Punishment Park (1971)
Director: Peter Watkins
Actors: Patrick Boland, Kent Foreman, Carmen Argenziano
Runtime: 88 min
Punishment Park is a dystopia (reverse utopia) in which US President Richard Nixon declares a state of emergency, suspends all civil rights, the police arrests thousands of people and deliverers them to military tribunals which are adjudicating with no evidence and without the right to defense or appeal.
The court basically gives you two options: either you get tremendous prison sentence or you choose to spend four days in the “Punishment Park”. Everyone chose this second option without even assuming what awaits them there. Soon upon arrival they realize that the choice offered to them was no choice, because they are faced with suffering and death. Their tormentors are repeatedly referring to the fact that the convicted made this decision themselves, they themselves choose “Punishment Park” instead of a lengthy prison sentence, although (injustice aside) it is obvious that properly informed they would have never made that choice. Exceptional metaphor for many life situations everyone of us experienced.
Awareness that, through the creation of false alternatives, capitalist system usually allows us only to choose between two evils, and the understanding that the game is rigged from the beginning and always had been rigged, today can seem as common places. It is therefore necessary to bear in mind that the movie was made in 1971 at the culmination of mass awakening and great social upheaval in the United States in late 1960s and early 1970s, and was inspired by the brutal repression today used to suppress the Anti-war movement, the student movement and the Human rights movement.
“Punishment Park” was shot in a very realistic pseudo-documentary style, typical for Peter Watkins, from the perspective that TV crew from Europe would have in making a TV story on the trials and the “Punishment Park”. Special attention was paid to the argumentation presented on trials and in dialogues by members of the repressive state apparatus, judges, prosecutors, police officers on one side and on the other side arrestees that are mostly part of social movements, revolutionaries, members of the New Left or confused hippies.
Despite the fact this is a fiction movie, it is very difficult to shake off the impression that this Peter Watkins’ pseudo-documentary isn’t just a dystopia, but a prophecy of the dark future.
You can download this film or watch it online.