The following section offers the reader a shot by shot analysis of the cinematic techniques used in the first torture scene of the film Rendition. Rendition embodied the classic characteristics of the uncomfortable onlooker, sadistic torturer and objectified torture victim.
This particular torture scene uses a number of overlapping techniques (i.e. the simultaneous use of dark music, along with the use of cool colors and a camera viewpoint angled up) that help to contribute to notion that the torture victim is guilty (even though he is not guilty at the time of the torture or even deemed guilty later in the film). This appears to justify his being tortured. These techniques also suggest the torturer’s comfort with administering the torture (and the onlooker’s discomfort). For purposes of simplification, the torture victim (El-Ibrahimi), the torturer (Naor), and the onlooker (Freeman) will all be referred to by their generalized name: (i.e. torture victim, torturer and onlooker).
32:30: The torture victim is hooded and forced out of the back of a car. The audience can hear his moans of pain as he is physically forced out by two men. The camera focuses very little on the identity of the men who are taking him from the back of the car and into solitary confinement. The scene is also very dark, helping to suggest that the audience too should not focus too long on what is occurring. After the torture victim is thrown into solitary confinement, the door quickly shuts and the scene abruptly ends. No narration of what his confinement feels like is offered, aside from a brief shot detailing the artificial light which is also illuminating the center of the cell. The audience understands that the torture victim is forced into confinement, and then the scene changes as the door slams shut. The entire scene is relatively brief and lasts 36 seconds until 32:45, suggesting again that the audience should not focus too long on what is occurring.
32:45: The next scene begins with the torture victim’s American wife seeking information on her missing husband’s whereabouts. She is shown in bright natural lighting in contrast to the darkness of the prior scene, and natural light suggests her innocence. The torture victim’s wife is inquiring about his whereabouts as she talks to an U.S. friend who has political connections. He tries to help by making a phone call. Both characters are in natural light, reinforcing their goodness and desire to help.
34:57: The onlooker enters the compound where the torture is about to take place. He enters through a large wooden door. Sunlight illuminates his face, suggesting his innocence relative to the darkness of the torture, which is about to take place. He looks weary and vigilant in this setting, looking side to side, checking his surroundings in this unfamiliar place. Overall he looks disoriented and uncomfortable within the compound, suggesting his ambivalence.
35:04: The camera offers an establishing shot of the compound and the building where the torture is conducted. The long shot helps to demonstrate the emotional distance that exists between the onlooker and all that is associated the torture. The torture is about to take place in the building located at the end of the shot.
35:08: The camera cuts to a freeze frame of the torturer standing in the doorway of the building where the torture is about to take place. His body language looks bold in contrast to the onlooker’s hesitation about the space. The torturer looks confident and prepared for what is about to take place (torture).
35:11: Once again the onlooker looks awkward and ill at ease. We hear the sound of his footsteps marking the long distance from the entry gate to the building where the torture is about to take place. His awkwardness and his walking a long corridor help to reinforce his hesitation about the torture and that he is not in total agreement about the torture that is about to occur.
35:12: The torturer looks squarely at the camera, appearing confident and prepared for what is to come next (torture). His attitude contrasts the awkwardness of the onlooker. He is appears resolute and unemotional compared to the onlooker’s awkwardness and emotionality.
35:18: The onlooker’s small size relative to the torturer’s large size is emphasized—the onlooker is the small dot located at the end of the long walkway, while the torturer’s back is in the foreground. The use of a long shot again helps to reinforce the onlooker’s innocence and discomfort about the torture.
The onlooker enters the torturer’s office (not the room where the torture is conducted) and takes a seat, whiskey is offered, the onlooker refuses, almonds are offered. Gyllenhaal hands over a folded-up list of questions to ask the torture victim. The torturer explains that Gyllenhaal can observe, but not participate. The handing off of a list of questions helps to emphasize the onlooker’s passivity in the torture.
The film cuts to a different scene entirely, narrating Middle Eastern youth in a large room. They are being taught and influenced by Muslim extremist thinking.
38:11: The film cuts back to the torture victim as he is forcibly stripped and his clothes are cut off his body. The camera is careful not to show the torture victim’s face during this process. This helps to depersonalize the experience of being stripped naked, a process which might make the viewer overly uncomfortable. The audience only sees the torture victim’s back. The scene is set in harsh lighting. The audience does not see the individuals administering the torture in any detail. The audience can hear his struggle. He moans while his clothes are stripped from his body, but again his face is not shown, helping to emotionally distance the viewer from the discomforts and emotional trauma of being stripped naked.
38:14: The scene goes dark, facilitating the audience’s sense of disorientation and perhaps the audience’s need to not bear witness to the torture for too long. Dark music and shots of young extremists being taught by their leaders are interwoven throughout the scene. Interwoven are visual and audible information of the torture victim being stripped naked, dark music, and radical Muslim teachings, all of which help to establish a connection between the three in the viewer’s mind. While the torture victim is not known to be guilty at this point, the use of dark music and extremist chanting in addition to brief shots of him being tortured all suggest that these three components are interrelated.
38:25: Interwoven between shots of the torture victim grunting and struggling continue as his clothes continue to be cut off, are the voices of Muslim extremists and their teachings.
38:31: The torture victim’s clothes continue to be cut off while only the lower portion of his head is shown. Not showing the torture victim’s eyes seems to dehumanize and depersonalize the experience of being stripped naked.
38:3: The Muslim radical teachings continue in between shots of the torture victim being tortured, again helping to suggest a connection between Muslim extremism and the presumed guilt of the torture victim.
38:56: The torture victim stands shackled and barefoot on dirty wet, hard ground. Cool colors and dark music are used to facilitate the audience’s emotional disconnection from the scene.
39:49: Muslim extremist teachings continue, as students chant the English equivalent of “God is great” while raising their fists in the air.
39:55: The onlooker follows the torturer into the torture area, again suggesting the onlooker’s passivity in this scene (i.e. he is a follower and not a leader in the torture). The sounds of extremist chanting continue, helping to heighten the viewer’s sense of emotionality about the torture.
39:58: The lighting shifts to cool blues and grays from the red tones found earlier in the torturer’s office and the natural sunlight used in the long shot (35:04) of the torture compound.
40:22: The onlooker looks at a well-illuminated torture victim but catches the torture victim returning his stare which causes him to look away. He also appears to lick his lips in discomfort (40:22). The onlooker’s discomfort appears to absolve him of blame.
40:23: The torture victim is well illuminated and appears nervous, but it is unclear as to why he feels nervous. There is a tense expression on his face, so that his nervousness seems to suggest that perhaps he is guilty.
40:24: The torturer appears confident and prepared to administer the torture as evidenced by his authoritative stance in this scene. The angle of the camera (looking up at the torturer) suggests that the torturer should be feared. Meanwhile the onlooker is not in the frame for a number of seconds, suggesting his disconnection to the torturer and torture itself. The audience understands that the onlooker is at the back of the room and is not to interfere—as he was instructed by the torture prior to entering this torture room.
40:41: The torture victim nervously explains that no one has told him why he is there and he asks for his clothes (torture victim is presumably naked, although the camera does not narrate this fact, again helping to emotionally distance the viewer from the act of being tortured). This particular shot conveys the onlooker’s confusion and perhaps concern as the torture victim explains his emotionally rattled state. The camera focuses on the onlooker as the torture victim explains himself, suggesting that onlooker has empathy for the torture victim. Thus the onlooker is able to occupy two positions: 1) his role as a passive participator in the torture and 2) the role of an empathetic person who watches the torture with discomfort.
41:07: After the torture victim raises his voice demanding justice for himself and the torturer calmly replies that the prisoner needs to answer some questions truthfully first, the camera shifts back to the onlooker. “Sir, are you American?” the onlooker asks. The onlooker looks down for one second in what appears to be discomfort and then looks back. The onlooker’s body language expresses his ambivalence. On the one hand he stays in the room and watches, but on the other, he does not stop the torture. Rather he just feels uncomfortable about it.
41:25: The positioning of the torturer’s body as the camera looks up at him from the torture victim’s perspective suggests that the audience should be afraid of the torturer.
41:36: The lighting highlights half of the onlooker’s face, helping to suggest his ambivalence about being in the room while the torture is being conducted.
42:57: The camera focuses on the onlooker while the torture victim explains himself nervously, suggesting that the onlooker’s emotions and thoughts about what the torture victim is saying are more important than his discomfort.
44:47: This particular shot highlights the torturer’s sadism with the camera eye level with the torturer’s waist after he strikes the prisoner without warning. The camera’s angle up helps the audience to fear the torturer. The torture victim looks up at the abuser from the ground, naked and shackled. The torturer also instructs his assistants to put the prisoner “in the hole.” However, yet again, the torture victim’s experience of the “hole” is entirely neglected.
44:50: High contrast lighting illuminates the onlooker’s face, suggesting his ambivalence about being in the torture room.
45:00: The torture victim is carried off into solitary confinement; however, the torture victim is not well lit, nor are the individuals carrying him off as he struggles. This helps to keep the audience’s attention off the experience of being dragged away to solitary confinement.
45:06: The onlooker looks down as the door to the solitary confinement room is slammed shut. His looking down suggests his ambivalence about what has and is taking place (torture).
45:17: The torture victim’s screams are audible and the torturer looks to the onlooker after washing a drop of blood from his hands. The torturer’s face is fully illuminated, suggesting his emotional clarity about striking the torture victim and sending him off to solitary confinement.