Landscape Suicide

Landscape Suicide ★★★★★

From the shady suburban hills of California, to the snow-covered fields of Wisconsin and everywhere in between, America is a nation who’s humanity is consistently fractured by unspeakable, often times thoroughly puzzling acts of violence and cruelty. Monotony, hatred, confusion, narcissism, psychopathy, pain, lust, greed, hatred, jealousy, trauma, misdirection, environmental factors—these are but a small sum of the large list of possibilities for these heinous and vile acts. James Benning examines America as if it were a painting, with every frame of this masterstroke worthy of a spot on your wall.

Blending starkly impressionistic frames which magnificently capture the topography of two distinctly different geographic locations, with unembellished recreations of interviews from two real-life American murderers (Ed Gein and Bernadette Protti), Landscape Suicide can very much be interpreted literally in its namesake. America is slowly killing itself; self-afflicted death by a thousand shots, bludgeonings, lashings and stabbings. But a thousand is not the number—more like several million. The USA is a notoriously violent nation, and no one seems to know why. Or maybe we all know exactly why, but are too afraid to speak about it because of what we may expose about ourselves, plus the violent nature of our culture that is so deeply embedded within the idea of American society as a whole that we would have to change what are on the surface our own little idyllic existences—the idea of freedom and the pursuit of happiness— which sounds great on paper, but are we truly free? Kirsten Costas, the victims of Ed Gein and countless others who have had their lives ripped away from them certainly aren’t: they are dead at the hands of someone else.

Why is that? Well, it certainly can’t be because the person who took their lives was free to do so: by law and by the codes of morality we’ve established, they are not. And yet they did so anyway, feeling many things after the fact, but true remorse is usually not one of them. I am not a psychologist or a sociologist, but I would venture to guess that despite others holding those titles, they don’t have any answers either, or else we wouldn’t be faced with these issues to begin with. Now, obviously, murder, and specifically those most flummoxing, odious crimes, are in no way exclusive to America. Goddamn if we ain’t good at it though. We sure do it a lot; the numbers say we do it more than almost any other country: serial killers, mass shootings, underage killers—these are, with some exceptions of course, an inherently American phenomenon, and I think Benning is attempting to get at why, without trying to spell anything out or provide concrete answers that he does not have.

And he does this, I think, through the images that fill the gaps between the two long staged interview sequences with Gein (played by Elion Sucher) and Protti (played by Rhonda Bell). Each shot is deliberately and immaculately composed—purposeful and encompassing. They are not only some of the most gorgeous images ever put on film, but ones of immense significance with regards to the subject matter. The way sound is implemented is incredibly fascinating as well; diegetic sounds are utilized for some of the shots, while non-diegetic sound is inserted for others. While many of the more scenic shots are the most pleasing to look at, I’d say that the opening series of shots which repetitiously show a woman serving tennis balls, then a cut to a long shot showing the other side of the court where a sea of balls now lies, exemplify the cause and effect that directly correlates to these issues, as well as the monotony of life that many have speculated is a key contributor to them.

Landscape Suicide contains a multitude of images that burrow their way into both your conscious and subconscious mind, the latter of which, I would assume, being the part of the brain that is responsible for these acts I have talked about here in this write-up. Americans are also fed a majority of negativity: it’s on all the networks, at their jobs, and in their homes. And in recent times, plastered all over their various newsfeeds and frequented websites, available 24/7, 365… is there a connection between the types of abhorrent violent acts that takes place on a daily basis in this country and the aforementioned flood of information, most of which is negative? Who knows. It could just be that humanity is often programmed by its environment to destroy itself for one reason or another—a kind of suicide on a grand scale. Whatever the case, I think I have rambled on for long enough and will leave you with the one thing I am certain of, which is that Landscape Suicide is an absolute masterpiece that I urge you all to see. I know it probably sounds super dark, and it is at times, but it is also a work of staggering beauty in its visual composition and unique structuralist framework.

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