Buzzing with atmospheric anxiety, Alice Winocour’s Disorder (Maryland) pries into the dystopian mind of its PTSD-afflicted subject, eyeing the world through the haze of war, and with the panicked realization that life has been forever altered by violence. Using cinema as a means to convey unfathomable trauma, Winocour holds a vice-like grip on the minds of her audience — every scene pulsing with suspense in a jarring course to an unknown end.
Disorder opens with a shot of a crossroads, hinting at a life torn in half; an uncertain future with two distinct outcomes. Yet Winocour subverts this image of duality — the fork in the road is merely a merging point when one approaches from the opposite direction. This is where we are introduced to Vincent Loreau (Matthias Schoenaerts), a soldier out for maneuvers with the rest of his platoon. A mid-run nosebleed is largely ignored, but a subsequent meeting with an army doctor hints at the seriousness of Vincent’s condition. His battle-ready eligibility on the line, the life-long soldier turns to civilian security in order to keep his mind occupied, and to finance his semi-crippling drug habit. Charged with “babysitting” the wife (Diane Kruger) and son of a wealthy Lebanese businessman, Vincent finds that balancing real-world danger with his exaggerated fears is too much for his fragile mind to bear.
Approaching her film from the mindset of someone suffering from war-induced PTSD, Winocour must meticulously inspect the world she has created. Her subject is a security specialist suffering from a mental disorder that renders the world a battlefield, and she must portray it as such. An autonomous camera floats purposefully through crowds and glides around the perimeter of each space it enters. Studying body language and gesturing instead of faces or words, Winocour, like Vincent, is skeptical of everyone — safety here can only be achieved through vigilance and a preemptive offense. When turned towards those he is protecting, however, Vincent’s gaze becomes lustful and ashamed. Glimpses stolen at a neckline (or an exposed thigh) carry the weight of a man only half in control of his impulses. Like an enemy combatant, Vincent yearns to engage with and conquer his chosen target yet only dreams of doing so.
Accompanied by a pulsing electro score (courtesy of Mike Lévy aka Gesaffelstein), Winocour’s images take on a sinister and unnerving character. The hypnotic music gives weight to the camera’s apprehensive scrutinizing, and as the BPM’s increase, the audience’s heartbeat acts in unison. A watchful meander through a party populated by wealthy political figures and their glamorous dates becomes as intoxicatingly alarming as the most brutal of battle scenes. It is only when the music abruptly stops that the impact of this cinematic concoction becomes apparent; muscles tensed, minds racing, we find that nothing has happened. Everything is fine. This is Winocour’s most impactful interpretation of PTSD. It isn’t characterized by violent outbursts or war-time flashbacks — it is anxiety that arises out of nowhere and flees every bit as quickly as it arrives.
It is rare for a film to look objectively at war’s after effects and the violence it instills on its participants, and yet Alice Winocour’s Disorder is not concerned with pity or ferocity. She is trying to uncover the man at the root of all the rhetoric. Violence surrounds humanity and effects us all — from footage of war torn countries in the Middle East to the near-daily mass shootings that have enveloped the US — and whether glorified or ignored, it will persist into our future, unflinching and ever powerful.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.