The Dispatches Review – Found Footage Series – Mockingbird (2014) – Part 6 of 6


So, if Mockingbird is somehow an empowerment fantasy, what are we supposed to do with it?  Assuming that filmmakers Bertino and Esmail have presented us with a pure fantasy, worked out in detail, in what narrative context does the fantasy itself exist?  For while what we’re given is rather blunt, the continued untenability of the plan indicates that the fantasy world might ever be the only way for these feelings of resentment of authority to be fully expressed–implying that the ‘imaginer’ exists in a world unseen within the frame, but whose limitations and social sensibilities might stand closer to our own.  Nor do the children really even do much with the considerable power they claim for themselves; despite their superior skills at communications manipulation, their ambitions are rather small-scale, with no significant indicators that The Family, The Woman, or The Clown are part of any still-grander plot.  The film sets the endeavor as, essentially, a cheap thrill killing, so how much more diminished does it become in its increasing removal from material efficacy?  For, the workability of the plan means that it is far more successful and satisfying the deeper it is set within fantasy.  The antagonist–or, rather, the protagonist of an elaborate train of thought–is, in the setting of his own mind, always already omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent with respect to the plot he is inventing.

The Clown could prove problematic to the idea of the film as an actual fantasy, though.  The Family and The Woman are, themselves, not identified as particularly important, but might still be taken as symbolically essential.  Depending on the reality of the imaginer’s situation, Tom and Emmy might represent his own parents to whatever degree, while Beth, a young woman with yet-unrealized potential for motherhood, could stand as a teacher or caretaker.  But what would an adolescent empowerment fantasy need with such a guileless man-child as Leonard?  He doesn’t even cross paths with the others except to meet his own end–he presents in himself no real or symbolic challenge to be overcome, except, perhaps, the threat of wasted potential.

Any scant power Leonard wields stems not at all from himself, but from the situation of the game; rather than terrorizing this victim with death threats in an enclosed space, the children assign him to run around town, performing stunts in public not as a means to survive, but to win the game’s mythical prize.  At one point, he is told to sing a song in a crowded women’s’ room in order to retrieve the next clue; later he is told to do jumping jacks in the rain, all while still being filmed by the provided, live-feed camera[1].  These are demeaning tasks, but more on par with a reality television show than a well-organized multiple-murder plot.  While he is, perhaps, necessary in executing key steps in the game, he is otherwise treated largely as a joke–the manifestation of a victim that the antagonist is empowered not just to kill, but to bully.  In a Hegelian sense, Leonard serves as a far more willing and malleable slave to the antagonist’s master than The Family and The Woman do, even though all are disposed of in like fashion.  Ironic, then, that the force which ultimately kills Leonard is the same one that stirs him to uncharacteristically meaningful action.  The rest of the clown iconography, of negligible intimidative power to begin with, is invoked by and kept under the strict control of the villains to the end.  The fullest expression of Leonard’s incompetence, in fact, comes in the final scene, when he quite literally brings a cake to a gunfight and is by no means spared in the expected carnage.


As The Family’s story opens, we’re given an ambiguous shot.  As with Beth and Leonard, the camera is delivered while it is already filming–but, here, we’re given an extra few seconds before the delivery, as the unseen antagonist starts the recording[2], closes the box, walks up to the front porch, and rings the bell.  We don’t get this extra piece with the beginning of either Alexandra’s or Leonard’s stories, but we can deduce that, since those cameras are likewise running as they’re discovered, comparable footage must exist in that narrative world somewhere.  An identifiable piece of the footage for both of those subplots is thus rendered contextually extant but materially inaccessible.  Certainly, there is a lot that a single camera–or even a group of cameras–would not capture during any occasion of filming, but what is missing here is meaningfully distinct from other common cuts.

These two missing lengths of film each possess a dual existence, a reality within the realm of the story and within our own world–or, more accurately, they have analogous complexions that point up how the situations of the narrative and the material production are likewise constructed.  If we could wind Tom and Emmy’s recording back further than what we’re given, so that we could see, perhaps, everything from the moment the camera is actually turned on, what we’d be shown would depend on whether we were considering that camera as a tool in the real world or a device of the narrative.  What could be represented diverges as we move into the past, even as it unifies in the present; what we eventually come to is what we actually see–in that first storyline, it’s the trees, the camera being covered, blackness, then the box being opened and the plot progressing.  But if the footage were to be wound back within the narrative, we might see the culprits, caught unaware, as they begin to enact their grand plan.  On the other hand, were we to wind the footage back within the reality of the production, we would instead see film crew and actors readying their equipment and themselves.  We can see neither, though, and that situation would match well with the idea that the plot is entirely imagined, intangible in any realm–thereby obviating the question of footage that is just as thoroughly immaterial.



[1] Leonard might know that the camera has a transmitter–he might even care–but it doesn’t matter because he is independently ineffectual.  His behavior shows that, in order to do anything of note, Leonard must be led to it.

[2] Strictly speaking, we don’t get the visuals from the absolute beginning of the recording.  Instead, the audio fades up behind the main title card, which then cuts to an unfocused shot of trees just before the camera is sealed up.


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