The Road to Guantanamo

Madman DVD: The Road to GuantanamoThis film is a devastatingly good example of storytelling that is both potent drama and documentary. The documentary-as-film paradigm has gained momentum as audiences realise that the social milieu of the cinema is more conducive to collective outrage or edification than the isolating domain of television. Nevertheless, Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross’s film is strong enough to survive the transfer to the living room. It tells the story of three lads from Birmingham who return to their roots in Pakistan for a wedding soon after the September 11 attacks, only to find themselves two months later in the custody of the US military.

To begin with, the plot runs at an electric pace and the filmmakers aren’t afraid to lunge from one circumstance to another without too much time given to exposition. This leaves holes in the thread of events. The boys decide to head into Afghanistan with little more in mind than the size of the local naan and the prospect of “helping the people” in some indistinct manner. Is the obfuscation a sign of concealed guilt or is it a dark joke about the possible links between Guantanamo Bay and baking? To me, there is something plausible about the boys’ naivety and the confusing turmoil of the region landing them in a travelling daze. It seems, moreover, to be a ploy on the part of the filmmakers to demonstrate how easy it is to be caught in the whirlwind of geopolitical machinations when one doesn’t consider every possible consequence.

The heart and guts of the film are the scenes after the boys’ incarceration. Their treatment at the hands of the Northern Alliance and then the US Marines is horrifying and torturous to watch. One is helpless, just as the young men are. The frustration of the prisoners as they are asked the same leading questions over and over again in various situations of duress reveals the fundamental fallacy of the presumption of guilt. Indeed, not only does the film display the sheer weight of inhumanity perpetrated in the name of “honour” and “freedom” it also shows the arrogant inefficacy of a system that is determined to see enemies at every corner without recourse to old-fashioned concepts such as evidence or justice.