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Film / The Colony (2016)

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There is no turning back.

"You think that you made a mistake, you think that you should not have come here?"
Schäfer to Lena

Colonia (UK title: The Colony) is a 2016 co-production historical film directed by Florian Gallenberger and starring Emma Watson, Daniel Brühl and Michael Nyqvist.

It is about the torture of political prisoners at Colonia Dignidad, Chile, in The '70s during Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

Not to be confused with 2021's The Colony.

Colonia Dignidad contains examples of:

  • Arch-Enemy: Lena has Paul Schäfer, the cult leader who's holding her boyfriend captive.
  • Artistic License – History: Political prisoners brought to the colony were either killed or sent to other centers, but they were never integrated in the cult, and the Colonia Dignidad never welcomed newer members after coming to Chile on 1961. Nor Lena neither Daniel would have been included in the cult.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Played fairly straight with Lena's injuries as opposed to Daniel's.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: When Lena gets no help from Daniel's friends, she goes to Amnesty International and states that her boyfriend, a German citizen, was arrested by Chilean authorities and taken to Colonia Dignidad. The director tells her that Colonia Dignidad is a government-sanctioned charity organization, and that everything will be fine. He then turns on the radio to mask their voices from the bugs, and tells her that there is nothing he, or his organization, can do to get him out, and tells her that once someone goes into Colonia Dignidad, they don't come out.
  • Big Bad: Paul Schäfer, leader of the Colonia Dignidad.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lena and Daniel manage to leave the Colony - and then Chile - alive, but the Colony and Pinochet's dictatorship last for many years more. Also, they flee the colony with the nurse Ursel, who gets killed by a trap just after they discover they managed to escape the colony.
  • Booby Trap: In the tunnels beneath the Colony and surrounding its fence. Poor Ursel...
  • Bury Your Disabled: Schäfer wants to test poison gas on Daniel, which he perceives as an useless mentally challenged person.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Daniel insisting on photographing the events in Chile gets him in trouble the first time by getting him arrested and almost blows his and Lena's cover later in the camp.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: A common experience for prisoners at the Colony.
  • Corrupt Politician: After Lena and Daniel escape the Colony, they drive to the West German Embassy to tell their government and the world of what was going on in Chile. The ambassador assures them that everything will be alright, but he locks them in a room at the airport so that that Schäfer can take them back to the Colony.
  • The Coup: The film's plot starts in the wake of Chile's 1973 military coup, when thousands of political opponents were rounded up for torture or execution.
  • Crisis of Faith: Ursel no longer perceive Schäfer as a divine prophet but rather as a tyrant.
  • Cult: Colonia Dignidad, a frightening sect which segregated its members by sex, forbids them to leave, brutally punishes any violations of its rules, manufactures weapons and collaborates with the Chilean military dictatorship to detain and torture political prisoners.
  • Deadly Gas: One Pinochet regime official asks Schäfer about his advances in the chemical weapon project,
  • Distressed Dude: Daniel, who is illegally arrested and tortured by Chilean soldiers after the coup d'etat.
  • Electric Torture: Schäfer's preferred means of torture.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Schäfer's "comfort" of Daniel after overseeing his torture at the hands of Chilean soldiers.
  • Fan Disservice: Good-looking people in their underwear? Yay! Good-looking people in their underwear being tortured? Noyay!
  • Fanservice:
    • Daniel cooks breakfast in only an apron while Lena takes pictures of him in only a shirt.
    • Lena takes off her clothes and swims naked in the river next to the colony.
  • Forced to Watch: Schäfer forces Dieter to watch the colony's men beat up Doro.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Pinochet and his regime, who used Colonia Dignidad as a clandestine prison and torture center, as well as a weapons manufacturing plant.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • While exploring the underground tunnels of The Colony for a way out, Daniel bursts into tears as he stumbles into the torture chamber that contains the metal bed he was chained to and the generator used to electrocute him.
    • Lena has one after Ursel is killed right after they escaped the colony.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Lena and Daniel manage to escape to the outside of the colony's walls with Ursel. Relieved, Ursel thanks them for saving her, then walks forward to lead the way back to freedom... until to be shot dead on the spot by a Booby Trap.
    • After successfully leaving the colony, Lena and Daniel go to the West German embassy in Santiago, asking for help to leave the country. The ambassador offers to drive them to the airport in a diplomatic vehicle, but it turns out to be a trap arranged with the Chilean regime and the Colony, to bring them back to Schäfer.
  • It's All My Fault: Lena blames herself for the death of Ursel and her unborn baby, feeling that they would have lived if she had not convinced Ursel to escape the colony with her and Daniel.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Within the film, neither Schäfer or Pinochet face punishment for their crimes. Schäfer was eventually convicted on molesting children and died in prison. Pinochet, however, died before he could be tried.
    • The Epilogue also states that the West German Embassy was complicit with both the Pinochet regime and the Colony, but no one who worked there was prosecuted for any wrong doing.
  • Kick the Dog: As if Schäfer wasn't bad enough for being a cult leader and fascist torturer, he's revealed to molest the young boys of his cult.
  • Lighter and Softer: It isn't obvious at first given the darkness of the movie, but some of the most disturbing elements of the real Colonia Dignidad (links with Nazism, the possible presence of Joseph Mengele in the colony, a few kidnappings of children from the local Chilean population) aren't mentioned in the film.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Daniel pretends to be mentally disabled from brain damage due to his torture so he'll be viewed as harmless and overlooked. This eventually gives him an opportunity to escape.
  • Pedophile Priest: Schäfer is the spiritual leader of the cult, and the movie has a few references of him molesting young boys in the colony:
    • When Lena arrives in the colony, she is sent to see Schäfer for confession. She sees a young boy in tears leaving Schäfer's office.
    • There's a scene with Schäfer directing a choir of young boys singing in the boys' shower room, then (while they are still singing) he joins the boys who are showering (the scene stops when he removes his shoes).
    • Ursel explicitely tells Lena Schäfer loves little boys.
    • And then, the ending tells that Schäfer has been sentenced several decades later to a long jail term for sexual abuse on children.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: In the ending, Lena and Daniel eventually manage to board an international flight whose pilot is a friend of Lena's. Santiago's airport flight control forbids the plane to take off in order to force the crew to send Lena and Daniel back to the police... The pilot takes off anyway.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Daniel is put into an ambulance, and disapeared, Lena asks his friends what the plan is to get him back. They tell her that because of his German nationality, he was probably taken to Colonia Dignidad, and wish her luck, as they will go into hiding, since the Pinochet regime is now hunting them down.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Lena sees Daniel at a men's gathering for Doro. Lena figures that getting in trouble will get Daniel to see her at her gathering. Unfortunately, Daniel attempts to escape the colony that night (though his failure happens just in time to keep the men from further beating Lena) and it only worsens her reputation to the point that she earns Schäfer's attention.
  • Slut-Shaming: as befits a conservative religious cult, it is often featured in the film.
    • When joining the cult, Lena is told by Schäfer her lace bra is immoral; later, she's told to remove her high heels because they are only worn by "whores."
    • Part of the public humiliation of Doro is being called a whore and a slut for falling in love; later, Schäfer tells her Dieter will never want her because of her immoral behaviour.
    • After Lena is found skinny-dipping, she is called a whore who polluted their waters with her immorality.
  • The Sociopath: Paul Schäfer, a cult leader who agrees to become a torturer for a dictator and molests the children of his parishioners.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Colony has several similarities to Argo. Both are based on true events, both are set in the Seventies, both start during the instauration of a new dictatorship in the country (respectively the Chilean coup d'etat of 1973 and the Iranian revolution of 1979), both are about a plan to free someone from the country, and both end with a race against the clock in an airport to flee the country on an international flight.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Doro and Dieter, as the men and women aren't allowed to see each other except at mixed parades, the two having first met (and the previous time they've seen each other) at a mixed parade three years ago. They also want to get married, which is also forbidden at the colony. They get found out, leading to Doro getting humiliated and beaten at a men's gathering, with Dieter being forced to insult her and slap her and being Forced to Watch her get beaten by the other men.
  • Super-Fun Happy Thing of Doom: "Colonia Dignidad" means "Dignity Colony".
  • Tested on Humans: Schäfer plans to test his chemical weapons on Daniel, prompting him to flee.
  • Translation Convention: Since Lena, Daniel, Schäfer, most of the Colony's members, and Lena's coworkers are German, the dialogue uses English for German. There's occasional lines in Spanish, with subtitles.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The trailer portrays the movie as a by-the-numbers period-piece romantic melodrama with the titular colony as a simple backdrop. The movie itself is a dark and realistic tale about the horrors of the colony and the main character's escape, with the romance being an afterthought (if you could call it a "romance", since the main characters are already together by the time the film starts and remain that way to the end.)
  • Would Hurt a Child: Ursel fears the child she had with a political prisoner might be killed, along with her, by the cult.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: When Lens first starts harvesting, she later asks for water. Gisela, unpleased with Lena's weakness, brings a bucket of water and sets it next to Lena. As Lena is about to drink from it, Gisela tells her off, saying that neither she or the colony have time to accommodate to Lena's every need and that if even a single drop of water is missing from that bucket, she will beat Lena. Lena leaves it be as a part of the backdrop.