Bystanders and Surveillance in ‘Incident by a Bank’

Incident By a Bank recreates a failed robbery in Stockholm, using a bold single take shot to capture the eleven-minute sequence and provide commentary on bystander effects.

The film revisits an actual event that took place on June 26, 2006. It opens with two men discussing everyday minutiae when they spot two men in ski masks and helmets—they speculate that the two wish to rob the bank across the street. The camera then pans to the robbers struggling with a moped across the plaza before approaching the bank, taking out guns, and entering—the two men observing narrate.

Soon, the robbers exit the first building, point to the building next door and then enter it—their incompetence is simultaneously comical and gripping. Screams and gunshots ensue as people rush from the second building. A brave old man knocks over the robbers’ moped in an attempt to foil them before rushing into hiding. More bystanders gather and one of the narrators starts filming the incident. The first robber rushes out, taunting the old man with a few warning shots while he waits for his companion. The second robber rushes out as the security guards chase them; the first robber is tackled while the second escapes. The spectators start to dissipate. The film ends with a shot of the first robber’s bike and helmet lying in the road as the police carry him away.

The film is action packed yet because of the single shot camera at a distance, it feels decidedly remote. The distance and slow pan of the camera mimics security footage, emphasizing the illegality of the event being witnessed. The feeling of surveillance also highlights the ridiculous behavior of the robber when he asserts “I didn’t do anything” after being tackled by the security guard—there is humor in the absurd brazenness of his lie. The camera technique used also has a metatextual quality to it in that it simulates the video the man shoots on his phone of the robbery. But, most significantly, the directorial camera choice suggests that this film is not about the robbery at all. Indeed, the title Incident ‘by’ a Bank rather than ‘in’ a bank telegraphs that the film is more orientated to the people reacting to the event rather than the bungled robbery itself.

From this perspective, the camera technique suggests the film is an exploration of ‘the bystander effect.’ The camera’s distance and slow pan mimics the humans watching the robbery but doing nothing to intervene—i.e. “Should we call the police or what?” The distance of the camera represents the bystanders’ own physical and emotional distance from the event—it removes any compulsion to act. The old man who does choose to intervene—though largely ineffective—is an antithesis to all others and though he is not successful, he is the noblest character. Incident by a Bank exposes that modern culture orbits around the idea of the spectacle—the robbery is more like a form of entertainment than a real event. There is comic absurdity and simultaneous horror in overhearing the mundane conversations people have as they watch an extraordinary and potentially dangerous event. Though the camera dispels suspense because it is such a removed a perspective, it creates a disturbing portrait of human complacency. The audience views the film from the same vantage as the bystanders and is forced to confront its own inaction. The lingering question is whether viewers would have done it any differently in the same situation—would they have intervened or just watched?

Samantha Bloom

Samantha is a graduate from Stanford University with a B.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing. Her previous writing projects have included a satirical Silicon Valley musical, a short film that moves the story of Jekyll and Hyde onto social media, a short film about female embodiment in the modern age, and short stories galore. She's an obsessive fan girl with an affinity for 80s pop, science fiction, and quirky historical facts. She hopes to be a writer for TV and/or film one day.

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