Hyperstitional Peach Trees

Hyperstitional Peach Trees

by Alexzander Mazey

‘Hyperstitions are not representations, neither disinformation nor mythology. Hype, hyping, hyperpropagation belongs to a strain of time-warp cybernetic fiction that cannot be judged true or false because it makes itself real.’

‘…where demonic currents prowl, where fictions make themselves real. Hyperstition.’

Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU)

Pete Travis’ cinematic adaptation of a 2000 AD comic, ‘Dredd’ (2012), begins audio-visually, the low hum of a lighting fixture juxtaposed with the desert forming horizontally, the megastructures of this new world rising from a level plane. The film begins exterior to the city with the audio hinting towards an interiority, almost as if there is no separation between the cursed earth and the seamless megacity which forms its back drop, its structures emerging through a kind of scorched evaporation. ‘In a catastrophic future,’ the film’s description reads, ‘the remaining population is crowded into megacities, where all-powerful and ultraviolent cops are hunting for terrorists.’ This – communicated by the prologue – is America as ‘the irradiated wasteland’ where everything which lies outside the city is desert, ‘the cursed earth’. The sardonicism of Dredd’s universe was always located in not what laid inside the dry aesthetics of the wasteland – which was deemed cursed – but rather what the wasteland mirrored, which is to say, ‘a cursed city, stretching from Boston to Washington DC. An unbroken concrete landscape, eight-hundred million people living in the ruin of the old world.’

Was this old world – the world which we presumably occupy today – not also a world living in the ruin of a dead and dying Referentialism? Nonetheless, what is presented through these visions of the retrofuture other than the hyperstitional structuration of techno-authoritarianism, accelerated inequality, and all societies’ metastases living on in a desert of its own making? The desert operating as the quintessential landscape ‘where fictions make themselves real.’ 

‘Mega Blocks, Mega Highways, Mega-City One.’ Everything made mega and indistinguishable from one another, as if the franchised dreams of supersized meals went architectural, watched over by the panopticon of a drone-cam’s live feed. ‘Convulsing, choking, breaking under its own weight.’ Explained through Dredd’s voice over and the accompanying montage of moving images appearing seldom different from contemporary efforts at real-life documentation. ‘Citizens in fear of the street, the gun, the gang.’ Dredd (Karl Urban) continues, ‘only one thing fighting for order in the chaos, the men and women of the Hall of Justice – juries, executioners, judges.’ Is this not the perfect representation of policing today, an ordained authority which seeks judgement after the execution, and seldom before it, a world where notions of justice are rendered thoroughly transparent and therefore beyond any critical theory?

Following the opening soliloquy, we observe Dredd driving a motorcycle of some Akiraian description through a motorway underpass littered with the debris of the megacity, all the associated visuals of acceleration tracking across concrete walls dissevered by fluorescent lighting. The opening scene recalls to mind the conclusion of Wong Kar-wai’s ‘Fallen Angels’ (1995), the loose-sequel to the Hong Kong New Wave director’s ‘Chunking Express’ (1994), two films which told the story of a city and its character. If Wong Kar-wai’s two films were ultimately about revealing the intimate loneliness at the heart of urban living, then Pete Travis’ ‘Dredd’ should be considered a film that exposes its ultraviolence.

Following the prologue, a bird’s eye view of Mega-City One is displayed, and later superseded by the drone’s eye view in a clever exposé of the city’s contrived artificiality; the bird, once standing as a natural species within a world of comprehensive biodiversity, and once representing the sublimity of flight, and all the ambitions of human engineering, finds its sign incorporated into this new semiotics as a gizmo of surveillance capitalism. There is an uncanniness to mimicking a bird in flight, finding emphasis in the technologically-achieved ‘control drone’, which in turn reveals the inherent creepiness of a surveillance capitalism which attempts to naturalise itself. The surveillance system at the ‘Hall of Justice’, presumably ‘control central’, locates three perpetrators, all of whom Judge Dredd considers ‘under the influence of narcotics.’ From inside the speeding vehicle, one of the perpetrators is seen inhaling ‘Slo-Mo’, considered here as the street drug antithesis of methamphetamines. (It would seem platitudinal to even briefly mention how certain narcotics reveal something about the cultures that come to abuse them.) A gunfight ensues between traffic, where the vehicle inevitably crashes, with two of the perpetrators killed in the resulting collision with a concrete bollard. A surviving perpetrator flees the scene, and enters into a shopping mall environment. Dredd follows on foot.

The aesthetic outlay of the mall is one of any post-industrial environment, complete with a ‘Hottie House’ (hotdog) advertisement and fluorescent signage offering, among other things, ‘fast shoe repairs’. Such iconography sits between the liminality of the non-place, (defined by anthropologist, Marc Augé), and the subsequent drug store and food courts that lend themselves to Baudrillardian analysis. The perpetrator, finding himself at the dead end of a level-one food court, takes a service-industry worker hostage.

“Let’s talk.” Dredd insists. “Release the hostage unharmed and I guarantee you a sentence of life in an Iso-Cube without parole.”

“Life without parole?” The perpetrator asks. “That’s the deal you’re offering?”

“Only if you comply.” The Judge recalls a litany of crimes, multiple homicides, and so on. “If you do not comply, the sentence is death.”

Pressing the gun ever-closer to the service-industry worker’s head, the perpetrator addresses the Judge’s profound lack of negotiatory leverage. The fundamental mistake terrorists make in hostage situations can be found in the exact value the terrorist ascribes onto the hostage on behalf of the negotiating authority which actually perceives the hostage with little to no value whatsoever. It would not be hyperbolic to suggest that authority perceives hostages as if caught in the stasis of the statistically already dead. Even so, if the terrorist – or perpetrator in this instance – murders the victim(s), they also come to sacrifice themselves to the authority, and therefore justify the presence of the authority to begin with. ‘This is what terrorism is occupied with as well […]’, writes Baudrillard in ‘Simulacra and Simulation’, ‘making real, palpable violence surface in opposition to the invisible violence of security.’ In addition, a policing authority solely concerned with justifying itself will almost never serve the intended purpose of protecting citizens. Instead, such conceptions of authority will only come to seek validation; this is without even addressing the logic of tying authority to systems of capital which themselves require metastatic growth. Perhaps the irony of this scene comes from the perpetrator himself operating as the prospector of human value in a world without it.

“Here’s the deal.” The perpetrator stipulates. “You let me walk – or I blow her […] brains out.”

The trick to negotiation is to perceive all value at the point of an absolute zero. The film intervenes as a point of interest since Judge Dredd – doing exactly this – offers a synthesis between the acknowledged nihilism of authority and an unwavering conviction towards it regardless. Following the conclusion of this negotiation, Dredd fires an incendiary ‘hotshot’ from his pistol which lands in the mouth of the perpetrator, whose head becomes consumed by all the visual delights of combustion. The surviving service-industry worker, embodying not the Stockholm syndrome for the perpetrator but the syndrome exhibited towards authority, responds with gratitude.

Dredd is then recalled to the Hall of Justice where he is introduced to new recruit and psychic adept, Rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Through reading Dredd’s presence, Anderson is able to psychically reveal the cohabitation of authorities’ two defining characteristics, which is to say, ‘Anger and Control’.

“But there’s something else.” Anderson specifies. “Something behind the control, something almost…” The rookie is ordered to desist in her psychic evaluation by the commanding officer – and what lies beneath Dredd’s composure is left undiscovered. It is suggested that Dredd harbours the additional anxiety that lies behind all authority, which is to also say, a compartmentalised sense of doubt in the laws it claims to uphold.

The scene cuts to an establishing shot revealing one of the concrete megastructures of the new world named – with pastel-pink, neon lettering – ‘Peach Trees’, a building operating as simulacra in a world with, presumably, neither peaches nor trees. This precession towards hyperreality is emphasised by the following interior scene of key antagonist, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), using Slo-Mo in a bath tub, the water aestheticized beyond good and evil, its qualities heightened by the hyper-glistening textures of retracted time, all of the powers of cinema embodied into a synthetic drug. Ma-Ma, the kingpin of narcotic smuggling operations in Peach Trees is then summoned by her gang – (known throughout the film as the ‘Ma-Ma Clan’) – to exact a sentence of punishment onto three drug dealers caught selling dope on the clan’s turf.

Ma-Ma’s judgement is to have the dealers skinned alive and thrown from the highest balcony of the Peach Trees mega complex. Two things are revealed here; firstly, the abject brutality of this world, and secondly, the shifting power dynamics of Peach Trees as governed by such violence. This offers an additional parallel to the contemporary, perhaps, which is obviously far more brutal beyond even the stylized nature of cinema, whilst also emphasising the dynamics of our existing society as becoming increasingly governed by a similar violence. (Were the mythologies of society, which is to also say civilization, not always concerned with violence?) It is perhaps the purpose of today’s cinema to ground abstract violence through materialising its physicality, reproducing violence through choreographed routines, the orchestrated gun-fu of ‘John Wick’ (2014), etc. What we always have with the spectacle of screened violence is the return of violence to a point of lost Referentialism, as if violence today still draws equal parts blood and sweat and physicality, as if extreme violence manifests not in theoretical terms, in trade embargoes and government policy that starve children, for example, but in the very visual display of skinned bodies in the street. Notice how it is usually the physical violence conducted between impoverished citizens that must be policed by authority and never that violence which exists beyond it.

Nonetheless, there is a truth to violence in moral terms, a sanctimony that evaporates with increments of power. This is the problem with revolutionary praxis that received precisely what it asked for, especially within Marxian terms which must perpetually exist beneath political hegemony (in today’s world, at least) to function as a critical and necessarily ordained perspective. Capitalism is no longer driven by hegemonic interpretations of power, the dynamics of the oppressor and the oppressed class (since one can today occupy both positionalities), or even the desire for more power which it long ago totalised in its entirety, but by the desire to preserve its reality, its realism. In this way, the mythology and intelligence of capitalism, for example, is no longer concerned with total acquisition, but with survival and legacy. It could be said that capitalist hyperreality has removed the threat to its survival precisely through the simulation of empowerment and inclusivity, its boastful claims of having raised the most people out of poverty in all of history. (At what expense?) Nonetheless, it is the demonstrable reality that systems of structuration create conditions in which the system always wins. By regulating citizens to Peach Trees, for example, where the majority of fruit that grows is rotten, we observe reality producing the exact socio-economic factors necessary for the required systems of authority and governance to justify themselves. The three drug dealers are inevitably skinned alive and thrown from the building in a brutal display of violence which in turn justifies the otherwise ‘invisible violence of security.’ From here on in, it would seem the ‘palpable’ violence enacted by Dredd, which is to say the law enforcement officer, will be considered entirely justified.

“Twelve serious crimes reported every minute, seventeen thousand per day.” He tells Anderson. “We can respond to around six percent.”

“Which six percent?” Anderson asks.

“Your show, rookie. You tell me.”

Of course, it is all a show driven by the justification for authority, the crimes made terrestrial through the presentation of statistics. Even so, the two Judges inevitably make their way to Peach Trees, having received an inbound report of three homicides in the vicinity, which we already know will be the three drug dealers, skinned alive and displayed in the domestic megacomplex for all to see. It is later revealed that Ma-Ma’s ‘trademark is violence’, which is only an embodiment of the violence that surrounds her; she is, in this way, perhaps the personification of Peach Trees itself.

“How did she get away with it?” Rookie Anderson asks the medical attendant.

“Do you know how often we get a Judge in Peach Trees?” He replies.

The three victims are registered to apartments on level thirty-nine. Anderson proposes striking the gang’s base of operations on that level. Here, the scene cuts to two teenagers purchasing narcotics from various gangsters in an apartment complex. The hyperrealism of cinema is again realised through the subsequent gun battle between gangsters and Judges, which is presented to the audience through the psychotropic lens of Slo-Mo, the bloodshed of bullet wounds and rippling flesh exposed beyond even their natural temporal arrangement. This is synthetic violence which has aestheticized the processes of time, the visuals themselves rendered post-human through the Hollywood colloquialism we know today as ‘bullet time’. The power of cinema, and recorded image in general, can be found precisely in the spectatorship and subsequent aestheticization of those things which lie outside of real time.

Arresting the surviving criminals, Anderson uses her psychic abilities to distinguish one of them as the man responsible for the flayed victims displayed in the Peach Trees’ atrium. Anderson is ninety-nine percent sure she has arrested the individual responsible for the murders.

“Can’t execute a perp on ninety-nine percent.” Dredd insists, deciding to take the gang member in for interrogation, something witnessed by Ma-Ma’s surveillance lackey and former pimp, whose eyes have been gouged-out (by Ma-Ma) and replaced by some kind of technologically-achieved, optical lenses. Ma-Ma is then informed about the Judges hitting their ‘distribution point’. There is a sardonicism to be found in drug dealing and its shared language of capitalism. Nonetheless, Ma-Ma initially believes this is merely the Judges ‘showing their faces, reminding the citizens they exist.’ Her comment can be read as a criticism of the authorities’ sign-value, perhaps, transcending the products of consumption to encompass organisations themselves. The suggestion here is that the authority Judges wield is that of empty simulation. The peculiarity of the character, Judge Dredd, we will come to learn, can be located in how he tries to materialise as the personification (the conduit) of the simulation, represented by his often-quoted phrase – ‘I am the Law.’

“No, Ma.” The gang’s lieutenant responds. “They picked up Kay.” There is a shared anxiety that this gang member, Kay (Wood Harris), will be broken by the Hall of Justice’s interrogation techniques, thus revealing the gang’s plans towards widespread Slo-Mo distribution across Mega-City One. In order to prevent the Judges leaving with Kay, the Ma-Ma Clan manipulate the city’s bureaucratic structures, and through the combination of brute violence and social engineering are able to initiate a ‘Def-Con Systems Test’, which seals the entirety of Peach Trees with a concrete and steel blast-shielding.

“No one in or out until the Judges are dead.” Ma-Ma reveals to the citizens, speaking over the mega structure’s tannoy system, which she has also leveraged access. Ironically, the security system intended to safeguard civilians is used against them. The way Ma-Ma’s co-opted authority over Peach Trees so successfully manipulates the defence structures of sector control, whereby the perceived authority and ordained authority also become indistinguishable from one another, highlights the problems inherent in any structural bureaucracy which demands constant and unwavering obedience. As a result of the ‘Def-Con Systems Test’, the Judges are unable to escape. With communications blocked by the blast-shielding, Dredd is unable to contact the Hall of Justice. What follows is essentially a generic action film where these two Judges fight their way to the top level of Peach Trees in order to end Ma-Ma’s reign; restoring the ordained reality of authority and justice, which is – we soon come to see – highly contrived. Nothing is really accomplished by the end of the film other than the continuation of what existed prior, which is to say, a world governed by that ‘invisible’ violence. What’s interesting about these representations, however, is the way they reveal how power, authority, and control, function not within fixed, hegemonic states, but as something elusive; as the substance between things. Structural authority is not necessarily what we should today aim our critical lens towards, (since structural authority long ago made itself transparent to criticism), but instead, we should perhaps consider the ontological conditions that propagate such conceptions of authority, asking what authority would look like if it operated from the outside.

The nihilists of this world, which is to say all of us who remain complicit – and will always remain complicit – especially within disavowal, insist on the negation of an outside only because it frees us from either the hard-work of ontological reimagining, the ‘poetic reversal’ in thoroughly Baudrillardian terms, or because we are a species no longer capable of such things. As the light of imagination grows as monotonous as the cliché, the collective conscious, left picturing the predator in the darkness – (since imagination was always a neurobiological reality concerned with threat perception) – seeks to end imagination through diminishment. Imagination is no longer of any use; it is best to irradicate the imaginative faculty in the eyes of a dead and dying species, which in turn might irradicate the fears of what’s left to come from the fatal ontologies left to us.

As the two Judges escape the atrium, they move from one non-place to another, from an atrium to a stairway, to a lobby, and so on. Something I have committed to elsewhere is the idea of the non-place as concealing (and therefore revealing) the absence of all exteriority, with the whole contemporary landscape rendered impersonal and unbroken. Even those spaces we consider intimate and personal have long ago been rendered transparent, impressed upon and enveloped by the ambience of the non-place. Nonetheless, hiding in one of these non-places – a corridor – the Judges and their suspect, Kay, who they have decided to neither execute nor ‘cut loose’, attempt to avoid Ma-Ma’s clan. Anderson uses her psychic powers to sense a citizen on the other side of an apartment door, convincing the occupant to let them inside thus avoiding the oncoming party of gun wielding reactionaries. In order to get the Judges off her level, and therefore remove the threat of danger their authority poses to her neighbours and loved ones, the resident informs the Judges about a service elevator that whilst appearing out-of-order is actually functioning.

Having taken the service elevator, Ma-Ma’s lackey picks up the two Judges on surveillance camera as they exit onto level seventy-six. Instead of having the gang on levels sixty through to eighty converge on the Judges’ position, Ma-Ma chooses to have the Judges sealed onto floor seventy-six, since the override gives her access to the whole of the mega complex’s security systems. Floor seventy-six is presented as a leaking, damp, almost subterranean environment, defined by the mise en scène of decay as if the Judges are themselves approaching the corruption that rots the fruit of Peach Trees. Dredd blasts the surveillance camera with his pistol – but it’s too late. The two Judges and their suspect are inevitably sealed within the floor’s corridor by retractable, cast-iron doors. Dredd instructs Anderson to take the prisoner and retreat to a more advantageous location, whilst he resumes down the corridor. An interesting transaction subsequently takes place between Kay and Anderson, where, waiting for the gang’s advance, the prisoner tests the limits of Anderson’s psychic abilities by ‘picturing a violent sexual liaison between the two…’

We inevitably arrive at a question worth considering, what do we mean by actually existing violence in the world today? Power develops as those things which elude definition. Perhaps it will become vital to consider how Referentialism’s turn towards relativity renders violence with the power of such elusiveness. One thing we can say philosophically, at least, is that violence is not simply the hyperreal stylization (reduction) we find in cinema. It is certainly not this reductive image of Ma-Ma with a high-calibre minigun on floor seventy-six of Peach Trees, firing indiscriminately in the hopes of eliminating this new challenge to her authority. It is perhaps easy to confuse violence with desperation, which is so often the case, and seems platitudinal to mention here.

Prior to Dredd’s phallocentric encounter with Ma-Ma’s potent miniguns, however, we should briefly mention the cinematic shot beginning at Dredd’s legs, rising towards his leather-clad buttocks, embodying all of the fetishistic avowal of authority and domination. There is an undeniably revealing (arguably propagandistic) flair to Dredd’s sex appeal, offering a representation of the law that is libidinally charged. Who benefits from the propagandistic structuration of a libidinally charged authority? There was once a time we could ask these questions: who do the propagandists work for and what do they want? Where are they and where did they go? The answers inform their own reality – too obvious to be true, perhaps? (Through processes of metastatic feedback, propaganda requires the propagandised participant who perpetuate its images through engagement; perhaps we are all propagandists of the hyperreal now. Furthermore, it is today impossible to distinguish between corporate and state propaganda – propaganda and the propagandised, in addition – since one point of reference long ago disappeared into the other. It is without consequence to know which one remains and yet one might still trace a dissolution in this illusory dichotomy through the manufacturing of consent now generated by self-perpetuating systems that lie outside of those all too obvious notions of political hegemony.)

High-calibre bullets soon ricochet through floor seventy-six, aimed with every intention of murdering the Judges in a spectacular display designed to solidify Mama’s authority over Peach Trees. As with all power struggles, however, civilians are murdered indiscriminately as an end result. Dredd rushes back to Anderson and her captive, where they escape the onslaught, exiting through a blown-out wall. We are now exterior to the mega complex, where we see day turned to night, snow falling from the sky and diminishing above a concrete plateau high above Mega-City One.

From this vantage point, Dredd is able to resume communications with central control and call for back up. The city emerges before them as backdrop, appearing as any futuristic megapolis complete with all the cinematic tropes of neon artificiality, all the transaesthetic of human engineering rendered beautiful against the darkness. The night sky offers a sense of the film’s temporal arrangement, in addition, time passing within the narrative, whilst also providing as a juxtaposition to the interior of Peach Trees governed by perpetual twilight, neither night nor day. This striking cohabitation of temporal arrangements calls into question the artificiality of time itself; a major theme of the film, partially portrayed through the effects of the synthetic drug, Slo-Mo – as the obvious example – alongside the film’s themes of time and survival. Anderson walks out along the plateau, observing the city by night with an almost awestruck response captured through Olivia Thirlby’s reaction, a close-up shot of her face, and so on, whilst Karl Urban renders Dredd with a sense of vulnerability.

“Back up is on its way.” Control central informs them. “Just stay alive.”

Back inside the ruin of floor seventy-six, Ma-Ma’s lackeys search through the debris, looking for what remains of the Judges. Dredd soon emerges from the smoke, throwing one of Ma-Ma’s lieutenants from the balcony in his own form of display killing. Ma-Ma looks on from the opposite balcony, unsure of how to proceed from here. The camera pans away in rapid motion with Ma-Ma’s image gradually lessened, reflecting her diminishing power over Peach Trees. Dredd retreats to a side room, and begins beating Kay through interrogation. The prisoner remains uncooperative. Anderson perceives a change in Dredd’s disposition here, going from a ‘by the books’ enforcement officer to someone determined to survive. Anderson soon steps in, using her psychic powers to extract the desired information from Kay’s mind.

“Peach Trees,” it turns out, “is the manufacturing base for all of the Slo-Mo in Mega-City One – Ma-Ma’s controlling production and distribution across the whole city.” With back up on the way and Ma-Ma now guilty of multiple charges of homicide, and two counts of the attempted murder of a Judge, Dredd decides to implement an offensive strategy. However, an altercation occurs where Kay is able to turn a gun onto Anderson, and take her hostage, escaping with his prisoner via elevator to the top floor of Peach Trees. Ma-Ma is unimpressed by Kay’s small victory here since all of the chaos has resulted from his capture. Even so, Ma-Ma’s plan is to now kill the Judges and make it look like a regular ‘bust that went wrong’.

“No torture. No Raping. No Skinning. Just a bunch of bullets to the head and chest.” She instructs. “Do you understand me?”

As these plans are set into motion, Dredd patches himself into the Peach Trees tannoy system using a public terminal interface; a trap designed to alert Ma-Ma to his location.

“Mama’s not the law.” He informs the residents of Peach Trees. “I’m the law.” What better realisation of the film’s narrative tension than this utterance incorporating both the power play dynamics between protagonist/antagonist and Dredd’s iconic catchphrase? The Judge proceeds to list Ma-Ma’s crimes; a “common criminal guilty of murder, guilty of the manufacture and distribution of the narcotic known as Slo-Mo, and as of now,” he concludes, “under sentence of death.” Dredd is then revealed by Ma-Ma’s surveillance lackey to be communicating from a terminal only ten levels below. Gang members are ordered to surround the terminal, which they later fire upon. We then observe Dredd on the opposite balcony, looking down onto the surrounded terminal booth. He equips his weapon with an incendiary payload and fires it across the wide expanse, igniting those gang members sent to execute him. The flames are mirrored in the Judge’s helmet with all the metaphorical parallels of biblical hellfire.

“How […] we going to stop this guy?” Kay asks.

“Call 911.” Mama replies, with perhaps the most ironically placed line in the film, highlighting the innate contradictions of power, an ordained authority that can only ever be truly overcome by its own representation. There is a similar humour to be found in Franz Kafka’s novel, ‘The Castle’, which also – coincidentally – includes a character, known as, ‘K’, a land surveyor (and theoretical hostage) whose agency is tied inexplicitly to the bureaucracy of the elusive castle officials whose authority exists through the presence of its absence. Ironically, the absence of authority must be restored to the castle-esque, Peach Trees, precisely through calling 911, since it is the absent, elusive authority 911 represents that first allowed Ma-Ma’s transgression from the law. (There is an eeriness to Kafka’s work precisely in the way both the presentation and realisation of ordained authority remains unfinished – this aids the reading of ‘The Castle’ as a religious novel concerned with the absent authority of God.) Nonetheless, through summoning the law, Ma-Ma opens the way to the internal contradictions of authority’s presence (she accelerates the contradictions), since we come to see the authority of Mega-City One as thoroughly corrupted and corruptible.

Four additional Judges are summoned to Peach Trees, all of whom are revealed to be this world’s equivalent of a corrupt authority. In many ways, it is never ordained authority which the criminal fears, but rather the face of its corrupted form, which is to also say, the more truthful representation. These four Judges are prepared to deal with Dredd – and therefore restore the absent presence of the law – for the price of ‘one million credits’. Here, the problem of tying authority to the logic of capital is revealed in its crudest form (bribery) since the conduits of the law still serve credit (currency), regardless of the law. Whilst Dredd is left to deal with a three-man squad of corrupt Judges, Anderson manufactures her escape from the Ma-Ma clan, later running into the fourth Judge sent to kill her. Anderson is nonetheless able to detect the Judge’s true intentions (through psychic abilities), and she dispatches the Judge accordingly.

“What’s the price of a Judge these days?” Dredd calls out to the remaining Judges sent to kill him.

“Million.” Judge Lex responds from the Slo-Mo laboratory, moving in to flank Dredd’s position.

“Doesn’t sound like much. To betray the law. To betray the city.”

“Save that […] for the rookies. Twenty years I’ve been on the streets to know what Mega-City One is Dredd – it’s a […] meat grinder.” Lex recalls. “People go in one end and meat comes out the other. All we do is turn the handle.” What purpose does this ‘meat’ serve if not the fatal ontologies that must always be fed; ‘the handle’, in thoroughly Žižekian terms perceivable, here, as ideology proper since, as Slavoj Žižek dictates in ‘The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology’, it is precisely when we think ourselves free of ideology that we have, in fact, entered into it.

Throwing off the veneer of sanctimony and justice, Lex believes himself to be free from the shackles of some utopian idealism from which Dredd so painfully clings. From this perspective we can see exactly how the cynical authority governing Mega-City One operates, and it is this wound that inflicts Dredd the most, finding fruition in the single bullet which enters him from behind. Nonetheless, Anderson soon arrives, releasing her own burst into the back of Lex; bullets which Lex too, did not expect from a rookie still driven by the same idealism Lex had just dismissed. Having successfully dealt with the squad of corrupt Judges, Dredd carries out a basic field dressing of his bullet wound, and both Anderson and Dredd prepare themselves to face Ma-Ma. Acquiring the passcode to her chambers, the Judges proceed to clear out the remnants of Ma-Ma’s clan, before facing her together. As Ma-Ma raises hands in sign of surrender, it is revealed she has equipped herself with a dead switch.

“This entire level is rigged with enough high-explosives to take out the top fifty stories.” She reveals. “If they go, the rest go to… my heart stops beating, the building blows, everyone in it – ash.” Once again, the criminal makes the fatal mistake of all hostage take overs.

“This is not a negotiation.” Dredd informs her. “The sentence is death.” The Judge fires a precision shot, neutralizing the target – but not killing the criminal outright. Dredd approaches, taking Ma-Ma by the hair, applying her with the same narcotic she had readily supplied to the citizens of Mega-City One. “Citizen Ma-Ma. Your crimes include multiple homicide and the manufacture and distribution of narcotics – how do you plead?” She inhales the Slo-Mo. “Defense noted.”

The shutdown initiative is lifted, and Peach Trees opens to a new day, breathes a new light; but not before Dredd concludes with Ma-Ma’s execution, throwing her from the top window in ordained authorities’ own form of display killing which has, with perverse parallels, come to define the policing authority of present conditions, regulated to that Baudrillardian ‘equilibrium of terror in which humans are imprisoned.’

Subsequently high on the effects of Slo-Mo, we observe Ma-Ma gradually falling from the highest level of Peach Trees, dethroned by Dredd’s profound sense of authority. It is a visually compelling scene with the criminal’s fractured authority finding metaphorical alignment with the fracturing of glass that surrounds her. Ma-Ma nonetheless plummets through the debris and smoke of the Peach Trees mega complex, where she lands, inevitably (wasn’t this always inevitable from the film’s outset?) upon the atrium floor. Unable to transmit a signal through two-hundred floors of concrete and steel, the dead switch fails to activate the rigged explosives.

In many ways, this penultimate scene mimics Lucifer’s fall from grace, the smoke of Peach Trees like billowing clouds between the floors of a closed-circuit reality, Ma-Ma’s arms outstretched like melting wings, all the mythological iconography of Icarus flying too close to the sun. It is today ubiquitous that ‘Myth,’ as Baudrillard once wrote in ‘Simulacra and Simulation’, ‘chased from the real by the violence of history, finds refuge in cinema.’



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–. (1990). Fatal Strategies, trans. Philippe Beitchman & W. G. J. Niesluchowski. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)

Byung-Chul Han. (2015). The Transparency Society. California: Stanford University Press

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Fisher, Mark. (2021). Postcapitalist Desire. London: Repeater

Kafka, Franz. (2015). The Castle. London: Penguin Modern Classics


Akira, 1988, DVD, Tokyo Movie Shinsha, Japan, distributed by Toho, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo

Chungking Express, 1994, DVD, Jet Tone Production, Hong Kong, distributed by Ocean Shores Video, written and directed by Wong Kar-wai

Dredd, 2012, Online Streaming Service (Netflix), DNA Films, IM Global, Reliance Entertainment, South Africa, distributed by Entertainment Film Distributors (United Kingdom) United International Pictures (South Africa), directed by Pete Travis

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