SLAM22 REVIEW: کشتن خواجه [Killing the Eunuch Khan] [2022]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 111 minutes
    Release Date: 2022 (Iran)
    Studio: Iranian Independents
    Director(s): Abed Abest
    Writer(s): Abed Abest

Where is the escape?


It would be a mistake to take the synopsis for Abed Abest‘s Killing the Eunuch Khan at face value because this is not a film about a serial killer in the generic sense of the word. Khan (Ebrahim Azizi) isn’t some cult leader a la Charles Manson sending his disciples out into the world to murder people in his name. He’s not a monster in the vein of Jigsaw either, entrapping victims to do his dirty work in the hope that doing so will earn them their freedom. Khan doesn’t even appear on-screen until about a third of the way through, ushering in a fracturing of focus that moves our attention from a single vantage point towards an unexplainable overlapping of time and space. You must think bigger.

Who else can be considered a serial killer pulling strings of others to kill in their name? A better question might start with the words “What else.” We’re talking about militaries. Nations. Governments who indoctrinate their citizens into sacrificing their lives for a greater good that ultimately benefits the people in power more than the families of their soldiers. While Abest sets his film during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s (where Iraq invaded Iran for religious purposes), one could easily transpose the inevitable carnage to come upon America and its decades-long interest in victimizing the Middle East. The fighters become victimized as weapons either way. The populace is victimized as collateral damage. Life itself is eventually rendered moot as long as the puppeteer’s agenda is sufficiently fulfilled.

Don’t take that reading at face value either, though. Abest isn’t interested in linear storytelling or concrete depictions of heroes or villains. Those details are pushed into the background to instead supply audiences a more visceral and emotional experience. With gorgeous cinematography by Hamid Khozouie Abyane (static set-ups, impactful lighting, and numerous crane/tracking shots) and a resonant score by Christophe Rezai (dialogue is sparse, the first line spoken ten minutes in and the only sequence with more than five lines comes during a debrief at the very end), our senses are being overpowered by intense imagery meant to conjure universal feelings of hopelessness and futility. Every moment of beauty becomes replaced by horror. Every potential escape from the nightmare blocked by reality’s dark mistrust of honest human compassion.

It starts with the fate of two young girls, Nasrin (Sara Mohammadi) and Ahoo (Mah-Sima Kabari). They live a simple life at their sparingly furnished home with their father (Vahid Rad). Entertainment comes from a Walkman with a loose button and a collection of hexagonal mirrors that Dad leaves out in the field of their property when they haven’t set them up inside to watch the sunlight dance upon the opposite wall like spotlighted stars. While we know in our minds that this trio is physically alone on their property, however, Abest ensures we’re also aware they aren’t spiritually. Who are those people walking past their windows as the camera captures Nasrin on their spiral staircase? Who is the cloaked woman standing outside as Ahoo sleeps?

The answers come with tragedy—an Iraqi bomb let loose from storm clouds with no guarantee of it hitting its intended target. Abest transports us from the house to a nondescript room, Nasrin’s body lying motionless on the floor as blood rains down the walls to gradually fill the space. What looked like a dud, the missile lying intact within a crater of dirt, soon transforms into a giant hole a few feet from their front door. That same blood pours down the staircase as Rad’s father ascends (itself an improbability considering the home is barely two stories and thus too small to contain such an architectural marvel), its steady stream eventually spilling forth over the front stoop and into that hole until it becomes a reddened lake.

That’s when we finally leave to separately meet a guard (Missagh Zareh) and a soldier (Iman Basim). The former hopes to save two lives. The latter might be forced to kill one. Where are they? That same house, of course. One walks through the door. The other hops over the stone wall. Both exist at different times, our ability to see them together ours alone. And that’s when the father leaves the gate, all three paths colliding for our abstract benefit as though the house itself is haunting our expectations with the ghosts of its violent past. Did it house a family first? Was it a storehouse for weapons before or after? How old was the man who lived there? How young his daughter(s)? Do the details matter?

No. They shouldn’t. Age. Religion. Ethnicity. These are human beings led about by politics and other divisive notions meant to separate them into factions of good and evil. But just as the Iranians gaze upon the Iraqis with vitriol, so too do the opposite. Follow that thread out even further and think about the average American who looks at them both that way—relishing the opportunity to see them both die for a cause so deeply rooted in white supremacy that some of them physically accost Indian Sikhs at home because it was never about religion. It was always about Brown skin. Does that mean what we’re seeing isn’t real? That Nasrin and Ahoo’s father might be the old man who lets the guard in? No. And yes.

At the end of the day, all these events occurring simultaneously or as projections through time is inconsequential. Whether Khan is pulling their strings as some omnipotent being or a general at war is too. The point is only that they’ve happened. Men trying to do good were forced to do evil and innocent children were left for dead. That’s the cost of war. Accepting responsibility for pulling the trigger, dropping the bomb, or ordering the act is a necessary step in acknowledging one’s complicity regardless of Abest’s film being science fiction or fever dream. He’s simply bringing destroyed beauty and scared pawns to the forefront. He’s showing us a horrible truth removed from justifications that are never enough. It won’t be for everyone, but it’s powerful nonetheless.


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