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The 36 Dramatic Situations: Once Were Warriors (1994) and Enmity of Kin

By  · Published on August 31st, 2010

This article is part of our 36 Dramatic Situations series.

For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by presenting a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th-century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.

Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t beat us mercilessly if we choose not to cook your friend some eggs.

Part 23 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Enmity of Kin” with Once Were Warriors.

The Synopsis

Beth and her family reside in a low-income New Zealand neighborhood where she struggles on a near-daily basis to care and protect her five children from the violent and erratic abusiveness dished out at the hands of their father, Jake. While the brunt of physical cruelty is bestowed upon Beth, the children’s exposure to such consistent dysfunction has already led to two of the older children resorting to a life of gang activity and petty crime. However, the middle child Grace is showing promise of a bright future and a nurturing personality despite her surroundings. When tragedy strikes the family in ways she couldn’t fathom, Beth must find the strength and pride prevalent of her Maori ancestry to help bring salvation to her children.

The Situation

“Enmity of Kin” – This situation treads a rather fine line in distinguishing itself from another defined dramatic situation – Rivalry of kin. The primary factor segregating the two is the presence of hatred on behalf of at least one of the parties involved, not to mention that the sheer presence of hatred limits this situation to be applicable almost entirely within the confines of familial relationships.

You rarely hate your best friend, and if you start to, then they simply cease to be your best friend. You have no intrinsic ties to them, whereas a family member (either blood or through marriage) is someone you are supposed to have an inherent affection for that can be lost, but they remain your relative regardless. The standard belief is that they’re someone you should feel at least slightly more love for than hatred.

The Movie

The first time I saw this film I was still in high school, and I remember being fascinated by the character of Jake the Musk, which is the name he’s earned and is known by with the locals and his friends. I didn’t use the character as a role model – I did understand he was a wife-beating bastard – but much in the same way I was fascinated with Eric Bana in Chopper a few years later and Tom Hardy’s performance in Bronson just last year, Temuera Morrison (whom most Americans will recognize as Jango Fett and the clones from the Star Wars prequels) displayed that same magnetic fire in his unhindered physical prowess. The man is simply frightening as you don’t know what will or will not set him off, and you can’t figure out how he’s going to get what he deserves for the mistreatment of his family given every opportunity to do right by them.

Rena Owen, also in the Star Wars prequels though less recognizable, as Beth represents the heart and soul of the picture as her arc from abused and pained to empowered is one of the most liberating experiences I’ve had watching a film. When the finale arrives and you’re hoping for some form of justice against Jake – husband, father and oppressor – it comes quietly and reserved.

There’s little question that the primary theme of Once Were Warriors is deliverance (another dramatic situation) if you consider the emotional and invigorating climax that is the final five minutes of the film. However, the driving force to arrive at that powerful moment and give it weight is built from the ninety minutes of resentment the family feels towards Jake and their helplessness to escape, or simply just defend themselves. It’s a sharp, calculated hook to the ribcage that culminates in an act of revenge where the tool believes it’s earning its atonement and the hated becomes the pitied.

Bonus Examples: Ordinary People, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The War of the Roses

Check out our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies.

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