Patty Hearst

| June 30, 2011

Patty Hearst feels like a movie made in the seventies when it is set, but its self-awareness grounds it in 1988 based the real life kidnapping of Patty Hearst in 1974, played tirelessly by Natasha Richardson. Writer Nicholas Kazan and director Paul Schrader capture an essence of social unrest, which defined the late 60s and early seventies. It is flooring how Patty, the nimble University California Berkley student and granddaughter to William Randolph Hearst (Ermal Williamson), is enlightened after being arrested as an accomplice to her own captors. Her last profane lines are resoundingly ironic as she faces the harsh reality from which she will be never be recused. Rightfully, her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter and she was later fully pardoned by outgoing President Bill Clinton. Though she survives captivity, she is punished for cooperating. Patty is punished for the crimes of her captors.
19 year-old virgin Patty Hearst is kidnapped from her apartment, is locked up ransomed, and raped. But this turns out to be the least of the crimes against her when she reveals that she cooperated with her captors for basic survival. The idea that surviving rape and torture is worse than dying at the hands of captors is a frightening reality, one that clearly inspired this psychological first-person kidnapping story that questions the justice system and the morality of oppressed people forced to choose a social death or join their oppressors. The microcosm here applies to WWII Germans Nazis sympathizers, North Koreans, Iraq under sudden Hussein, Rwanda, Darfur, and South Africa where, if you don’t take a side, one will be chosen for you.
Bojan Bazzelli’s camera work captures a prisoner’s eye view as Patty who is blind-folded and kept in the dark closet. When the door is opened, the anonymous back-lit captors remain faceless and terrifying in the shadows, wielding automatic rifles and combat uniforms. Surreal imaginings of the space outside the closet quarters are staged like dreamscapes. The exterior room are lit through pigeon holes in the wall illuminating the black African-American body leading the pack of unidentified “soldiers.” The dark is meant to conceal racial prejudice, but Patty quickly analyzes their elasticities by voice and characterization. Before Patty’s blind fold is removed, the unknown becomes her worst fear. When the blindfold comes off, the captors remain covered with ski masks, and she can only assume the worst intentions.
After almost eight weeks of captivity. the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) holding her prisoner invites her to join or be released back to life. This turning points raises questions about whether her release would cause her a literal, psychological, or social death as a misunderstood victim. Though joining the SLA might seem like the only route to survival, Patty boldly takes on a new Afro-inspired name, Tonya and is trained to see all white people as “pigs” who pose no more threat to a free society than the militant SLA leader Cinque (Ving Rhames).

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