REVIEW – Punishment Park (1971)

FilmJuice have my review of Peter Watkins’ cruelly overlooked mock documentary Punishment Park.

Punishment Park is set in what was the near future back in 1971.  In this near future, America has descended into chaos and the American government has responded to this chaos by setting up a series of tribunals who give political prisoners the choice between a long jail term and taking part in a training exercise involving members of the police and the armed forces. These training exercises involve the prisoners being chased across a desert.  If they make it to a particular point by a particular time without being captured then they are free to go. Needless to say, nobody ever manages to escape:

On one level, Punishment Park functions as a near-future work of dystopian science fiction. If looked at in these terms, the exaggeration of the establishment’s reaction to political dissent is only a matter of degree and the exaggeration serves to highlight real problems in American political culture. Similarly, the dissidents’ futile march through a desert towards an American flag stands as a poignant metaphorical commentary on Humanity’s quest for freedom and how the value of freedom can be all too easily undermined by the very people entrusted with securing our attempts to achieve it. On another level, Punishment Park is a furious attack not only upon the politically intransigent elites that run America but also upon the biased nature of so-called reporting and the intellectually incoherent and simple-minded nature of responses to those elites.

Released in typically wonderful style by Masters of Cinema, this is a great opportunity to discover a lost classic of American cinema.