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In our dreams and fantasies we see ourselves as Supermen, equal parts jut-jaw-leap-tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound and Nietzsche. In the real world, despite our individual principles, decent people like us will administer painful electroshocks on the command of an authority figure, when we believe such actions will be for the greater benefit of mankind. If you don't believe me, plug the name Stanley Milgram into your search engine.

movie: the incident
I am not writing this to absolve you.

I imagine The Incident, Martin Sheen's first film, made about a dollar, maybe two, back in 1967, the year of peace and love. The film concerns the antics of two thugs, Joe Ferrone and Artie Connors (Tony Musante and Martin Sheen, in his big film debut). Ferrone and Conners muscle a bar owner into keeping a pool table open and beat a man to death for only bringing eight dollars to his mugging. With the eight bucks provided by the stylized slaying of Eight Dollar Man, they decide to do some drugs and take a thrill ride on the subway. Once on the subway, a leg, arm or knife continually blocks one exit door, and the door to the next car won't open. God, a.k.a. the police and conductor, just can't hear you.

Ferrone's and Connors' subway antics expose a myriad of sexual and racial jealousies. Each character earns their name in this thorny, humid drama, though I will use shorthand here. You meet a black couple -- he of the "I'm Black and I'm Proud" camp versus the seemingly milder, much weaker she.

The black couple sit near an old, long-married couple. The wife in this couple still cherishes pretensions of youth. One time-capsule worthy scene makes us believe totally in her longing for her sexual youth. We see her husband on a bench in the background with her stiletto-heeled legs right in front of us. "There were couples at that party who had three children," she says.

"I went to a doctor the other day. There's nothing wrong with me," he weakly retorts.

While Ferrone and Connors don't know all the details we do, they prove experts at zeroing in on the conflicts that can divide and shatter. Individually, we may be Hercules standing up for the right thing. But in a group setting, in order to avoid our own deaths, we will revert to the weaker side of our nature.

Some, in their own way try to stand up to the thugs, with deeply unsettling aftermaths. It seems he who cries loudest gets the most sympathy, and nobody cares much for heroes in the desperate attempt to forget the past. The film's terse dialogue and evolving look thankfully help viewers forget the movie's early neo-noir aspects, and settle on a far more casual and observant approach. The Incident offers a brilliant visual example of letting the film tell its own story. Every character, especially the police and paramedics at the end, become much more memorable because they seem so ordinary. So much like you and me.

Michael Pacholski

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