As much a portrait of incipient fascism as it is a tale of young love thwarted, Seren Yüce’s Majority acts as something like a quad erat demonstrandum of the way the Turkish ruling classes perpetuate themselves. Son and heir of an Istanbul construction magnate who has mapped out the young man’s life before the kid’s had a chance to live it, Mertkan’s (Bartu Küçükçağlayan) reluctance to follow in his father’s footsteps takes on the form of an extremely passive rebellion. Tall, a tad overweight, ill at ease in his body, the young man spends his time getting drunk with friends, driving around aimlessly in the family SUV, and talking about getting laid, only to wind up at home masturbating. Working at his father’s office, he comes in late or not at all, plays solitaire on his computer and shows not the faintest interest in his old man’s business, or really, much of anything at all.
Expertly constricting the twentysomething within the dual confines of fixed camera setups and the tight corridors of his family’s apartment, Yüce makes palpable Mertkan’s discomfort at being fitted to the Procrustean bed of paternal expectations. (Slight relief is provided by the lively Istanbul streets, but even when the young man ventures out, he just as often ends up hemmed in amid a nightclub crowd or his car’s interior.) Subject to casual humiliation at the hands of his occasionally brutish father, Mertkan’s efforts to strike out on his own take the form of an incipient romantic relationship with a Kurdish “gypsy” girl, giving rise to jeers from his friends and ultimately insurmountable paternal disapproval. The word of the father is law here and the lessons the construction magnate offers his son are the height of domineering patriarchal assertion, whether communicated by deed (contemptuously flinging cash at a cab driver to settle a traffic accident) or by word (lecturing Mertkan on the importance of associating with the right kinds of people, i.e. not Kurds who are “trying to divide the country.”)
Against this neo-fascist insistence on ethnic majority male privilege is set the quiet sadness of the film’s women. Although primarily a film about men, Majority lingers tenderly on the circumstances of both Mertkan’s girlfriend Gül (Esme Madra)—eking out a living at a café while ducking a family friend who’s trying to kidnap her back to her hometown—and his mother. That long suffering woman carries her burden without complaint, until finally lamenting her son’s absorption of her husband’s callous ways. “How did I surround myself with these unfeeling men?” she wonders. Caught in between the prerogatives of the two sexes, Mertkan has clearly internalized his old man’s racism/classism, but Yüce is also at pains to show how the youngster is always at least one step out of concert with the representatives of his father’s world, never more effectively demonstrated than in an early mosque-set scene in which Mertkan lags a split second behind the other worshippers in his devotional movements.
Ultimately weak-willed and lazy, Mertkan may lack the power to break the pattern of patriarchal domination, but it’s clear that his father’s offhand brutality doesn’t come natural to him. If the repressed youngster will be brutal, one imagines there will be nothing casual about it, a fact suggested by a starkly ambiguous series of late scenes which propose via juxtaposition two paths the young man might follow. And it’s to his credit that Yüce leaves open one of these routes toward a vaguely graspable redemption, even as he makes clear the violent, desperate assertions of manhood which inevitably result from a steady diet of equal parts humiliation and machismo-fueled indoctrination.