I Stand Alone (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★
The Butcher (Philippe Nahon) impregnates a fat woman (Frankie Pain) and although he is not happy about the situation, the two move in together with The Mistress’ overbearing mother-in-law (Martine Audrain). Since the woman with child has money saved up, they plan to rent a space so that The Butcher can open a shop and start a business.
The Butcher and The Mistress do not get along yet they hang onto the possibility that their relationship can get better by engaging in a business venture. However, certain turn of events fail to go according to plan which puts The Butcher into a mindset so dark, he eventually confronts the mother of his child and strikes her stomach area multiple times with his bare fists.
Written and directed by Gaspar Noé, “Seul contra tous” is clearly a piece of work that is not meant to be enjoyed by anyone. Its level of emotional, physical, and psychological violence is so extreme, there are times when I wondered why my eyes continue to watch and my ears keep listening despite my brain’s suggestion that perhaps it is a good idea to stop. While intense images inspire the audience to feel disgust and horror, the inner monologue of the main character disturbs in such a way that inspires one to wonder if there really are people out there just like him.
What I love about the movies is that they are able to go beyond what we expect a movie to be, they are a penetrative art. The writer-director uses that potential to put us into The Butcher’s shoes, run around, and stay in them until it becomes an unbearable, dirty experience. The Butcher does not have a metaphorical lever in his mind. His negative thoughts accrue until he finally loses control and commits random terrible acts.
While many will agree that his actions are driven by major depression, I considered his actions as a product of a mind so fractured—alloyed with disappointments, loneliness and trepidation—he is unable to function properly in society. The film’s first few minutes give the audiences a brief synopsis of how his life has ended up the way it is. With all the challenges he has been through, to reduce the fact that he has only a mood problem is not fully representative of his symptoms.
I admired the picture’s internal monologues. Despite the irrationality of The Butcher’s thoughts, they are utilized so effectively to the point where every time his voice is heard, his dark desires and needs bombard the screen to the point where the images we see on screen almost feel secondary in significance. Instead, as if his words are a virulent psychic virus intent on causing malfeasance, we are pushed to create images in our heads, specifically the violence he wishes to inflict on people (Monsieur Billot, Gérard Ortega) who do not approve of him.
Although “Seul contra tous,” also known as “I Stand Alone,” lacks a typical and defined character arc, it is redeemed by its ideas and a willingness to dig deep into its subject’s id. The character might have been disconnected from reality, but the movie’s themes are clear, likely to inspire heated deliberations.
It is consistently interesting because the material goes beyond the question of whether The Butcher is a good or bad person. On the spectrum of good versus bad, as individuals with (presumably) sound minds, where do we assign a person who is genuinely confused, a person who appears to be but not at all there? The film suggests a brave thing in that maybe we should not.