A long time ago somebody told me that power was seductive. Once seduced, an individual would shut down their moral and ethical values as they sought more and absolute power, making them a law unto themselves. However, outside influences representing morality and ethics would be brought by others against them, which would bring the individual crashing and screaming back down to earth. The quest for power will always destroy the individual concerned.
Then there is the question of those who follow these individuals as they attempt to climb the stairway to power. Erich Fromm in his book The Fear Of Freedom (1942) denotes such people as being ‘automaton’. In essence this type of person is a social conformist who wants to be lead by the individual who is trying to obtain power. They do not want to make choices. They just want to be told how they should live, act and think. Fromm’s automaton is blind, but also provides the unquestioning power behind the throne. After all, the individual trying obtain power is nothing without the support of the automaton. This is a pure case of domination, and the automaton wants to be dominated.
In a limited sense this this relationship of power and the automaton can be seen in the film Dogtooth (Giorogos Lanthimos, 2010.) A film that in shares some of the themes which are explored in Flowers In The Attic (Jeffrey Bloom, 1987) and The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003.) Here power and domination at are at play. The Father (Christos Stergloglou) is the dominant figure, while the children, who are not allowed to leave the confines of the estate, have been brought up to be unquestioning automatons. For some unknown psychological reason inflicted upon them by their parents, these children are not allowed to think, neither are they exposed to the outside world, quite possibly because the outside world would undermine the authoritarian position of the Father.
Unthinking conformity is what is required, and to a certain extent, this is what the Father gains. If the young adult children step out of line they are punished, until once again they conform to the expectations of the dominant power. Through this system of punishment and control the children commit what in the normal world would be considered only minor acts of play, yet within the context of this film they become major acts of rebellion. Acts of non-conformity which moves at least the Elder Daughter (Aggeliki Popoulia) to a position where she begins to think for herself. Although by the end of the film we do not know that she has escaped, there is a confidence that the dominant power of the Father has been undermined, and quite possibly he will never be able to reassume the position he had. The link between domination and the automaton has been broken.
If Dogtooth shows this relationship in a limited sense then Agroa (Alejandro Amenabar, 2010) gives us the themes of domination and the automaton in full historical fashion. Here we find three power blocks of Christians, Neo-Platonists, and Jews battling both intellectually and physically for power in the city of Alexandria during the early 400s AD. With the result, after a lot of bloodshed, that the Christians under the leadership of Cyril of Alexandria (Sami Samir) came to be the dominant power, becoming the Patriarch of Alexandria in 412AD.
Yet it is here within this struggle for dominance we find that each of the leaders of each faction Cyril Of Alexandria, and Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), who leads the Neo-Platonist faction, all demanding full loyalty from their followers as they try to obtain and maintain their power on the streets and in the government of Alexandria. Wherever we turn in this film the same idea asserts itself -power is dominance and those who follow have to conform to the dominance or they will pay the price of there non-conformity. And in Agora the price of non-conformity is death.
With The Girl On The Train (Andre Techine, 2010) we come upon another attempt to dominate. But an attempt to dominate that is different from both the individual form found in Dogtooth, or the shifting power block form of Agora. Instead, what we find here in this film is an attempt to dominate a group, at the individual level, who will not fall into conformity with the person who is attempting to apply power upon them. Jeanne’s (Emile Dequenne) act of plastering herself in swastikas, of cutting her face and arms with a knife, the cutting of her hair, along with her claim that this came about because of a anti-Semitic attack on the Parisian metro is a blatant fabrication. A last desperate attempt to force her dominance on to her social group. Yet she is shown through evidence to be a liar. The peer group of her family and friends do not fall into the deception.
What this shows is that those who are trying to acquire power through dominance of a group has to sound convincing. They have to have a charisma to carry their motives through. In The Girl On The Train, the family and friends will not conform because Jeanne is not capable of the charisma to make them believe that the attack which did not happen, did really happen. A charisma that both the Father in Dogtooth, and Cyril Of Alexandria in Agora, both have, due to the fact that they are both capable of convincing those that need to be convinced into a position of conformity, and then in to the role of automaton.
Domination is in the hands of those who have the ability to carry forward their ideas and plans while at the same convincing others of the necessity of the cause. Even if the convincing has to be carried out with the use of pain, torture, and the sword. Without charisma the road to power is a road to rejection. It is quite possible that it those who have no charisma just fall into the pattern of conformity becoming automaton. It is this that will happen Jeanne.
The question of those who obtain power will always be eternal. Only what we have to remember is that once the individual obtains power the journey downwards can come with a rapid descent and an almighty crash to the solid ground.