PITY (2014) Review, John Pata

The concept of pity is one that has long captured my imagination and my deepest thoughts. The philosophical writings of both Arthur Schopenhauer and his disciple Friedrich Nietzsche have much to say on the subject, and composer Richard Wagner gave it a special place in his opera “Parsifal” wherein he pointed out that through Christ, “pity’s highest power” is the ability to heal spiritual wounds. Schopenhauer argued that pity is the real basis of morality, rather than rational rules or God-given commandments.

And in some ways, pity is a uniquely English word — the three men above wrote in German, where the word pity is “mitleid” or “mitleiden”, designated as meaning either pity or sympathy. A minor point, perhaps, but in English we do not equate sympathy with pity; they may mean or denote the same basic feeling, but they suggest two very different emotions: sympathy is (obviously) sympathetic, whereas pity is often us looking down on someone seen as weaker than us. We have sympathy for friends, but pity the wretched of the earth.

In many ways, sympathy is what Schopenhauer was arguing for, while pity is what Nietzsche argued against (even though, for them, this was the same feeling). Nietzsche came to see compassion as a weakness, not a virtue to be cultivated. To show pity for others is to treat them with contempt. Better to encourage them to face up to their difficulties and struggle against them as best they can, he argued.

All this is much too deep a thought for the short film “Pity”, perhaps, but with such a title, it makes us wonder: are we to have pity on the main character? This may not have ever been the point (the title is merely an acronym of “Prowler in the Yard”, the short story by J. R. Hayes on which the film is based). But once you give something a name — “Pity” — it becomes inextricably connected with its subject.

In fact, there is no one to pity here. Not Anonymous, not Jennifer… we are brought to a world that forces us to be a voyeur but keeps us at a safe enough distance that we never have to choose sides. Hayes’ work is full of self-mutilation, personalized bullets, and numerous images of death. Director John Pata has taken this story, turned it into an almost literal adaptation, and actually succeeded in bringing forth a whole more than the sum of its parts.

Pata caught our attention with “Better Off Undead” and took the festival circuit by storm with “Dead Weight”, but he is playing in the big leagues now — this short film proves he is ready to work at the next level — this is Hollywood-style production value. Pata captures the torment, the internal darkness and brings it to ghastly life. We get the darkest moments only in glimpses, leaving our subconscious burned with images we would rather not see. He told the crew that their visual cues were to be “The Crow” and “Sin City”. These cues were not only successfully emulated, but used to perfection.

Of course, the highest praise must be placed on the shoulders of Jake Martin. While not a professional actor by trade, you would never know based on the strength of his performance here. Anonymous’ anguish and madness are evident from his words and actions, but the strongest indicator appears somewhere else: in Martin’s face. He fluidly goes from anger to insane to heartbroken with ease. This is compounded by the use of a photograph showing him in better days — we realize he was not always this way: he was made, not born.

And we cannot forget Nicholas Elert, the composer. His work appeared in “Dead Weight”, but really comes to the forefront here. Is this music a cacophonous melody or a melodious cacophony? Either way, it was the perfect score to evoke emotion from this dark world.

Anyone who saw “Dead Weight” knew Pata was heading for bigger and better things. This latest work not only reinforces that point but leaves us in anxious anticipation for whatever he does next. “Pity” is a masterpiece, a story told in the time it takes to finish one cigarette. Who would have ever thought such beauty could be found in the liner notes of Pig Destroyer?

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