I STAND ALONE IS A FILM ABOUT A bomb, a human bomb. The bomb is called the Butcher (Philippe Nahon); its ticking began at an early age, when the Butcher lost both of his parents: His mother abandoned him, his father died in a concentration camp. His situation, however, improved as a young adult: He become a horse-meat butcher, owned a small shop, got married, had a child. But then his wife left him, and he had to bring up his phlegmatic daughter on his own. When his daughter matured and became a young woman, he desired her in ways fathers are not supposed to desire their daughters, and this desire resulted in his almost killing a man he mistakenly thought deflowered her. The Butcher is sent to prison.

This is the subject of Gaspar Noé's acclaimed and reviled short film, Carne, which is summarized in a montage at the opening of his first feature. I Stand Alone continues the story, following the Butcher as he gets out of prison, begins dating a woman he loathes, has an impossible time finding a butcher shop to work in, and eventually locates his daughter. He has a breakdown and ends up in a cheap hotel with no money, no friends, no food -- nothing except a gun and three bullets. The anatomy of a bomb. BLAM. And it is not a very powerful bomb; it will not cause as much damage as, say, the day trader in Atlanta or the trench coat kids in Littleton. But because we are so near him, indeed inside his head, the explosion seems very loud and apocalyptic.

Despite its greatness, many people will not like I Stand Alone. In fact, it is not the sort of movie one recommends to everyone, but only to a select few who may find it funny. This is what gets on some people's nerves: It is a funny film. This is why it's more outrageous than Taxi Driver, the film's "American uncle." (It is interesting how the French imagine an extreme psychopath as a butcher -- there are so many evil butchers in French cinema -- whereas the Americans imagine him as a war veteran driving a taxi. A psychotic butcher just won't work in the American context; food is not that important to us. But a taxi driver, a man driving around in a car, that is our psychopath.)

Taxi Driver is not a funny movie; it is deadly serious, so one doesn't have to "pay for those earlier laughs," as one critic put it, when the inevitable violent scenes arrive. And why is this film funny? Because the bomb, this butcher, is totally unaware that we are listening to his crazy thoughts. We are not his accomplices; he is not talking to us, he is talking to himself. There is a distance between us. He is figuring out the ways of the world to himself, without a clue that we are listening to everything. If he discovered that we could hear his sordid thoughts, the butcher would stop thinking and, in embarrassment, apologize to the ladies for saying such absurd things as "You love your wife only because she empties your balls."

In his brilliant book Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault wrote that in the "secret heart of madness, at the core of so many errors, so many absurdities, so many words and gestures without consequence, we discover, finally, the hidden perfection of a language." This is the Butcher's sad predicament. Borrowing basic existential formulas, along with a couple of common concepts about class struggle, he assembles a language system in his head that is self-sufficient and self-perpetuating. It is a perfect language that orders the multiple parts of French life into one mad (and at times poetic) monologue. "Nothing but a reproduction clock is written in your balls," he thinks, but this only makes sense within the order, the structure, the logic of his inner language. The moment you say these things in public, when they hit the open market of discourse, they can not hold together; they are blown away like so many floating seeds from a dandelion.

One condition of sanity is the ability to possess two or more contradictory thoughts simultaneously within your head. But when only one thought takes control and is permitted to emerge as one truth, to elaborate that truth, to construct a total structure out of that truth, this edifice represents pure madness. The only thing in this world that can bring it down is death. Indeed, if you stand alone then -- BLAM! -- you fall alone. film

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