Yet another film I was sure I would never watch. Think of it from my perspective. Starring Kristen Stewart? A drama about a U.S. soldier befriending a terrorist prisoner? This can’t turn out right, can it? But once again, Netflix has forced my hand. Camp X-Ray* has been removed from streaming during a relative lull in the cull, meaning this it is one of a very few choices to watch-now-or-forever-hold-my-peace.
Turns out that Camp X-Ray was much, much better than I had expected. I was expecting a poorly executed political statement. In fact, politics seem entirely absent from this drama. Or maybe the better way to phrase it is that one brings one’s own politics to the table when looking for meaning in this film.
Even Kristen Stewart’s wooden acting turns out to be an asset in the piece. It entirely fits her role playing a young woman who struggles in a male-dominated culture which doesn’t quite accept her. Iranian-American actor Payman Maādi is outstanding has her counterpart behind bars.
I have to admit that part of my unreserved positive feeling about this one is that I expected so little going in. I also happen to be just finishing up Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, reading it with one of my kids. That book and the Harry Potter series is used throughout.
It’s a slow film and its a stark film. Not a lot happens over the course of the nearly-two-hour run time. I think that’s the point. The film ends just about ten years after the events of 9-11. That is a very, very long time to be stuck in limbo. That is a very long time to be “at war,” especially against an undefined enemy and under terms that, while they are ever changing, never seem to be resolving. One line seems to hold particular insight into the meaning of freedom, particularly in an unfree environment. Kristen’s Cole points out to Maādi’s Ali that if he would just follow the rules, he could be transferred to another, less restrictive environment. He responds.
If I follow your rules, what does it mean? It means that I’m agreeing that you have the right to give me rules. But you don’t. You don’t have the right to give me rules. So me? I never agree to follow your rules. Never. Maybe you think I’m stupid.
*The title of the film is a reference to the initial, temporary camp set up in Guantanamo Bay in the spring of 2002. One might recall the pictures of detainees being held, hooded and kneeling, in outdoor, chain-link-fence cages. Camp X-Ray was replaced by Camp Delta, and it is the latter where the bulk of the film takes place. The opening of the movie, sometime around late February 2002, briefly shows the X-Ray of the film’s title.