9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
Cold-hearted and hard watching, 5 Jan 2012
Harrowing, cold-hearted and engrossing are just a few words to describe the 1979 film Scum, directed by Alan Clarke and written by Roy Minton. It shows the apparent brutality within a 1970's British borstal, including hard watching scenes of violence, racism, suicide and most notoriously rape. The film follows the experiences of Ray Winstone's character, "4737, Carlin" and other inmates; as they struggle for justice among themselves and from the crooked wardens.
The film starts with three young men in a police vehicle: Angel, Davis, and Carlin, being driven to a borstal. Scum does not reveal the convictions of these three men, but emphasises more upon the borstal environment. In 1902, borstals were introduced for young male offenders to protect them from the influence of older offenders. They were designed to be religious and educational, with a focus upon military routine, discipline and authority. As shown throughout the film, there was a strong belief on the use of corporal punishment as an effective way to suppress delinquent behaviour. Scum portrayed life within borstals as a continual conflict between the inmates and wardens ("screws") through scenes of violence, racism, suicide and rape. Inmates would fight among each other in order to gain hierarchy power, with the top status as "The Daddy". Wardens would take full advantage of their authority, often beating inmates and turning a blind eye to incidents involving "The Daddy", as he was deemed to have leadership qualities. Scum leads viewers to see the matron as a mother figure for inmates, during group discussion sessions, but similar to the wardens; she does not show any compassion or sympathy towards them. Inmates were unable to speak up about the continual abuse, for being known as a "grass" doesn't bode well within this environment. The harsh reality was that the film Scum actually showed incidents that frequently occurred within borstals; yet highlights the ineffective borstal system. In 1982, shortly after Scum was released, borstals were abolished and instead Young Offender Institutions were introduced.
Scum showed the effects of continual corporal punishment on inmates. Most notably when the inmates hear of the suicide of Davis following a rape attack; Carlin, now known as "the daddy", prompts a riot and in the final scenes is seen bloody and unconscious after a thorough beating from the wardens. If these are similar to reality of borstals, then it would show corporal punishment as effective only for short term means; but may increase delinquent behaviour and subsequently lead to re-offending.
This therefore leads to the widespread view of whether the current justice system is too "soft" on criminals. Many of the public have a consensus agreement that harsher and corporal punishment should be brought back; this view has especially been raised due to the recent London riots. Current Youth Offender Institutions have a different take on criminal punishment and is based on restorative justice principles. It focuses more upon offenders taking responsibility for their wrong doings through various means; for example education to ensure offenders fully understand the consequences of crime. Young offenders are examined individually, rather than in groups as Scum portrayed with the matron. This has shown to be much more effective upon reoffending rates, as it accommodates more to the individual needs.
From Scum, it is clear to see how the youth offending system has changed. CCTV cameras are now implemented in modern day institutions, so inmates can not abuse each other and vice versa with the wardens. The current approach has been improved on and seen to be better in reducing reoffending rates. It hasn't completely ruled out crime and reoffending; which is a possible reason as to why the public see this approach as too `soft' for criminals. So, may be a balance between restorative justice principles and corporal punishment will be more beneficial. Scum also highlights violence, sexual and racial abuse; violence and sexual abuse has been reduced, but sadly, racism is still a big part in today's society.
Scum brings to light the corruptive justice system in the 70's. The film depicts the harsh reality of borstals from the director's perception; it highlights the extreme rivalry within the inmate hierarchy and wardens taking full advantage of their position. From watching this film we learn that juveniles within a borstal do not take responsibility for their actions and due to the disturbing environment, inmates are led to commit more crimes; as seen through Carlin using violence as a tool for self-protection. Therefore, bringing back the borstals would bring no benefit for the justice system, in fact may make it worse and lead to higher re-offending rates. Scum is still seen as very controversial and valuable, however, the graphics are deemed as out-dated so a remake of the film may be more enticing for viewers.