Quiet as a Mouse - Review

Mux admires his handiwork

We live in a Godless and morally bankrupt world, where respect for human life is increasingly rare and the simple courtesies we've come to expect in civilized society have evaporated while we were busy with other things. But in "Quiet as a Mouse," Mux is determined to bring his jaded and corrupt world back to rights. By turns shocking, hilarious and downright terrifying, the film is a moral tale, political commentary, and black comedy all rolled into one, held together by cynicism.

With camera and gun in hand, ex-philosophy student Mux (Jan Henrik Stahlberg) takes to the streets in his daily mission to make the world a more habitable place. Fining speeders and confiscating steering wheels, busting fare dodgers on the train, and even stopping a mugging, no crime is too large or small, and each criminal is punished and berated on camera, more fodder for Mux's forthcoming manifesto. Needing an assistant to help with his growing business, Mux hires Gerd (Fritz Roth), an unmotivated slob and potential convert.

Now free to mete out punishment with both hands, Mux redoubles his efforts with Gerd at his side, expanding his operation faster than ever. When waitress Kira (Wanda Perdelwitz) enters the picture, radiating innocence, Mux is instantly hooked, and Kira immediately finds herself at the center of his attention. Like everything else in his life, Mux sees Kira as the sweet, demure bastion of purity that he's envisioned, rather than the fun loving girl that she actually is - youthful indiscretions and all. Even as his movement begins to catch on with society at large, Mux's inability to reconcile his idealized view of Kira and the world with the reality that's staring him in the face pushes him toward potential disaster.

This spiral toward self-destruction is one of the things that sets "Quiet as a Mouse" apart from the standard moral film - we hate the protagonist. Stahlberg's script continually toys with us, touting Mux as a heroic everyman one moment then yanking the rug out from under us the next. He teases us by showing us an airbrushed picture of progress toward a better world, only to pull away the curtain and reveal the graphic and often inhumane methodology Mux used to get us there.

Director Marcus Mittermeier takes the story a step further. Utilizing a handheld video camera to give the film a more realistic and visceral feel, he tracks Mux's rampage from the viewpoint of a simple observer, leaving Mux to provide us with his own rationalizations. Anytime we begin to sympathize with Mux or see some sense in his actions, Mittermeier confronts us with yet another graphic image, and each time we watch him overturn a man's wheelchair as punishment for jaywalking, or push a woman face-down in excrement for failing to pick up after her dog, we question the validity of Mux's doctrine. Mittermeier further adds to the film's documentary-style sense of realism by using primarily non-professional actors - it feels like we're watching everyday people, and this only heightens our disgust at Mux's behavior. We can't reconcile his actions with the results - the ends don't always justify his means, the punishment doesn't always fit the crime, and in the end, we sympathize not with Mux, but with the average, flawed people who suffer at his sadistic hands.

Mux (Jan Henrick Stahlberg) shows Gerd (Fritz Roth) how it's done

But Mux's case is more than just simple vigilantism masquerading as the altruistic pursuit of justice - he seems to actually believe that he's affecting positive change in the world, and that is what's truly frightening. Mux isn't doing this for fame and fortune, he has an agenda, a simple plan to establish a new moral order by using a network of informants to find and punish individual acts of wrongdoing, all the way down to jaywalking. By using justice as rationalization for circumventing the rules that he's attempting to enforce, Mux is implicitly affirming the very thing that he's explicitly decrying, and becoming a de facto dictator in the process.
The political parallels in the film are obvious - a lone person bent on playing enforcer for the world, never stopping to think of the consequences or ethical implications of his method, let alone whether the result is for the common good or merely a product of his own megalomania. Morality cannot be unilaterally enforced without begetting dire consequences - it can't be imposed without destroying free will.

Fortunately, Mittermeier has learned from his protagonist's mistakes. He isn't interested in cramming his own moral messages down our throats - he's not even willing to supply the answers to the questions raised in the film. That's our job, and the success of "Quiet as a Mouse" hinges upon Mittermeier's trust in us as spectators. He shows us a world of moral decay and a man who attempted to change it - the judgment is up to us.  



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