Film Review: We Are Monster (2014)

This film directed by Antony Petrou is rich in forensic psychological detail. It really shows the dark side of the criminal justice system (CJS). Based on a true story, We are Monster tells the story of the murder of Zahid Mubarek by Robert Stewart.

Psychoanalytic film theory: It is clear that many of the attitudes Stewart displayed were inherited from his father’s personality. In other words, the film captures the phenomenon of introjection, a defence mechanism which consists of internalising and adopting personality traits and/or behaviour of other people, especially authority figures. The film shows Stewart recalling a memory of his father arguing with his mother about her having been sexually involved with a person of a darker skin. From this scene it is clear that his father had an extremist and antisocial attitude towards people of different skin colours, and he is heard using racial slur. Consequently, Stewart came to associate a darker skin with ‘filth’ and ‘evil’, having internalised his father’s attitudes. The film constantly shows him having a conversation with a hallucination of himself similar to the way his father used to speak in general. In psychoanalytical terms, it could be said that the film shows Stewart’s ID talking to him all the time. The ego or self is shown to negotiate with this hallucination, and to be led and manipulated towards specific behaviours. It is difficult to say whether the introjection was accompanied by reaction formation, because it is difficult to differentiate Stewart’s criminogenic attitudes and/or actions from those of his father. The film portrays his childhood as self-less, cold, and full of trauma. Therefore, it is unclear whether these behaviours constitute an exploration of his father’s ego through a primary regression to a narcissistic state in which the superego is formed based on values learned from the world; or whether it is his self that has become established as a personality (i.e. whether this would be his behaviour if he was not experiencing a psychotic break). The film captures his schizophrenic crisis quite well. It allows the viewer to enter the criminal mind from thought to action. Petrou manages to illustrate the criminal insanity perspective by placing emphasis on the hallucination as the drive towards criminogenic activity.

Political anchors: This case was a huge scandal in the year 2000 and many inquiries were launched at Feltham Young Offender Institution in order to investigate the steps the government of the UK could have taken in order to prevent this tragedy, and what steps could be taken to prevent it from ever happening again. It was concluded that legally, there was much more the system could have done to prevent this re-offending, and the death of Zahid Mubarek. This case was a scandal when it occurred, and it is perceived as a double-edged cumulative failure.