Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Dying World

O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And by night, but I have no rest.
Psalm 22:2 

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.
James 5:7

My eyes fail because of tears,
My spirit is greatly troubled;
My heart is poured out on the earth
Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,
When little ones and infants faint
In the streets of the city.
They say to their mothers,
'Where is grain and wine?'
As they faint like a wounded man 
In the streets of the city,
As their life is poured out
On their mothers' bosom.
Lamentations 2:11-12

For Your salvation I wait, O LORD.
Genesis 49:18

My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud...
You have held my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I have considered the days of old, 
The years of long ago.
I will remember my song in the night;
I will meditate with my heart,
And my spirit ponders;
Will the Lord reject forever?
And will He never be favorable again?
Has His lovingkindness ceased forever?
Has His promise come to an end forverer?
Has God forgotten to be gracious,
Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?
Psalm 77:1, 4-9

What is my strength, that I should wait?
And what is my end, that I should endure?
Job 6:11

Return, O LORD, rescue my soul;
Save me... For there is no mention of You in death.
Psalms 6:4-5

How long, O LORD, will I call for help, 
And You will not hear?
I cry out to You, "Violence!"
Yet You do not save.
Habakkuk 1:2

And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, 
O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging
and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"
Revelation 6:10 

For we know the whole creation groans 
and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now... 
even we ourselves groan within ourselves, 
waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, 
the redemption of our body.
Romans 8:22-23

For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.
Galatians 5:5

...wait for His Son from heaven... that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 1:10

For our citizenship is in heaven, 
from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, 
the Lord Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3:20

Friday, May 28, 2010

In Haste: The Road


Are we alone?

This film dealt with that question better than any alien film ever has.
The artistry of dealing with that question is not in how it is to be answered, but how that long groan of not knowing surfaces.

God has long left us to our own devices.  

How much longer, O Lord?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In Haste: 8MM

Grotesque deeds cause us to weep.  We are both curious of their existence, and yearn to know all the 'whys'.  Why would anyone do these things?  Why do people let this happen?  Why does God let this happen?

8MM is one of those little films that reminds you that the rabbit hole of vile human acts goes farther down then many folks realize.  And it's just a slice of it.  Just look at the comments that people make on imdb forums for films like 8MM or any true sadomasochistic sexual perversion film and you can fall swiftly down that hole yourself without realizing it.

I came across the film after wanting to see other films by screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (who wrote the masterful screenplay for Seven), but I've since learned that he became so exasperated with the film's rewrites that he refused to ever see the film.  That makes some sense, as the plot felt quite jerky to me, running amok between intriguing meta questions, and very commercial moments.

There's a lot of talking about 'snuff' films and what they mean in 8MM, but one brief scene tells us all we need to know.  After serving brutal vengeance to the murdering snuff artists, our protagonist returns home and sobs.  There's no satisfaction in defeating evil in this way.  To encounter such things is to be imprinted with the character of this weary world.  And that burden is too much to carry.  Mourning may be the only authentic response.

Psalm 137:1-4, King James Version:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
 How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?

The Gentleness of Se7en

Throughout my tenure as an individual who watches films for gems of meaning, I have turned my gaze to the fertile soil that is the masterpiece Se7en many times.  I imagine if I continue to both live and write in the world for any fair duration of time, I will repeat this exercise many times over.

The film plays on these basic premises:
          1) The world is broken.
          2) People retain the capability to love and to be lovable.

The formula is quite simple, but its effects can be devastatingly real to our own lives.

I have a bad habit.  It's quite moronic, really, but nevertheless, it keeps pushing itself to the surface.

Wherever I'm living, I have this awful tendency to allow one small area of my dormitory to slowly devolve into an utter mess.  Sometimes its a very small area -- a corner of the room, the closest... -- and at times it can be a big problem -- like when I caused my bird to die because I inextricably suddenly refused to clean his cage, and simply let the pour creature wallow in its filth until death (I was 12, so don't assassinate my character for this one, please).  When I do finally undertake the job of cleaning the abominable mess I have long procrastinated at cleansing my residency of, it is often too late to undo the damage I've caused (like the death of my bird).  This past winter, some water spilled underneath my bed, and I forgot for awhile about it, until a faint smell from time to time would waft under my nose.  My solution was to keep the window in my bedroom open all the time.  Two months later, when I found myself determined to eradicate the source of the stench, I discovered a small, but vitriol fungus had been thriving in the darkness, and it had already climbed up into my mattress.  The damage was contained to a small location, but it was uneradicatable.

Se7en takes place in a world where the junk was left uncleansed for too long.  The damage has been done.  Humpty-Dumpty won't be fixed.

And yet, people still dwell in this place.  Lovely people.  Detective William Somerset is a somber, quiet, intellectual, cautious, caring, orderly, nurturing man.  His replacement on the Force, Detective Mills, is easy to engage with because of his rambunctious vitality.  He's the new kid on the block and we love the enthusiasm he brings to the game.  And then there's his wife, the lovely blonde, Tracy.  She is soft on the eyes and equally soft on the heart.  She never raises her voice, and immediately sees the goodness in the aging Somerset that we've known from the start.  These three people are worth knowing, are worth loving, and yet, here they are in this barren world.

Their endgame will not be pleasant.  Tracy will have her head cut off.  Her husband will be driven by madness, rage, and wrath --- the perversions of the innocent, rambunctious vitality that we appreciate in his character.  And Detective Somerset, who from the getgo of the film was seeking a way out of the city, seeking a place to find some rest, comes to a somber, inevitable conclusion.  There is no escape.

These things I have known about the film for some good measure of time now.  The novel idea that sprung to my mind was that maybe John Doe, our vicious serial-killer puppeteer extraordinaire, may himself be lovely.  Perhaps his character is not made of pure evil.

This thought floated upon me as the the three men (the detectives and their prisoner) travel by car to their allotted final destination.  Mr. John Doe had for most of the car ride kept his voice miraculously monotone.  Despite Mills' coaxing, John was actively restrained in manner, and even appeared to be emanating peace from his orange jumpsuit.  But the veil was lifted when Mills dared to speak of the innocence of John Doe's victims.

Doe can't handle the blasphemy.  He leans in towards the detectives and his voice gradually crescendos as he lists the vile attributes of those he caused to suffer.  He concludes with the line:

Only in a world this shitty could you even try to say these were innocent people and keep a straight face. But that's the point. We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it's common, it's trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon, and night. Well, not anymore. I'm setting the example. What I've done is going to be puzzled over and studied and followed... forever.

Doe had come to the conclusion that it was time to clean the fungus that was eating at the mattress.  He would fix that which was broken.  Maybe you don't want to believe in Doe's conviction, but realize he dies for his cause willingly.  He himself is full of the stuff of brokenness, and so at least he finds a way to eliminate himself.

This is not a story of two diametrically opposed forces.  This is not good versus evil.  There is no joker, here, toiling about evil for the hell of it.  This is a car of three men, each of which must come to the same conclusion -- it's all gone wrong.  We can abhor John Doe's actions, and we can pity Mills' inevitable vengeful retaliation, but we still must look inward to find our own answer to their dilemma.  What do we do with a world that is broken bit by bit? 

If the world is worth fighting for, maybe John Doe was just fighting with the wrong weapons.

I think maybe Se7en's gentleness is expressed in its concluding sigh.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Desperate Search: New Beauty

Part III: New Beauty
There is something of merit hidden in the excitement of a new, upcoming film.  I'm not speaking here of any mere film itself, or the actual experience of intaking a new movie at the cinema.  No, even before that moment, there's an excitement that's real, that has value.  Every time we see a trailer for some new creation, that buzz has a life of its own, independent of whatever the film itself will be.

It appears to me that the apostle Paul borrows the phrase "through a glass darkly", from the mouth of Socrates as recorded by Plato some 400 years before Paul inhaled his first breath.  The gospel of John may have also utilized the now famous phrase 'born again' from the man who told us to 'know thyself'.  One may be uncomfortable in stating that Plato and Socrates were wholly correct in their musings about the universe, but if the Bible is infallible, then at least these phrases were inspired by truth, yes?
Let's define beauty: that which is wholly true.
Let's define truth: that which is universally permanent. 

These definitions are most certainly subject to galvanizing debate, but here I shall promote them as my premises. 

As a Christian, I accept the statement that God has revealed Himself in two ways: special and general revelation.

Special revelation: God's supernatural exposure to mankind.  The Bible and its events are the sole episodes of special revelation that the Christian church universally accepts.  There is, however, legion accounts of miracles and attestations of God's supernatural presence in the lives of individuals... these, unfortunately, are always tricky to note.

Now that we got that out of the way, we're going to skip over all this commotion of specialties for the time being, and focus on the normal, general bits.

General Revelation: the basic principle that God has made Himself manifest through creation and the natural world.  Paul writes in the letters to the Romans, 1:20,  

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

What flows from God is beauty.  This is true because God is the source of all beauty, and because all things that God makes are consistent wholly of truth.

We talk of infinites and infinity and permanents and timelessness --- but I am a man of the moment.  Speaking of Plato's forms are great, but it is all rather mind boggling.  I remember the most anticipated film of my life.
Jurassic Park came into existence in 1993.  My mother bought me a veliciraptor backpack.  I begged my father to read the book with me.  The playground games of imagination shifted from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the likes of T-Rexes and 'Spitters' over night.  Jurassic Park changed our youthful brains forever. 

And then came the rumors.  Michael Crichton had written a follow up novel (I tried to read it, but man, two-hundred pages of evolution before we get to dinosaurs causes much boredom in 10 year old).  Soon, a sequel would be upon us.  The trailer for The Lost World stirred within me such great zeal I could hardly bare to think of it. 
I believed in The Lost World.  I don't even know what I believed about it.  I think somewhere in my mind I thought that it would bring the end of moviedom.  Who could ever top it?  People the world 'round would concede that no film could ever surpass Jurassic Park II in eye-shattering awesomitude.
(And then my eyes witnessed a T-Rex skipping around in San Diego, and little piece of my heart turned dark...) 

My ramblings amount to one simple thought.  Beauty, though it may live forever, has a birth.  God reveals Himself in time.  Jesus, the Son of God as a man, choose a moment to come into existence.  This new beauty is significant.  It adds to the world.
When we anticipate a new film, we are hoping that a new beauty will be born into the world.  And the thing about beauty (that thing which our being able to appreciate separates us from the animal kingdom --- so I'm told by philosopher Peter Kreeft), is that you can never be too sure what it may do.  Beauty is a maverick.  It can never be wholly known, and it can never be predicted. Wildcard, baby!

New Beauty is not by any means limited to cinema, but that's a fun place to start. 
The search will now take the form of finding birthdays for these little beauties. 

What will be born next?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In Haste: The Man Who Fell to Earth

Director Nicholas Roeg has convinced me that he is indeed a great fan of the human body. Furthermore, and slightly more intriguingly (whenever I want to utilize a more fashionable word than 'interesting', 'intriguing' always is the first place my brain looks for a satisfactory synonym... though I'm not sure it is any more affective than interesting. They both suffer from overuse and blandness), he also appears to have an obsession with inter-cutting unrelated images. In the case of "The Man Who Fell to Earth", he seems to be content in inter-cutting together an entire film of unrelated (and unrelatable) images.
I shall not spend time analyzing the feature, though I did find one short scene towards the tail end of the film that may have caused itself to remain with me.

After the dreaded government takes captive David Bowie's alien body, they begin conducting experiments (as the evil government must always do with aliens, apparently). Earlier in the film we are shown that Bowie's eyes are actually some sort of contacts that camouflage his true, alien-cat-eyes.

When the government decides to take an x-ray of Mr. Bowie, he insists that he must first take out his contacts before they zap him. Unfortunately, the Bowie body is too drunk to remove his contacts in time, and Uncle Sam sneakily snaps the invisible photo. Bowie then exclaims that now he'll never be able to get the contacts off, the idea being that the x-ray melted the lenses to the cat-eyeball.

This brief scene stands to me as an intriguing (there it is!) analogy for certain life experiences. Some experiences are like x-rays that seal themselves to our being. Once experienced, it becomes a part of us. Society tends to take this view of virginity. Once that threshold is passed -- once experienced -- it can never be undone... or so I've been told.

That's an interesting (sorry 'intriguing') idea, I think. Experiences aren't just viewed from some metaphorical observation tower, but unite their essence with our own. They forever change us. They melt our masks onto our skin.
Interesting, intriguing stuff.

Monday, May 17, 2010

In Haste: Battle Royale

What did I just watch?  The thing about quite a number of these Asian thrillers is the strange balancing act they tiptoe between splatter, action-adventure, and melodrama.  Battle Royale appears to merrily oscillate from serious survival epic, a psychological horror film, and an after-school 'treat the weird kid nice or he might end up becoming a school shooter because of your meanness' flick.  Despite the meandering tone, the film faithfully provides portrait after portrait of bludgeoned teenagers. 

Where do I go with all these images?  I must admit the plot which motivates the annihilation of some 40-odd budding young youths is darkly tantalizing.  It is happily reminiscent for me of Stephen King's "The Long Walk", and the classic cheeseball 80's Arnie flick, "The Running Man".  Furthermore, persistent record-keeping the film takes to list the recently departed souls also provides a creepy smirk to my slowly building bloodlust.  This bloodlust the film imparts to me is caused by nature of the subject matter which never quite lets me settle into the action comfortably (maybe that's intended), the result of which stirs within me a nihilistic nonchalance about the fate of all the characters.

Who is to blame for all this carnage?  One element of the film that is clear is the relationship between adults and the youth generation.  There is an innate hostility there.  This uneasiness (to put it lightly) is never lessened, and therefore the film's prescription at the tale's end is predestined: "Run!"  The youth can't trust their educators, and the old are forced to serve the young in everyday culture, so the lesson can only be trust no one, and never stop running.

How trustworthy is this theme in present day Japan?  Has it become only a society of cradle idolization?  What a self-defeating idea.  This type of world impregnates the individual with dissatisfaction, and yet leaves no one to point the finger of blame at.  How can you punish the young for the crimes you've instilled in them?

Why go on?  I'm not getting any younger...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Desperate Search: Upheld

5th grade.  The fabric of the story is still with me, but my visual world of the incident only has one or two frames captured in my memory these days.
At that time, I experienced many of what is easiest to describe as 'back spasms' (there is much I can say about these episodes, but they are not the thrust of the story, so we'll simply leave the definition as sufficient).  One of these 'spasms' occurred at school.  I think it happened on the way to or from the music building.  I cannot recall which.  I ended up being carried to the nurses office where I waited for my mother to take me home, a little train wreck in body and mind. 
In those days I had a small posse of friends.  Several kids in my grade were chosen to be a part of "GATE", which was an acronym for 'Gifted something something something'.  The point was that we were smarter than the rest of the children (in theory), and this little government implemented program gave us the conceit to know we were extra special.  We were the important kids, and we knew it.
But as I writhed in the state of spasming, where were my colleagues?  My friends were alienated by my pain.  But as whatever medical staff the elementary school carried me off in the distance, I was not left alone.  Mario Escobar, a student who at best was only a casual friend stayed with me.  He walked with the people carrying me off.  He said pleasantries that any good soul says in such situations, "You're going to be fine," and, "It'll all be okay."
Mario Escobar carried me that day.  He, of course, did not do so physically, but for an eleven year old, he had a remarkable composure to show compassion and love for his fellow student.
Mario was not a GATE student.
About six weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to make a visual collage for my apartment featuring images from films where one character was physically carrying another.  That's a powerful image.  The first image that I immediately thought of was the innocent Boo Radley carrying little Scout Finch to the safety of her father.
While searching for such images in cinema, my exploration began to broaden.  I looked not just for physical carrying moments, but metaphorical ones.  That led to instances that fulfilled Jesus Christ's calling in John 15:13, "Greater love has none but this, that one lay down his life for his friends."
I wanted that singular moment of decision, when the choice is made that the other is greater than self.  My desire was to find what that looked like.  And when confronted with that moment, would I be able to recognize it?
All of this inevitably for me leads to the desire to have some form of transcendent experience from film.  And so a strange longing comes out from within me.

Out Serpicoed by Mr. Serpico Himself

After writing about The French Connection, and already having much applause for the likes of The Exorcist, I took it upon myself to embrace other William Friedkin creations.  On the top of my list was Sorcerer, but not having access to that at once, I made a zigzag for the 1980 Al Pacino vehicle, Cruising.

Controversy inevitably stalked this film due to its subject matter alone, which details in grisly display the gay S&M subculture of New York pre-Aids pandemic.  There was much manloving, and much bloodletting, as we found Pacino going undercover to uncover the identity of a brutal serial killer who focuses his attention on Italian stallions.

Moreso than the sexual activity of the film, I found the attitude of the film to be its most controversial component.  Pacino's Steve Burns quietly accepts his new assignment to the sausage district, as we expect that any good seeker of justice would in such a case.  Burns also has been promised a quick promotion to detective status if he pulls the game off well.

The majority of screen time is interested in documenting Burns' slow envelopment into the culture.  This becomes a more prominent question than the solving of the murder itself: what is this experience doing to our protagonist?  There's a fascinating question.

Stories like this force me to imagine myself in our hero's shoes.  Could I handle all that manlove?  What would that do to my thoughts?  Would the sheer amount of exposure to that environment skew my reasoning?  Could I be slowly imprinted to grow a desire for such fetishes?

Now, the controversy lies here; the answers are all left ambiguous.  There are pieces of data we can hope to pile high in hopes of reaching a definitive conclusion about the mental state of our protagonist by film's end.  But the pile only weighs as much as we say it weighs.  I think the
only reasonable answer is to say that we don't know what happened in Burns' head.  We can't even really be sure if the right guy was nabbed for the serial killing.  This is no David Lynch story -- we expect answers!

I read that many gay groups came out opposing the film, as they believed it only served to spur on the stereotypes of gay men as rabid addicts of perverse sexual acts with strangers.  Such a view I think perhaps fails to see what the film does to the viewer.  By not answering the question of the protagonist's final state of being, we are left to synchronize his attitude with ours.  He becomes our reflection.  That, to my knowledge, is why the last shot of Pacino is through the mirror.

Roger Ebert saw cowardice in Friedkin's denouement.  I see a brilliance that may be just a bit too dim to illuminate such a dark place.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

M or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love All of Us!

 High School era.  I was at the summer camp Hume Lake with my church group.  If you've not heard of this place, it's a week long congregation of Christian teens that get jacked up high for 140 hours on Jesus, cabin life, and perhaps most importantly, fierce athletic rivalry.  The camp is split into twenty teams that devour each other in hopes of achieving the golden calf of prizes; a 10 dollar t-shirt.

my church group was mostly situated around 6 of us guys.  We weren't the closest of friends, but we were close enough to know how to survive in the ghettos of Christian camps.

As I remember, one of the spirit inducing aspects of the camp was that every night we'd storm the main auditorium to hear a sermon, but fortunately for us competitive souls, before we sat through the evening lecture, we were satiated with a highlight reel of the camp's mC and videographers goofing around recording the twenty teams compete earlier that day.

One day our group was so lucky as to have this mC come barreling over to interview our man Brian, who had recently been from mudded, courtesy of the local sludge-pond.  Somewhere in the interview, the mC got the frightening notion that our very own Brian might think it funny to embrace the mC, thus plaguing him with the insidious wet dreck.  He cautioned Brian that if he tried anything fancy, he would see to it that the interview didn't make the highlight reel, and our team would face punitive damage in the form of penalized spirit points.  The rule was now clear; 'if you get mud on me, you will not win the competition.'

This is where the debate can begin.  Brian did hug the man.  The video of said incident was surely destroyed.  Our spirits were mercilessly torn asunder.

Fritz Lang's M, the 1931 genre starter asks the same question I pose here.  Unlike you, I knew Brian's character.  I knew that he may have never even thought to hug the mC, but upon the taunt, his whole being salivated like Pavlov's dogs at this newfound forbidden fruit.  If he didn't embrace the man, the sharp pang of remorse would reverberate through his bones forevermore.  An image was placed in his brain, and in order to be freed from this vision, Brian had to re-enact his mind's phantasm.

Lang presents us with a serial killer.  He ups the ante by making the monster a slayer of children.  We, like the German community victimized by this creature, feel no pity for his plight.  Slowly, the wheels turn, and at last, in the closing moments of the finely orchestrated plot, we hear the murderer's excuse of evil.

His words resonate in a way we don't expect.  They set the precedent for future film flesh-destroyers.  It particularly invokes thoughts of Dexter morgan's 'dark passenger'.  His words are this: that another thing lives inside him.  He doesn't want to hurt anyone, but in certain moments, that other person within takes control of the wheel.

many of our teammates were mad at Brian.  I only ever smiled.  To resist the temptation, Brian would have had to fight every urge in his body.  Could he have restrained himself?  Could he overpower the 'dark passenger'?  I believe in free will, so I'm coerced to say yes.  But it was only a hug -- nothing to get all steamed about... nothing at all.

If I were the muddied one, I would never have hugged the mC.  It's not in my nature to disobey a direct order -- my internal being wants to please, so it would cause me no pain to withhold huggage at that time.

I also don't have the urge to kill people.

Yet sitting here in my apartment with just my computer on my lap, I'm not entirely alone, am I?  There is always another.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In Haste: The French Connection

One moment.  Two seconds at most.  That's all The French Connection needs to prove it's worth.

William Friedkin's pre-Exorcist excursion is fantastically intense.  Almost heroically, the film is able to accomplish this feat without 21st century computering, or intense character profiling.  We are taken on this journey because we believe it.  This is no James Bond, John McClane, or even the quasi-realistic Jason Bourne series.  This is our world; the world where walls break you before you break them. 

I transgress.

Back to the moment.  Right before the iconic train-car chase, Popeye (Gene Hackman's character) is getting coozy with a brick wall, trying to evade the sights of the looming sniper above.  As he edges his way towards the corner of the building, Popeye passes various apartment building windows.  In one window, two kids playfully observe Popeye in his distress.  They don't understand the consequences of the moment, and so they snicker to one another.  And just like that Popeye has squirreled past the window.

That moment pierced my retinas as something especially realistic.  That, and oh, the whole end game.

Sigh... how I do love 70's cinema.