Caesar was right about bread and circuses, but hey, Battle Royal is an interesting spin on gladiatorial combat. Japanese kids make surprisingly good gladiators. The Japanese kids get into this “sport” through a draw. The Japanese government is having all time record high problems with adolescent crime and as an example to the student population; they put all the classrooms in a raffle. Each year one classroom is selected for the festivities.
The rules are as follow: Each student gets a random bag full of weapons, there are danger zones which are set each day and enforced by the military and the students have a certain time limit to achieve the objective. The objective is that only one student can survive, if there is more, all students will be killed. To ensure student co-operation, tracking devices are put around their necks with explosives in them. If that doesn’t terrify them, a few curve balls are added. A professional killer is brought in and a previous survivor. This will ensure that the kids will not only be fighting amongst themselves, but kids who know what they are doing and the stakes at hand.
The above is all you need to know as giving away any more of the plot will wreck the movie for you. The main point of this writing piece is to show you how family situations are created and used to create terror. Now let me introduce you all to Dr. Freud. Dr. Freud states that children revere their parents up to a certain age where they are introduced to other adults and begin to see them as parental figures. Shuya, the goody-two-shoes, is adored by the teacher Noriko. In return she looks up to him as a father figure. Hell, all the kids, even if they hate him respect Noriko to a certain point. Why is this? Dr Freud explains this revere in an essay called Family Romances:
“The replacement of both parents and just the father by grander personages – one discovers that these new, distinguished parents are provided with features that derive from the child’s actual memories of his real, more humble parents: the child does not really eliminate his father, but exalts him. Indeed, the whole effort to replace the real father by another who is more distinguished is merely an expression of the child’s longing for the happy times gone by, when his father seemed to him the strongest and most distinguished of men, and his mother the dearest and loveliest of women.”
For those not versed in academicese, Freud is explaining that children latch onto those who represent all the good traits of their parents. Children need multiple adult role models in their life, because that’s how they emotionally and mentally mature. In Battle Royal, Noriko and the natural leaders represent this. The weaker students look up to them for guidance. They are babies in the crib reaching out for their father’s finger. The film f*cks with us all and instead of love; they drop the newborns on their head, making sure to hit the soft spot, before giving the kids a ten-minute long underwater bath. Terrible analogy, I know, but bear with me. Battle Royal uses father figures, someone we can all relate to, to absolutely destroy our emotions.
Noriko is a sexual pervert, who enjoys tormenting the children, and the leaders in the children are inept, devious or just unlucky. As soon as the kids latch onto someone, everyone goes wrong and they die, scatter to the winds and run with tears streaming down their faces. They all are like kids lost in the mall. They look for someone nice, but instead of someone who will lead them to safety, they get buttf*cked or their faces eaten by zombies. Damn zombies. What are they doing in the mall? As you can imagine, the kids just keep on trying to find father like leaders, but keep on failing. It is so hard to watch and is tough, because you recognize the family roles in your personal life and Battle Royal twists them onto you to create some truly horrific situations. The Japanese have more societal issues than just tentacles in p*rn as they keep on making these films.
Tentacles in p*rn were mentioned, because Freud and Battle Royal delves into issues involving kids and sex. No, not pedophilia, but child sexual development. Kids have stages of sexual development where they realize the roles of their parents and become jealous of their father, but are afraid of being castrated by him, so they don’t act upon them (sorry girls, Freud considers you to be already castrated and therefore sexually confused). Battle Royal uses the jealously towards the father figure and longing towards him to create groups within the children and thus situations of dysfunction and massacre. Freud has this to say about the exultation and elimination of the father figure:
When the child subsequently learns about the different sexual roles of the father and the mother, when he understands that pater semper incertus est, whereas the mother is certissima the family romance is subject to a peculiar restriction: it contents itself with raising the status of the father, while no longer casting doubt on descent from the mother, which is something unalterable…
… Moreover, the motive of revenge and retaliation, which was in the foreground at the earlier stage, is still present at the later one. And as a rule it is precisely those neurotic children whose parents once punished them for sexual misbehaviour who now take revenge on them by means of fantasies of this kind.
Aah yes, love family style. Freud claimed that the child is restricted from acting out on the mother, thus respecting and fearing the father. Because the child is all confused inside, these feelings can be acted out upon (this is why we have fetishes folks) in weird ways. These fantasies include: panties, bdsm, cuckolding and various exotic jollies all stemming from your childhood experiences. This is not to say pedophilia will fix the urges as they will mess up the kid, but Freud claims these sexual frustrations are necessary in a child as it causes them to grow up sexually. Phew. What a doozy.
Battle Royal embraces this as well. Noriko (the good-two-shoes I mentioned before) longs after the teacher, and feels betrayed by his abandonment. As a result, she latches onto the survivor, Shuya to protect her. Noriko has such wonderful taste in men. Shuya tries to protect her, but disaster strikes at every turn. They get attacked, they see people turn on each other, kill themselves or screw up and die (yes, running off that cliff is a GREAT idea). Shuya is damaged by each disaster, but clings to Shuya as she has no other hope. Fathers, please stop reading this and hug your child tightly. Let them know you will always be there for them and pray that you won’t screw up too badly while raising them as you only have one shot. Battle Royal shows you what happens when you fail as a protector of someone beneath you, chilling stuff.
I hope you all are still here. It will be ok as Battle Royal is fantasy.
Situations like this do exist, but only in extremes. Chances are if you are reading this and not mixing some “special” Kool-Aid, you are normal. The horror in Battle Royal comes from normal family like situations and turns them on their head. You feel as if even though the film is fiction, the situations still connect to you in a deep personal manner. Battle Royal uses the family structure and pits people against each other for the benefit of others. Dr. Freud makes you look at your kids (and yourself) twice and wonder why the hell did our brains develop this way? No matter, we all turn out alright in the end. If you are still with me, don’t forget to join me next week for family therapy with our guest A Serbian Film.
I hate you all. Now I actually have to watch A Serbian Film. If I take an axe to my face and am all over the internet, you will know why.
Family, Dysfunction and Battle Royale