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.