How do you opt out of a community that expects life-long allegiance and responds to dissenters with brutal retributions? In Exit, Karen Winther depicts the hazardous struggle for liberation.
Ellen Lande
Ellen is a film director and freelance film critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: October 23, 2018

Right-extremist movements are spreading in our cultural sphere – from Sweden to Greece to the United States. At the same time ISIS and related organisations lure increasing numbers of people  who attest to their willingness to give up everything for their causes. But what happens when one has had enough, when one recognises the choice as a disastrous mistake.

Self-exposure and access

The director Karen Winther was a part of the anti-racist Blitz group in Oslo before she changed sides to a violent neo-Nazi group. She documented her experience from these circles in her award-winning documentary The Betrayal (2011). In Exit she meets former extremists from Denmark, Germany, the USA and France, and, in sharing their background, opens up a space for both recognition and cognition. The point of view is liberating, avoiding mystifying and moralising attitudes:  «The right extremist community was not what I had expected. We spent a lot of time waiting and listening to bad music – Viking rock. Everyone was paranoid about snitches and Mossad agents.»

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The director candidly exposes herself in her own film. The topic of The Betrayal is extended in Exit, the focus of Exit being not the attraction of the extremist groups, but rather what causes the need to break out. Her decision to put herself at the centre of the film must have been a difficult one: she knows only too well that exposure comes at a price.

Enticingly risky

Exit starts boldly with a clip from the movie Christiane F (1981), and the director’s confession that she experienced the portrayal of the risky games of drugs and the Berlin underground as something alluring rather than admonishing. The forbidden and unknown drew her in.

«The film depicts a group of former extremists and their respective turning points.»

When things got too risky and Karen wanted to get out of the neo-Nazi community, she desperately sought help from the Blitz group that she formerly had betrayed. Karen considers Guro, who is a long-time member of the group, as her saviour but Guro disagrees – she didn’t save Karen at all, but rather wanted to hurt the growing neo-Nazi group. Just when she got out, Karen was about to build a violent neo-Nazi girl’s club inspired by the well-organised Blitz group model. …

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