February 22, 2009 -- This is a movie specially made for viewers who like a surprise ending. No, it is not a gimmick film like “Memento” or “The Sixth Sense.” It is more of a straightforward drama with some misdirection to throw the viewer off the track of what is to come later in the film. This 2007 film, being released as part of the film movement collection, was Belgium's submission to the Academy Awards and its spoken language is Dutch, with English subtitles. In America, we see few films in the Dutch language. One of the more memorable Dutch language films is Antonia's Line.
“Ben X” is the screen name of a young man (played by Greg Timmermans) who loves to play computer games. Online, he is one of the best gamers around, but in real life, he is an autistic outsider who is cruelly harassed at school by his classmates. He is an excellent student with high grades in school, but his clumsiness and lack of social skills (he suffers from Asperger syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder that makes it hard for people to socially connect with others) make him an outcast. He is repeatedly abused by his classmates, the worst such attack happens in a classroom when classmates pull down his pants, take videos of him in his nakedness and then put those videos on the Internet for all the world to see.
This attack causes Ben to withdraw even further into his fantasy world. He becomes angry and depressed. He dreams of dispatching his real-life enemies with a sword the way he does in his computer games. As the pressure increases on Ben, and the attacks against him continue, it is apparent that a real life confrontation is going to happen. The film foreshadows this showdown starting early in the film and continuing throughout with on-screen interviews with Ben's mother (played by Marijke Pinoy) his teachers, school administrators and classmates. The interviews indicate that something dramatic and tragic is going to happen later in the film.
The way the movie unfolds, you think you know what is going to happen. It is inevitable and it has been done to death in a thousand other movies preceding this one (and in real life). However, this film is different, and the ending is really unexpected and shocking in its own way. It does come to a dramatic conclusion, but one that is unexpected. In a way, this film is a one-trick pony, but it is a very nifty trick. The rest of the film also has something to say about how cruel people can be, and how ineffective the system is in dealing with this cruelty. Time and again we have seen the devastation caused by cruelty and abuse by children and youths directed against their fellow classmates. Sometimes this leads to suicide. Sometimes it leads to murder immediately, or later in life (the most notorious instance of this was the murder of 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999 by two students who felt they were social outcasts). It has happened many times in the past and will happen many more times in the future. It never hurts to be reminded, as this film reminds us, of the price to be paid for such terrible acts of cruelty.
The acting in the film is quite good by the entire cast. The setup of the story is a bit slow-moving, but effective. The film effectively blends fantasy and reality, both on Ben's computer screen and his imagination as he interacts with imaginary characters on screen and in his mind during real-life dramatic situations. It is all part of the film's misdirection. This is an effective film about cruelty towards social outcasts by people who should know better and who should be held to a higher standard by society. This film rates a B.
Also on the same Film Movement DVD is an award-winning short animated film, “My Name is Lisa” and a clever, award-winning commercial for Stella Artois Beer (a sponsor of the Film Movement series) called “Devil's Island,” featuring well-known actor Ron Perlman (star of the “Hellboy” movies). “My Name is Lisa” is shot from the perspective of an online computer diary. It depicts a young child's struggle to deal with her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. For more on the Film Movement series, check out the official Film Movement website.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.