The Hater (Sala Samobójców. Hejter in the original Polish) slots in alongside Brechtian “man on the make” dramas like The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, or the novel/film Room at the Top, or even Mephisto, the Klaus Mann novel and 1981 movie by István Szabó.
It’s a film about a young man who believes in himself rather than anything else, and we meet Tomasz (Maciej Musialowski) just as he’s being thrown out of law school for plagiarism, though he doesn’t seem overly concerned about the fact that he’s trashed his own prospects.
Later, at the apartment of the aunt and uncle who’ve been sponsoring his studies, he keeps quiet about what’s happened while they subject the right-leaning Tomasz to an evening of metropolitan elitery, fine food and wine accompanying the liberal globalist chit-chat. To thank them for their hospitality and the money they’ve spent on his studies, he bugs them, and listens in later to hear them mocking his country-cousin background and his pathetic excuse of a present – strawberry jam!
Unfazed, Tomasz gets a job at a digital consultancy, in effect a troll farm, and here his dispassionate, possibly psychopathic, personality really comes into its own. Lacking any real conscience he’s really good at his job, thinking nothing of the human cost of the various derampings and takedowns he’s set to work on. The first is a well meaning natural health influencer, and then he’s given an important assignment, a liberal politician who is angling for power.
Tomasz looks like he’s heading towards a familiar endpoint and it can surely only be a matter of time before he’s buying a gun to shoot up a mall or a school. He’s the ignored incel who desperately wants the world to take him seriously, no matter how he gains the notoriety. But instead Tomasz gets close to the mayoral candidate, the better to entrap a man who, rumours suggest, might be a closeted homosexual.
Rather going against the title, Tomasz isn’t a hater at all. He’s not really engaged with extremism, that’s just his “in”, the path of most opportunity. Ultimately that’s slightly disappointing, because the offer with The Hater seemed at first to be a portrait of a political point of view. What’s actually delivered is a more conventional portrait of a pathology. (A variation on the liberal idea that people go for right wing politics because they’re sick, or thick or have been tricked.)
It’s a sequel to 2011’s Suicide Room, apparently (the Sala Samobójców bit of the original title translates as Suicide Room). I haven’t seen it but I do know it’s about the interfacing of the online world with a fragile personality, and that Agata Kulesza plays Beata in both films – the mother of the protagonist in Suicide Room, Tomasz’s boss here. What I have seen is another film by director Jan Komasa, Warsaw ’44, another massively ambitious project that simply went on too long.
It is brilliantly done, though, Komasa taking us into various odd corners with skill and smarts (like the world of video-gaming, Komasa suggesting gamers and online trolls share characteristics). He also gets a canny performance out of Musialowski, who manages to keep us onboard with Tomasz in spite of the fact that he’s a cold fish at best, a ruthless psychopath at worst.
Particularly well done is the whole sequence where Tomasz starts playing one side off against another, stirring things up across the political divide, along the way recruiting Guzek (Adam Gradowski), a sad sack of a weapons nut and dim-bulb fascist, to do in the real world what an avatar inside a computer game might do.
Populist politics, fake news, troll farms, weaponised attacks on democracy, it’s hitting the hot buttons, tokenistically at least, prompting the speculation that either director Komasa or writer Mateusz Pacewicz see a bit of themselves in the dead-eyed Tomasz. Or maybe a bit of Tomasz in all of us, bent over our screens, capable of connecting only at one remove and being played by the international elite funding the troll farms and pulling the levers.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021