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Censor (2021)

Movie poster for Censor

“People construct stories to cope. You’d be surprised what the human brain can edit out when it can’t handle the truth.”

WARNING: Spoilers ahead

Enid is a film censor in early 1980s England, responsible for watching video nasties all day long and recommending ratings and cuts. At dinner with her parents, she learns they have finally decided to declare her sister dead after she disappeared twenty years ago, an event Enid has apparently blocked from her memory. Then a new horror film she has to review from a controversial and reclusive filmmaker is disturbingly close to her memories of her sister’s disappearance, cutting through the walls she has built up and sending her down a dark path.

I really liked Censor. I went in expecting it to be mostly an excuse to show a bunch of graphic and disturbing stuff, but it turned out to be much more reserved. There is a bit of gross, graphic gore, but much more is hinted at and implied than actually shown, which I find to nearly always be the better choice.

The film also played against my expectations of Enid as a character. Between her job title and the librarian glasses they give her, I figured it would be a story of an uptight, repressed prude, but she is actually a really interesting character. Two scenes in particular struck me in this regard. In the first, Enid’s boss tells her and a coworker that a film they passed has been implicated in a gruesome multiple murder; the boss and the coworker are immediately on to squabbling about the PR damage over the murders, but Enid feels responsible for it, like her passing the movie is the reason the guy killed his family.

In another scene, she goes into a video rental shop to try to find out more about the director of the film that has set her off. Naturally suspicious, the store owner is reluctant to admit that he has banned movies to rent. Enid is strong and clever and resourceful, though, and brings him around. It is almost like she is playing a different character.

I think Censor has some interesting things to say regarding paternalistic censorship and the urge to protect people from the perceived effects of the media they consume. It is easy enough to find the message in this movie that censorship of the video nasties era (or the roughly contemporaneous PMRC panic here in the US) was dumb and misguided if that is what you are looking for. That said, watching Enid and her coworkers sit through the graphic violence and extreme content in the films they reviewed all day long, I could not help but think of the terrible stories I have read about content moderators at platforms like Facebook. I don’t buy the narrative that there is a direct line from watching violent media to committing violent acts, looking at the kind of stuff all the time takes a toll on a person.

In the end, we find that Enid really is a pretty broken person. Was it the childhood trauma of losing her sister, and her possible role in those events? Is her perceived failure to protect the public from the horrors of the video nasties, despite the sacrifices she makes to do her job? Is it the influence of all the horrible things she has seen on film? We don’t know, and I really appreciated that this film does not tie it up in a nice little package for us. In the final scene, we are Enid, and we have to decide where to draw the line.

As the elusive director has told Enid shortly before the movie’s climax, “People think that I create the horror, but I don’t. Horror is already out there, in all of us. It’s in you.”

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