“Wounds” is Babak Anvari’s latest film–he is a British-Iranian filmmaker best known for his directorial debut in 2017 with the brilliant “Under the Shadow”. Here, he takes the same cultural critique approach of that film and uses that framework to critique millennials. “Wounds” is based on Nathan Ballingrud’s novella, “The Visible Filth”–which I haven’t read, but if the conclusions this film draws are similar to those of the source material, then by god, I want it on my kindle NOW.
Here we have a brilliant, scathing critique on the rot that has plagued our generation, the notion that being “liberated” entails treating other people like they’re less than human; our inability to communicate with others; technology getting in the way of proper human connection; our tolerance of vice at the expense of virtue. Anvari’s previous work takes place amidst the terrors of war-torn post-revolutionary Tehran in the 1980s; one of the things that film critiques the backward culture that subjugates women. Here, he uses that same approach for today’s culture. Just in case that wasn’t obvious enough, one of the characters exclaims “fucking millennials!” at the start of the film.
The setup of this film is fairly simple: Will (Armie Hammer), is a bartender in New Orleans where cockroaches proliferate. He’s quite charismatic at the start of the film, albeit a tad bit too friendly with one of the regulars (Zazie Beetz) despite her boyfriend Jeffrey (Karl Glussman) being present. A series of events ends with a bar fight in which someone drops a phone which Will then pockets. Suspicions then rise between him and his girlfriend, Carrie (Dakota Johnson) when they discover the gruesome contents of the phone.
This is a horror film, but not one which follows the same beats that most horror films in the west are known for–this, will inevitably not register well with everyone (this, I suspect is why it went straight to Netflix/Hulu as well as why they chose to forego the original 29 March 2019 theatrical release date). Standard horror film tropes are present here: an unexplained curse, a possession, ritual, etc. yet, the overall story revolves around Will’s loss of humanity and reason. It depicts his descent into madness in his unfruitful search for meaning in a lifestyle of decay. As a matter of fact, Carrie refers to him–in the third act–as a “mock person”–someone who is just a purely instinctive, unthinking body.
Will works at Rosie’s, the kind of dive bar where one can find a completely nude woman playing billiards and underage individuals getting access to alcohol; according to Will, “they’re harmless!”. Also in this bar, we see Alicia, a woman who Will seems to fancy–he makes sexual comments geared toward her right in front of her boyfriend. The film opens up in Rosie’s during a night of leisurely drinking; the evening ends with a broken beer bottle entering a man’s face.
“Standard horror film tropes are present here: an unexplained curse, a possession, ritual etc. yet, the overall story revolves around Will’s loss of humanity and reason. It depicts his descent into madness in his unfruitful search for meaning in a lifestyle of decay.”
All throughout the evening (and the rest of the film, in some particularly telling scenes), we see cockroaches–an insect which many people find disgusting and filthy–lurking; this fits into the theme’s context seeing just what is on display at this bar. Cockroaches are attracted to rot and filth and everything we see in Rosie’s is a manifestation of our culture’s decay: sexualizing/objectifying women, treating sacred relationships as something trivial, alcoholism, violence, etc. Will permit most of these things, and as such, cockroaches seem to be more attracted to him the more his personhood decays throughout the film.
Decay also manifests itself in the household Will shares with Carrie. Their relationship has obvious problems; their desperate lack of good communication, their trust issues, and their relationship ultimately being fraught with resentment and suspicion. Will’s morals are loose to the point of degeneracy, Carrie’s are uptight to the point of intolerance; this relationship is one that is completely unbalanced and ultimately destructive to both of them–all chaos, no order. Carrie, upon seeing the phone immediately suspects him of cheating, she taunts him; they both react angrily and immediately forego having a civil conversation.
The film opens up with a quote from Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”: being “hollow to the core” is a recurring theme that is associated with Will throughout the film. Will feels, he doesn’t think; his hedonistic instincts guide his life, and this leads him to do disgusting things like trying to get Alicia to cheat on her boyfriend. This scene conveys that Will is unable to see humanity in people, especially those who are closest to him. When one is a slave to vice and self-destruction, are they truly free? This is such a fascinating question Anvari asks of us with this film.
Carrie gets drawn into Will’s destructive circle of vice; this is conveyed in her unhealthily obsessive research on the contents of the phone–it is through this research where we are introduced to the Gnostic rituals which posit that wounds are portals to higher beings. Carrie is consumed by her attempt to understand how one could possibly seek freedom in slavery (quite the Orwellian idea). Her obsession seemingly corrupts her, until will puts her in a bathtub which cleanses her of, (ahem), the visible filth.
“Wounds” ultimately is an allegory for how we seek a deeper meaning to life; as humans, it is in our nature to want to know the truth.”
She also happens to be a postgraduate student writing her dissertation on T.S. Elliot’s “The Hollow Men”, which comes into play in the third act, when she absolutely rips Will apart and calls him out for the nothing of a person he is. It is in this scene where we see Anvari’s disdain toward the cultural norms that Will is undoubtedly a microcosm for.
It is quite apparent that Will is losing his mind, and one could argue that this comes as a result of his disconnect with reality and morality. He sometimes has downright shocking visions; mostly that of decapitated individuals. Anvari conveys, with these visions, that we live in a culture where some people live with no heads; thus, no thought, only instinct which leads to dehumanizing hedonistic behavior. He also seems to be saying that people aid vice with vice, in how Will drinks constantly to take the edge off his anguish.
“Wounds” ultimately is an allegory for how we seek a deeper meaning to life; as humans, it is in our nature to want to know the truth. Will’s anguish in his search for meaning is expressed through occult Gnostic rituals–this serves as a metaphor for someone who looks for meaning in the vice. Will is an underachieving dropout, an unsuccessful writer (whenever his writing is brought up, he goes for the typical “I’m working on it” response), a disloyal womanizer, and an alcoholic. He is forced to confront the dire consequences that have come about as a result of his life choices; his hollowness and decay.