"We are killing our own children". From a radio, a voice speaks these words in the very first seconds of Draft. A theme is suggested and the scene is quickly set. A man drives around Jerusalem in his car, parks, and walks up the stairs to his apartment, but only after removing a sticker saying "I love Israel" from the hallway. He cooks and soon after his son comes home.
This is the last evening before the son is going off to the military, their last chance to talk about the future the son is about to embark on, and the last chance to talk about the choices he has made.
But the father is upset; his son is going to participate in a war he himself can no longer see the point in. Almost as a picture of the whole political situation in the Middle East, the ability to communicate properly seems to be missing in their relationship. The son tries repeatedly to reach out, and this scene contains the first attempt. He says "I want us to do something together today", "We won't see each other for a long while". But the father brushes him off saying, "So what do you want from me? To go out and celebrate your stupidity?"
They may share the same apartment, but they live far apart, and we feel a gap that's been created by a giant loss. Near the end, it is suggested that the father has lost his wife, and the son his mother.
As the two parties in the political situation, they have both lost someone they loved, but neither seems to understand that communication is the only hope for a future less filled with anger.
When we meet the characters in the story, they stand diametrically opposed to one another, each having long since given up listening to the other's point of view, and their continued efforts to persuade each other are utterly fruitless. The son may not have as clear a set of arguments as his father, but he can blame the father for living a life in solitude, stating for instance, "You can't stand the fact that I have more friends than principles". After this futile attempt the son gives up trying to reach his father and hurries down to the street where he is quickly picked up by his friends.
As a response, the father aggressively smashes the radio that he was otherwise so meticulously repairing. Time is running out for the father to save his son, and this is shown with a subtle visual trick, hardly even noticeable for the first-time viewer. When he sits in the room repairing the radio, a "Spielberg zoom" effect is applied, created by having the camera dolly back while slowly zooming in. This gives the viewer the experience of the back walls closing in on the father, and visually paves the way for his decision to go look for his son.
In the city, where the father is surrounded by young people partying, the visual style of the film changes from the calm interior shots in the apartment to a handheld camera that more accurately represents the father's experience of the parties as being infernal and as far from his own way of living as possible.
After failing to find his son, he sits alone and cries in the night, and the shot of him on the bench is followed by two others, showing the empty streets of Jerusalem by night. He returns to the empty apartment, and sits down on the son's bed. He glances through a flickering paper cartoon, obviously a souvenir from the son's childhood, and then opens a drawer filled with "I love Israel" stickers. These props are intelligently placed in the scene, to show the difference between the child and the adolescent, the past and the future. The boy has made a journey between these two eras, and the father still doesn't quite comprehend that this has actually happened, that this journey has actually taken place and has been completed.
After the drunken son comes home, they have a short fight, followed by a rare shot of tenderness, when the father holds his son's head as he is throwing up in the bathroom sink. With their last night under the same roof rapidly dying out, the son makes a last attempt to reach his father.
He says "let's talk", but the father answers tersely: "Did you set the alarm clock?" The son tries again: "Will you accompany me tomorrow?" But after a brief pause the father replies simply "what time should I set it for?" The father exits, and now it is the son's turn to cry in solitude, after his final effort to reach his father has failed.
The images of the son and father are opposed as they lie, each in his own bed and alone, and the father, with his back in the dark, seems to be visually consumed by the darkness in his past, with only his face visible, and a large part of the left side of the frame set in complete darkness.
He looks at the picture of the mother and then starts to write a letter to his son. A letter that finally explains in written words what he had been unable to express face to face to the boy. The camera slowly moves back, and the room where the father sits becomes smaller and eventually almost absorbed by the darkness of the rest of the apartment.
The next we see is the father waking up again, his head on the desk, as he had probably fallen asleep while writing the letter that would explain everything to the boy. There is now only a short time left to act, and realizing this, he runs out of the apartment.
Three times the father passes through the hallway where the "I love Israel" sticker is posted on the mirror. Twice he angrily rips it off, but this third and last time, the mirror is totally covered by the stickers and the father doesn't even glance at them as he hastens by. The battle he is fighting now has moved far beyond a simple sticker.
He runs to the car, but symptomatically the car cannot start. He is stuck again, unable to love, unable to communicate, unable to escape the prison that the loss of his wife has put him in. But unlike the scene with the draft parties, this time the father doesn't give up. He starts running instead, and this also provides the film with the much more visually interesting, energetic and intense transportation scene for the father. He has to meet the son with his guard down, defeated and exhausted, and so the running, cleverly cross-cut with a soldier reading the names of the young boys getting on the military busses, functions as both a visual and structural climax.
This is the point where he finally gives up and understands that the only right action now is not to persuade the boy to take a different path, but rather do the most important thing a parent can: namely to love his child.
The music as a leitmotif
Throughout the film, the music in Draft functions as a leitmotif for the characters. On two occasions, the father is accompanied by pieces of music, both taken from the 60´s, with folk lyrics about peace and love, whereas the music chosen for the boy is consistently non-vocal, aggressive techno. The music for the father is relaxed, passive, almost static; the music for the boy echoes his youthful restlessness, his lack of reflection, a life in constant movement, and a life in which he probably has not been able to find repose since the loss of his mother.
When the father is introduced, he parks his car in front of their apartment building to the sound of "Everybody I Love You", by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, one of the bands that epitomized 60´s peace and loving message. In contrast, when the son is picked up by friends to go to the draft parties, the music issuing from their car is monotonous, aggressive, techno.
The musical underlining of the gap between the two characters reaches its zenith in the scene where the father tries to find his son at the draft parties. He arrives at the inner city, only to experience a chaotic crowd of young people partying in the streets. He is as far removed from that sort of naivety, that sort of careless joy as possible, and withdraws for a moment into his own world. This is shown with a beautiful combination of filmic techniques, where the choice of music comes heavily into play. For about ten seconds, the music heard by the father is not the techno that had otherwise been filling the streets, but Joni Mitchell's: "River", with lyrics that contain the following lines:
It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
But it don't snow here
It stays pretty green
I'm going to make a lot of money
Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
This piece of music has a double function, both showing the father's need to withdraw from the draft parties, but by abruptly cutting back to the techno of the streets, it also underlines his choice when he decides to continue searching for his boy. Although he is at first lost in their world and has withdrawn into his own bubble of safety, he steps out in a last attempt to reach his son. This is where it becomes clear that he has changed. In the earlier scene where the son came home and said, "I thought we'd eat together today", the father's response was to withdraw to his own room, closing the door behind him. Now, instead of pulling back, he decides to try again, and ends up running after a boy who looks like his son, only to realize that they just have the same shirt on. Finally he is left alone, with only the sounds of crickets and a few piano notes in the background.
This is a film some might call political, though it is not a film about politics as such, but rather about the consequences of war; a story as old as civilization itself and a story with a core completely separate from the Israel/Palestine conflict. The conflict that frames the story could just as easily have been set in America in the 60´s, with a father who had lost faith in the government and still had to see his boy going off to fight in Vietnam. The political situation functions as an important and integrated backdrop to a beautifully told story of parental love and frustration, and a father's fear of losing his son.
The film does not take sides, but the director presents the story from the perspective of the Israelis, probably because that was the most accessible to her. However, it could just as easily have dealt with a Palestinian father, sending his son off to fight with the PLO or Hamas. This is a film about the lack of understanding, the loss of love, and loss of the ability to express love. A father is paralyzed by the thought that his son, just like his wife, may die in a war that to him has no purpose and makes no sense. After losing his wife, he cannot stand another loss, but he cannot persuade his son to act differently, and so an agonizing situation has arisen for them. They both have irrational, but human and frail responses to the mother's death. The father seems to have almost died with her; his ideology, his beliefs, and his whole world have crumbled. The son joins the army, as he says to his father, to "protect you" but the father mockingly replies, "Protect me? You can't even shave…"
The son seems unable to reach his father, much to his own frustration, and only in the end, when it turns out to be too late, does the father summon enough courage to communicate with the boy. He does so, as he says, the only way he can, by writing, though he is painfully aware that it is a cowardly way. But the letter is never given to the son, who is already on the bus driving away when the father finally gets to the conscription center. They spot each other and all of a sudden it is not the teenage son he sent away that he sees, but instead the little boy, which the father will always perceive him as.
The letter he never gets to bring to his son sums up in a few lines what he hasn't been able to say in any other way:
The ideology I tried to teach you your whole life, now seems empty. The truth is that today, I believe in nothing. I am quaking with fear that you will die in vain. I hurt you. I am sorry. Dad.
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