Movie review: Genocidal Organ

Normally, I would never touch a movie named “Genocidal Organ” with a ten-foot pole.  It seems to fall into the category of names like “Five-Headed Shark Attack” or “Quantum of Solace”, where the ridiculous title already warns off hopeful movie watchers.  I’m also not much into anime, other than the mainstream classics.  The only reason I watched the movie was because of its extremely accurate depiction of Prague, which I found intriguing.  I found an anime with an interesting concept, great visuals, but not much in storytelling.

Genocidal Organ takes place in the near future, after a devastating terror attack (a nuclear bomb in Sarajevo, which had become a major tourist destination) caused governments to restrict personal freedoms for the sake of security.  In this world, more and more third world countries fall into anarchy, civil war and genocide.  The CIA has determined that it is the work of a single man, John Paul, who appears in each of these countries shortly before their civil war.

The main protagonist is Clavis Shepherd, member of an emotionally-enhanced (suppressed) special forces team, tasked to capture this John Paul.  His first two assignments lead him to war zones, which Paul had already departed.  These episodes are beautifully drawn and executed, and offer quite deep emotional insights, especially on how a suppressed soldier deals with killing children, and how to stop himself from killing those responsible for brainwashing said kids.

The bulk of the movie takes place in Prague.  As I said before, I was attracted by the promise of a very realistic Prague, and I was not disappointed.  Having lived in the city for years, I was pleased to recognize most locales.  The filmmakers must have spent serious resources on location research.  In fact, the only inaccuracy I found was very minor, but because the flawless execution of everything else, it was jarring to me.

In this city, Shepherd meets a woman, Lucia, who is believed to be romantically linked to Paul.  Lucia is a linguist, teaching foreigners Czech, and Shepherd approaches her under the guise of a businessman stationed in Prague.  Here, the filmmakers’ research shines again, as the two hold accurate and informative conversations on Kafka.  Unfortunately, Lucia sees through Shepherd’s disguise and lures him into a trap, where he needs his team to bail him out.

First from the conversations with Lucia and later when Shepherd catches up with Paul we find out that Paul is also a linguist, and uses the power of the language to reprogram people’s minds to commit atrocities.  He does it simply because he can, even though Lucia is convinced he became nihilistic when his family died in the Sarajevo attack.  The remainder of the movie is a standard fare with a few twists that surprise nobody, and a very open ending.

What stuck with me throughout the movie were two futuristic elements: suppression of information and mind programming via language.

Suppression of information is not all that futuristic; it happens all the time.  However, recent movies tend to follow the same trend: governments are increasingly willing to kill people who found out how to destabilize the system, in order to keep the information that the system can be destabilized from the masses.  In another recent movie, Anon, authorities wanted a hacker killed, after the hacker exposed a flaw in their surveillance system.  Here, the antagonist hacked people’s brains and proved that no amount of security theater would make people safe, and the government wanted him dead.

Mind programming via language is also not a futuristic element; it’s described by the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.  I was unfamiliar with the formal hypothesis, but found that the same theory was at the center of the movie Arrival.  Basically, the particular way a language and especially grammar is used may alter a person’s perception of reality.  In Arrival, the circular sentence structure caused people who learned it to perceive time as a regular dimension, where they could move in both directions.  In Genocidal Organ, the antagonist claims to be able to reprogram people’s brains in any way and trigger the changes at a whim.  Even though this was applied a little sloppily in this movie, I still hold this theory in a higher regard than the existence of an original language, which could command people at will (see Stephenson’s Snowcrash).  I’m also finding that the Linguistic Relativity theory, as it is more conventionally known, is underrepresented in science fiction.  Wikipedia lists only one novel by Jack Vance, which uses this theory in its story.

All in all, Genocidal Organ is not a very exciting movie.  The visuals are of very high quality, and the underlying principles by which this world is governed are intriguing, even though they include some overused elements (surveillance society).  On a personal level, I was very happy at how meticulous the filmmakers were in displaying a realistic picture of Prague.  However, the characters and storyline were very mundane and forgettable.

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