Lilja 4-ever - depressive, moralistic, dispensable?

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Lilja 4-ever - depressive, moralistic, dispensable?

Postby Kolya » Fri Apr 07, 2006 4:39 pm

Several times now I was in the situation to explain what Lilja was about. Of course it's never easy to describe Moodysson's movies to someone who hasn't seen them. (You probably found yourself in the situation to explain FÅ at some point: "Um...it's about two teenage girls who... well you just have to see it!")
Anyway, when I explained Lilja depicts trafficking and child prostitution in a realistic way some people just weren't interested anymore because it sounds depressing, not entertaining.
Then I even read some reviews of Lilja who said, they didn't need the subject to be slapped into their faces, because everybody knows that child prostitution is a horrible thing. And that Moodysson was being moralistic in putting the viewer into Lilja's position so we would get raped ourselves if only visually. Also that the metaphor of angels wasn't very original.
I think there's some truth in all of this. Lilja 4-ever is certainly not entertaining. And Moodysson clearly has a moralistic intention. And boy, he delivers it!
Now wait, what was my point again?
Oh yeah, quite simple: I can't forget this movie. I have only seen it once but I remember almost every scene. It's that intense.

That being said, I started encarving it's name into a bench at Bonn train station. I even used a shard in the beginning but kept cutting myself so I switched to a small swiss knife... I'm not yet finished, because sometimes someone's sitting there or the station guards show up or my train arrives. So it's only "Lilja 4" by now. Hehe.

I suggest you all do the same. No really it's an order! Go vandalise some parkway bench in your neighborhood! Maybe we can make a frappr-map of it later or something.
Go now.
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Postby kant1781 » Sat Apr 08, 2006 12:12 pm

Lilja 4-ever is extremely powerful. Like FÅ can make your day, "Lilja" can ruin it. These two films are like sisters. As I said somewhere before, Lilja gets all the more terrible when you realize that you could fuse the two into one. The Swedish parts of "Lilja" could play in Åmål as well as in Malmö. There is no difference between the house that Elin lives in and the one that Lilja is held captive in. It is made clear that the men who rape Lilja are not freaks or outlaws but just your ordinary-looking neighbour next door, your dentist, maybe the father of a classmate.
Did you notice that when Lilja looks over the railing of the bridge she's going to jump from, this shows exactly the same image as when Agnes and Elin look over the railings of their bridge?

I think the critics who say that "Lilja" is moralistic are laughable. They probably just don't want to be bothered with the subject on their Friday night out.

First, the film doesn't deal with morals, but with politics. It shows clearly that the ugliness of what's going on is not the fault of some individual villain who just happens to be an evil person (so he can get shot dead by the hero and things will be fine again). It's the political and economical situation in central and eastern Europe that encourages these things to happen and corrupts everybody in the system (even Lilja, by the way, who is not a saint and lets Volodja down just like she's been let down). You don't need an evil mastermind to keep the system going.

Secondly, there is absolutely NO moralizing in "Lilja". What is moralizing? A film is moralizing if it wants to tell you what to think, to feel, and to do, and what not. In most moralizing films, this happens by introducing a character who judges for us. If Lilja 4-ever were a moralizing film, it would have a good guy, something like a police inspector who tries to find and rescue Lilja. Either he wins so that good triumphs over evil, or he fails, so he can at least cry for her. And anyway, he'd be the character who draws the line between good and evil. He'd have some tear-jerking monologues about how the world can be so cruel and how we should all try to prevent these things from happening. But there's nobody like this in Lilya 4-ever. The hero's place is empty. There's no comment, there's nobody accusing, judging, valuing, and nobody giving us hope. There's no voice-over narrator who, in the last two minutes, tells us how in the end, the villains got caught and justice had its way. That would be moralizing. And phony. Lilja however is just plain naked reality. And it is exactly this that the critics can't bear.

If there's any hope in Lilja, it comes from above. Moodysson said that the film mirrors his Christian faith. I'm not a believer. But I can respect his view on the matter as a deeply serious point of view, and the way he used the symbol of the angel is so much broken, twisted and disillusioned, so absolutely kitsch-free, that I plainly admire it.
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Postby Kolya » Sat Apr 08, 2006 6:42 pm

There is no hero explaining the moral of the story because there's no need for him. The simple fact that Moodysson made this movie is a statement itself. Obviously he wanted to raise awareness on this subject. And the way he made it he certainly wanted people to be disgusted by what they saw at times.
And an evil villain isn't necessary for moralistic movie making either. I'm not counting Disney here.
If moralizing is telling us what we should think and do, how about this moral: Don't support child prostitution!

Personally I don't have a problem with morals in movies as long as I can agree with them somehow and they don't get in the way of a good movie. That's largely not the case here thanks to Akinshina being a great actress. But the wings were a little overdone imo.
They had two purposes at the movie's ending:
1. Drive home the fact that these were innocent children. Okay, I knew that already. It even felt a bit condescending by Moodysson to make it that obvious. :?
2. Visualize the fact that what we were seeing wasn't real. That could have been done in another less clicheed way.

I don't mean to say religion shouldn't come in or that it's kitsch but children with angel's wings? Give me a break.

The fact that Lilja leaves Volodja behind just like her mother did has been pointed out a few times. This doesn't make her less sympathetic though. And she doesn't get blamed for this within the movie either. In the end she's an angel just like Volodja is one. Whereas her mother doesn't get to wear the fluffy wings.
The point being made is that Lilja is still a child who cannot be held responsible taking into account what happened to her.
One might argue that Lilja was forced to leave. After all she had to sell herself in Russia already. Everyone can understand her wanting to get out of this at any cost, however naive she may have acted. But then (according to Aunt Anna) this may hold true for her mother as well.

There's one more visual clichee in the movie: When Lilja dies we see a fast forward thru her life with everything done right that she thinks she did wrong. While it's certainly notable that she doesn't seem to give anyone the fault but herself, the film-flashing-before-your-eyes-before-you-die is just too tired of a metaphor.
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Postby kant1781 » Sun Apr 09, 2006 5:39 pm

I agree about the film-flashing-before-your-eyes-before-you-die-thing. I don't agree about the wings, but I guess that's a matter of personal taste which is hard to argue about. It's not that I find children with angels' wings so very original, it's the way that it's done that moves me. (When I think of how the same image would have been used in a Robin Williams / Kevin Costner bullshitty tearjerker, it surely sends shivers down my spine.)

I don't quite understand your point about moralizing though.
If you define a moralizing film as one that just "makes a statement" on something, meaning that it articulates the director's point of view on something and has a "lesson" one should learn from it, then 95% of all films are moralizing. In that case, you cannot tell any story without moralizing. So "Fucking Åmål" would be moralizing, because certainly it shows that the director thinks that homosexual love is alright, that you should listen to your heart and not to your prejudiced peers, that you should respect people who are different, and so on. These are obviously moral points. And then, "Tilsammans!" is moralizing because it certainly shows that the director thinks that one shouldn't drink and destroy one's family, and that one should be honest toward one's friends, and so on. Why, even Tarantino would be moralizing then.

But that way of putting it is obviously useless. What makes a film or a story moralizing is not that it makes a statement or shows the artist's point of view. Every interesting story has a point (and, in that sense, a moral), and every interesting artist has a point of view, otherwise he wouldn't have interesting stories to tell. That alone isn't moralizing. It's a question of how it's done. A good film and a good story presents itself in such a way that you are free to read, interpret, and discover (or miss) its point for yourself. And there usually is wild disagreement about what the point should be. A moralizing story or film forces its moral upon you by shouting it into your ears (very often by presenting a moral judge among its characters, but you're right that there are many other ways of doing it).

Probably you agree at least a little with this. But you seem to think that exactly this happens in "Lilja 4-ever". But I don't think so. The critics you quote complain that the film's moral obviously is something like "Don't rape children!" or "Don't support child prostitution!", and then they complain (understandably) that this is a little bit too obvious and cheap. But to me, that just has things the wrong way round: It just shows that this is a shallow understanding of the film. First, they think up a trivial moral, then they force it onto the film, and then they complain that the moral they find in it is trivial. That's a little unfair. It's like if someone should complain about "Fucking Åmål" that it's really the 5000th time that we get to hear the tired and worn-out moral that you should stay true to yourself, become what you are, respect other people's difference, bla-bla-bla... My God, are there worse chlichés than these? But the right answer to this seems to be, first, So what?, and secondly, No.

I should rather suppose that one should think about whether the point of "Lilja" is not something a little more complicated than this. I don't have an instant answer to what it is - because it is exactly not easy to say what it is (for example, because of the obvious religious elements that I find hard to tackle). But I would propose that it at least includes what I said before: That there's a political-economical constellation around that makes this system work, that there's no room for heroic action in it, and that it's impossible to stay innocent in it even for the most noble-minded. Granted, that doesn't sound too original either. But it would be just a start to discuss "Lilja"'s message, not the end.
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Postby kant1781 » Sun Apr 09, 2006 10:20 pm

Thought about it again... maybe I went a little too far. Sure there are lots of films with no "statement" at all, because they're ironic through and through and just make fun about the whole idea of "morals" and "statements" in storytelling. (And I love films of that kind!) And surely there's a huge difference between the ways that FÅ and Lilja 4-ever deliver their respective points, because FÅ is full of irony and humour and Lilja is not. I certainly don't want to deny these differences. All I wanted to say is: A film can present a strong moral, make a strong statement, without being moralizing or moralistic, because that's not the same thing. To me, Lilja 4-ever is such a film.
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Postby Kolya » Mon Apr 10, 2006 2:51 am

I really liked L4E you know, even though it left me in tears.
My confusion with it's message remains though. Maybe that's because I would have preferred it to show a way out of the problem it merely describes.

Lilja's version of how things could have turned out good is just wishful thinking. And the political/economical situation in the former soviet union is a bit out of my scope to change.
So I wonder who Moodysson made this movie for? Did he have an audience of childrapists and politicians in mind? Me I'm neither (as are most people who see it I guess) and it just makes me feel helpless.
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Postby thomasson » Fri Jun 23, 2006 4:43 pm

It's one of the best movies i've ever seen ! i ssaw it before FA and that's what made me want to see FA. I was kind of shocked though because FA is really different from L4E ! It's much more optimistic and has lot of good mood but is as touching as L4E !
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Postby JimmyC » Fri Jun 23, 2006 7:52 pm

I also liked this film, but like Kolya, I had problems with it. On the one hand, it takes a very realist look at this section of oft-ignored society and that is admirable. It's also touching and hopeful (in very small parts) and the acting is superb and completely believable. I didn't mind the angel wings as a stylistic thing. And I even found the last scene to be touching. But reading interviews with Moodysson it seems that the ending is supposed to be some kind of redemption or hope, which doesn't really come across as much hope to me. I agree that it kinda makes you feel helpless. That's where I'm kinda conflicted. On the one hand I don't like feeling helpless. On the other hand, the actual situation of these girls IS helpless, so portraying it as overly hopeful would be a lie.

Moodysson mentioned something about the fact that the story is very predictable and was meant that way, so that you know what's coming but you still have to watch it in pain, like watching something slowly deteriorate. I know some other movies like that, "Nobody Knows" (a Japanese film about 4 neglected children) comes to mind. I think it's a very interesting "genre" of movies where the plot is SUPER simple, there are no surprises, and things just continue down one path (normally a downward spiral) and it's almost like nothing NEW happens, and there is no progression of story, just the unfolding of predetermined events and the act of actually watching it happen. "Watching" becomes almost voyeuristic in movies like this, because the events are so tiny and personal. I think the key to these types of movies is strong (yet subtle) character development and the small moments and small gestures that shows this to you, and L4E definately succeeds in this.

Another movie I feel is similar is Umberto D., an italian flick by De Sica. (if I remember correctly, De Sica's similar "Bicycle Theives" was listed as Moodysson's #1 favorite film in a poll)
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Postby JimmyC » Fri Jun 23, 2006 8:00 pm

PS - One more thing I just thought of. I think movies like this are distinctively in its own category because they are usually about a character who doesn't have a choice. So it is particularly painful to watch because of this, because we don't feel like there is any other way. And even when there is a so-called "choice", it's so ridiculous that it's not even a choice. Like going to Sweden. You know she's young, a bit naive, and very desperate. Was it really a choice she made, or the continual unfolding of her character? She couldn't have made a different choice unless she weren't who she was and she weren't in her current condition. I feel like this idea of choice lends to the helplessness of it, and also defines the other two movies I mentioned above.

Also, I think this idea of choice-lessness is also what makes the movie so apparently simple and "predictable", because there is only one path it can go from the very beginning, almost. It also adds to the uncomfortable-ness of the whole thing as well.
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Postby kant1781 » Sat Jun 24, 2006 3:38 pm

JimmyC wrote:I think movies like this are distinctively in its own category because they are usually about a character who doesn't have a choice. So it is particularly painful to watch because of this, because we don't feel like there is any other way. And even when there is a so-called "choice", it's so ridiculous that it's not even a choice. Was it really a choice she made, or the continual unfolding of her character? She couldn't have made a different choice unless she weren't who she was and she weren't in her current condition. I feel like this idea of choice lends to the helplessness of it, and also defines the other two movies I mentioned above.


"Requiem for a Dream" (2001) by Aronofsky comes to mind here, too.

Good characterization of the category! This is a variant of the principle of the classical ancient Greek tragedy: A situation is constructed in which the characters are doomed to fulfil a destiny that everybody knows is going to come, even though nobody actually wants it to be that way. But the world being as it is and the characters being who they are, no action they can take will change the course of the drama. Whatever they do, even with best intentions, only helps to bring the final catastrophe nearer. All are guilty and innocent at the same time, it's not their choice and their deeds, no hero is there (or even possible). Helplessness is what they feel and is also what we, the spectators, feel.

What I find strange is that this seems to put off so many people, even Kolya. I don't think I would have to point out to him that I consider filmmaking as an art form, not as entertainment. If a film shows the atrocities of war, crime, or personal downfall, it doesn't have to be entertaining to be a great work. People who just want to be entertained should go see a musical, he'd certainly agree to that. But even he complains that all that watching "Lilya" creates is this painful, unbearable feeling of helplessness, that Moodysson doesn't point out any solutions, doesn't give any constructive plans of how to prevent this kind of thing from happening. He only shows us terrible things which we already knew existed, but which nobody of us can change, and that's why Kolya seems to think that showing this is somehow pointless. I must say, I just don't understand that. It's not the artists job to point out solutions, not to us, and especially not to politicians. He doesn't have to be constructive. His job is to show us his vision of the world, nothing more. It's not part of his job to worry about whether we might feel helpless, or if his vision could otherwise harm us. If that's what his vision is, we have to come to terms with it, or ignore it (we are not forced to care about it).
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A different look

Postby Spain_1 » Wed Sep 06, 2006 6:07 pm

Wow!!, after having seen that film I’m breathless.

I have to confess that I was scared about seeing it due to all those commentaries that told how a sad and hopeless a film it was. To me: that film is not as sad as I imagined it to be and by far not so hopeless. I will try to explain myself further down.
Neither it is moralist, as it’s been said, Lukas does not give you a single clue about how to behave or to feel about what happens before your eyes. A moralist film, as American cinema is filled of, gives you at the same time the history and the moral reaction to it.
His other film, “Together”, is a good film, a reflection about human relationships and solitude, but is not as complex and neither has the same magnitude as this one or “fucking Amal”.

For me this one is of a similar height than our dear FA, and Lukas is a rare Genius, someone that’s been granted with a gift that very few people are given. He’s able to decode human feelings, shape them, and show them under a new form to make other people share these emotions.

I’m shocked.

The strength of this history underlies in the fact that every character in the plot is as “normal” as you could desire. I know bunches of people like those ones, able to fall in those behaviors under pressure of circumstances. How human condition is depicted in his films is stunning.
In each one of his films characters are touching to unbearable limits.

This film must be understood under a religious look; religious imagery spreads all over the film, and gives the hope that lacks in this world.
Most important, it may be read as a biblical allegory (you may think I go a bit too far, but that’s the way I feel about.. :wink: ). The bridge (another one) taken as a path between life ant death is the scenario of the final passion of Lilya. It is not possible not to think about crucifixion at the image of Lilya standing over the bridge; look at the streetlamp just behind Lilya and the fence making a right angle.
Taken in that sense, the film might be understood as the final passion and death of the Lord. Lilya, suffers and sacrifices herself to redeem the world. We are all guilty, that’s true, and we wear our guiltiness like a heavy cross over us. She dyes and forgives us to find another life far from this one.
Guiltiness is printed upon the face of every character, we are all born sinners, even the guy who convinces her to go to Sweden lets see a couple of expressions that allow to know that he is perfectly aware of his fault, the same it goes for Lilya’s mother, friend, clients, etc…. The only one that is not human in the film is her captor.
But there may be redemption and forgiveness to everyone, even for Lilya and Volodya, who escape from their existence through their fantasies and dreams waiting to their final travel.

A masterpiece.

In any case, I raise my cup for the sake of you, Mr. Moodysson, if only the world could count some more persons like you, I’m sure that it would be a much better place to live in.

Is anybody aware of a next Moodysson’s project?
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No reactions.

Postby Spain_1 » Fri Sep 08, 2006 11:52 am

No reactions?....................... :wink:

It can only be due to one of these reasons:

You are too much busy.
You completely agree to what I've said and it's not worth it to argue about
You think I take too much drugs before the films.
You don't have any opinion.

:lol: , Come on guys, I enjoy reading your opinions.

Anyway, I'm going to give you another element of refletion.
It is really crazy to make a paralel between Lilia's dream over the roof and the conversation between the devil and Jesus in the desert before his passion......?
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Postby Kolya » Sat Sep 16, 2006 5:12 pm

Can't say I agree with this religious reading. It's certainly open to interpretation but meh, you see a cross because there's a vertical and a horizontal line in the picture? The world must be full of crosses for you.
I don't think Lilya died for anyone or anything but the feeling she didn't want to live anymore.

Regarding what Kant1781 said about the job of an artist: Something began in L4E that continued and expanded in A hole in my heart and from all I could see in Container too: Moodysson started to torture his audience. And why he did that is beyond me.
It's like he increasingly felt the urge to show everyone what vile creatures we are (or "sinners" if you are a christian). There is a lot of hate breaking through in these movies. Self-hate, hate for humanity ... I don't know. Maybe Moodysson never really could come to grips with the sudden success of FA and felt disgusted by it.
Whatever his reasons may be, his vision of the world, as you put it, seems to have become a dark one that not too many people can share.

Certainly he has every right to make such movies. But if he hopes to have any impact on the world beyond shocking it, then a movie like FA, which gives everyone a feeling of being loved and wanting to love, will do so much more.
And that's NOT because we all are shallow and ignorant of the bad things that happen all around us every day. That's the point: We are completely and fully aware of it! There's such an aboundance of bad news ... just turn on the TV and the desasters of the day come flooding in on you until you can't take it anymore.
If Moodysson wants to compete with this stream, he has shown himself very able to do so.

But it doesn't change anything for the better. It just makes you feel helpless. And helplessness creates anger in most people but the very docile. While anger may be necessary in some situations, mostly it's not helpful.
So you want to put a knife into people who hold a girl hostage and rape her? But you don't know any such person! Now where do you put that hate?

Whereas when you saw FA, you might find yourself asking where to put that love.
Guess what's better for you and the world in which you live.

Moodysson doesn't have to make super-happy movies all the time, but he is somewhat responsible for the people who come to watch his art.
I do think it's the job of an artist to show/hint at solutions to the issues he raises. Just describing the status quo isn't enough.
Now if you never heard of child prostitution taking place in eastern Europe this movie might serve to shake you up. But frankly - how likely is that?
And the people who sell or buy Russian girls - will they watch this movie?
And me who never did such an awful thing - what am I supposed to do now?
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Postby kant1781 » Mon Sep 18, 2006 12:20 am

Kolya wrote:I do think it's the job of an artist to show/hint at solutions to the issues he raises. Just describing the status quo isn't enough.


Right. I see and respect your point, but I disagree. That's okay - at least we know where the disagreement lies, that's valuable in itself.
To me, art is not subject to any goal, end or function other than itself - neither entertainment, nor public education, nor social utility, even if works of art can have such effects.
The idea that art must include hints of solutions for the state of the world it depicts is incomprehensible to me.
Goya's paintings (or Picasso's "Guernica") are widely regarded as the greatest works of art showing the atrocities of war. But they do not propose any "solutions" how to prevent war. How could they? Why should they?
Paul Celan's poetry gives a voice to the murdered victims of Nazi fascism, expressing the horror they experienced. But he doesn't give a political seminar on how to prevent fascism to rise or how to fight it. His poems include no answers, explanations, or recommendations, and nobody would expect them to.
Now why should a filmmaker do what painters and poets do not?
The question "And what should I do now?" is beside the point, at least if you pose it to L.M. The right answer would be: "That's exactly what is up to you now to find out." Maybe art just makes you think, feel, and try to express what you think and feel (which you already do), and that's enough for a start.


Spain_1 wrote: This film must be understood under a religious look; religious imagery spreads all over the film, and gives the hope that lacks in this world. (...) Taken in that sense, the film might be understood as the final passion and death of the Lord. Lilya, suffers and sacrifices herself to redeem the world. We are all guilty, that’s true, and we wear our guiltiness like a heavy cross over us. She dyes and forgives us to find another life far from this one.


Well... yes, it probably should be understood under a religious outlook (at least, I do, even I don't share this outlook). But I think the idea of comparing Lilya to Jesus is a little over the top! There's nothing wrong with that in principle, but I don't see much sense in it. The basic move of Christianity is to tell a rather brutal story of a violent death, and then declaring that what looks like an act of senseless violence really has a deep meaning, because it turns out to have happened for our benefit. Be that as it may, I agree with Kolya when he says that the point of L4E is exactly that Lilya's death is meaningless. It's just plain violent and ugly. There's no scheme behind it, nobody is saved by her death, it does nobody good. You're right to point out that in her fantasies, Lilya is being saved. But that doesn't justify the comparison, because the point with Jesus is not that he gets saved, the point is that he saves the world by being executed. He was sacrificed for us, and he accepted this task. Lilya died for nobody, and she didn't ask to be sacrificed. She doesn't save the world. The world doesn't even notice. That's why it's so unbearable. Lilya may be redeemed, but not us.
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Postby Kolya » Mon Sep 18, 2006 11:41 am

Goya was a very political painter who strived by his own words to "perpetuate by the means of the brush the most notable and heroic actions of our glorious insurrection against the tyrant of Europe".
So you're right, he didn't want show how to prevent war.
By pointing at the war atrocities of Napoleon's army he tried to do his part to free Spain.
Likewise the obvious idea behind lending a poetic voice to murdered nazi victims is to prevent the same thing happening again.
None of the pieces of art you mention were born from a vacuum but rather they have become relevant for a larger group because they reacted to problems within the society.

I'm not saying art has to do that (or that LM has to for that matter, I tried to make this clear before). I just note the fact that l'art pour l'art doesn't have much of an impact on society. Something that is inherent to it's nature.

Getting back to L4E, I had the feeling that LM desperately tried to make an impact with shocking scenes here, eg the visual raping of the audience, but even moreso what happens behind the bathroom door. That isn't art for art's sake.
He just misses the goal. Because the ones who watch this movie aren't the raping kind.
And by making it roll down like a fatalistic greek tragedy he even negates the possibility to resolve this somehow. There are no choices to be made. Whatever Lilja tries to get out of her horrible situation can only make it worse. Her death at the beginning of the film makes this ultimately clear.
From then on all that LM allows the viewer to do is to sit in morbid fascination watching the unavoidable unfold until she dies a second time crushing every hope that may have been left at the end.

Lesson learned: The world is an ugly place and there's really nothing anyone could do. Go home and feel bad about it.
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