PROTAGONIST, a documentary directed by Jessica Yu

Academy Award winner, Jessica Yu, delves into the human condition by interviewing four ordinary men differentiated by their background: the terrorist Hans-Joachim Klein, the “ex-gay” evangelist Mark Pierpont, the bank robber Joe Loya, and the martial arts enthusiast Mark Salzman.

The documentary follows the four men in parallel links to their extremism and limits of certainty. Whether motivated by the quest to belong to a cause, to be closer to God, by the thrill of gaining power over others, or the achievement of athletic excellence, the characters recount personally valid reasons for their chosen path.

Initially disconnected, the film gradually reveals common threads in the characters’ struggles, culminating in an intense second half. Realizing the presence of serious flaws in their consuming obsession, and the hefty price entailed, makes for a transforming revelation that leads the four to self healing and liberation.

Original in its presentation, the stories unfold through thematic chapter headings and quotes from the works of the 5th century BC playwright Euripedes.

Adding to the framework are Janie Geiser’s wooden puppets, modeled after ancient Greek theatre masks, and speaking ancient Greek, which allow for a reflective pause between segments.

The complex ethical issues presented and the powerful introspection on the shaping of individuality is what makes the Protagonist fascinating and thought provoking.

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Ester Molayeme

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