In “Partisan,” Vincent Cassel plays Gregori, a ruined man with a negative Christ complex, who haunts maternity wards for unwed mothers who he brings to his commune where he homeschools the children in the art and necessity of murder. His end is a predictable one, but Australian director Ariel Kleiman deepens his allegory with subtle references to both Columbia’s child soldiers and radical Islam’s suicide babies. While watching this disturbing tale, my mind wandered to ancient Grecian and Judaic father myths, and I wondered how the concept of fatherhood may have changed through the centuries from the powerful and feared kings who would sacrifice their children to raise a wind that would start a war to the docile domestics who bring home the bacon to the matriarchal households of the modern West.
Freud was wrong when he attributed the neuroses of modern Europeans to an Oedipal complex. The German dissident does not attempt to assassinate Hitler out of a sexual desire for Eva Braun, but to save his country. The father who teaches violence to his children must always be killed, lest the family destroy itself from within. A generation that fails to improve the lot of its descendants must be prevented by the continuance of those destructive ways when their descendants come of age. This is what brought about the fall of the Soviet Union, and this is what may bring about the fall of other powerful nations that threaten the world at large.
Gregori has corrupted his adopted sons into believing that pre-emptive violence is the way to preserve individual freedom against any oppositional force. But when such opposition comes from within the family, the children themselves must be sacrificed lest the father be overthrown. This has been the case from antiquity, and child sacrifice has long been a ritual for the preservation of the father’s rule. The God of the Jews amended this custom when Abraham took Isaac to the sacrificial stone, and his God stopped him from murdering his son. Although there is no scriptural authority to substantiate my theory, it is possible that Abraham was commanded not to kill Isaac, but only to partially castrate him. This cutting of the foreskin would psychologically emasculate the son without threatening the continuation of the family line, thus preserving the father’s rule without spilling the blood of the child.
We may alternatively interpret the Oedipus myth as a situation in which Laius, himself a child rapist, was killed by Oedipus as a vendetta against the pedophilic father figure. In “Partisan,” the Laius figure has made concubines of all the mothers of the stolen children. As a result, the time is destined to arrive when one of these children rebels against the false father. Here, it happens when one of the boys, nearing puberty, seeks to protect the hens that are being raised to be killed for the supper table. The hens represent the mothers who have been reduced to concubines, their lives made worthless except as pleasure servants to the king. The children have been trained to protect the family from anyone or thing threatening it, so it is as sure as destiny that one of these sons will eventually rise up and kill his father to protect, not only his own mother, but all of the females imperiled by the father’s rule.
Some legends tell that the king is sick and the land will die if he is not healed, but there is no healing for a king who has made murderers of his subjects. In such cases, the king must die if the country is to be healed. And so it goes with this gypsy tribe and their winter vegetables that seem dead in the earth but are clinging desperately for survival in the dirt.