Exploring the Beirut Blast on an individual level

Octopus, by Karim Kassem, is a uniquely styled and unforgettable depiction of the aftermath of the Beirut blast on 4 August 2020. The documentary displays the direct aftermath of the blast. Yet specifically focusing on the people affected, and how their communities are trying to recuperate.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, followed by silence. In the first few minutes of the piece, a loud clock can be heard ticking. Then, suddenly, radio silence. This auditory imagery of a loud ticking clock reflects the countdown to the blast, a moment forever cemented in Lebanese history. Moments after the silence, images of the blast appear. The location of the blast is overwhelmed by smoke and rubble. The auditory imagery is used to give the viewer a reading of the environment, and to understand the complexity and chaos of the situation.

While sounds on the ground are a hallmark of the documentary, the entire documentary itself is silent. While viewers witness dozens of heartbroken Lebanese individuals in their destroyed homes, shops, and environments, no one actually gets to hear their thoughts. This is a meticulous move by the director, as the faces, expressions, and reactions of the protagonists of the story speak for themselves. One can understand the personal devastation without even knowing what happened to them.

The visuals of the documentary mainly focus on the people directly affected by the blast, yet constant reminders of the collateral devastation are found throughout the piece. Images of crumbling buildings destroyed homes, and the site of the blast itself reminds the audience of the situation the protagonists of the documentary are dealing with.

One example is that of an old couple sitting inside their apartment clearly devastated from the blast. The man and woman are sitting together and attempting to fix a statue of the Virgin Mary with tape. It can be inferred that because of the blast, the figure was destroyed, yet this couple is doing all they can to fix the broken pieces of this weary statue.

At the beginning of the documentary, audiences witness a man prepare large planks of wood and put them in the back of his truck. This man is clearly situated far from Beirut, as it is shown that the man is driving down from the mountains with this wood. It is not until the end of the documentary that the audience sees this man again. He arrives at an apartment complex near the site of the blast. Once he unloads the wood, he enters the apartment complex and begins to knock on every single door. He receives no response. Door after door, no one seems to answer. Why? Because everyone died, and the planks of wood are meant for their coffins.

Octopus was an emotional journey through the aftermath of the blast. Yet this time, instead of focusing on the civil unrest and the utter chaos that ensued, Kassem focuses on the individual impacts. One by one, audiences are touched by the unfortunate circumstances and can only imagine the millions of thoughts in the heads of the protagonists.