Starring: Eric Bana
Director: Andrew Dominik
MARK Read came to public attention when he appeared on ABC TV’s Elle McFeast program.
Read is 46 and has spent 23 years in prison. The new Australian movie Chopper gives episodes in Read’s story in and out of jail. Read is called “Chopper” because he cut off his own ears and has cut off the toes of some of his victims. This is a sadistic, harrowing and tragic tale.
Chopper is a technically well made film. It is hard and gritty. There is a foreboding mood throughout this disturbing tale. Eric Bana gives an outstanding performance as Mark Brandon Read.
Consistent with the behaviour of the film’s subject, Chopper is offensively violent. There are scenes that are excruciating to watch. Writer/director, Andrew Dominik, however, does not glorify Read’s behaviour. He portrays Read as having a very deep psychopathology. This tragic and borderline personality erupts into violence as a way of controlling his world. In his books, and in the film, Read admits to committing 19 murders. He has been arrested, and acquitted, for only one. (Isn’t there a law about admission of guilt?)
The ethical issues in this film are numerous. Where are the voices of the victims and their families? Is Dominik only feeding a cult of personality that does not do Read or the public any good? Read has never been found to be criminally insane, therefore at least before the law, all his crimes have been acts of free will. Does Chopper trivialise the heinous nature of his choices, especially by his own admission that he got away with many of his most serious crimes?
By any Australian standard, Mark Brandon Read had a very tough upbringing. Read has, by all accounts, a larrikin sense of humour. Dominik exploits the humour in the film to lessen the appalling nature of the violence. Unfortunately, Dominik only gives us a glimpse of the context from which Read emerges.