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Let’s Play Get the Guests: The Incident

Who’s Afraid of Vir­ginia Woolf? The Inci­dent unrav­els like an Albee-an night­mare, as if his stuff weren’t night­mar­ish enough. From the moment the film begins, the char­ac­ters pour­ing in to their own Man­hat­tan Trans­fer, each with a tiny nar­ra­tive of their own, we get a grandiose pris­on­er’s dilem­ma (or col­lec­tive action prob­lem) in which we see the worst of human­i­ty in acts of high cow­ardice. This is the stuff of the real Calvin and Hobbes.

The Inci­dent pits ran­dom­ly select­ed indi­vid­u­als against two men­ac­ing hooli­gans. The hostages come from all walks of life and some­how the crim­i­nals suss some­thing about each indi­vid­ual that par­a­lyzes the oth­ers with fear. It’s a vul­gar Freudi­an night­mare at cross pur­pos­es with Dar­win — sex­u­al­i­ty and pow­er are in the fore and these wound­ed ani­mals can’t defend them­selves ade­quate­ly, leav­ing the cats to play with the mice before they kill them.

It’s a pow­er­ful film. Deeply nat­u­ral­is­tic, this is McTeague with­out the mon­ey; the crim­i­nals have fig­u­ra­tive­ly chained them­selves to the car, at once putting them in a posi­tion of strength and weak­ness. Spec­tac­u­lar­ly cru­el, The Inci­dent seems like an answer to Elia Kazan’s so-called do-good­er pol­i­tics, Peerce thumb­ing his nose at those who believe col­lec­tive action to be inher­ent­ly red, or inher­ent­ly any­thing. Equal­ly inter­est­ing is that this film could be remade, set in the eight­ies, before any notion of “qual­i­ty of life” crime and oth­er police vocab­u­lary had yet to be cre­at­ed and the leg­endary, pre-Giu­liani New York that was mythol­o­gized as the province of junkie war­lords and gang­bangers, open to the promise of a police state.