Thursday, October 13, 2011

Six Shooter: 2006 Live Action Oscar Winner

Six Shooter
Directed by Martin McDonagh, Ireland, 2004, 27 min.
2006 Academy Award Winner for Live Action Short Film
Source: A Collection Of 2005 Academy Award Nominated Short Films (DVD 1328)

Six Shooter takes place in contemporary Ireland and begins with a sequence of a man finding that his wife has died while in hospital.  After seeing her body for the last time he gets on the train and sits across from a rather crude and loud-mouthed teenager who will not stop going on with his opinions and stories whether his audience is interested or not.  In the booth caddy corner to his is a sad looking couple; the kid asked what's wrong with them and the husband reveals that their child has just died.  Apart from the last scene, the rest of the film takes place on the train, depicting the confrontation between the characters as well as grief and sociopathic carelessness.

At first, I found the film disappointing for what I saw as its use of two conceits, one being death of a family member, which we see of course from the opening, and then the death of the child that we learn of on the train.  The other conceit of course is that of the six shooter; the two weapons the young man pulls  when confronted by the police are revolvers that have 6 round chambers.  (This is relevant at the end of the film as well when the man takes one of the weapons of the kids body so that he may commit suicide himself).  Films of course use various conceits all the time and they are a necessary tool.  A conceit used well however is one that is used to enable action, plot, etc. in ways that make meaning.  Six Shooter makes an attempt at this however by drawing upon the well of loss begun from the opening sequence (check which frame), deepens by the exposition of the couples child step from SIDS and then turned violent upon the mother's suicide.  That is to say, what may appear to be a conceit, which short film is often forced to rely upon more, is revealed to be so much more as the film (seemingly) rolls along down the train tracks. 

I think pivotal moment for me was when the mother jumps from the train, or perhaps the moment immediately before when, after the young man squeezes into the seat next to her and glibly accuses her of murdering her own child, she tries to step over him and out of the booth, tearing the picture of the child.  It is here that the conceit of loss is shown to be of real meaning, dietetically and to the audience.  McDonagh shows impressive craft in his treatment of the mother's suicide; it is neither explicitly violent or exploitative, nor does the audience even see much evidence of the act apart from the quick thud heard after she moves through the door connecting the train cabs and a spot of blood on the window. Through neither music, character action nor any change in cinematographic style, the tone changes quietly but sharply and quickly nonetheless. It is in this sequence that Six Shooter shows its greatest strength: giving the audience access to the despair of loss on the torture of survival without lengthy exposition or complex plot development.  And yet the complexity of these meditations is immense; is this not the measure of a successful short film?

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