The Hater (2020) & other works by Jan KomasaBryan Christopher Sawyer
The Hater (2020) is a slow and gritty tale of an outsider working at a troll farm in Warsaw as the city’s political factions are in an upheaval. Liberal politicians are confronted in the streets and on social media as nationalist Poland pushes back against anything akin to the oppressive socialist regime of the twentieth century.
Director Jan Komasa won acclaim five years ago for a patriotic piece called Warsaw 44 based on the true story of a broad daylight attack on German occupational forces known in that country as “Action at the Arsenal.” 44 scouts of the Polish underground forces colluded with the Allies to mount a crippling assault on vulnerable Germans evacuating prior to the Soviet advance from the east. It failed and the heroes of the attempt were written into the overflowing annals of romantic resistance fallen tragically short.
It’s a strange film he’s decided to make now, finally depicting a victory for Poland. I found this film on a day I’d set aside to read the entirety of Colin Wilson’s Outsider and make copious notes on the text and the ideas that it might inspire in my mind. The weather called for it. The forecast being for rolling thundershowers, I made an unwavering committal to procrastinate on any errands I’d have otherwise run. I spent four hours with the book after morning coffee and surfed for something to watch while I breakfasted. Having found the occasional film of interest to white nationalists on Netflix (NSU Komplex and NSU German History X come to mind) I decided to root around a bit. By now, the algorithm usually suggests the sort of themes I’d be interested in. Like so many others, I’ve willingly submitted my name to a watchlist to allow my presumed social betters to do my thinking for me. I was hooked the moment I read the description. So much for a respite from the ideas of Wilson’s Outsider and thereby a possible understanding of Neoplatonism.
This film was controversial from the beginning, having wrapped principal photography shortly before the real-life assassination of an annoying Left-wing dickhead Pawel Adamowicz, who used his position as Mayor of Gdansk to promote suicidal immigration policies and anal rights for men who don’t seem to particularly care for what direction their society is going in. This politician drew many parallels to the focus of our protagonist’s efforts as he also had the identical namesake of Pawel and drew copious amounts of fag-hate from Right-wing online trolls. The parallels unintentionally place this in the category of mystical dark cinema. The release of Rosemary’s Baby prior to the Manson Family murders would be another great example of such an eerie premonition on the silver screen.
Stefan Wilmont had a history of petty crime and he’d spent time in prison. While there, psychologists diagnosed Stefan with schizophrenia after noticing the psychological sensitivity of the young lad. He was regarded as a madman during his five years in prison for bank robbery and considered the medical control he was placed under to be torture. What we know about Stefan was that when he wasn’t living in a tiny taxpayer-funded box, he was out robbing banks and partying away the profits. Then he’d rob another. Incarcerated, he began more and more to see himself as an unjust prisoner who’d been wrongfully convicted. Languishing in his cell, he may have actually convinced himself of that without any access to specialized psychiatric care for violent recidivists. Poland has been noted by Prison Observatory and Prison Insider as having inadequate mental care, with some inmates requiring a specialist waiting up to two years. Conditions are examined superficially and treated with basic general care, but improvements in one prison’s pilot program are showing signs of a new model. Most sources claim an upward trajectory of the quality of life in Polish prisons since leaving behind their communist past.
I’m reminded by that incident of its American counterpart: the assassination of Colorado Bureau of Prisons Executive Director Tom Clements on his doorstep in 2013 by a lone gunman named Evan Ebel. Ebel was recently released from prison and been initiated into a white prison gang. He decided to even the perceived score he had with the Department of Corrections. So he deported the soul of one mystery meat lumpen-prole Nathan Leon into the nether realms, stole his car and Domino’s pizza delivery uniform, and began his road trip to infamy. Evan’s father claimed that solitary confinement had destroyed his son’s psyche and that the demoralized young man had tattooed the word hopeless on his body.
In a shocking twist — from which the Colorado Bureau of Prisons has never regained the confidence of the public from — Evan Ebel was paroled by a clerical error. Some hay has been made about his possible ties to the 211 Crew, at the time a nearly two-decade-old white prison gang (211 is the police code for robbery). The Texas Rangers and key Colorado investigators claim all evidence points to the gang, with an existing recorded phone call where one general of the gang claims he ordered it. Other sources claim the order came from recently deceased gang founder Benjamin Davis. What is known for certain is that he was paroled by a clerical error and that after leaving prison Ebel removed his ankle monitor and spent a night at a hotel with a woman who had made a straw purchase for the handgun, presumably waiting for the green light to kill. He’d been in telephone contact with a member of the 211 Crew moments before the shootout and high-speed chase that ended his life. Bomb-making materials were also found in the car. The founder of the gang is said to have killed himself four years later in a prison in Wyoming. Tom Clements’ successor, new Colorado BOP Executive Director Rick Raemisch, stated quite clearly that “whatever solitary confinement did to that former inmate and murderer, it was not for the better.” He’d been molded into a willing executioner by his experience with restricted confinement.
Slipping through the cracks of an unforgiving and bloated bureaucracy, we find ourselves landing in the opening scene of The Hater. This is the fall from grace of our lonely and lowly protagonist, a law student with a seemingly inspired interest in human rights legislation. The aspiring jurist has been accused of plagiarism. He insists it was a mere typo, that he’d only forgotten the quotation marks to the passage in question, but the administration was unmoved. Choking back his tears with bloodshot eyes, he implores the female professor to admit him one final act of ritual humiliation: to autograph his personal copy of the text she authored.
Suppressing his frustration with the expulsion, he makes his way to the home of his benefactors for dinner. The Krasucki family has been supporting young Tomasz in his ascension to the bourgeoisie and the social acceptance he seeks. Their eldest daughter, a blonde Slavic beauty named Gabi, is delayed on her return home from school by a street demonstration of Nationalist patriots, which the patriarch of the Krasucki clan refers to contemptuously as fascists and idiots.
Maciej Musiałowski (as Tomasz Glemza) carries this slow-burn psychological thriller with a stony gaze often punctuated by the mildest smirk, the wayward glance and shaking hand of a paranoid conspirator common to one of Poe’s plots. With subtlety, he conveys each public moment of repressed exuberance at his self-actualization, giving the audience the impression that you are the only one in the room that caught sight of his wry smile or nervous tick. This is in stark contrast to the emotional wreck you see his character in during his solitary moments — the quivering lip, the hand-wringing. His tears during panicked moments of discovery or presumed guilt by others flow as unimpeded as earthbound raindrops falling from the tips of tree leaves after a springtime storm, their powerful source having disappeared, leaving only the memory of a distant flash and a low rumble. It’s all part of the unspoken complexity of our protagonist. He watches the unknowing subjects of his campaign and moves them like a Hellenic god playing cosmic chess, with the objects of his jealousy obliviously advancing toward a titanic clash.
Tomasz Glemza’s emotional infancy is demonstrated in private as he is often moved to tears of shame when listening to the conversations of the Krasuckis after bugging their loft. The condescension of these champagne socialists! Their ivory tower contempt for traditional Europe is demonstrated by the periodic art exhibitions the couple puts on to raise awareness for the migrant crisis.
I’ll ask the reader to allow me another brief digression to put this film, as well as the rest of the director’s body of work, into context. All of Komasa’s films are over two hours and slow-paced. This is for the sake of character development. They all have long, cerebral endings. Rather than the sudden, percussive emotional impact American audiences are accustomed to, the growth through emotional turmoil in Komasa’s work is not only seen in the attempt to realize the desires of its protagonists’ existential crisis but felt in the atmospheric tension he’s able to build through complex, intricately choreographed, uncut scenes. Where an American film would finish, a Komasa film will contain fifteen minutes of essential plot twists for a more contemplative audience. It’s a slow roast rather than a TV dinner, with a signature seamless no-cut sequence in each serving that the producers of 1917 could have learned something from.
His Outsider Trilogy — I’m naming it that myself: Suicide Room (2011), Corpus Christi (2019), and The Hater (2020), all focus on an angry young man who is distinct in that he neither takes life as it comes nor concerns himself with how to live. Instead, he finds only the escape of his conspiracies from the society he strives to be among but has no interest in truly being part of. Their short voyage of self-discovery gives them an identity. They find a community in which to incept themselves. Each discovers a purpose — in Suicide Room, it’s death by one’s own hand as a young teen who’s been humiliated at school and on social media retreats to online gaming and finds a suicide cult in the digital realm. In Corpus Christi, it’s the spread of blind faith as a delinquent joins a small parish suffering a local tragedy and tries to heal them in order to obscure his own sins. In The Hater, our angry young man seeks acceptance on the higher rungs of the social ladder. To achieve these ends, he gains the trust and indebtedness of others. With those two things, you can manipulate almost anyone.
In Suicide Room, each protagonist longs to establish an intimate connection on a personal and societal basis through honest words and actions. Then, every one of them comes to the conclusion that honesty is ultimately worthless, as it is neither afforded to them nor of use when dealing with the masses. All of these young men become shallow, committing in their own way a form of emotional self-mutilation. In Suicide Room, the angst-filled teenager, having found an outlet, identity, and purpose, loses faith at a crucial moment and poisons himself. His last moments are regret and horror at what he’s done. He dies screaming for his parents, in front of a drunk couple who film him, blissfully unaware that he’s already committed himself to shuffling off this mortal coil. He’s waited too long, the pills have digested, and he’s slipping away, so it’s a one-way ticket. He realizes, to his horror, it was his connection to humanity and the introspective leap he’d taken that gave his life purpose. It was an appreciation of how to live that gave meaning to it all, not power over how you died. Suicide, in the end, was ultimately worth nothing and cost him everything. The Hater, with its emphasis on social media trolling and cancel culture, is meant to be a spin-off.
The quality of Komasa’s craft is best demonstrated by his prior effort with screenwriter Mateusz Pacewicz, Corpus Christi. The young man-turned-fake priest no longer stands for grace. The fraudulent Father Tomasz’ mistake was that he failed to make an intimate emotional connection with another person. He didn’t let anyone in. Selflessness is not enough. The self-actualization is incomplete because his internal ego has gone unfulfilled. He returns to the primal violence of the juvie he’d secretly left. I cried, and I’m not even Catholic. Or Polish, for that matter. But it doesn’t matter. Komasa breathes vitality into Western Civilization’s highly prized collective value of catharsis, the primary goal of all Western tragedy. Even those civilizations descended from an Aryan language speaking group have — in their own classical theatre — happy endings. They’re all comedies. Only recently have other film industries outside of the Western world been producing tragedies.
The Hater‘s Tomasz Glemza is too contemptible to even qualify as an anti-hero or underdog. The body of the plot is a slow and complex Machiavellian rise to power within the world of political and consumer market trolling. Though his work may have been underappreciated at school, the ability to win at all costs regardless of truth can be a great vehicle in the world of politics and corporate sabotage. Though his new coworkers are impressed, the family that has been supporting him learns of his expulsion and their subsequent betrayal as he’s been accepting money from them for some time after his cause to leave the university is known by the other students.
After destroying an innocent health vlogger through a hoax consumer report, he’s given the opportunity for a high-priority project: the character assassination and election loss of a Left-wing candidate out to depose the Nationalist resurgence in Poland. Tomasz goes beyond the limits his bosses set for him, running a full-scale, civilian-based spying and infiltration program on the candidate. Tomasz even seeks the forgiveness of the family he’d deceived, as they are, conveniently, supporters and activists of the Lefty’s cause. As each obstacle becomes a method to further his goals of achievement and acceptance, he dupes and destroys those around him who haven’t served his immediate needs — or worse, they’ve made him look bad. His ability to predate on those whom are bent but not broken and goad them into a heartless action, or to appeal to authority while avoiding outshining them, leads him through a variety of character (and ultimately physical) attacks.
Fortunately for yours truly, it’s dubbed into English. They did an excellent job of capturing the subtlety of the dialogue, but the nuanced facial gestures and nervous ticks of the lead role add the greatest dramatic value to the piece. Were it not for the Kung Flu, this — being Poland’s entry at the Tribeca film festival — would not have gone so unnoticed by cinema audiences globally. It was much anticipated due to the parallel, real-life retirement of one not-yet-cold politician by a young, highly-motivated, violent-prone basket case. Of course, the real-life assassin never claimed collusion and took full responsibility on the spot — live on Faceberg. The claims of the shooter in the film to having been paid and supplied are dismissed as the ranting of a loser and a lunatic. Anders Breivik made all sorts of statements about Templar Knights and Freemasons, and that turned out to be a ruse. The Christchurch mosque shooter mentioned several influential celebrities that were meant as a clever joke for those familiar with alt-right memes. By now, it’s become a known tactic of politically motivated spree killers to spread disinfo and obfuscate things for the authorities. Even Ted Kaczynski claimed he was part of a group. In the age of social media and meme warfare, these claims and the confusion caused by them have become sick jokes for relentless killers.
The dark, twisted, and at times desperate designs of Tomasz Glemza lead him to the post-shooting epilogue back in the loft of the Krasuckis. By this point, you will notice family members missing. Tomasz is seated center, presumably reflecting on all the machinations it took to be welcomed back into the home of the family from whom he stole to comfort them at a time of grieving over the loss of a loved one. The tiniest, Mona Lisa-like hint of a smile creeps across his lips. The matriarch catches it. He’s let the mask drop for an instant. It’s as if the mother of the dead girl’s tear ducts simply clenched, leaving only one watery memory remaining to slide off of her cheek and make way for the frozen grimace of suspicion. Tomasz’ attempt to regain his composure almost evinces a look of trepidation that recalls the moment of his perceived persecution by the seemingly draconian administrators in the opening of the film. One is left wondering if this opening moment was yet another attempt at manipulating some of the authority figures he later fails to deceive on his subterranean odyssey through the shadows cast by political elites.
Leaving him open to the worry of being discovered, the camera zooms out through the dining room window and pans the cold exterior and the impregnable overcast gray of an old European sky that gives us the same feeling as being isolated in the middle of a crowd — when an introspective crisis inhibits you from empathizing with those around you observing an event.
Without his manipulations and kompromat of others, he is nothing. There is no Tomasz. Only a faceless sociopath juggling his personal relationships to maintain a false image. He doesn’t care about politics or ideologies. He doesn’t care about the loss of a child. He regards all upper castes of his society as suspect and worthy of his disdain. The character’s self-actualization falls short of him finding his place in the world. Without an honest reputation, he never reconciles the polarity between individual and society that the radical or artist seeks. Instead, he is left with the fate that he will dissolve into the ranks of bourgeois society, seemingly now in that world, but never truly of it. His answer to what end his actions served is petty self-fulfillment at the cost of forever emotionally muting himself to the sense of satisfaction his behavior might have gained him.
The selfish, the selfless, and the self-serving. Three paths of these Outsiders are presented in the trilogy. One had control over extinguishing his own ego. One had religion. One had status. The first destroys himself. The second goes back to the grim brutality in store for all lost boys. The third embraces his condition through deception, only to learn he must become emotionally impotent in relation to others. All are resigned to pointlessness. No contradiction has been resolved. All render their own personalities, if there is such a thing, obsolete. Ultimately all of them are damned to being perennially incarcerated on a cell block for lost souls. Only the counterfeit priest left behind something positive, as he healed people, but he couldn’t escape his own sense of not belonging in the world. Father Tomasz came the closest to escaping the spiritual crises. Tomasz the Hater practically revels in it, seeing life as a zero-sum game — truth be damned.
Perhaps it’s Komasa’s Polish wartime epic Warsaw 44 that offers a step in the right direction. Live deliberately. Aspire toward an honest life of purposeful action and wise choices. At the pragmatic time to distinguish yourself, be truthful. The West is unique for its honor-based society and its ability to exorcise the melancholia that arises from the despair caused by the struggle for growth in a world of entropic decay. The scouts of the Warsaw 44 connect with one another on an intimate basis, as well as with society. They are selfish in their desire to free themselves of bondage, selfless in their act to do this for others. That is the revolutionary paradigm of an outsider, as I see it. Empathizing with the individual and serving the collective community, he takes personal responsibility for how he lives and how he dies.
Now that I’ve committed to this much of the article, I see that reading the rest of Colin Wilson’s most famous work will be best left for the morning. The sun is down and night air brings a damp cool as the vestiges of a coastal storm dissipate far from shore. The memory of a distant flash and a low rumble is all that remains.
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