Barriers - Archetypes of Stereotypes

Written by Tony Jassen.

barriersIn many ways I’d like to say that “Barriers” exemplifies the best of Israeli cinema.

The production values are top notch, the acting is well done and the story itself is built on the seemingly insoluble conflict with the Palestinians. If there is one weak point then, perhaps it is in the characterizations.

The story is one that plays out every day across the crossing points between Israel and the Palestinian territories. An army check point, manned by two soldiers and their officer, is officially closed. It is up to the young men manning it to maintain order in spite of the immense pressures to follow their orders. This is complicated when an ambulance arrives to cross the closed checkpoint, and further complicated by the presence of women associated with an Israeli group tasked with documenting on video the goings on at the checkpoints. Of course, being a film, there are twists to each of these plot points that build to the shocking end.

It is in the nuance of its characters that “Barriers” shows its weakness. While each of the various soldiers might seem to be similar in their Israeliness, in actuality each represents an archetype bordering on stereotype. We have the Ashkenazi (Jews of European background) officer who speaks fluent Arabic, a symbol of the liberal “westernized” establishment. Who in spite of the tremendous tasked placed upon him, still preaches coexistence. With him is a soldier of Mizrachi origin (Jews of N. African and Eastern background), depicted as giving no quarter to the Palestinians trapped on the other side of the checkpoint. The third is the new immigrant, not entirely sure of what is going on, with his head in the clouds as it may be, manning the raised observation post and singing about being “above in the sky”. While these are valid archetypes, it only serves to point out the lack of definition of the Palestinians waiting to cross the checkpoint. They are depicted as a single uniform unit, even the ambulance driver is part of the same mass.

However, the case can be made that this story could not be told other than with these archetypes. The conflict is so fraught with tension and preconceived notions, that only by deconstructing the players to their base roles can some semblance of understanding possibly be achieved.

It is in this light that the ending can be made sense of. But I will leave that up to the viewer to decide for themselves.

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