Goran Paskaljevic, Special Treatment
Goran Paskaljevic’s film of 1980, Special Treatment, deals with a story about a group of recovering, so-called, alcoholics and their doctor. The group of alcoholics, throughout the film, are portrayed as submissive although not altogether necessarily in the need of such radically life altering treatment as is the Dr.’s program. They are though forced by the state to commit to the treatment fully, which means that they are not volunteers and that they have no life outside the treatment until they are “cured.”
Ultimately, though, the film is less about questions of disease and treatment than it is about issues concerning power and authority. The Dr. is controlling and domineering to almost absurd extents over the group of patients. The film picks up at the point where the Dr. has decided to take his patients on tour to lecture and show them off. He takes them to a brewery. The trip is excused as a demonstration of the patients’ newly acquired will power and presumably by extension to show off the “success” of his treatment, which is appropriate to the Dr.’s sadistic brand of egotism. Really though it is more in order to rub the patients’ noses in their weakness. It is a construction of power on the Dr.’s behalf.
There is through the course of the film a great premium and emphasis placed on the idea of will power by the Dr. and his supposed ability to instill it in others. In addition, the Dr.’s favorite song is a famous piece from Wagner and the film’s theme music is another piece by Wagner. Wagner, though his music may well be defended in exclusively musical terms, was the Nazi composer par excellence. His music was, and is, connected with Nazism. Furthermore, the Dr.’s insistence on the absolute importance of will power coupled with his controlling behavior as well as the fact that this is indeed a film, calls to mind Triumph of the Will from Leni Riefenstahl. Riefenstahl was, of course, Hitler’s filmmaker, and Triumph of the Will is her most important work and widely considered one of the most effective accomplishments in the cinema of propaganda. Especially in the images of his lecture the Dr. becomes an embodiment of Nazi, sadistic, domineering power and unreasonable authority. His lecture looks and sounds more like a screaming fascist speech than an academic, or intellectual, display.
The Dr.’s control over the patients does not include the imposition of physical violence or death, but the life-controlling treatment program, in its consuming character and in the complete removal of the patients from society, is a kind of death. They are no longer alive except for their involvement in the treatment. Also, the Dr. imposes his own domineering will upon the patients by forcing them to do totally unnecessary activities. The exercises, for example, seem useless and their true raison d’être is revealed at the end of the film. After the debacle propagated by the patients’ refusal to adhere to the Dr.’s play he takes revenge on them through the medium of forced exercise, the same that he had already been subjecting them to throughout the film. The exercise that the Dr. implements is all the more ridiculous because it is no kind of real or beneficiary exercise. The patients are made to run around in circles, flap their arms and jump around aimlessly and meaninglessly. At the final event of it, the reality of forced exercise as punishment is exclaimed by the fact that it comes immediately after the patients’ resistance to the Dr.’s power, but more so because the Dr. is very obviously angry as hell about it. He has the patient’s exercising, but he dictates exactly what they are to do in real time. He has control over their bodies and their movement and he shouts out the commands with fierce force and punishing conviction.
Another avenue by which the Dr. attains unreasonable power over the patients is through the forced play that they must rehearse and act out in front of strangers. The worst part of this is that the monologues that the patients give are regarding their own real and personal lives, or former lives. Not only that but they are designed to strike the speaker deep as they reveal damaging details and the most painful memories. The play is an imposition of restricting and domineering structure on a series of forced confessions. The confessions intended to completely humiliate the patients.