Wesens is far “from the archetypal gun-toting American film” says Nelia Bester

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The significance of this is that the power lies with the two military men, because they are the ones behind the wheel and can take the two scientists anywhere, implying that they have no agency at the beginning of the film. On the other hand, the two scientists have a different kind of power over the major and staff sergeant. They are the ones documenting the journey and can therefore decide when to stop filming and when to start again.
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Wesens might be a South African alien film, but it is far from the archetypal gun-toting and macho American films with the military as the protagonists. The tenuous relationship between the military-industrial complex and science in apartheid-era South Africa is illustrated to the viewer from the first scene. The military-industrial complex is depicted by the two characters Major Martinus Viljoen (Morné Visser) and Staff Sergeant Andries Brink (Rayno von Schlicht). They identify so much with the military and their overly masculine identity within the military, that they are not even calling each other by their birth name, but by their military ranking, such as Majoor and Staf. At the beginning of the film, the two military men are at the front of the car, driving two scientists – weapon engineer Pieter Kuyper Albertyn (Pietie Beyers) and junior chemical engineer Johan Conradie (Conradie van Heerden) – to the farm with the unidentified object. The significance of this is that the power lies with the two military men, because they are the ones behind the wheel and can take the two scientists anywhere, implying that they have no agency at the beginning of the film. On the other hand, the two scientists have a different kind of power over the major and staff sergeant. They are the ones documenting the journey and can therefore decide when to stop filming and when to start again.

The scientists are depicted as having less power at first, as already mentioned, but the power balance shifts from the midpoint. The unidentified object does not react badly towards the scientists, especially weapons engineer Kuyper, while it causes staff sergeant Brink to get sick due to the animosity which the military has against it and the violence it plans to (and eventually does!) carry out against it and its inhabitants.

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The acknowledgment that there were people who mostly peacefully coexisted in South Africa with their own belief systems and ways of living before the Europeans arrived, indirectly critiques and invalidates the idea of placing certain Afrikaner histories, such as the Great Trek, on a pedestal.
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Another way in which the power balance between the military and the scientists is tested is with the conversations that Kuyper and the major share in their car ride. They argue about Western superiority and science. Kuyper is arguing against the importance of Western superiority and imperialism by highlighting the importance of the Khoi and San people. He seems to reject the ideology that the apartheid regime and supporting structures try to uphold – white supremacy and the “purity” of the Afrikaners, racially and spiritually. The acknowledgment that there were people who mostly peacefully coexisted in South Africa with their own belief systems and ways of living before the Europeans arrived, indirectly critiques and invalidates the idea of placing certain Afrikaner histories, such as the Great Trek, on a pedestal. This idea is expanded further in the film by Kuyper’s mesmerised fascination with the woman climbing out of the unidentified object, who is later identified as Kaang, the god figure of the Khoi people. He only observes her and wants to protect her from the major’s erratic outbursts. The major, on the other hand, rejects scientific thought, which includes disregarding the theory of evolution, and believes that progress came to South Africa only when the Europeans came with their books and buildings. These ideas are perpetuated as apartheid-style explanations and reasonings for white people’s domination over the other people in South Africa, yet are unscientific and ahistorical at best. His dedication to the white dominion of South Africa, and to the military, is portrayed by him murdering the two people who come out of the object, with a gun, which signifies a circular historical event, as the Khoi people were basically all killed by the guns of white settlers.

See also:

Wesens: A review by Bernard Frost

Wesens, an analysis by Jessica Smith

Erla-Mari Diedericks: “Ons is almal Kaang se wesens”

“Leave your Hollywood notions at the door”: Mphanya Mmatseleng on Wesens

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