When Canadian director Deepa Mehta stepped onto the stage before the screening of her film, Anatomy of Violence, she said, “I don’t want to set up the film for you too much—it’s something to be experienced.”
And she was right. Anatomy of Violence is based on the true story of a young woman in Delhi, who was gang-raped by six men after she boarded a bus in 2012. Several days after the attack, the woman died from severe injuries in the hospital. By dramatizing the lives of the rapists and the victim, Anatomy of Violence is an experience that mixes fact with fiction.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Anatomy of Violence is its narrative style. Mehta’s best move was to tell this dark story by imagining the lives of each of the men involved in the crime and exposing the audience to a side of the equation that is often left unexamined.
Watching the film through this perspective is a chilling experience, as it demands to look at the possible socialization of the men and uncovering the vulnerabilities that start to manifest in their boyhood.
The audience becomes a witness to their destructive home lives, the verbally and sexually abusive figures of authority present in their upbringing, as well as the pressing poverty in India’s caste system that they’re all subject to.
The audience also gets to see glimpses of the victim’s life prior to the incident. Mehta imagines the victim as a sweet and hardworking girl, seeking to make her family proud through her studies in school. This back-and-forth storytelling between the young woman and the men perfectly contrast one another, as the victim clearly comes from a more privileged background.
At the end of the screening, Mehta explained why the perpetrators were the main voice in the film.
“I really don’t think we become who we are in isolation. Monsters are not born, they are made,” Mehta said.
While not excusing the actions of the rapists, the film reveals how the men are simply a product of a society that breeds violence and normalizes the mistreatment of women.
Anatomy of Violence is an odd and unconventional film in terms of aesthetic and filming techniques and it deviates from what the typical viewer is accustomed to. The actors were given lots of room for improvisation, there are ragged camera movements throughout and there is no musical soundtrack, only snippets of voice-over narration.
I really don’t think we become who we are in isolation. Monsters are not born, they are made.
It was also produced with no funding and no theatrical distributor. Mehta said that she put the idea for the film together, gathered her pick of actors and crew and “just went for it.”
Mehta is able to carefully unmask the mentality that powers violence and takes the time to examine the harmful and lasting effects of a misogynistic and patriarchal society. Anatomy of Violence might make you uncomfortable and it might even outrage you, but its bold storytelling will leave you in deep thought long after it’s over.
Anatomy of Violence had its international premiere at TIFF on Sept. 12, 2016.