• Golden Globe Awards

The Hater (Poland)

One of the benefits and pleasures of watching films from foreign lands is the invitation to visit the unique stories, vistas, languages and traditions of unfamiliar places and cultures. The Hater, the current film by Jan Komasa, does not provide this. Instead of presenting a sightseeing tour to a far-away place or removed time, this film is a trip to our very own here and now.
And it is not a pretty sight. The film starts with a young man trying to shortcut his academic rewards by plagiarizing the work of others while hordes of fascist screamers roam the streets of the city. The city happens to be Warsaw, Poland. But it could be any capital of any country: visible on the surface is a growing threat of populism, xenophobia and nationalism. But invisible, below the noise, the feverish effects of an even more perilous poison are spreading: the deliberate proliferation of misinformation as a stealth weapon in commercial or political warfare.
The premise and plot are very close to elements defining our world of today. Tomasz, the central figure, is a loser, thrown out of law school for cheating and only capable of being near the woman of his dreams by stalking her online. But he is versatile, at home in cyberspace, ready to work for an outlet that turns the traditional concept of a PR agency on its head. Instead of publicizing positive talking points of a person or company, which is the traditional task of PR, this fake news cell fabricates and distributes negative, damaging items about persons, parties or companies financed by the competitors of those targets.
One result of the treacherous power of social media described by the film has an obvious counterpart in reality. At a charity event a few years ago, Gdansk’s liberal mayor Pawel Adamowicz was assassinated onstage. In this film, Jan Komasa follows the creepy Tomasz whose manipulations lead to the assassination of a fictional left-leaning Polish politician named Pawel.
The 39-year-old director has tackled stories about lives lived through the wasteland of the internet before. The Hater could actually be considered a sequel to Komasa’s 2011 movie, The Suicide Room, about a teenager whose life is shattered after a clip of him kissing another boy on a dare becomes viral online. One doesn’t need to revisit The Suicide Room to grasp the underlying emotions displayed in The Hater. But there clearly is a kinship.
What Komasa achieves is not only an uncompromising portrayal of the looming threat of a digital future. He manages to remind us that a basic human nature endures, no matter what conditions the rapidly changing world of human interaction creates. The film leaves it to us to find an explanation for the deep emotional impulses that drive Tomasz to his destructive use of the digital instruments at hand. Is he revengeful, driven by the frustration of his own social shortcomings? Or is the film a variation of the ancient theme of impossible love?
It is revealing that the original Polish title translates to Hall of Suicide: Hater. Tomasz might stand to some degree for a confused, morally undefined state in parts of today’s young generation. He is definitely not a hero. And he is not one of those alluring antiheros of cinematic lore either. He is a bad guy, there is never a doubt. But our willingness to follow him along is a remarkable achievement of a remarkable storyteller.