When the casting for ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ was first announced, the Internet exploded with a disproportionate number of negative comments regarding race and gender. There have been excellent responses to this negativity offered by Andrew Blair at Den of Geek and Dimitra Fimi and Mariana Rios Maldonado at The Conversation, so I won’t get into that here. Instead, my initial thoughts contain a degree of displeasure for completely different reasons from those of the bigoted Internet trolls.
Pretty much no spoilers ahead…
My passion for Tolkien’s fantasy cosmos (I don’t want to use the expressions ‘world’ or ‘Middle Earth’ as they fail to encapsulate the sheer breadth of Tolkien’s mythical cosmology) runs deep. I feel invested in Tolkien’s stories, more than any other fiction oeuvre. I am not a Tolkien expert by any stretch, but I have more than an ‘armchair’ interest in his work.
We’re only two episodes in, but my primary issue is this: source material. In other words, there isn’t much use of Tolkien’s actual narrative. This is not to say that I am closed to a Tolkien-inspired production (this is how I’d label these first two episodes) and the ‘in-the-know’ references (‘Aulë’s beard!’, for instance) satisfy some of my Tolkien-nerd needs. But my biggest disappointment at this stage has to do with the fact that I find Tolkien’s body of work so rich in storytelling that I feel as if there is more than enough material with which to work without inventing new storylines and characters, especially major characters.
Looking back, there were many major differences between the source material and Peter Jackson’s The Lord of Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, but I felt as if those (yes, even the overegged Hobbit trilogy…) stayed true to most of the significant aspects of Tolkien’s narrative.
I admit that any attempt to explore Tolkien’s fantasy cosmos beyond the film series I have just mentioned is going to be more convoluted due to the fact that all of Tolkien’s other fantasy cosmos material has been published after his death and consists primarily of fragments (which include sometimes contradictory narratives due to the evolution of Tolkien’s ideas over the years).
With that expressed, I still have petty grievances. For instance, many of the major characters (and so far, to my knowledge, most of the major events) in ‘The Rings of Power’ are ‘non-canonical’ in that they are not featured in any Tolkien literature. I appreciate that the series takes place in the Second Age and I was glad to see a brief summary of some of the events at the closing of the First Age, but there are many elements which are completely foreign to Tolkien’s work. Here are but a few examples: Finrod’s death is misleading (there’s no reference to his sacrifice for Beren and somehow he bears ‘the mark of Sauron’). Additionally, while I love the focus on Galadriel, when did she lead an expedition to Forodwaith? In the literature, her invitation to Valinor came as the result of her innocence in the Kinslaying and not because Gil-galad was making some shrewd political move (though I admire the attempt to ground Gil-galad and his herald Elrond in this political mire). Also, Elrond’s early presence in Eregion and his visit to Kazad-dûm seem to me to be completely incompatible with Tolkien’s narrative (perhaps the version of the story in ‘The Rings of Power’ is an attempt to explain the beginnings of what would become the long-standing friendly relations between Eregion and Kazad-dûm – though, given the timeline in what they are trying to do with the show, probably not).
In the show, there are many establishing shots pertaining to the humans in the Southlands and the Harfoots in Rhovanion (both groups exist within Tolkien’s work, though neither are of any great significance), but I would have loved to see more of Lindon and Eregion (the only shots within these great elven realms made them feel very small and parochial, clearly within a studio). What gives?
We are in the early days of ‘The Rings of Power’, but for a Tolkien afficionado, I am left wanting, and not necessarily in a bated-breath sort of way. To be clear, I must return to my earlier comment: I have no problem with a Tolkien-inspired production, one that might not adhere to a rigid depiction of Tolkien’s cosmos (but come on, why can’t Gil-galad have silver hair?). I shall leave my moaning there for now as there are still many opportunities for my prejudices to be pacified (let’s see how Númenor is depicted) and I will be sure to watch every episode of ‘The Rings of Power’ as they are released. I am also sure I’ll be able to suspend my nerdy obsession for long enough to enjoy whatever the creators of the show—who, no doubt, are massive lovers of Tolkien—wish to share.
Note: This post in no way condones of violence, though the Gospel is necessarily violent. This post contains spoilers but given that the film was released more than three decades ago, this is not really a warning.
Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988) is the perfect Christmas film. I am not the first to make this claim (or something similar). That Die Hard is a Christmas film at all is presented by some as a tongue-in-cheek suggestion, while others argue that Die Hard is simply an action film that takes place during Christmas. The genre of ‘Christmas movie’ is full of tat that presents itself as the ‘true meaning’ or ‘spirit’ of Christmas. Rubbish. For all intents and purposes, the ideas of shared humanity, love, forgiveness, acceptance, and family are lovely and can indeed be perceived as parts of the ‘spirit of Christmas’, though none of these ideals capture the essence of Christmas in the way that only Die Hard does.
How can I claim that Die Hard is the perfect Christmas film? Please indulge me for a moment.
Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a working-class New York City police officer. His estranged wife, Holly Gennero (played by Bonnie Bedelia) has accepted her dream job working for the Nakatomi Corporation. Unfortunately for McClane, Gennero’s new position necessitates that she relocates to Los Angeles, which she does with the couple’s two children, Lucy (Taylor Fry) and John Jr (Noah Land).
As Christmas nears, Gennero waits expectantly for McClane’s arrival: this is the season of Advent, in which the Christian Church rehearses the narrative for the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. Does this seem far-fetched? Hardly. Apart from what might take place off-screen, we know that Gennero and the children are eager for McClane’s arrival, with Gennero phoning the childminder, Paulina (Betty Carvalho) to ensure that a bed is prepared in her home for McClane (as Gennero would not want the coming Son of Man to sleep in a stable, obviously).
Admittedly, at the beginning of the film, McClane’s role as the Christ is obscured. He comes from the east (NYC→LA) bearing gifts, as we see him carrying a giant teddy bear and it is reasonable to assume that he has other gifts for his children in his luggage (Matthew 2.1-2, 10-11). Therefore, at this stage, McClane represents the ‘wise men’ and he has ventured west under the light of a brilliant star (the Los Angeles sunset features prominently during the whole opening act).
McClane is collected at the airport in a limousine driven by Argyle, one who makes straight the way of the Lord (Matthew 3.3; Mark 1.2; cf. Isaiah 40.3). Soon thereafter, he arrives at Nakatomi Plaza, an under-construction skyscraper in the Century City district of Los Angeles. Here we can see the role of ‘wise men from the East’ shift to another character. The limousine is provided by Gennero’s boss, Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi (James Shigeta), who was born in Kyoto, Japan (most assuredly the ‘East’) and emigrated with his family to the United States in infancy. At Nakatomi Plaza, McClane prepares reluctantly to join a corporate Christmas party. It is at this point that a group of men, led by West German terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) infiltrates and locks down the building. McClane, who is getting ready for the party in an office, hears gunfire and the panic of party guests. At this stage, he, in his vest and bare feet, withdraws to assess the situation (Matthew 2.13-15).
McClane does his best to alert other authorities to the plight of those in Nakatomi Plaza, first by triggering a fire alarm (which is detected and deactivated by the terrorists) and then by reaching out to the police, using an emergency frequency on a radio he commandeered from a fallen terrorist. McClane’s plea is not taken seriously by the authorities, but a police officer, Sgt Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) is called to investigate. Powell does not perceive anything suspicious and is about to depart when McClane gets his attention by throwing the lifeless corpse of one of the fallen terrorists onto the bonnet of Powell’s squad car. Knowing that they have been discovered, the terrorists shower Powell’s car with bullets as he retreats, calling for backup.
Eventually, McClane gets in touch with Powell on his radio. Powell hears McClane’s message and sets himself under McClane’s tutelage. Powell represents all that have ‘ears to hear’ (Mark 4.23; Luke 8.8). Later, Powell also reports that McClane has garnered many more disciples among the police (this being a direct result of Powell’s sharing of the Gospel of John McClane, i.e., evangelism; see 2 Corinthians 5.20).
In contrast to the reception he receives from Powell and his other disciples, the authorities oppose McClane, who see his message as a threat to their own perceived authority. The first authority to oppose McClane is LAPD Deputy Chief, Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason). When first speaking with Powell, Robinson seeks to erode Powell’s confidence in McClane, suggesting that McClane may be one of the terrorists. In a similar way, the religious authorities in first-century Palestine sought to undermine Jesus’ authority by suggesting to the people that Jesus was an enemy of their religion (for example, see Matthew 12.22-24). Powell insists that McClane’s words are those of an ally (see Matthew 12.33-37). In response, Robinson exclaims, ‘Jesus Christ, Powell!’ Jesus Christ, indeed.
When Robinson is able to speak with McClane directly, he declares, ‘We do not want your help.’ In response, McClane tells Robinson that ‘if [he is] not part of the solution, [he is] part of the problem’, a phrase that may be the converse of Jesus’ words ‘whoever is not against you is for you’ (Mark 9.40; Luke 9.50).
Throughout the opposition McClane faces from authorities, Powell shows consistent commitment to his Teacher. At one point, Powell professes his love for McClane, calling back to Peter telling Jesus that he loves him (John 21.15-17). Due to his great faith in and commitment to McClane, Powell is told by his superior:
Robinson ‘You listen to me, sergeant: any time you wanna go home, you consider yourself dismissed.’
Powell ‘No sir: you couldn’t drag me away.’
Powell is a constant advocate for McClane among the authorities. When Agents Johnson and Johnson (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush) of the FBI arrive to ‘take over’, Powell insists that McClane has been their guiding light throughout the whole hostage fiasco.
The opposition that McClane faces is not bound to the civic authorities, but also to anyone who seeks power. Enter Hans Gruber, whose guise as ‘terrorist mastermind’ is a cover for the attempted theft of $600m in bearer bonds from the Nakatomi Corporation. Gruber represents Death, the Enemy, or—if you are of that theological persuasion—the Devil. Throughout the film, we witness the death of several people, including two Nakatomi security guards and whoever was in the exploded LAPD SWAT van. These deaths were executed under the direct orders of Gruber. The two personal murders witnessed in the film—the first being that of Takagi and later, coke-snorting, sleazy Judas, Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner)—are at the hands (or pistol) of Hans Gruber. McClane is pursued doggedly by Gruber and his thugs (akin to the actions of King Herod when visited by the wise men). When realising that he and his second-in-command, Karl (Alexander Godunov) have got the bare-foot McClane cornered in an office, Gruber orders Karl to shoot out the glass windows so that McClane will have to cross the broken glass to escape.
While McClane had been battered relentlessly throughout the ordeal, this part of the film showcases the ‘Suffering of John’ or ‘John of Sorrows’ motif.
Perhaps a protest will be raised that while Die Hard is a masterful retelling of the life of Christ, it is not about Christmas. I defer to the countless Renaissance depictions of both the Nativity and of the Virgin and Child. Many of these depictions convey the breadth of the Gospel story, such as the appearance of Crucifixes (see Lorenzo Lotto’s 1523 depiction of the Nativity, for instance) or certain foliage representing the passion (Hugo van der Goes’ 1475 altarpiece for Tommaso Portinari features white and purple irises that allude to the Passion and three red carnations that allude to the three nails of the Crucifixion). One would be hard-pressed to deny the suitability of these depictions for reflection at Christmastime. Similarly, as Die Hard presents a broad Gospel narrative, this combined with its unmistakably Christmas context qualifies it as a Christmas film.
As the film enters its closing act, we discover that Gruber intends on killing all the hostages with C4 plastic explosive. He does this under his ruse of being a ‘freedom fighter’ and requests a helicopter to airlift his crew and the hostages to the airport. Once the hostages and the helicopter are destroyed on the roof, he believes that he will be presumed dead, thus making an easier escape with his bounty of bearer bonds in a van with Los Angeles City Fire Department markings. McClane is wise to Gruber’s plan and fights his way to the roof to clear the hostages from the helipad. Here, he puts himself in between the hostages and the FBI authorities (who have arrived in gunships to kill the terrorists instead of flying them to the airport). McClane’s actions saved the lives of all hostages, while the scheming FBI agents (who expressed contentment with the prospect of losing up to 25% of the hostages) met their end in the subsequent explosion.
This putting of himself in between the people and their enemies demonstrates just one of many ways that John McClane is the Christ-figure of Die Hard. In 1 Corinthians 15, St Paul enlightens us to the all-encompassing work of Christ, in particular, the work of Christ that culminates in the Crucifixion and Resurrection:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’… When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.
It is through McClane that the remaining attendees of the Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza were ‘made [or rather, kept] alive’. He destroyed ‘every ruler and every authority and power’ when he disposed of Hans Gruber’s henchmen one-by-one. Then, the ‘last enemy to be destroyed is death.’
Shirtless, shoe-less and wounded severely, John McClane’s steadfast commitment to his calling brought salvation to many. What is Die hard if not the Christmas story?
It is valuable to acknowledge the Virgin Mary in any Christmas narrative. I am not suggesting that Gennero is Mary, but that the empowerment of women is at the very heart of the Gospel. Gennero is not some helpless maiden throughout Die Hard. She attempts to keep Takagi out of harm’s way when Gruber is trying to find him in the crowd of partygoers. She shows courage and solidarity at every step. There is, of course, a share of sexism in Die Hard (though I would argue that John’s disappointment in Holly dropping the ‘McClane’ surname is more to do with his pain at the breakup of their marriage, rather than a patriarchal hold on her life), but Gennero’s independence and empowerment is demonstrated further by one of the last scenes in the film. When she and McClane are approached by the unscrupulous reporter Richard Thornburg (William Atherton), she makes sure to give him a ‘piece of her mind’ for his despicable violation of the family’s privacy.
(It is also worth noting that Peter Venkman [Bill Murray] confirmed that Thornburg—in his previous career as an EPA investigator going by the name Walter Peck—‘has no penis’.)
This article was originally published in the February 2013 newsletter for Govan & Linthouse Parish Church, Glasgow.
Last week I had the opportunity to go to a screening of the latest Quentin Tarantino film, Django Unchained. If you’ve never seen a Tarantino film, they are known for their excessive violence, brutality and coarse language. Django Unchained is no different. I’m not suggesting you see the film, that is, unless you’re willing to endure 165 minutes of brutality (but it’s brutality with a point). If you are planning on seeing the film, I warn you that this article will contain some spoilers.
The film is made out to be a western epic. It takes place in the pre-Civil War (antebellum) United States. The main protagonists are Dr King Schultz (played by Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz), a German immigrant and former dentist who works as a bounty hunter, collecting rewards for the bodies of federal outlaws, and Django (played by another Academy Award winner, Jamie Foxx), a black enslaved person who has been separated from his wife, another slaved person called Broomhilda (played by Kerry Washington). Schultz first ‘unchains’ Django as he is being transported by slave drivers through Texas. Previously, Django had been enslaved on a plantation where three murderous outlaws, the Brittle Brothers, had worked as farmhands. Schultz wishes for Django to assist him in identifying the Brittle Brothers so that he may collect the reward for their bodies. Schultz, who throughout the film demonstrates his utter distaste for the institution of slavery, offers Django his freedom, $75 and a horse in exchange for his assistance (and feels awful for not simply giving Django his freedom straight away). After the slaying of the Brittle Brothers, Schultz asks Django, who demonstrates great skill in the ‘art’ of bounty hunting, if he would join him as his business partner for the winter and Django accepts his proposition. Django reveals that once he is finished with their winter’s work, he is going to try to find his wife and rescue her from slavery. Schultz, who has developed a very close friendship with Django, insists that he helps Django, as they discover that Broomhilda is enslaved on a large plantation outside of Greenville, Mississippi, a particularly dangerous part of the States for a black man, free or not.
After the winter they come up with and carry out a complicated plan to reunite Django and his beloved Broomhilda. But after their plan is uncovered, Schultz and Django are given an ultimatum: either they pay the exorbitant amount of $12,000 to purchase Broomhilda or she will be killed by her owner, the ruthless and bigoted plantation owner, Calvin Candie (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). After they comply, Candie proposes that the transaction is not official until Schultz shakes his hand. Schultz, who has been having flashbacks of an event during which Candie ordered a runaway enslaved person to be torn apart by dogs, refuses to shake hands. This is the point in the film which I believe carries the most moral weight. As we, the audience, have been battered with the injustice and brutality of racism and the institution of slavery throughout the film, we feel something of that same moral weight. Ultimately, Schultz’ refusal ends up costing him his life.
The film continues from there, but it’s at this point that I want to ask a question: what does Django Unchained have to teach Christians? Our two main protagonists exhibit many Christ-like qualities throughout the film, but the one which I think is most profound, as a result of the build-up of the film, is Schultz refusal. On principle, Schultz sees shaking Candie’s hand as some sort of approval of Candie, his vicious treatment of enslaved people and the whole of institutionalised racism that still, even in the age of a black President, finds expression in some parts of American culture. Although some Americans, particularly the Quakers in the North, were opposed to slavery during the first half of the 19th century, the institution was still regarded as rather normal for most Americans. Still, Schultz refuses to betray his strong sense of justice, even a sense of justice perhaps rather clouded by his recent career as a bounty hunter. He demonstrates this passion in his last great speech immediately preceding his refusal to shake Candie’s hand. After completing the paperwork for Broomhilda, Candie offers Schultz some rhubarb pie, but Schultz declines.
Candie‘Are you brooding ‘bout me getting the best of ya?’
Schultz ‘Actually, I was thinking of that poor devil you fed to the dogs today, D’Artagnan. And I was wondering what Dumas would make of all this.’
Schultz ‘Alexander Dumas. He wrote The Three Musketeers. I figured you must be an admirer. You named your slave after that novel’s lead character. If Alexander Dumas had been there today, I wonder what he would of made of it?’
Candie ‘You doubt he’d approve?’
Schultz ‘Yes, his approval would be a dubious proposition at best.’
Candie ‘Soft hearted Frenchy?’
Schultz ‘Alexander Dumas is black.’
The weight of the tone of the speech can only be captured if you see the film, but written out here, we can see that Schultz is able to undermine Candie’s ignorant racism with his poignant and authoritative presentation. Candie, a self-professed Francophile who, although he does not know the language, insists on being called Monsieur Candie, is left stunned and confused.
Schultz’ words here remind me of the parables of Christ. Taking something trivial such as the raw materials of everyday life and turning it on its head in order to shift the worldview of his listeners toward that of the truths and values of the kingdom of God. Unfortunately, Candie did not have ‘ears to hear’ the truth that Schultz uttered. Do we?
Of course, our context is quite different. The context of slavery-era Southern United States is a far cry from present day Govan and Linthouse. I’ll even say that we live in a fortunate part of Scotland with a long heritage of fighting for social justice. But have we grown complacent? Perhaps we don’t have enslaved people in our context (at least not in the manner in which people were enslaved in the United States in the past), but throughout our congregation and parish there are new battles to be fought. Among others, the people who suffer in poverty, the people who struggle with addiction, the people who have immigrated from other countries, the people who seek asylum – they all suffer under various institutions of injustice here. Maybe we’re responsible for some of that with our behaviour. In Django Unchained, white people are appalled at the scandal of a black man on a horse. I’ve heard people express their shock about the scandal of a recent immigrant with a bankcard or a mobile phone.
No matter how much we try—and we do try—justice is not the way of Scotland, the United Kingdom or any other nation. Nations are made up of all kinds of people with very different ideals, some of which propagate institutionalised oppression. In reality, the Church looks very much the same, and while I am grateful to God that the Church of Scotland and that Govan and Linthouse Parish Church are very much composed of a diverse body of people, I think we can unite in discipleship under the leadership of one man, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The words found within our Gospel readings for the month of February have a great deal to teach us about the way that being a Christian turns the institutions of this world on its head:
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh…
‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Luke 6:17-21, 27-31
As Christians, it is our daily challenge, not just in the month of February, but for the rest of our lives, to seek the values of the kingdom of God. And we are not called to do this simply because we are good people or we think we will get a box of treasure in the future. We are called to love because God loves this world. God desires that we ‘unchain’ the world from oppression — what an unworthy honour for us!
May we be inspired by the love and grace of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the works of the kingdom and fight with great conviction, as Dr King Schultz fought, the injustices in our community and beyond its boundaries. It’s no simple task, but maybe we could keep each other accountable. Next time you see me, I’d appreciate it if you reminded me to be more like Jesus and Dr King Schultz.
Last night I had the pleasure of viewing Tony Kaye’s third and most recent ‘talkie’, Detachment. The film was shot beautifully and acted brilliantly, and for those qualities alone it is worth seeing. But the content is yet more intriguing. Detachment follows a few weeks in the life of a substitute teacher Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody) as he takes up a temporary post at a New York state school in decline. But the film could take place in any school. In the New York Timesreview of the film from 15 March 2012, the film is ‘about the failing public-education system [in the United States].’ I would agree with this claim in part – yes, prominent in the film is this portrayal of the dysfunctional education system. But it’s so much more than that. I’d argue that the entirety of the film represents a microcosm of society at large.
This isn’t me dropping a shameful reference to my doctoral research, but I think a strong case could be made that Detachment is actually a parable. By this I mean that the film is using the raw material of every day life to tell a bigger, more disturbing yet more hopeful story. Just as Christ told parables the audience in the Gospels, the film is tied together by a loose narration from our Henry Barthes, with close-ups of his unkept face in a dark room (perhaps during a counselling session). We’ve got representatives from various levels of society and various levels of engagement with and detachment from their current situations. At the very heart of this parable is not ‘education’, for education is merely an outflowing of the deeper social illness. The parable takes society back to the most basic social framework, a framework we all encounter by virtue of being born – family.
To quote the oft-quoted Larkin poem, ‘This Be The Verse’, They fuck you up, your mum and dad. Most of the great conflicts in the film are rooted in family and parenting, just to name a few:
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW, SKIP TO THE NEXT SECTION TO AVOID THEM
a girl is expelled from the school after she threatened and spat upon Ms Madison (Christian Hendricks) and her similarly-tempered mother storms into the school hurling yet more abuse at the harmless Ms Madison.
Mr Wiatt (Tim Blake Nelson) takes up an odd stance at a school fence every afternoon hoping to be noticed by anyone as a result of being ignored constantly by his family members when he returns home from work every day.
Meredith (Betty Kaye, daughter of the director) is discouraged in her artistic endeavours and told that she ought to lose weight and conform to social norms by her father and ultimately decides to kill herself as a result of her extreme sense of rejection and isolation.
Erica’s (Sami Gayle) lifestyle as a teenage prostitute and her great distress when she is removed from Henry’s care by social workers.
During ‘parents’ night’ at the high school, virtually no parents show up, demonstrating a lack of both the parents’ concern for their children’s education and appreciation of the teachers.
And ultimately, Henry’s sense of detachment from being abandoned by his father as a toddler, losing his mother to a lethal combination of drugs and alcohol when he was a small child and caring for his dementia-stricken grandfather, whose abuse of Henry’s mother led to her substance abuse.
END OF SPOILERS
Like a parable, the characters are universal (as opposed to cliché) in order to open the eyes and ears of the audience to the deeper level of meaning. In addition to his ‘counselling session’ narrative, at different points in the film Henry also tells the audience (by way of telling his students) the root of these social ills, calling on his students to avoid the ‘ubiquitous assimilation’ of oppressive values being shoved down their throats by a constant barrage of bull shit that has not only broken into media and culture, but has also infiltrated the very fabric of their family lives.
During the opening sequence we are given a quotation from Camus’ The Stranger, concluding with ‘And never have I felt so deeply at one and the same time so detached from myself and so present in the world.’ Throughout the film Henry is challenged to break down his wall of ‘compassionate detachment’. The blurb from the official website states, ‘Kaye has molded a contemporary vision of people who become increasingly distant from others while still feeling the need to connect.’ Does that wall ever break down? Well, I’m not going to include any more spoilers – you should see it for yourself.
The aforementioned New York Times review concludes with, ‘Is it really this bad? Or is “Detachment” a flashy educational horror movie masquerading as nightmarish reality?’ No, it’s not really this bad – it’s worse. As I mentioned before, I believe that the film is using the façade of the educational system (severely broken as a result of the deeper problem) to tell a bigger, more disturbing yet more hopeful story. In a recent Guardian interview, Kaye states, ‘We live, we go through these realms, we learn, we figure out where we went wrong. That’s what living is.’ Detachment won’t be tearing down the power structures built up in our society to control, but perhaps it can help inspire us to fight harder with all that we have in hopes that we might chip away at the foundations of such oppression.
Last spring it was revealed that one of my favourite directors, Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood) was trying to pitch a new film to a studio. In December of 2009, Variety reported on the new film, possibly dubbed The Master, with the outstanding Philip Seymour Hoffman set to star. A synopsis of the script was published by The Playlist last February:
‘The Master’ is the story of a charismatic intellectual … who hatches a faith-based organization that begins to catch on in America in 1952 called The Cause. The core dynamic centers on the relationship between The Master and Freddie Sutton, … an aimless twenty-something drifter and alcoholic who eventually becomes the leader’s loyal lieutenant. As the faith begins to gain a fervent following, Freddie finds himself questioning the belief system he has embraced, and his mentor.
Anderson is a gifted filmmaker and storyteller. I’m certain that The Master, or whatever it will be called, will be an excellent film – he just doesn’t make bad films. I suppose that’s why it’s so shocking that he’s gone through such an ordeal to find a studio to back this latest project. It’s easy to point the finger at the heavily-caricatured Church of Scientology, but in my reflections I’m not so sure that’s fair.
I’ve spent a significant amount of time investigating Scientology for someone who has never considered taking up the belief system. Growing up in and around Los Angeles, Scientology was always something ‘close to home’. In the last few years, Scientology has been the target of a significant amount of slander. I suspect that this can be attributed largely to the erratic behaviour of one of their most outspoken members. I’ve read a lot of Scientological literature (Dianetics, What is Scientology?, Scientology 0-8, etc.) and have learned a lot of Scientological terminology (‘Thetan’, ‘Clear’, an ‘OT’ = ‘Operating Thetan’, ‘KSW’ = ‘Keep Scientology Working’, ‘LRH’ = ‘L. Ron Hubbard’, an ‘SP’ = ‘Suppressive Person’, ‘Tech’, ‘In-Ethics’, ‘Out-Ethics’, ‘Orgs’, etc.). I’ve heard many people criticise Scientology for its ‘outlandish’ beliefs, such as the fundamental belief concerning human origins (called ‘Incident II’): that the dictator of the ‘Galactic Confederacy’, a being named Xenu brought billions of beings to Earth and killed them with hydrogen bombs, though leaving their essences to inhabit bodies that are now people, etc…
That bit does seem like a lot to stomach—and I know that the orthodox Christian claims concerning such as the existence of a personal deity, the virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Jesus, could be just as alienating—but Scientological ‘cosmology’ is not my primary reason for rejecting Scientology. The Church of Scientology’s Creed, written by L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, states:
We of the Church believe
That all men of whatever race, color or creed were created with equal rights.
That all men have inalienable rights to their own religious practices and their performance.
That all men have inalienable rights to their own lives.
That all men have inalienable rights to their sanity.
That all men have inalienable rights to their own defense.
That all men have inalienable rights to conceive, choose, assist or support their own organizations, churches and governments.
That all men have inalienable rights to think freely, to talk freely, to write freely their own opinions and to counter or utter or write upon the opinions of others.
That all men have inalienable rights to the creation of their own kind.
That the souls of men have the rights of men.
That the study of the Mind and the healing of mentally caused ills should not be alienated from religion or condoned in nonreligious fields.
And that no agency less than God has the power to suspend or set aside these rights, overtly or covertly.
And we of the Church believe
That Man is basically good.
That he is seeking to Survive.
That his survival depends upon himself and upon his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the Universe.
And we of the Church believe that the laws of God forbid Man
To destroy his own kind.
To destroy the sanity of another.
To destroy or enslave another’s soul.
To destroy or reduce the survival of one’s companions or one’s group.
And we of the Church believe
That the spirit can be saved.
And that the spirit alone may save or heal the body.
Perhaps you read this creed and find no fault. Perhaps you read this creed and see a bunch of convoluted and meaningless language. When I read this creed something else jumps out at me. At the very centre of Scientological belief is the view that a person is a spirit, a thetan. According to their website, and one of their more prominent evangelical campaigns in the last few years, the heart of Scientology lies in an answer to the question, ‘Is Man a spirit?’ The official website states,
Yes. A short exercise can quickly answer this for anyone: Ask someone to close their eyes and get a picture of a cat, and they will get a mental image picture of a cat. Ask them who is looking at the picture of the cat and they will respond ‘I am.’ That which is looking at the cat is you, a spirit. One is a spirit, who has a mind and occupies a body. You are you in a body.
First there is the body itself. The body is the organized physical composition or substance of Man, whether living or dead. It is not the being himself.
Next, there is the mind, which consists essentially of pictures.
Finally, and most importantly, there is the thetan. The thetan is not a thing. It is the creator of things.
Of the three parts of Man, the thetan is, obviously, most important. Without the thetan, there would be no mind or animation in the body. While without a body or a mind, there is still animation and life in the thetan.
The goal of a Scientologist is to become an OT, an ‘Operating Thetan’, defined by the Church of Scientology as ‘a spiritual state of being above Clear.’ It continues, ‘By Operating is meant “able to act and handle things” and by Thetan is meant “the spiritual being that is the basic self.” An Operating Thetan, then, is one who can handle things without having to use a body of physical means.’
In order to achieve this OT state, a Scientologist much engage in a series of ‘gradient steps, each one slightly more advanced than the last and each with its own ability gained.’ The website continues, ‘At the level of OT, Scientologists study the very advanced materials of L. Ron Hubbard’s research. According to those who have achieved OT, the spiritual benefits obtained surpass description.’
I want to make clear that this is not an attempt to set up a ‘straw man’ version of Scientology. I could commit many different philosophical fallacies trying to incite hatred of the Church of Scientology, like rumours about conspiracies and brainwashing or the odd lifestyles of the late L. Ron Hubbard or Tom Cruise, none of which demonstrate the validity or invalidity of the belief system itself. I could also argue that the language employed in these statements is convoluted and meaningless. But what I am sharing here are things directly from the Church of Scientology’s official website, in the sections that are meant to evangelise to non-Scientologists. It has been my aim to briefly and accurately express some core beliefs of the Church of Scientology. At this point I hope to highlight a fundamental disagreement between Christian orthodoxy and Scientological belief, ultimately illustrating why I, as a Christian, am not a Scientologist.
From very early on, the resurrection of the body has been a fundamental tenet of Christian orthodoxy. In the Creed of Marcellus (a precursor to The Apostles’ Creed) from 340 it is written, ‘I… And [I believe] in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body [σαρκός], life everlasting.’
The need for these sorts of credal affirmations of the physical body arose from a very early Christian heresy that is labelled ‘gnosticism’. Within a very simplified gnostic worldview we find the idea that there is an fundamental antagonism between God and the material world (dualism). The soul is trapped in this material world and through certain esoteric knowledge the soul can find a way of escape. From what I have gathered, the Scientological belief system very closely resembles a type of gnosticism. But in light of their understanding of the resurrection of Christ, early Christians, like the second-century Ante-Nicene Father St Irenaeus, condemned such views. Indeed, when ‘the resurrection of the body’ is mentioned in early Christian sources the phrase does not mean that Christ (as the ‘first fruits’ of the resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15:23) has risen from the dead figuratively or spiritually. Contrary to the claims of critics like John Dominic Crossan (a hero of mine, genuinely) and his ‘Jesus Seminar’, what makes the claim of the resurrection in the first-century Jewish context so problematic is that it only ever refers to a physical, bodily, literal raising from the dead.
Whether or not one accepts that Jesus rose from the dead in this way, the early Christian Church held this view and when we say in the creeds, ‘He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose on the third day…’ we mean just that. While St Paul condemns ‘sin in the flesh’ (ἐν τῇ σαρκί) in Romans 8, he is not condemning the body, but the sinfulness over which Christ has triumphed. This is the key to the validity of the Christian faith. It is both our present and future hope. Part of the beauty of this hope is that it restores value and dignity to the creation, the physical creation, that God has created. The Christian faith is not some collection of data that prepares our souls for a rescue from our bodily prisons, but it is a submission to the reality that God has begun to rescue and will fully rescue this physical world from its corruption and decay.
In this way we are invited to throw ourselves into the rushing stream of God’s kingdom. We are asked to take part in God’s story through loving others as we have been loved by God. We do not fight the oppression of the physical world. Instead, we declare that this physical world has been redeemed by Christ and demonstrate that redemption through God’s working in our lives; caring for those who have been mistreated; being a beacon of peace in the midst of ongoing conflict; standing up for the dignity all people, regardless of nationality, race, age, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. We are to be constantly challenging the way that those with power (including those within our own large-and-small-scale ecclesiastical institutions) exercise their oppressive authority over the powerless. God has come in a body through the incarnation, Jesus met the holistic needs of people during his ministry and in the death and resurrection of Christ God has exclaimed ‘I have redeemed the whole person, not merely their soul and not merely their body!’
In Scientological literature we are presented with this: ‘A Scientologist can be defined by a single question: Would you want others to achieve the knowledge you now have?’ In the Christian faith a similar question might be worded in this [admittedly cumbersome] way: ‘Would you want others to receive the present and future, holistic hope that you now have?’
Oscars are on Sunday. Some good films will be celebrated, some so-so films will get awards–sadly, the best film of the year (Fantastic Mr. Fox) will walk away empty-pawed (though you must check out this terrifically funny animated acceptance speech made by Mr. Anderson).
However, an online group affiliated with the thoughtful religious-y journal IMAGE (who once bastardly REJECTED a story I sent in!) just released their collaboratively determined top 100 films, somehow relating to Arts & Faith (not crystal clear on the criteria…).
One of the crafters of A & F 100, Jeffrey Overstreet, a film critic/novelist whom I had the chance to grab a meal with once upon a time, wrote a bit about the list in anticipation of questions raised by the list–here’s one response I liked quite a bit:
Question #6: Is it just me, or do most of these films look like hard work?
The Arts and Faith Top 100 are not favored for their difficulty. They are honored for their excellence, their beauty, their capacity to inspire us to become more fully human.
Each movie on this list explores fundamental and provocative spiritual questions. Questions that challenge us to grow in understanding. Questions that cultivate community through the experience of bracing conversations. Questions that kindle our deepest longings for all that is sacred and good.
In other words, yes—some of these films require serious work on the part of the viewer. But they are full of rewards for those who give them a chance.
The Arts and Faith Top 100 Films will arrest you with their vividness and strangeness. They are full of beauty and mystery. And unlike what is commonly categorized as “Christian art,” they will leave audiences with some doubt as to their precise application. They tease the mind into thought and reflection—again and again and again.
I agree wholeheartedly with his point & lament it at the same time. As a culture, we’ve been raised on a steady diet of candy art, making these cinematic banquets taste bitter to our palates. I’d love to encourage us all to line up a number of these films on the ole Netflix queue, yet at the same time, I feel MY OWN resistance to sitting down to 3+ hours of static camerawork, silence on the soundtrack, and characterizations that feel incredibly ripe for satire (ahh, the pretension!).
Let me then suggest two things:
1. My own recommendations from this list. I love the following films enough to own them–I will gladly loan them to you and am also willing to sit down and watch/discuss them together (if you live in a 20 mile radius of La Mirada, CA).
#2 The Decalogue (it’s about 10 hours long, in Polish–one short film per commandment, but they are not really interconnected so you can dip your toe in with a few films, maybe I, VI, or X)
#3 Babette’s Feast (Danish, Oscar winner, slow but beautiful story of the lavishness of grace)
#8 Andrei Rublev (Russian, B/W, slow as hades, but lovely as Abraham’s bosom)
#12 Wings of Desire (German, my favorite film of all time! Just got a new Criterion edition too)
#15 Three Colors Trilogy (Polish/French, you should watch all 3 and tell me which you connected with the most)
#30 Stalker (Russian, MOLASSES SLOW, but deep as can be, haunting, beautiful)
#36 Days of Heaven (American, pretty accessible…amazing cinematography)
#51 The Spirit of the Beehive (Spanish, so sweet & profound & memorable)
#56 Ponette (French, on my personal top 10, unbelievable performance from a 4 year old)
#65 After Life (Japanese film about dead people picking one memory to live in forever)
#90 Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher (I didn’t actually LOVE this documentary–it’s a bit amateur–but the STORY is so worth exploring)
#96 The New World (American, I have the extended director’s cut–so powerful!)
2. Please challenge ME to take on one of these based on your recommendation…I need to keep my tastes from atrophying due to my consumption of the “frivolity-industrial complex” produced films that are playing in my local excuse for a cinema.
With our great affection for lists, perhaps someday we’ll have a “Lost In the Cloud Top 100″…until then, enjoy these selections!
The end of the decade has resulted in a number of best of the decade lists. We’ve kind of OD’d on bestoflists here already, but Elijah and I wanted to throw in our votes for those works of culture from the 2000’s WE think will/should stand the test of time.
I feel somewhat presumptuous putting this out there, as if my vote actually mattered, but what I have found is that my friends, acquaintances, and YOU dear reader, often find your interest piqued by something that has been declared “the best.” I know that some of Elijah’s musical selections caused me to listen to albums I had not heeded before…so perhaps you may find something here that causes you to want to experience, reconsider or even maybe avoid (?) the following creative endeavors. Hope you enjoy…see you next decade!
I give you these 10 suggestions (from the 35 films I saw this year) to consider as eminently watchable and deeply worthwhile cultural experiences…
10. The Road: It was bleak and heart-wrenching and so difficult to watch…but it was unflinchingly truthful and often had a kind of tarnished beauty. An amazing film that I never want to see again.
9. (500) Days of Summer: I think I was dead center in the sights of this film’s demographic appeal. Indie soundtrack (& Smiths shout out to boot!), check. Ernestly romantic guy, check. Lack of ambition as virtue, check. Creative, non-linear, brain-teasing narrative structure, check. By all accounts, a non-conformist, iconoclastic, incredulous contrarian such as myself should have seen right through this. But I ate it up.
8. District 9: The Office with aliens. Original and touching beyond all expectation.
7. Avatar: Utterly predictable storytelling, but I was almost literally transported into the world of Pandora (course, I DID see it in IMAX 3-D, which made this almost a given). The mythic instinct come to life…
6. Adventureland: This film tapped into something pretty nostalgic for me, but it also is an amazingly honest portrait of summertime post-teenage angst in low-pay limbo. Performances from main & minor actors hit me in the melancholy bone…and the songs made me shudder with recollection of an adolescence lived to that soundtrack (ROCK ME, AMADEUS!).
5. Up in the Air: My only criticism of this very fine and relevant dramatic comedy is in the casting of non-leads: actual unemployed people as the victims of redundancy came off as schlocky & the hip actors (Zach Galifianakis, Danny McBride, Jason Bateman) in minor roles felt distracting (see The Invention of Lying for the most egregious use of this type of “pack casting”—i.e. “if I show up in your movie, that lets everyone know I’m in your crew”)
4. Up: I did not want to like this in order to resist the Pixarification of my soul, but alas my brain is fully washed and my heart is clay in the hands of these masters. I saw it once with my wife & once with my kids. So great & unforeseeably ingenious.
2. Where the Wild Things Are: Never was a fan of the book…creeped me out. Didn’t particularly want to like the movie, though I am a fan of Jonze & Eggars. But after viewing, I could not get it out of my thoughts for days. I feel like I lived that film somehow. Moved me in profound ways on many different levels. It will gain the recognition it deserved someday…
And in FIRST PLACE:
1. Fantastic Mr. Fox: The dialogue, the look, the details, the heart, the growling, the outfits, the voices, the humor, the pacing, the panache, the feel, the stillness, the child-likeness, the tears, the speeches, the GENIUS. I will see this film many times more before I die…
Note: It’s fascinating to me to see THREE (ostensibly) children’s films at the top of this list. Regression? Longing for a care free world? Return to innocence? My only response is to ask what the cross is between an elephant and a rhino.
Honorable mentions: I Love You Man, Watchmen (the credit sequence alone was among the best looking cinema this year), Star Trek. ADDITION: Zombieland !
Wish I could have seen: The Hurt Locker, Bright Star, Moon, A Serious Man, In the Loop, It Might Get Loud, The Informant!, The White Ribbon, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Thirst.
Biggest disappointments (and my respective “microview”—aka review with minimal words involving some sort of pun on the title):
The Brothers Bloom – The Brothers Wilt
Away We Go – Eww, Go Away
The Invention of Lying – The Venting of Denying
Ponyo – Panyo
Not as bad as everyone said it was:The Box(from Richard Kelly, writer/director of Donnie Darko): which had some genuinely creepy, intriguing and touching moments, solid performances, lovely sense of time/place, before it crapped out. And a score from (pretty much) The Arcade Fire!
This post, in partial attempt to push my last post under the radar, is more in my line of pseudo-expertise and at least non-inflammatory interest…
On 6 August 2009 Elliott Smith would have turned 40 years old. Instead, on 21 October 2009 we grieve six years without him. Readers may or may not know who Elliott Smith was (or is), but if you’ve heard the film soundtracks for either Good Will Hunting,Hurricane Streets, American Beauty, Keeping the Faith, Antitrust (sadly),The Royal Tenenbaums,Thumbsucker, Georgia Rule (unfortunately),The Go-Getter, orParanoid Park, or if you’ve played through Guitar Hero 5, you’ve been exposed to at least a portion of his work. If you’ve not heard any of that, maybe you saw the 70th Academy Awards (1998) and caught his performance “Miss Misery,” which was nominated for best original song (losing to James Horner and Will Jennings for “My Heart Will Go On,” from the film Titanic). Though he never experienced a great degree of commercial success, Elliott Smith has left a legacy of what I believe are some of the best pop/folk songs ever written.
Elliott Smith’s singing voice can be characterized as a tenor-whisper (which is also doubled in most tracks – Elliott is among the finest/if not the finest doubling singers I’ve ever heard). When I first heard his unique voice I didn’t know what to expect regarding his looks. The first time you see a picture of Elliott after hearing his voice you might ask yourself, “Really?” Yet when you see a live performance (something now only possible through video recordings) the deep honesty of his voice is a perfect complement to the deep honesty of his weathered face.
Lyrically Elliott is typically rather dark, which typically leaves his listeners ultimately unsurprised (though devastated) when they learn of his suicide. His lyrics often feature the themes of existential despair, love (or the absence of such) and the looming prospect of taking one’s own life (“Instruments shine on a silver tray | Don’t let me get carried away | Don’t let me get carried away | Don’t let me be carried away” – last lines on From a Basement on the Hill‘s ‘King’s Crossing’, one of the last songs he ever wrote).
But contrary to accusations I’ve often heard against it, Elliott’s music is not a tool for thrusting oneself into despair. I cannot precisely explain the emotional quality that draws me into Elliott Smith’s music, but it is not one that is dismal so much as it is honest. When I listen to Elliott Smith I find an advocate, a counselor, one not above the darkness, but in its midst. Like the Psalmist, Elliott cries out for me when I have no words. And that is what gives Elliott the edge in my musical library: he is so substantive and of this earth. His passions, his pains, his loves, his hates, his strengths, and his weaknesses are all laid out with the utmost artistic integrity. I truly believe every word that comes from his mouth, or at least I believe that he believes what he is singing.
If you’re looking for shallow comfort listen to The Beach Boys’ ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice’, one of my favourite pop songs of all time. But if you want to experience someone’s heart laid out before you and if you want to taste both the sweetness and bitterness of a true artist, give Elliott Smith a listen, a long intentional listen.
Elliott Smith Full-Length Releases
Let me first say that I consider every Elliott Smith album an excellent album, and I don’t award such praise lightly (at least I don’t think I do…).
From 1991 to 1996 Elliott sang/played guitar in the alternative rock band Heatmiser. While in the band he began his solo career, resulting in 1994’s Roman Candle, nine tracks (the last one instrumental) that Elliott had not actually intended on releasing in album form. With this in mind, Roman Candle is much less cohesive than Elliott’s later releases, but still showcases his exceptional musical/writing ability, as well as the signature lo-fi production that characterizes most of his music.
Elliott released his self-titled album in 1995, like Roman Candle, while still in Heatmiser. This album includes the track, “Needle in the Hay,” featured in the film The Royal Tenenbaums.
Either/Or, released in 1997, follows in the same vein as Elliott’s first two releases. The title comes from Søren Kierkegaard’s book, Enten ‒ Eller. Several songs from this album were used in the film Good Will Hunting (though “Miss Misery,” the song for which Elliott was nominated for an Academy Award, was written specifically for the film and saw no studio album release).
Elliott followed Either/Or with 1998’s XO, his first release through DreamWorks and thus his first release on a major label. Elliott’s earlier philosphical/aesthetic sentiments are present, but begin to manifest themselves differently through this album, which features more instruments and better production.
Following in the same musical/productive trajectory of XO, Elliott released Figure 8 in 2000. This album is simply incredible. The cover photo was taken in front of the A/V repair shop Solutions in Los Angeles by photographer Autumn de Wilde. If you’re in Los Angeles you can visit and leave a message on the wall (located at 4334 W. Sunset Blvd.), which has become an unofficial Elliott Smith memorial.
At the time of his death, Elliott was still working on this album, which was released posthumously in 2004. Though we don’t have Elliott’s final product here, his former producer along with his girlfriend compiled this album from the material he had been working on in the studio. They did a good job.
This album is actually a compilation of B-sides, outtakes and rarities generally from the self-titled and Either/Or sessions, and the style/production is predominantly reflective of that period. It was released in 2007.
For more information on Elliott Smith visit Sweet Adeline, his official website.
I saw the film Inglourious Basterds the other day, upon the recommendation of a number of friends. I left the theater feeling two simultaneous and somewhat contradictory feelings (in a word: ambivalent). On the one hand, I “enjoyed” the film: the tension-building dialogues exploding in a climactic release (apologies for the sexual undertones there), the hip, “anything goes” approach to style (anachronistic soundtrack, insider cameos, visual homage, etc.) and the powerful archetypal film characters (the bad ass soldiers, the avenging victim, the brilliant psychopath, etc.). It was an incredibly well-made film, but it also gave me exactly what I would want (on one level) from a movie about people taking on the Nazis. [SPOILER ALERT] The Nazis get SLAUGHTERED! The good guys win, and even if some of them died in the process, it was heroically in the act of destroying some of the most evil people in history.
But this is where the contradictory feeling came in. It felt wrong to enjoy the massacre of Nazis. (There was some part of me that felt like I was watching Team America: World Police without realizing it was a satire of American military arrogance.)
The scene that came back to me as I was reflecting on the film & realizing my ambivalence was when Hitler, Goebbels & the Nazi elite were watching the film within the film about the young Nazi war hero who killed 300 Allied soldiers from a tower. Repeatedly, we watch the Nazis applauding scenes of the sniper picking off his attackers (probably Americans) and we scoff at this propagandistic depiction of violence against the enemy, portrayed as inhuman, anonymous targets for the hero to destroy. Even the young Nazi hero seems to feel disdain for the way this is portrayed…
Though I did not find it ironic at the time, subsequently, we as the audience are treated to the sight of these Nazi filmgoers being burned to death & shot down like fish in a barrel by Jewish soldiers (along with a highly fetishized moment of actor Eli Roth ripping Hitler’s face apart with a hail (heil?) of bullets). It seems implicit that we will cheer this on, indeed, the whole film feels like a set-up for a moment that we can hardly believe could end this way (knowing actual history as we do). Of course, it was an “alternate history” reality we see occurring, but it felt so much more satisfying than what actually happened. However, I began to wonder how we as the filmgoers were much different from the Nazi movie audience cheering the death of Allied soldiers.
This led me to see the director of IB, Quentin Tarantino, as a sort of Joseph Goebbels figure of American populist cinema (depicting simplistic good/evil characters, giving an audience what it wants, using techniques–such as the score, B-movie conventions, etc.–to tap into the collective audience subconscious and manipulate them to the filmmaker’s ends), which oddly then, would make Harvey Weinstein, a Jew, the Hitler figure…although I suppose it’s not completely surprising as he has been seen as a bit of a fascist dictator in the filmmaking business.
The film had a number of role reversals of Nazi for Jew (Aldo referring to Nazi’s as “not human”, the brutal beatings/casual executions of German soldiers, all of the Nazi’s being burned to death similar to the crematoriums), which made me feel like I was being set up/propogandized to applaud the same thing for the Nazis which I lamented for the Jews. I may be seeing something that is not there at all, but it seems like to take this film simply as a “revenge fantasy film” for Jews (see reactions from descendants of Holocaust survivors and Rabbis here) lacks a certain amount of incredulity that a savvy director such as QT would expect. Am I supposed to resist my enjoyment of this slice of fantasy justice, or give into it and become implicitly akin to the Nazi filmgoers?
Anyhow, regardless of whether I have appropriately interpreted this sequence of scenes, I would recommend anyone else who “enjoyed” watching all of the Nazis get killed as inhuman representations of pure evil to watch a film like Stalingrad where the audience follows young German soldiers, who don’t seem as gung ho about the 3rd Reich as we usually see in films, heading to the Russian front where they are led like sheep to a slaughter. Anyone associated with the Nazi regime certainly finds themselves on the wrong side of history, but we may need to be careful to allow ourselves to be duped into seeing ANYONE as less than human…even those who we feel like are the worst people in history.