Don’t bang your pot dealer I was sold on the movie before I even got the free record. When I met Reg Harkema during the film festival he told me that as promotion for his new movie Monkey Warfare he had made some 500 vinyl pressings of the soundtrack. Unfortunately, half of them were incorrectly pressed and have a random reggae track on Side B. I got my hands on one of the good 250, and it’s like a great mix tape that has samples from the movie mixed in as a guide. With music from Sun Ra, Pink Mountaintops, Leonard Cohen, and the Fuggs, it’s a collection of revolution songs both old and new. Every revolution needs a good soundtrack.
The film is set in Toronto but could as easily be set here, and there are connections to both cities throughout the film. Harkema himself, easily recognisable at over 6’4” with a floppy wash of big blond hair, lived near Commercial Drive up until a few years ago when he got evicted and moved to Toronto. Monkey Warfare marks a mature shift for him as a filmmaker and is hopefully a reflection of a growing trend in English Canada, where filmmakers can make the films they want instead of being pushed to make cheap Hollywood knock-offs.
In a recent interview, Harkema explained that Monkey Warfare is a personal investigation “into the way that society keeps any sort of radical politics down, and by extension how the system discourages and keeps creativity down.” It is also is a coming-of-age film in a strange way. While it deals directly and openly with radical politics, there is a personal side to the film that explores the burden of our past on our present, and reconfirms the notion that sex and politics often share a pillow.
The film revolves around Dan (Don McKellar) and Linda (Tracy Wright), a couple whose anarchistic politics got a little carried away once. Having shared an experience that has made them feel like they have to spend their lives hiding on and off the grid in Toronto, they now simply co-exist. And it’s not that simple. They eke out an existence by selling things online that they find while biking around the city. All is reasonably well until the status quo of Dan and Linda’s secret life is threatened by Susan (Nadia Litz), a cute pot dealer with a desire for radical politics who seduces Dan with both her grass and her interest in political revolution. When Susan’s newfound radicalism threatens to involve Dan and potentially draw attention to both he and Linda, the reluctant couple figure it’s time for an intervention, hoping, as Dan says, “she won’t rat on us, not if she’s serious about her politics.”
While there is a permeating sense of nostalgia throughout the film for both the music and the relationship Linda and Dan have with the objects and knowledge they value, their cool romanticism for the past inevitably gives way to the inescapable present as events and people they are unable to control threaten to leave them with nothing. Balanced with comic irony, Monkey Warfare is a film that’s not afraid to acknowledge the complexities and frustrations experienced by anyone who’s ever felt like they needed to blow shit up. If you ride a bike, have ever smashed or trashed anything, like green things and good music, this is probably your movie. Stick around ‘til the end of the credits for a little tutorial on how to make your own Molotov cocktail. Safely.