The movie starts with a short nerdy kid walking out of school with a bounce in his step and the song “Here’s to the Losers” (Frank Sinatra) the only audio. The boy is potentially good-looking, his awkwardness more a case of benign neglect than genetic misfortune. You get the feeling he’s had a particularly good day – possibly a rousing lunchtime conversation on Federalist #10 or a great round of Magic brightened his mood. Sinatra is singing, “Hey Tom Dick and Harry, come on out of that rain, those torches you carry must be drowned in champagne.” It’s a glorious spring day, everyone in shorts and t-shirts, a dissolving crowd of backpacked kids, big yellow buses, the cliques, the bliss of relief for another done day everywhere evident.
Then the bullies arrive.
Suddenly they are at his heels. Muted mouths taunt and jeer. Our boy’s pace quickens, his jaw sets, his face reddens. The pack closes in on him. Eventually there’s a shove. Sinatra is belting it out: “Here’s to those who drink their dinners when that lady doesn’t show…to the girls who wait for kisses underneath that mistletoe…” They’re in a secluded corner of a park somewhere when one of the bullies, a scrawny guy in a white hat and wearing an expression of malicious glee, or gleeful malice, pulls out this great big knife. Our boy is encircled, freaked out, becoming frantic, the camera is sweeping around him as he is made into sport. They share the knife taking swipes at him that are increasingly less playful. All the audio is muted except for the song – which reaches its climax as the shit hits the fan. “Here’s to the loooooosers,” says Frank when our boy finally throws a good, solid punch, “bless them all!” he says, really riding that last note. Then one of the bullies cuts off our boy’s arm, right at the elbow.
The music ends. Suddenly it’s birds, the susurrus of passing traffic, the sound of breathing, feet on grass, a distant siren. Everyone in stunned silence, a wrenching long look at a rent arm bleeding into the grass. You’re permanently grabbed by the movie when the bullies actually start laughing. They point and laugh. You can’t believe they would laugh, but there it is.
The scene fades to black from the perspective of the disarmed guy as he collapses, the hectoring laughter, worming into your bones, spirals gradually but not soon enough into silence.
You watch the ring of bullies in a dark basement. They have taken the arm. It sits on the ground between them, bleeding a little. They stare, discuss how thrilling it all was. “We have to do more of this,” one of them says. “We owe it to ourselves.” “Yes,” another agrees. “To ourselves.”
The hunt begins anew. They walk with purpose down residential streets, spitting on mailboxes, overturning children’s toys, kicking curbs and snarling…the music is “Beyond the Sea,” (Bobby Darin) which makes no sense. Nothing does. The movie makes your veins itch. It’s like watching a violent traffic accident…a Camaro spinning through the air with maybe a pink backpack soaring from the window like what you saw once on I-40 in town. It’s awful.
There are six or seven of them, all look alike, each with an identical sneer and small, ropy build. Tough boys. They don’t look like the type of kids covering an inner timidity or weakness with a malevolent shell…they seem to be only mean, in their guts, reveling in it. They find a gang of dweebs on the sidewalk, sketching scenes from fantasy movies with those big bright chalks. The bullies form a ring around the boys and take turns with the knife, lopping off hands, feet, finally whole arms and legs. The sun batters down on them and the sweat rimming their heads and darkening their shirts clues you in that it’s hot as hell.
Again it’s silent save for the music – a mouthed and jawing circle of barbarism, unvoiced, only indicated again and again by the opening of their little wet lips, their Adam’s apples dancing in laughter. The victims cower, they rage, they survey with shock-deadened eyes their scatter of limbs…the them left on the ground. Then death, cold, grabs them, one by one. The bullies gather the pieces and spirit them off to the basement – where are their parents? – this time to no music, only the skip and drag and hustle of running, sneakers on asphalt, their panting and giddiness. Again in the basement they begin to talk – still muted. You discern from their eyes and gestures, their vigorous debate, that an idea has struck them they are loathe to delay, only hammer out the best details of implementation. They laugh and yell and run about, collecting tools, towels and refreshments.
Groups of them will unbuckle from the proceedings while the rest stay diligent, pored over their creation – a taping together and screwdriving and nailing and drilling together of arms and legs. Undried glue seeps like magma from the connections. It is a barely restrained frenzy, like when you made spaceships from Legos, scrambling for that missing piece, that sensor array, that deflector shield node. The music is now “Boy Named Sue” (Johnny Cash)…the mud, the blood and the beer.
The strays return with bags of limbs. You’re aware that a harvesting occurs in sleepy suburban neighborhoods, a dismantling of young boys of a certain kind. You knew them well in grade school. The kid who could never unzip or rezip his pants so had the teacher do it in front of the whole class. Matt Siberia, was his name. You ascended the public school ranks with him, watching as the belittlement and derision mounted, gaining a larger vocabulary of humiliation, never joining in but never lifting a finger to stop it. You can see a whole community of Matt Siberias taken apart limb by limb, the necessary evolution of their bullies’ violence found purchase in blades and blood, because no one ever told them to stop. Because you didn’t.
The justice will come later. For now it’s only crime. The crime has to come first. That’s the problem with justice.
“Why do we do this?” One of them asks, a pure voice from the melee, giving you hope. “Because we MUST!” A voice responds. You look frantically for the speaker, but it was the same guy. He was being rhetorical. Something dies in you.
It’s Dwight Yoakum now. The song about being a thousand miles from nowhere.
They seem to be operating according to some understood inner agreement, like boys who know what to do with a gift, manual assembly required but no need for instructions.
You get distracted, thinking about instructions to that fucking hammock your ex-girlfriend bought. It’s maybe the first, best reason to despise job outsourcing. Thing hardly written in English. The word “please” showing up at least three times in each sentence, as if apologizing for itself, aware of its linguistic manslaughter. Pissed you off.
They go on for hours, days. You feel like you’ve spent a week watching this movie of them in the basement, plastered in the mess of amputated limbs, sawdust, little cuts, a seemingly constant replenishment of freshly severed materials. Then, suddenly, it’s over. They have stopped in unspoken decree. The thing is done.
It is a cluster of limbs, a Rubik’s cube, a mind at angles, jutting shoes and fingers. It does not live but seems to be conscious, to be aware of them. Without eyes, it seems to watch them.
They form a circle around it, hold hands un-self-consciously, rotate slowly. It’s tribal. The creation begins ever so slightly to mirror them, and to levitate – a tiny, narrow space between it and the ground opens, announcing its sentience. You think that what really displays a thing’s intelligence is the pretend cushion area between it and the rest of the world, the remove, the divorce. It is why God is nowhere to be seen.
The film fixes then on the faces of the bullies, the awe and anticipation. It moves from one to the next with building speed, finally going so fast in a blur that you can’t tell them apart anymore. It is one boy with no distinct features as everyone the whole world of humanity over is one featureless boy if looked at from far enough away, from the God perspective, or close but with the pace of something ageless, immortal, who perceives of the rise and fall of species in the blink of an eye.
“What’ll it do?” One of them asks, the merry-go-round halted instantly on one face, unblemished, even cherubic in its naked curiosity.
No one answers. You are thinking: It will kill you all. Exact vengeance one tugged-off skin molecule at a time. It will work on you with the methodology and savor of a thousand victimized kids. You can’t wait to see it. Even squeamish as you are you want to see them pay.
The thing is made of what looks like hundreds of mismatched pairs of arms and legs. It spins with the boys as if they are in geosynchronous orbit with it, symbiants, like electrons orbiting an atomic nucleus. You wait for it to strike. Its constituent parts are moving, fingers flexing, feet kicking at each other, thrusting out. The music is “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Dean Martin). You think: What’s up with this soundtrack?
It is imbued with the angst and suffering of all those harvested nerds, having spent long school years and blistering summers under ridicule or fear of ridicule, under the thumbs of stronger kids. Now, in aggregate, they have the strength of numbers. It’s only appropriate, you think, that they strike…zero in on one of those cherubic faces, tear it apart.
Without a mouth, it doesn’t speak. But it does make it clear that it seeks a way to communicate. It stamps on the walls, pounds the ground. The bullies wise up. They offer a notebook and a bunch of pens, seized in a fast moment and absorbed by a flux of torn hands.
It spits out the paper a moment later, wadded up balls of scribbled-on yellow paper ejected from its spinning mass in rapid fire, catching some of the bullies on their heads and bodies, others caroming harmlessly off the basement walls. The bullies keep up the paper feeding as they unravel the missives.
“A poem,” one of them says.
“Yeah,” another agrees. “It’s poetry. Fucking poetry.”
It wouldn’t kill them, you recognize, but it did disappoint them. It could write in iambic pentameter at about 50 lines per second. It wrote the misery of its souls, accelerating its rotation, getting to be so fast that you imagine it might spin itself beyond the envelope of light, go back in time to a day before the attack, the attacks, when the monster wandered the neighborhood discrete, as boys who hardly spoke to each other for fear of saying something wrong.