How often is it that we measure our successes and achievements in life by the things we possess? In our modern day, the perception of someone doing well in life can sometimes be equated with the amount of material possessions they have – how many homes they own, the health of their stocks, what type of car they drive, the numbers of digits on their paycheck, how many college degrees they earned, or even the type of job they have – their cargo…but what if one day all of those things went away? What if one day you woke up and society was crumbling around you? What if all that was left was the shell of a world and humanity was on the brink of extinction? What would be precious to you then? How would you protect it?

Cargo is a 2013 Australian short film directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke and written by Ramke that explores one man’s  journey to protect his most precious cargo, his infant daughter, despite the overwhelming odds he is forced to face in the zombie apocalypse.  The idea of protecting the ones you love in a post-apocalyptic scenario is not a new one, but this short film explores more than just the idea of parental protective instincts. The raw feeling of desperation to preserve the one thing worth saving is communicated very well in this digital story, and the chilling sense of loss and the clawing feeling of despair can be felt in every moment of this seven minute film. The emotional impact of this short story will derail you and leave you wondering what you would do to ensure the survival of the ones you love. Before continuing on with my critique, it is important to gain an insight into my observations by viewing the film for yourself here.

As much as I would have loved to get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes planning for this film, much time and effort to search for such objects turned up empty-handed. Without wanting to make up assumptions about the pre-planning leading up to the final product, I have chosen to select traits from Jason Ohler’s assessment list that deal with analyzing and critiquing only the final product.

Trait Trait Description Succeeds Fails to Capture
Originality, voice, creativity How creative was the production? Did the student exhibit an original sense of voice and a fresh perspective? While survival is the most generic story to tell in a zombie apocalypse story, this digital story adds a unique voice to this overly written about topic. We are deprived of any sort of narration by the main character which helps to avoid a lot of potential clichés. Unlike in popular zombie stories where we get told how the characters feel and what they think, we must instead witness it, feel it, and interpret it for ourselves through only his actions and expressions. This perspective makes the story far more immersive for the viewer, making them feel as though they have been put directly into this father’s shoes. To me, this trait does not fail at capturing this story, because “original voice” doesn’t always mean “brand new.” The theme of this story is not a new one, but the perspective from which it is told is refreshing.
Content understanding How well did the student meet the academic goals of the assignment and convey an understanding of the material addressed? The goals of portraying survival and unconditional love are intensely present in this film. It is evident that the creators have done their homework about the emotional state of a post-apocalyptic world. To me, this trait does not fail at capturing this story, because it sets out to tell the story of the zombie apocalypse from the perspective of one man and his daughter, and it successfully does this without too much additional visual or auditory “noise.”
Flow, organization and pacing Was the story well organized? Did it flow well, moving from part to part without bumps or disorientation, as described in Part III? The story is incredibly well organized. It immediately sets the scene for the audience, describing the conflict quickly and launching us into the main events leading up to the punch line. Upon first viewing, the audience might be left wondering what is going on until the final scene brings it altogether. However, I believe this to be the intent of the film, because of how well it ties the events together in the final scene. Therefore, the confusion and mystery in flow are an essential part of understanding the feelings of the main character. The flow of this short film is purposely designed to disorient the viewer and leave them feeling a bit lost from transition to transition until the final scene ties it all back together for the viewer. The idea that a story must move along without major disruptions or disorientation does not always apply to every genre of story – especially stories that are meant to make you feel as lost as the main characters.

I have always been intrigued by the idea of a zombie apocalypse and frequently tell my students about my plans for survival. What fascinates me most about the zombie genre, however, is not the zombies; it’s the emotions and experiences of the people thrown into the chaos that really make me interested. This film beautifully quantifies the feelings of parenthood and the overwhelming need to protect the ones you love regardless of your own safety. The third-person view turned first-person narrative really invited me in to feel this particular father’s struggle. When the bullet of a far-off sniper ended the father’s story, I instantly wanted the story to end, too. It’s not that I’m against happy endings or anything, but this particular story needed to not have as much closure as it did. I had spent 6 and a half minutes believing that I was the parent in this story and really feeling the struggle myself, and when it ended I wanted a feeling of emptiness – akin to the feeling of having my life now suddenly ended just like the father. I could have lived with just seeing the baby being found by the new group of survivors, but no more than that, because what came next only served to remove me emotionally from the story. The narrative and audience engagement would have been better served to not know what happened after the baby was found, and it would have invited the viewer to continue to fill in the missing pieces as they had to do throughout the viewing of the film.


One thought on “Cargo

  1. I love that you’ve focused on parenthood – I myself am not interested at all in anything zombie (I may have been scared to death just at E.T. as a kid :), but I’m compelled to watch thinking that it might appeal to me for the human part of the story – no pun intended. I work with teachers to create space for empathy and your review makes me think that I have been limiting myself and others to my own assumptions of authentic places to find empathy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

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