The set is dressed up, down to the smallest detail. Actors are in place. The director cues lights, camera, slate, calls out, “Action”. Everything animates, yet moments later, as if taking back time itself the director cries out, “Cut! Cut!..” By the furrow in their brow, everyone knows Maestro is not happy. Something is amiss.
In this instance, fictional as it may be, actors playing Nazis, (or Terrorists, or Banditos) despite being members of the ethnic group that are represented stereotypically, are not being authentic enough. They’re somehow not menacing, leering, or dark enough to satisfy the director’s vision. This auteur is known as a tyrant, goes for hyper-realism, stark verisimilitude.
This idea straight from central casting- e.g., Aryan-looking people ‘playing’ Nazis- is fascinating. Natives in costume, acting out their customs, galloping across the plain, depicting scenes of slaughter. What runs through the mind during such times of simulation, how do ancestors affect performance? Typecasting aside, is it not strange to inhabit a shadow atrocity your kin actually lived through?
Practically speaking, playing a part, even being an extra is good work if you can get it. Everyone needs to eat. Traditionally, to play a part, a two way suspension of belief is required. The “actor” pretends something that isn’t so is so, and an audience pretends too. Both seller and buyer agree, each get what they think they need and plot is advanced. In the movies, life itself is the goods, except with one catch, anything, anything goes. The director calls the dance and we all play along.
In so-called real life this notion does not apply. There are laws of physics and limits of tolerance. If an air traffic controller, for example, wants to see planes coming into the runway upside-down, there are going to be a lot of dead bodies. This will not play in Peoria, as the saying goes. There used to be clear distinctions between make-believe and life. As long as a film is true to itself, the unthinkable is possible. Suspension of belief is the magic that greases the wheels. In real life however, the rubber always hits the road at some point.
Now in these most peculiar of times, we see everyday people,“actors”, playing out twisted and dangerous directives. Non fictitious abuses of power, norms upended, precedents demolished, commons ravaged…we are facing a phenomena which can be termed, “suspension of disbelief”. Actor and audience each pretend to pretend what’s not OK is OK. The picture is out of control, actors have gone off the rails, but somehow because the carnage is in the script, production continues. And the director, as has happened before in megalomaniacal blockbusters, has become unhinged.