In the early 1960’s the American psychologist Stanley Milgram observed the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal, who was finally being brought to justice after being captured in Argentina. Eichmann famously protested during the trial that he was simply following orders.
Milgram wanted to understand the human capacity for obedience and submission to authority. He devised a series of experiments to see just how far a person could be pushed to negate their own moral code. The results were extremely disturbing.
One very notable example of the power of authority is Apartheid-era South Africa, where the minority white population held significant power over the black majority. In The Hangman, a short film from director Zwelethu Radebe, we meet Khetha (Thato Dhladla), a young man living with his near-catatonic mother. Every day Khetha goes to work at Pretoria Central Prison and assists with the oppression and abuse of his own people. However, when a figure from his past arrives at the prison Khetha learns that a life-changing day from his childhood was not what it seemed.
The Hangman asks questions of complicity and the lies we tell each other and ourselves to ease our consciences. The story is told in a non-linear fashion that confuses at first but leads to a satisfying conclusion once the pieces fall into place. The cast are excellent and the cinematography helps drag you into the film’s bleak reality. Radebe says he plans to make a feature-length version of The Hangman and it will be interesting to see how he expands on the themes explored here.
Dir: Zwelethu Radebe
Scr: Zwelethu Radebe
Cast: Thato Dhladla, Khulu Skenjana, Lerato Mvelase, Mxolisi Matlabe
Prd: Tebogo Keebine, Dumisani Mvumvu, Kearan Pennells
DOP: Ofentse Mwase
Music: Grant Booth
Country: South Africa
Run Time: 22 minutes