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Just stop. I know interwebs denizen, that you are flitting across the still pond of the internet as you bob and weave your way from randomness to randomness. But STOP. The Maus? The movie? The phenomenon? Needs to be watched. It is begging you to watch it now. So this top paragraph is just me saying… find it. Watch it. Come back. Here’s the official description for the film…
“Alex and Selma are a couple in love who travels to the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When their car runs aground in the middle of the forest, they decide to go looking for help to the nearby town. Along the way, Selma – a Muslim survivor of the Balkan War – begins to suspect that a mysterious force accompanies them. Alex, a confident and happy young European, tries to take the crazy idea out of his mind. But Selma constantly clings to her Muslim “hamajlija” amulet, causing the mysterious force to emerge from the forest.”
It is a confusing and deeply interesting character study of someone that has survived the atrocities of war. Tip them a bit, and let’s see what happens next. So yeah, there also happens to be some wild demon craziness involved as well? But just trust me. TRUST ME. This movie is worth your time. Go find it and watch it. And then join us a few paragraphs down. But for now, here’s the trailer for The Maus.
Nope. Just watched the trailer. And it is possibly the worst representation of a movie I’ve ever seen. First it spoils quite a bit of the movie. And second it is just quick flashes of action with a dance track in the back… and then slow down for the super scary bits!!! No. (But if you are dying to see it, and you’ve seen the movie, check out what I am talking about here.)
The History and Cultural Details of The Maus
The movie opens with these words:
“Ya Hafizu, In you I trust above all things, You are my only protector, The guardian of my family, You hear my words and know my secrets… Ya Hafizu. Answer my prayers.”
I didn’t know what was happening as the movie kicked off – darkness, this prayer, and then a long shot on a woman’s face… But later on I realized what was happening. Ya Havizu is an Islamic name for God that means, The Preserver. Which, actually sets up an important detail about Selma right out of the gate… which is, she’s a Muslim. Couple that with the knowledge that Selma originally came from Bosnia-Herzegovina and with that detail? We now know that she is a Bosnian. If you aren’t exactly up on your World History, I’ve done the heavy lifting and I’ve provided you with a quick overview of the atrocities that happened there in the Yugoslav republic from 1992-1995:
“In April 1992, the government of the Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia. Over the next several years, Bosnian Serb forces, with the backing of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, perpetrated atrocious crimes against Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croatian civilians, resulting in the deaths of some 100,000 people (80 percent of them Bosniak) by 1995. It was the worst act of genocide since the Nazi regime’s destruction of some 6 million European Jews during World War II.” (from history.com if you are itching to learn more)
I remember riding a train somewhere near Athens in 1994, when I realized that I was only a half day’s journey from Sarajevo. And at that time it was known that thousands and thousands of Bosnians were being slaughtered in something of a locked box abattoir. And I had my opinions about the right and wrong of that situation, until I met a Serb on that train a little while later and we spent the next six hours discussing and debating the difficulties in that situation from top to bottom. I only wish I had a recording of that conversation because I would love to highlight how ignorant I was. And how biased he was. And the messiness of history and the chaos of war.
And can I just say, that it’s been a very very long time since I’ve seen a movie with such an important and interesting backstory setup? I suppose that if you just knew that a Bosnian and a Serb sort of hated each other… you’d have enough? So it works on a shallow level. But it is really great the more you know about the atrocities that occurred there in Yugoslavia.
The Maus and This Movie Setup
But as it relates to this movie – within the first 5 minutes we know that Selma is a Bosnian – plagued by the atrocities of war. And a few minutes after that? We meet two men that quickly identify themselves as Serbs, hostile Serbs. Then drop them in the locked box that is a forest infested by mines left over from a horrific war and you have a truly fascinating movie setup. And add to that, the fact that we can’t really trust Selma as a trust worthy narrator? Man, I loved this flick. Top all that off and add to it that there were really only 4 actors in this entire film? So much goodness.
So where was I? Oh right. Selma and Alex had just finished a holiday, and were heading to the airport when their car got stuck in the mud. They are deep in the forest. And Selma is literally scared out of her mind. She seems to be jumping at everything. But why Selma? We’ll get this figured out in time to make our flights. Right? So yeah. She is really jumpy about something. And when Alex decides they should walk to the nearest town Selma won’t stop going on about landmines. (Which, to be honest, were so critical to the plot of this movie that they should have been given a credit at the end of the movie.)
Is Selma Seeing Things?
I have to give a shout out to Rafael Reparaz, the cinematographer in charge of The Maus. He played some of the most amazing focus and camera tricks in this film I’ve seen in a while. His technique of staring at the back of someone’s head and keeping the focus in close when the chaos is happening further afield? So good. Anyway, we see some of Reparaz’s tricks early when we sort of see something in the woods that Selma is seeing. To be clear… Alex never sees these things. Which, I think is a pretty important clue for unpacking this movie later. And more importantly, Selma seems to unhinge from reality several different times as the movie progresses. Three specific and distinct times that matter most.
The first one happens at the outset. Selma envisions stepping on a landmine and then being captured and raped by two men. It happens pretty quickly and abruptly. But soon we realize that that didn’t happen. At least, didn’t happen to her now, on this trip. It may very well have happened to her in the past. The two men kill the dog, which, I believe was the one that triggered the mine. And after grappling with this scene a bit, I think we can ascertain that the dog did hit the landmine. The two men did kill the dog. But they didn’t start raping her. I believe that bit was in Selma’s mind like a PTSD shard wiggling itself into her brain from her past.
Enter the Serbian Bosnian Showdown
But when Selma and Alex come upon two men in the woods, their fortunes definitely take a decidedly negative turn. With the men there with them, and Selma refusing to translate what they are saying, Alex calls 911. Nope. This is Bosnia. To call emergency services, ie the police in Bosnia, I now know… you dial 122. See? Look at all of the brilliant things you learn on this blog. So much goodness. Anyway, while he is on the line, the two men make a bet the line goes dead and it does Alex wiggs out and swears at the two men thinking they can’t really understand him. And with that, they respond in English, “We are not Bosnians, we are Serbs. Hopefully the fucking Serbs will help your Bosnian girl.”
And just like that, dinner is ready.
Selma then has another psychotic break. Alex comes to her, calms her down. And then tells her that he is her guardian angel. And then he is shot in the chest. Selma is then dragged into the outpost, past piles of corpses, past more Serbian military men. But it quickly turns out to be another false juke. I have to say, that being inside this war ravaged mind makes for a highly stressful viewing experience! hahah.
After Selma comes back to reality, we see that Alex is fine again… and she flips out, tells him that they have to leave, that they can’t trust these men. We then learn that Serbians killed her entire family. Not only that, but the reason they are there isn’t for a holiday… it’s because the bodies of her entire family appeared after flooding uncovered their grave. So to say Selma is rightfully on edge is an under statement.
The two men then try to bribe Alex for 10,000 Euros in order to get directions on how to get out of there. But Selma grabs a knife and heads into the outpost, and Milos and Selma scuffle. And their, she sees an alien female form. Is that her mental embodiment of Ya Hafizu? And then Selma slits his throat. And one of the great things about this movie, is that we get so many false starts in this film… so many bad leads, I assumed this wasn’t real. But it was. Selma actually did slit Milos’ neck. But then, things get dicey again, because as she is sitting a ways away, the alien character cuts Milos head completely off.
Then Vuk, the other Serb, comes down and begins looking for Milos and Selma. And we get more great cinematography, with lots of spinning and playing with light. I have to say that these shots are so long, that I really didn’t notice the cuts at all. Anyway, Vuk is looking for Selma. And eventually he turns and Selma stabs him in the gut.
Selma goes and gets the injured Alex and lets him know that its safe, that both the men are dead. And when they start burying the bodies, Alex realizes that Selma cut Milos’ head clean off. And he is wondering who this woman is that he has been dating for the past year. But when Selma goes looking for her Hamajilila (which is a word for amulet) that was given to her by her father, Alex finds it in Vuk’s pocket. BUT! Vuk is still alive even though he is half buried (Revenant anyone? hahaha.) Alex goes to kill him with a big rock but he can’t do it.
Oh but Selma can. And when Alex convinces her to save his life, and goes to get a stretcher, Selma bashes his head in over and over again. There we are, staring at the back of Alex’s neck as we watch an out of focus Selma destroy Vuk’s head with a huge rock. And Alex? Oh he’s done with this woman. There is no way that he can continue on with her. Because holy crap, what has he gotten involved with here? And Selma looks at him and says, I had to do it. And Alex runs… hits a landmine.
The End. Or is it?
The Conclusion of The Maus
Because of Selma’s inability to distinguish her psychosis from reality, we really have no idea if Alex actually did step on a landmine. We really don’t know what is real with that ending at all. But we do know that Alex is alive afterwards. And we see him and another woman heading to a picnic in the park as Alex tries to piece his life back together again. But as our hope for his life crescendos… a sound like a bomb going off hits the park. And people run for cover.
The camera spins and spins around Alex as he is looking for the danger. And then, sliding out of nowhere, is a blurry form of a woman, holding an AK-47, standing in front of him. Roll credits.
The Maus Movie Explained and Discussed
Man there was a lot going on in this “simple” movie. I read one review of it, and they sort of discounted the movie because they easily dismissed the fantastical elements of the movie as illogical, and unexplainable. And strange to boot. Personally, the Ya Hafizu elements of the movie are the easiest to understand. And so simple, I’m not really going to give you any alternative theories for this.
This Hafizu alien character? It is just simply a dark embodiment of Selma herself. Alex set himself up as her guardian angel, but we saw how well that went for her. And so, Selma’s true guardian angel? Is herself. But an evil, and horrible version of herself that embodies itself in Selma’s mind alone. But what about that ending? A couple things could be happening there.
The Maus Ending Explained Theory 1
Could it be that Alex never made it out alive? Maybe when he turned to run, and danced on that landmine, it ended his life? And there Selma stood, baffled and confused as this alternate reality played out in her mind? Hey, weirder things definitely happened right in front of our eyes over the course of this movie.
The Maus Ending Explained Theory 2
Or maybe Alex does with the initial gunshot to his chest and the entire rest of the movie is Selma scrabbling to stay sane?
The Maus Ending Explained Theory 3
Better yet, what if Alex has become like Selma? This traumatic war story of his own has fractured his brain? And now, peacefully separated from Selma, he finds himself at a get together at a park. Quiet. Restful. Children playing everywhere. And his brain can take it. Now his Ya Hafizu, his preserver, is a vision of Selma, like Selma envisioned Hafizu as a faceless alien-esque female shape. And this chaos of the park? It isn’t really happening. Maybe its just another movie double back, like we had so many times at the onset of the film?
The Maus Ending Explained Theory 4
Or, simple enough… Alex and Selma survive the mine blast. And somehow, some way, they finally get themselves to the airport. They separate amenably. Share high fives… and Alexa says, you are a crazy homicidal space clown, see you on the other side, and they go their separate ways. A few months, and a counselor later, Alex is out on his first couple of dates with new-non-Selma gal, and low and behold? Selma didn’t take the whole “crazy homicidal space clown” epithet too well. So she, and her AK-47? Oh yeah, they decided to join the party at the park.
Which, if theory 4 is the real deal… explains a lot. It defines Selma is insane. It clarifies the flashbacks and the atrocities she went through during the war. But mainly it explains Selma as completely out of her mind as a result. Right? Sure, she had the gumption to survive. But she also crossed a non-arbitrary line not once, but twice. She cut one guy’s head clean off. And she bashed the other guys head in, after he was harmless and gutted, lying in a grave. She was well well over the line of the moral divide. Alex even made it clear, you do this? And we are done. And yet, Selma was not to happy about Alex deciding that they were done. And so she was there, in the park, ready to state her opinion loud and clear.
Final Thoughts on The Maus?
I adored this movie. I was worried in the first 2 minutes that this thing was too off the rails for me. But nope. I absolutely loved this movie. It was confusing enough that you had to grapple with it. It was grounded in a history that we as Americans don’t normally see movies based in. It was weird enough to be interesting. Non-linear. And just four actors? So much goodness here. Did you guys enjoy it? Too dark? Too violent? Too crazy? Thoughts? Man I loved this film.