Two Tales of Torture

Two tales of torture. Ostensibly , at least, that’s what we are presented with in the projects of both Flynn and Morris. I think that the real story is a bit more complicated than that—Flynn is definitely interested in torture, but its set within a different bigger framework. A framework that also includes parenthood and the rapidly changing post-9/11 world. Morris is more directly interested in torture, but he also seems to be using it as a way to investigate other themes; duty, service, and the limits of what ordinary, “good” people will do when faced with a choice between these things and their own ethical standards, are all topics he takes aim at. So we have two stories that are about torture, without really being all about torture. But the ways these two story-tellers, a poet and a professional documentarian, go about this, are rather different.

Flynn is a very self-interested story-teller. And I don’t mean this in a bad way, or as a criticism. He just has a way of bringing things happening halfway across the world into his mind and soul as if they were unfolding before his eyes. In the chapter, “the falling is the rain”, he puts himself in the image of a soldier “told to soften the prisoners up” and after dwelling on the dilemma this would place him in, he declares “so here I am, my fingers tight around Proteus’s neck, asking that same question, over and over, as if the answer exists, inside the prisoner, inside the beloved, inside my mother, inside my father, inside me, as if the answer is there and just needs to be released.” Thus, his story is uniquely his. It relies on symbols and allusions that he has cultivated and fragments of his own life that he lets the reader in on selectively.

In some ways, Morris could not be more different. The story he tells isn’t even coming from his own mouth. He arranges and choreographs the story, and surely it wouldn’t exist without his careful coordination. But he leaves the emotions to others. The judgements made are judgements put forth by interviewees. They are given agency over their own defenses. Morris doesn’t sit, waiting to make the stories his or make them submit to his will. Rather, he gently guides the words of others in such a way as to make the audience decide on their own what his motives may be. Its largely guesswork and conjecture, albeit conjecture and guesswork that seems more and more reasonable the longer you watch.

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