The Sex Raft and the Mad Scientist (The Raft)
Written by: Milena Ilić Mladenović
Translated by: Mihajlo Stojković
Director Marcus Lindeen got the idea for the film “The Raft” by reading various anthropological experiments conducted in the 1960s and 1970s. It comes as no surprise that his most interesting story was from 1973 – the so called “Acali experiment”, known by the media as “The Sex Raft”. Namely, Mexican anthropologist Santiago Genovés wanted to discover what would happen if a group of complete strangers were stranded at open sea in an enclosed space, where they would have neither privacy nor escape possibilities.
He made a giant raft which he named Acali and placed 10 volunteers on it from around the world which would live (and survive) with him on that raft for 101 days. They were to cross the Atlantic Ocean, from the Canary Isles to Mexico. The hypothesis of this scientist and the basis for his anthropological experiment was that the situation in which he placed those people would inevitably lead to conflict and violence. He believed that he would find the “cure for world peace” in that way.
First he placed women at more important and responsible positions (captain, doctor, diver), believing that the men would want to take matters into their own hands, or that some conflict would arise because of that inferior position. He made every effort to choose as attractive men and women as possible, because he thought that sex was closely related to violence, and claimed that sexual intercourse was inevitable. True, it was present, but not in the extent for which the raft later received its reputation of a “sex raft”.
By placing people of different nationalities and religious affiliations, Genovés wanted to create a miniature world, and the result would be a lesson for all the world. Even though he wanted there to be violence in the experiment, be it because of some personal perversion, or some extremely “higher” goal, there wasn’t any. The only unsightly event was the hunt for a shark and the collective devouring of its (albeit cooked) meat. What really happened with these human guinea pigs was the making of complex friendly relationships. Contrary to the group of people he should have researched, Genovés himself became the mad scientist which increasingly expressed what he had wanted to research and tame. He became the merciless dictator, a racist, and in the end he did manage to cause the idea of violence in his crew – albeit, the fantasies about murder were directed towards Santiago Genovés himself, the creator of whole of the project.
How does Lindeen recreate this story?
This director himself made a replica of the Acali raft and gathered those volunteers which were still alive and willing to remember the perilous journey. Lindeen used developed film from the old archives which he mingled in with the stories of the participants of this experimental expedition. The relationships between the characters were simple, natural and humane, open, and they got more complex only when they confronted Santiago. He was the “Big Brother”, someone they promised their body and minds to for the purposes of a research they knew next to nothing about. Arrogance? Santiago does not become arrogant – he went on that journey being like that. He is not interested in individual human stories, they really were guinea pigs to him. He wants to put them in unbelievable conditions, consciously risking their lives for the purposes of “science”. And while the whole Acali story develops like some reality TV show with a diverse crew (Japanese photographer Eisuke, an American waitress Mary, an African-American engineer Fé Seymour thirsty for knowledge, an Angolan priest, an Israeli doctor, a beautiful French girl of Arabian descent, the stubborn but quiet captain Maria, etc.) from which he expected a series of predictable reactions, Santiago, who should have been the one pulling the strings, gets caught in his own trap, he becomes obsessive, aggressive, narcissistic, a racist and sexist, arrogant. This was especially displayed in his relationship with the African-American Fé and Swedish girl Maria, the captain of the ship. He was racist towards the first, which would be one of the reasons for which Fé visualizes the (tribal) murder of Santiago. One of the more intense scenes of the film was Fe’s reconstruction of her own “ocean dizziness” during which she hallucinated hearing voices of her own people crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Her ancestor had the opportunity to reincarnate through her, to scream loudly one more time before they go back into the depths. Fe will evocate this experience, and talk to someone about it for the first time after 43 years.1“I would sit on the starboard side and look into the water. I would start to hear voices coming from down there … I would hear my ancestors call me. They could feel my flying over their bodies and their tragedies. It was one of the best things that happened to me.”
Santiago’s idea was that they constantly be directed at each other, without any privacy or opportunity for escape. However, that didn’t prevent them from escaping to where it is safest –in themselves.
That’s what Fé did, that’s what Maria did, and that was what Santiago would do in the end. The captain would be at the verge of conflict with Santiago several times, but she would express her rage only through tears. Because, despite the crucial role which she had had on the raft, and despite the enormous responsibility that role harbored, she answered to rage with tears. There was no opposition, even when Santiago took the rudder from her who had sacrificed great deal for going into the unknown, even though she knew all too well that crossing the Atlantic Ocean was for many reasons, in an engineless raft, equal to suicide. Marcus Lindeen sees the tears as an important symbol of the film. They weren’t only Maria’s tears, but Fe’s as well, and Santiago’s too in fact – he was the “macho”, he never cried, until the moment when he had nowhere left to go. “In a symbolic way, I see the connection between tears and the collapse of some patriarchal structure. Perhaps men would be more humble and grateful if they were connected to their emotions in an appropriate way,” Lindeen says.
Was the idea that he would find a solution to peace in the world pretentious? Was that truly Santiago’s intention? And what is the conclusion? Was the experiment still successful in the end? The journey did not go how he had forseen it, but Fé would conclude at the end: “He was so focused on the violence and conflict, but he had it right in his hands. We started out as them and us and we became us.”
It was just like that out in the sea, as if everyone merged with themselves and the people around them, while Santiago was symbolically that shark which wanted to taste someone’s blood, and which would be ritually eaten by everyone in the end. Nevertheless, that which Santiago would live through at the end of the journey was in fact the drama and inability to adapt to the notion of his idea being refuted. Perhaps the answer floated somewhere before Santiago’s eyes, but the question is whether he wanted to see it? Was peace in the world really his true desire? Or was it perhaps that he sought violence for the sake of violence, which wasn’t provided to him in the end.
What the participants can do given the absence of privacy is, as was already said – withdrawing in themselves. Santiago’s obsession will culminate in that withdrawing, and will wish to prepare a new project, a new raft which will be even smaller this time, with such capacity to only fit one person in a lying position. He himself would be that person – the Santiago Genovés who will cross the Atlantic again and gaze into the ocean depths. Perhaps Santiago’s experiment took a wrong turn – surrounded by the endless sea on one side, and being isolated more than everyone else on the other. Santiago is directed towards his own human depths which are not always close and easily acceptable. They are vortexes, voices from the water, as the sky is silent (there is not even the song of birds so far from land). Having discovered this endlessness, Santiago is willing to experience more, be it another raft in which he himself would be the guinea pig.
Title: The Raft
Length: 97 min
Format: DCP – 2K, 2:39 Scope, Color
Language: English, French, Japanese, Swedish, German and Spanish
Production year: 2018
Director and writer: Marcus Lindeen
Producer: Erik Gandini, Fasad
Co-producers: Vibeke Vogel, Bullitt Film, Ingmar Trost, Sutor Kolonko
Executive producers: Jesper Kurlandsky, Fasad, Julie Goldman and Christopeher Clements, Motto Pictures
Principal cast: Maria Björnstam, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Servane Zanotti, Rachida Lièvre, Eisuke Yamaki, Fé Seymour, Mary Gidley and Edna Reves.
Editing: Dominika Daubenbüchel, Alexandra Strauss
Production Design: Simone Grau Roney
Cinematography: Måns Månsson
Music: Hans Appelqvist
Sound: Hans Møller
Marcus Lindeen is an artist, writer and director. He studied directing at Dramatiska Institutet in Stockholm and made his debut with Regretters, both a theater play and a documentary film about two Swedish men who change their sex twice. The play was translated into several languages and the film went on to win numerous awards. Among them the prestigious Prix Europa for best European documentary in Berlin in 2010. Regretters also picked up both the Swedish Academy Award (Guldbagge) and Kristallen (Swedish Emmy) for best documentary film in 2011. Besides touring a ton of festivals, the film was also screened at MoMA in New York and The National Center for Contemporary Art in Moscow. In 2011 his second film Accidentes Gloriosos premiered at The Venice Film Festival and won the prize for best medium-length film in the Orizzonti section. It’s an experimental fiction in black-and-white that deals with car crashes, sexual adventures and bottomless holes. The film also screened in the festival Hors Pistes at Centre Pompidou in Paris. In 2012 his play The Archive of Unrealized Dreams and Visions opened at Stockholms Stadsteater. The production is based on unfinished and never seen film scripts by Ingmar Bergman. Lindeen’s theater work has also been produced and presented for Dramaten (The Royal Dramatic theater in Stockholm), Riksteatern (The National Touring Company of Sweden), The National Theater in Oslo and The Schaubühne in Berlin. His latest production, A Generation Lost (2013), about youth unemployment, was produced for The Royal Dramatic Theater (Dramaten) and went on to be performed in The Swedish Parliament and broadcasted on National Swedish Television. The same year he was commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm to create the performance Wild Minds, which in 2016 was invited to perform at The Schaubühne in Berlin. His latest film, The Raft, premiered at CPH:DOX film festival in Copenhagen where it picked up the main award. The film is about the 1973 Acali expedition, where eleven people drifted across the Atlantic in a social study to understand violence. In the film he reunites the still living crew members on a life-size replica of the original raft. The film is the second installment in a trilogy of studio-based documentary films, where Regretters is the first. The replica used in The Raft has also been presented as an interactive art installation with video and sound work that was commissioned by and exhibited at Centre Pompidou in Paris (2017).
Review written by Milena Ilić Mladenović: Born in 1986. Graduated from and completed her master’s studies at the Department for General Literature and Literature Theory at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade. Writes short stories and long poems, incompetent essays, and competent recipes. Records stories of her sons.
Translated by Mihajlo Stojković – was born on the 20th of March 1998 in Pozarevac where he graduated from the High School of Economics and Commerce. Despite the fact it being a vocational school, he decided to continue his education at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade, where he is currently a third-year student of the English Department. He participated and was a finalist in the English Department Short Story Competition. Upon finishing his studies, he wish to become an English language teacher and eventually write a book.
Translation edited by: Dejan Mujanović