Thursday, June 24, 2010

In Haste: Sleuth (Redux!)

"That sounds threatening."
 "Does it?"
 "Doesn't it?"

I declare that there exist three perspectives in play here: the characters, the director, and the audience.

The young man, as played by Jude Law, arrives at the mansion of the old man, Michael Caine.  We watch as Law parks next to the only other car in the driveway.  Caine introduces himself by asking which car is Law's.  The little one.  Caine then informs him that the big car is his own.  So why then did he ask the question?  It appears to me that the script is inviting us to play a game along with the characters.  I took up that mantle and assumed I was being encouraged
to outwit the story itself.

Now, if the story is aware of my existence, if the director (the venerable Shakespearean enthusiast Kenneth Branaugh) is hoping to interact with the audience's role in the film, then he should expect a certain level of wit on the side of the observer. 

I assumed that this new Sleuth would itself assume that I was familiar with the old Sleuth film, or the various stage play aberrations therein.  If that indeed is the case then we should expect this evolved version, created over thirty years after the initial film, to tinker with the Sleuth brand.  I want to be challenged.  I want my eyes to be caught in awestruck wonderment.  I want to be challenged.
I repeat:
I want to be challenged.
Play the game on me. 

I was not challenged.  I fingered through the game like an old sock.  I repeat, I was not challenged. Or, perhaps too much was assumed of me, and the story evolved beyond my intellect.  In that case,
the joke is on me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In Haste: Deep Impact

While I had the better-than-it-should-be "Deep Impact" on as a background to my thoughts the other day, one particular moment caught my eye.

Why is it so common when parents say goodbye to their children (usually forever) in the movies for the parent to leave their children with a command?

"Be good."

That's pretty much what God told the Israelites to do, and we all know how well those guys lived up to that type of pressure.

As an astronaut is sailing towards his inevitable doom during the third act of "Deep Impact", he is able to meet via satellite, his newborn child.  Pretty much all he can figure to tell the little pigsqueek before he suffers to save mankind, is to 'be good.'  The child will have to live the whole of its life with that singular command from its father.  Those are the only words they ever shared together.  Be good.

Why does the parent feel compelled to leave their children with this?  It appears to be an instinctual thing to say.  But why?  Why should we all want our children to be good?  For who's sake do we make such imperative commands?

I think this is a fine, practical proof for the existence of objective truth.  It is written into our hearts, our instincts, to yearn to be the good guy.  Furthermore, as parents, we can find redemption and solace in the hope that the children we raise will grow up to be the good guy, even if we ourselves have failed to do so.

It seems to me, that in all we do, we are seeking a way to find salvation for ourselves.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Concerning the Moral Fate of Fictitious Peoples

I was stumbling about the local Blockbuster in La Mirada on what I can only presume was a slow Tuesday night some years back.  As is my nature, I spent as much time thumbing through pictures of movies at the store then I would actually watching whatever fateful film I eventually linked my evening destiny with.  My attention at once was consumed by this exquisite poster:

Hard Candy was, from what I had heard, a twisting, nail-biter of an indie thriller.  And 'Little Red' as the bait for a wolf was such an alluring image.  Even the title exuded a piece of work that was worth its weight.  Despite my infamous proclivity to rent a film based on its cover art, I had some reservations of this Hard Candy.  For one, I am of the nature that I find it almost impossible to suck a confectionery into oblivion.  I always bite.  I never get past the third lick.

My other reservation was that I had overheard a vicious rumor that this film could be firmly planted in the 'torture porn' sub-category of film.  The likes of films like Hostel appeared to be invoking a new wave of low-budget gag-on-your-own-tongue filmmaking.  I did not then, nor now, desire to give any security to the continual procreation of those 'dark arts'.  Being bound by deep indecision, I called my dear friend for help and comfort in the throes of such a difficult decision on an otherwise epicless Tuesday night.

I write all this to get to my main subject: the honorable Alex Carpenter.  Around this time period, circa 2006ish, Mr. Carpenter and I were enjoying the apex of our friendship.  A couple months prior to this particular phone call, while building a loft bed as part of our daily regimen at our summer job, Alex had humbly admitted some seeds of weakness in his character.  Rather than confront the issue, I sought instead to push upon him my lens of near perfection upon his brow.  I didn't want to know about his shortcomings.  For my sake, he needed to remain sinless in my eyes.  Nevertheless, he had confessed to me, and my response was an ill-timed, "Alex, your the most righteous man our age I know."  I retell this tale to stress the moral authority that my friend's words had on me.  Furthermore, I knew him to be a man who had already watched Hard Candy.  He would know whether it would feed my soul on this drabby weeknight.

The short answer was that it was perhaps best to avoid the film, though the longer answer had hints that Alex was curious as to how I would perceive the film.  But desiring to be a righteous man, (like Alex in this old pic beyond reproach on the right) I took the ascetic route and began to traverse through other titles, leaving Hard Candy to its own bear trap.                    

My ability to not force my tender little soul into a forced feeding of supposed castration (as had been hinted to me concerning the content of the film) was availing.  In the fall of 2007, perhaps a year give or take after the Blockbuster night, Alex and I came together to forge an idea onto paper.

We conjured up one feature length draft of The Signal Station.  This was to be a simple construct revolving around four individuals searching for an extraterrestrial signal at an isolated look-out station.  When they do discover a signal, the four would play out a chess match of intricate desires and manipulations.  The big theme was to be associated with answering the question of, 'Why do we feel alone?' Finding a signal from the cosmos was to offer a distinct hope to every distinct individual.  We were building the Citizen Kane of alien flicks; a rosebud of the cosmos.

What happens next?

We made the lazy decision as screenwriters to collaborate on the first draft in an independent manner.  I would write ten pages, and Alex would write the next.  Whatever would happen, would happen.  We'd worry about cohesion in subsequent drafts.

Well, dear friends, I believe Alex Carpenter went off the beaten path.  I blame him for our divergent trajectory.  The concept was never conceived to involve anything more than four people in a room.  Suddenly, somewhere around page 35 or so, Alex started involving others.  And then there were other others.  Before I knew it, I was writing about blowing up buildings, and hiding in secret bunkers from secret societies.  What a rush!  However engrossing it was to be writing a screenplay that I had no control over, I did feel like we lost our goal.  The story could never again be about four people in a room.

Hard Candy is nothing more than two people in a room.  I know this because I watched it for the first time today. 

As its intricate, Sleuth-like plot spiraled to its convoluted conclusion, I couldn't stop comparing it to The Signal Station.  True, pedophilia and vengeance seemingly has little to do with aliens and isolation, but my brains just won't stop trying to make them be about the same stuff.  I'm not talking about the script we finished with, but rather, that 'Citizen Kane of the SETI program' idea.

The ultimate psychological question is this: why did Alex change our concept?

What was the difference between Alex and I?  I was the naive lad who had not yet let his eyes intake Hard Candy.  My imagination was innocent on this front.  Alex had knowledge.

My supposition of Alex's awareness: you put two people in a room, and give them something to compete over, and the situation becomes impossible to redeem.  There will be blood, and it won't end with the words 'happily ever after'.  How can the story ever end well for all its characters?  Double that number; put four people in a room with competitive motives, and you've got a massacre on your hands.

Those characters we plopped down into The Signal Station, these people, we liked these people.  We created them -- they were our responsibility...  and the construct we created was destined to damn them.  Our four creations were doomed to destroy each other, just as the two souls in Hard Candy will. 

In changing the script, in writing all these external forces onto our people, Alex was saving them.  At very least, he was giving them an outlet to find salvation.  And that's what happened, that's how the story poured out.  With the entrance of outside forces, one goal arose amongst our four individuals in that signal station.  Our characters quit fighting each other and worked for an end that would see them struggle towards a universal light.

My friend Alex Carpenter is a righteous man after all, for he saves his own creation.  He is his chidren's keeper.

Until today I've felt regret about how our little script turned out.  Until today I wanted to uncover our own 'rosebud'... that is, until I watched Hard Candy.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Desperate Search: The Watchers

And then there shall be bestowed upon the elect wisdom,
And they shall all live and never again sin,
Either through ungodliness or through pride:
But they who are wise shall be humble.
 1 Enoch 5:8

Dr. Parnassus has a mirror.  It's a special mirror.  It takes guests to another place, a place that is a bent on the foreigners own thoughts.  The good Doctor controls this place.  It is his own to illustrate and make manifest.  Take my word for it, this sideways mirror world is spectacular.  You should be so lucky as to be a guest.

This is Terry Gilliam's newest creation, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.  The world presented speaks of two realms, one rugged and gritty, the other subjective and ever so whimsical.  Both are valid and real.

Being a Christian, we have received two types of avenues to knowledge:

1) General Revelation - this is everything by which we can gain advancement in understanding.
2) Special Revelation - this is God's direct intervention into human history, most profoundly through the events and inspired words of the Holy Bible. 

The sufficiency of the first side of the mirror is made known in Paul's letter to the Romans:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Romans 1:18-20

The mathematical world around can and should lead us to knowledge of God.  The world shouts of the work of God:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
   and the sky above proclaims his handiwork
Day to day pours out speech,
   and night to night reveals knowledge.
Psalm 19:1-2

That's the gritty side of the mirror.  But what about the otherside?  

It is through this other world of wisdom that I know and can speak of the savior of the earth, Jesus of Galilee.  It is quite an exciting mirror world, full of grand questions, big named characters, and plenty of miraculous images.  We get unquenchable burning bushes, rivers turning to blood, angels, demons, apocalyptically speckled horses and the occasional dragon reference (more on this one shortly). 

Yes, the backside of the mirror is a many splendid thing.  

But dear reader, I admit this, that I find within myself always the desire for more of a good thing.  It is easier for me to not have any food at all, rather than to dip my finger in the sauce and get a taste of all that beckons.  The limits of control I know not yet.  How far down the rabbit hole will 'special revelation' take me? 

I am not convinced that one needs to worry himself with the plot of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, nevertheless, if one does care to grapple with that added luxury of developments, one would find that the film is not much more than your basic Faustian melodrama.  There is a man, and there is a devil.  Wages are made.  The bet is on.

The competition forged between adversary and old man is one of seduction.  They have vowed to race one another as to who can first successfully seduce five souls to follow their particular path over their rival amidst the chaos of the cerebral netherworld.

In the same way, we, the learned and beloved of God (perhaps I'd be so bold as to call us the elect?), know that there is special revelation from the Lord that is good and an eternal nourishment to us, as it feeds us with the knowledge of the character of our Creator, Lord and Savior, and there is the dust and ash in the atmosphere as well; that which creates a fog and convolutes the deep side of the mirror.  There is much in the world that claims to be special.  People are healed, exorcised, and speak 'divine utterances'.  Which of these is to be believed?  

The question comes to this: how do I know when I am encountering special revelation?  How do I know if I'm seeking after Dr. Parnassus or that Tom Waits-ian devil?  

The issue of the Biblical canon is relevant to this conversation.  How did the early Christians decipher between what was truly God's word and what was merely man-made?  Of particular interest is the work of 1 Enoch, of which I quoted at the front of this essay.

Enoch is a strange, angelically rich book that is assuredly apocalyptic in genre, and includes a whole unique system of rank-and-file upright and fallen angels.  Upon inspection, simply on account of its strangeness, one would be compelled to say it as pseudepigraphal, and nothing more.  But then we see that the short letter from Jude states something otherwise:

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day... 14It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him."
Jude 7, 14-15 

Jude's quote in verses 14 and 15 appear to be directly lifted from the first chapter of Enoch.  Despite this truth, Enoch is not Holy Scripture.  Nonetheless, it appears to be imparting a story of angelic history, which, by it's very essence, could only be transferred to mankind through special revelation. What is the purpose of God transferring such knowledge to men, particularly that which appears to be true, but not considered Scripture?  What am I to do with such information?

Another example bridges the two mirror worlds.  Accepted in the Catholic tradition, but not in the Protestant canon is the apocryphal account of an aging Daniel confronting a dragon.  As the story goes (Daniel chapter 13), the Persian people are worshiping a contained, living dragon, as if the dragon were a god.  Daniel proves that his God is mightier than any dragon by stuffing a compound down the monster's throat that causes the beast to explode from the inside-out.

If this were a true story - well, it would be another miracle of God showing dominance over the whole earth, but it would also bounce through to the otherside of the mirror, as an example of a dragon's existence (a dinosaur) would be given some historical validity (that is, if the genre of the story were historical and not allegorical).

Furthermore, outside of issues of ancient scriptures, there are the individual testimonies.  Those who claim to dream revelatory dreams, and see visions yet unseen -- what are we to make of them?  Must we view them only with suspicion?

There is a sect of Christianity that is a bit aloof from all three of the major branches of Christianity, for it is neither Roman Catholic, nor Eastern Orthodox, nor Protestant in dimension, from what I understand.  From Scripture, it would make logical sense that the Ethiopian eunuch that Philip interpreted the book of Isaiah for, and subsequently baptized (Acts, Chapter 8) would be where this church would bear its heritage from originally; this however, is not what they claim.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, (which does include 1 Enoch in their canon, by the way) spin a wondrous story that the Queen of Sheba, upon her visit to the great King Solomon, was impregnated by him (an aspect of the story that is left out of both biblical accounts of her meeting with the King; 1 Kings 10:1-13, 2 Chronicles 9:1-12) and subsequently had a son named Menelik I who became the first Emperor of Ethiopia.  It is then claimed that Menelik I somehow got a hold of the Ark of the Covenant, and Ethiopia has preserved the Ark even up to the present day.

There are 43 million Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church followers.  All those faithful claim that at the center of the Church of Our Lady of Zion, the central church in Ethiopia, the Ark of the Covenant still rests.  Only one priest is allowed to watch over it, so no one can go in and verify if the there even exists an Ark-like box in the church.

Is there any chance on earth that this claim could be legitimate, or has the Ethiopian church become boastful and obsessed with having a high status in Christendom by claiming a safe-hold to the most mysterious artifact in the Judeo-Christian tradition? 

The director of this fine cinematic experience, Mr. Terry Gilliam, makes an odd choice as to how he chooses to explore the traditional framework of his Faust-like melodrama.  When the mirror-invitees must choose between the devil and Doctor Parnassus, the decision is never made as a moral choice.  It appears to be nothing more than a decision of aesthetics.  Doctor Parnassus does not ever bother to illicit to the dreamesque sojourners that choosing his side is a choice for the morally righteous.  Rather, the choice is left as one of mere artistic taste.

Terry Gilliam has created a delightful fantasy.  It is a cinematic universe that he manipulates the strings to -- he is his own puppeteer.  I don't have such luxuries in the world I inhabit.  My decisions, by necessity, are more than mere aesthetic preferences.

[From God for Enoch to report to the fallen angels] "You have been in heaven, but all the mysteries had not yet been revealed to you...Say to them therefore: "You have no peace."'
1 Enoch 16:3,4

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Two Yearnings

I remember: my mother playing music from the 50's while she dusted the house.  She had a 'The Fabulous 50's' cd that became a regular hit for the two of us at midmorning.  It felt like it was always 10:30am with an easy sunlight leaking through the window.  This is a peaceful memory, a peaceful moment, before the great adventure that is the public education system enveloped my life.

I can hear wind chimes.  I can listen to the music.  I can, in a way, grasp what things looked like.  But what is gone is how I really felt -- who I was then.  I can no longer be that person.  I enjoy hanging out with children and playfully acting the part of the naive adult, but it is only acting.

My memory is mostly still intact from much of my childhood, but the feeling, the empathy, that has left me.

Hearts in Atlantis is an adaptation of a Stephen King short story that I somehow didn't devour amidst my early teenage obsession with the horror writer.  Like most of his non-horror stories, this one dealt with the end of childhood -- much in the same way that Stand by Me is.  It's sacred ground is the quintessential 'last summer of boyhood' - that nostalgic era perfectly stylized in The Sandlot.

Perhaps the film doesn't have too much to give, but it's own sentiment.  That's okay, I think... more than okay, really.

What I experienced while watching the film was not nostalgia, rather, it was longing enmeshed with a snippet of dread.  I have come to realize that childhood has departed from me, perhaps in the fullest sense.  On this earth, I reckon I will never own it again.  There's a divide between me and it now.  As the film played out, I could put myself inside the shoe of the over-the-hill Anthony Hopkins role before I could imagine myself as the budding boy.  How can that be?  I am but 10 or 11 years removed from the boy, and 50 years have I still to live until I resemble the old man.  How did I lose that so fast?

What was it like?  And who was I?  Is it the same me now that lived then?  Am I the all-grown-up version of my youth?  When I think of stories from my childhood, there's a separation I make between me and the boy-me.  We don't seem like one and the same.  Strange.


I foresee: a second yearning that is stronger than the first.  I get a dose of it from time to time.  Most recently I found it while inhaling the trailer for Sofia Coppola's new film, Somewhere.

It's not that I particularly want to have children.  I don't, per se.  Being a member, or even a father, of a happy family doesn't overwhelm my soul.

Here's the proper ingredients needed for the welling up of this particular yearning within me.

1) Being a thoroughly broken man.  
2) Having a desperate hope to shield your progeny from this brokenness.  

It's a completely streamlined life.  To live for a son or daughter.  To say to God, 'I know I blew it for myself, but with all that's left of me, I will live so that my kin might have a chance.'  Also necessary for the formula is that said offspring have no other person they could look to -- so, in my case, the mother can't be in the picture.

I guess when it comes down to it, I have a great desire to aspire to be a single parent.

Shoot, when I say it like that it just sounds weird.

The bridge between these two yearnings (a feeling of childhood and a fondness for a specific type of parenthood) is simple: innocence.  The child is innocent intrinsically.  The hopeless, personally wrecked Father is innocent because he has resigned himself from his own aspirations.  I think it may be the only way to return to a pure place of innocence while on this earth.

The ending moments of Stand by Me remind us that we've been listening to a memoir.  The author of the memoir takes one final moment to reflect on his last childhood adventure:

"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?" 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


We are rotting from the inside.  Let us not worry ourselves with foreigners or nemeses from afar; no, we must concentrate on the enemy within.  Catch-22ingly, as soon as we work to free ourselves of the rot, we devote our livelihoods to usurping freedom and infecting every soul with the wine of suspicion.  This intoxication only inflames the rot.

In 1999, I watched with my family the epic miniseries, Storm of the Century.  The viewing sparked my early-teenage obsession with the works of Stephen King.  The four hour production ravaged my storytelling intellect by giving me what I always wanted to see in a thriller; the victory of the enemy.

The plot revolved around a strangely powerful stranger that suddenly appears on a small Maine island amidst the worst storm in three generations.  The island is isolated.  Amongst this isolation, bad things start to happen.  People die.  Suicide grows rampant.  It appears that this stranger is the culprit.  At first, he has very little to say, but one succinct message:

Give me what I want, and I'll go away.

As the third act unfolds, we find the entire town locked up in city hall, each member participating in the election of the century.  The stranger says he'll leave in peace if he is given what he requires.  But his cost is high.  It is no small thing to ask for.  

Upon being asked we he chose this small town, the stranger gives a list of sins.  He makes his case thorough for why the town deserves such special attention from a guy like him.  

As I watched these proceedings, my eyes widened at this prospect.  Are we, at our core, good or evil?  What dwells in our most inward place?  

Storm of the Century is not a fantastic story, because, though I was uncritical of it upon initial viewing, I've now come to realize that I never believed that the townspeople could be intrinsically malevolent.  They could be quirky and smarky, but not evil.  There's a huge divide there.  Furthermore, the worst offenses took place years ago offscreen, leaving it easy to say that the criminals within the town have since repented and changed their hearts toward goodness.

Where Storm of the Century fell short, Michael Haneke's work, The White Ribbon burns with amoral ambiguity.  A series of crimes lead to a whodunit of vileness.  And as we gaze through the early 20th century village, we become instilled with the sense that the answer will not be found in one perverse character.  The denouement will not reveal the sinister motives of a lone sadistic sadist.  No, we are led to discover that these 'incidents' are birthed from a general, permeating evil.  That is how it goes.

Perhaps it is our culture, our evolution, or our God-given spirit that causes us to find answers to every riddle.  But what happens when you can't solve the riddle?  Roger Ebert poetically summarizes the plot of The White Ribbon:

In this German town, there is a need to solve the puzzle. Random wicked acts create disorder and erode the people's faith that life makes sense. The suspicion that the known facts cannot be made to add up is as disturbing as if the earth gave way beneath our feet.

I think the riddle doesn't add up, not because there is no answer, but because there are too many answers.

We are shown the innards of several families in The White Ribbon.  Each is poisoned.  We suspect the evil intentions of children even as we observe the foul behavior of parents.  The family unit is broken.  I think that's where the key is.

In Storm of the Century we are told to conceive of the possibility that the small Maine town is downright putrid.  We are given some petty evidences of such, but, and this is a big but, it appears that all the family units are loving and functionally trustworthy.  So, if the smallest unit of community is stable, how could it be that when translated to the bigger community (the town as a whole), everyone is evil?  Evil corrupts from the small to the big.  I don't think it works the other way around. 

The White Ribbon proposes the procedure as such: the family is broken, therefore, the community is doomed to be broken.  Evil begets evil.  An early scene shows a brutal whipping of two children at the hands of their father for the absence at the dinner table (why they were absent is never explained, and perhaps is a clue towards why the punishment was so harsh).  No matter what the offense of the children is, the response is too much, too visceral.  They will hate their father, and hate themselves for their actions.  Another scene assures us of a sexual relationship between father and daughter.  

What do we do with all these devious actions?  We punish individuals.  Punish, punish, punish, until purity is reached.  

There are, of course, varying degrees of happy and unhappy family units in the world.  But is there any that has perfect trust?  There are always suspicions.  And there is always some cause for suspicion, is there not?  Examine your own family.  You will find seeds of mistrust and deep-seated suspicions.  It shouldn't be there, these are our most trustworthy friends, our closest allies in the world; our blood.

We carry this mistrust into the community, into the world.  The suspicions spread.  We don't understand it.  It is a matter beyond our recognition.  And we are a simple people, so we arrive at simple solutions.  Punish, punish, punish, until purity is reached. 
Both films share one allegorical truth.  Storm of the Century repeatedly references the historical mystery of Roanoke, Virginia.  Before the Constitution was written, before the pilgrims hit Plymouth Rock, a group came from England and landed in what is now Roanoke.  They vanished.  All that was found was a tree with a word carved into its flesh.

You tell me what it means.

Friday, June 11, 2010

In Haste: The Rapture

Apparently God is unfair.  And the apocalypse will be accompanied by visions of the giant white orb from "The Prisoner".

Geejolly, that was a confusing experience.

But I gotta hand it to the film -- it was never predictable.  I'm just not sure if it was one of those rollercoasters that was enjoyable and memorable, or just nausea inducing.  Stomach, what say you?

In Haste: Collapse

Someday, Michael Ruppert will be proven right.  Every way that I inspect it, it does appear that on the day that Ruppert can claim prophetic victory, the world will experience it's first gamechanger since maybe the industrial revolution. 

The idea is simple:

1) The world is dependent on oil.
2) There is a finite amount of oil in the earth.
3) Therefore, someday the oil will run out, 
and that which we are dependent on will be no more.

The big ? is when.  No one knows.  

This documentary turns its cards in a predictable manner.  From the trailer alone, we know we're here to listen in on end-of-the-world conspiracies.  And Collapse offers us just that -- and does so with lots of evidence!  Yippee!!  It's like the best edition of late night talk radio ever!

One brief moment at the end of the film spoke volumes as to its goal.  Michael Ruppert, the man who enlists our attention for 80 minutes as he lays out the intricate framework of the end of the world, is poor.  The documentary even tells us that he is behind on his rent.  He lives alone.  He tells us that he finds his happiness in this life by counting the smiles he and his dog can induce in others on their evening walks.  This is his simple way of life.  This is how he deals with the burden of knowledge.

This poetic ending is meant to shape how we view the ideas offered as a whole.  Ruppert is not some car-salesman or tent-evangelist.  He believes what he preaches... and in his own way he is suffering for it.  Perhaps that's also why we see him smoking so often.  He is carrying the weight of the future on his shoulders, and he'll suffer for his cause.

Whether the portrayal of his life is accurate or not, I have no insight and shall not predict.  The images and words, do however, cause my mind to make parallels with the Apostles of Jesus.  11 of the 12 of the disciples were murdered for their cause.  Now we see that they had no physical, worldly gains to make by promoting the gospel of Christ.  Their suffering speaks to their earnestness.  

Earnest prophets are always the most foreboding.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In Haste: The Wolfman

 First, load up on this all-star cover of Dylan's "Death is not the End", the song that should have floated us through the end credits of "The Wolfman".  A little mood music goes a long way, wouldn't you agree?
Be sweetly serenaded away by the fanciful flight over destruction the lyrics peer down upon.

Ultimately, I find this misshapen fairy tale moderately satisfying.  There is no salvation from death in the woods that the likes of werewolves inhabit.  If the whole of the film excavated that theme, a masterpiece it would have surely been.

The character played by the always spectacular Anthony Hopkins commands his son to search his eyes.  "You see that I am quite dead."  But these dead eyes still have a will.  Death is not the end.  We can go on if we so will.

Scanning the night for wolfmen is a good reminder to me that there are many types of death.  Some more harmful than others.  Perhaps this is worth further examination at a later point.  Or maybe I will just let the thought die here.

My Grandmother has seen her fair share of death.  She has outlasted four husbands.  When she tells me what losing a loved one is like, the only word she describes is, "Gone."  They are wholly gone.  What does gone-ness leave behind?

"The Wolfman makes a meek case to say that a body is more than just a man.  So then it can be true that the man dies, but the moving body remains.  In this case, the remaining body eats people under a full moon.  And he howls.  Mourning, maybe.

"Her death finished me, I was devastated. But I still prowl the house at night, searching for her. But I'm dead all the same. Look into my eyes Lawrence, you see that I am quite dead."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Scare Me.

 "And it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham..." 
Genesis 22:1a

I tend to think of the story of Abraham and Isaac as a foretelling of Jesus.  My brain always concludes with, "Wow, that's swell... look how God gave us this epic foreshadowing of His only begotten Son through Abraham.  That's neat."

Then Bill Paxton and Soren Kierkegaard come stomping onto the scene to vomit all over my happy-go-lucky thoughts.  Sigh...
Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling" is dedicated to walking in Abraham's shoes in real time.  We have the encouraging details of knowing how this story ends, but Abraham surely could not know.  He walked onto the mountain expecting to kill his son -- to bludgeon the miraculous gift that was given.  In offering his son, would he not become like all the pagan cults that sacrificed virgins to their wooden idols?  How could God save face from this -- for His test was costing Abraham his whole world, not to mention Isaac's whole being!

"Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood." 
Genesis 22:9

I wonder, did Isaac combat his father when he began to tie him down?  Where did his thoughts lead him?  Did he think his father mad?  Was he ready to give his blood to the fire?

Bill Paxton's directorial debut modernizes this story.  A single Father receives a vision from an angel.  He is to take up a new profession: demon destroying.  He must also show his sons this way of servitude.  The younger boy accepts the indoctrination of his father (or has his own encounters with God), while the older doubts his father's sanity.  What the doubting Thomas does as he is forced to take part in the destruction of many demon-peoples becomes the tension of the whole of the film.  This plot is an ingredient for a basic serial killer thriller, much in the vain of "Seven" and "Arlington Road", yet it takes one prominent excursion from the formula of the other films.  The father is sane.  He is sent by God.  The people he kills are demons (at least demon-possessed).

So the question is begged: If God told you to do something absolutely repugnant, would you do it?  The Christian answer must be, "Yes", but with the caveat, "But God would never do that, it goes against His nature."  This is a fair place to land, but Kierkegaard is begging us to be Abraham on Mount Moriah.  Can we do it?  Bind your son! Raise that dagger!  Ready yourself to plunge the blade into his flesh.

Again we may take solace in that the physical act was never committed.  Isaac's blood was not spilled, and that spot was joyfully given the name,

"YHWH-jireh: The Lord Will Provide" 
Genesis 22:14. 

But I ask, does Jesus not tell us that we can sin by our very thoughts?  If covetedness towards our brothers and lust for our sisters is sin just by the thought alone, isn't also filicide?

This sparks the insistence of another strange bit of Scripture.  1 Kings 22:19-23... The prophet Micaiah gets a vision from God.  God desires to bring destruction to the evil King Ahab.  God, on His throne in Heaven, asks who will deal with Ahab that will lead Ahab to his end.  A spirit speaks up and says he's good for the job.  God asks, "How?" to which the spirit replies that he'll send a lying spirit into Ahab's prophets.  God responds in verse 22 by saying, "You are to entice Him and also prevail.  Go and do so."

So a literal interpretation of this 1 Kings passage has God deliberately sending out a spirit to lie.  I must tiptoe through my proceeding comments, for these are treacherous waters.  Can we too send people out to tell lies?  Wouldn't this implement us in the sin of distortion?  Is this not a kind of perjury?

The answer leads us to this prognosis: God can do whatever he wants.  Truth is as subjective as that. Thankfully, and life-savingly for us, God has a will to love us and to keep His commandments.  So these sorts of seeded scenarios are not likely to arise.  But can we rule them out?  If God wanted He could tell Bill Paxton to go kill demon-people, couldn't He?  Is He not Sovereign?

Another rescue from the Abraham paradox can be found in the idea that the story takes place before the law was given on Mount Sinai.  The sixth commandment of murder and the following Levitical laws outlawing human sacrifice were not yet uttered, so it's a good thing we don't have any later examples of righteous sacrifice.

Oh wait...
 Judges 11:35b, 
"...for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Desperate Search: The MegaMan Effect

Part IV: The MegaMan Effect
(Aesthetically Displeasing to the Eye)

"Altered States" is a dumb movie (and it could have been full of awesomeness).  The director, Ken Russell, who gave us perhaps the most bizarrely sublime portrait of religious experience in the cult classic "The Devils", delivers a film that starts much in the same manner as "A Beautiful Mind" does, with a rogue theorist desperately mining for the big unifying theory of life.  Both films try to haphazardly convince us that the answer to the world's most primal questions is to love your wife real good like.  

The problem is that while these characters devout themselves to intense theory and argument and genius, when they pronounce that their love is the answer that they've long been seeking, they give us no evidence as to why this is a sufficient answer.  Love may be great, but it doesn't answer the questions they were asking in the beginning.  It's an answer that simply says, "You don't need an answer to your big question... this is enough for you."  Well that's all find and dandy, but it's not really the point now, is it?  

For "A Beautiful Mind"s John Nash, the question is, "What's the one original thought that has not yet been discovered?"

For "Altered States"s Edward Jessup (played adequately by William Hurt), he begins by assuming that there is another world as real as this one.  He seeks to enter this other world to find out, "What is the origin of mankind all about?"

I am infuriated not that their answers are both "love".  No, my anger stems from the fact that this love is from the finite, momentarily affection of a woman.  They found answers to their infinite questions in the infinite.  

It's a cheat.  A question concerning the infinite requires an answer based in the infinite.  Cheaters never prosper.

I have a few assumptions of my own, and a place I'd like to reach.

1) There is a God.
2) That God has revealed Himself in the Holy Bible, and that which the Bible speaks of is true.

-I want to be in intimate, immediate, constant relationship with God while I am here in this life.  By its nature, this relationship would mean a ceasing of all doubt of my assumptions. 

-Can this place be reached?

"Altered States" lays out one theory for how progress in such matters can be reached.  It starts with a sensory deprivation chamber.  Our protagonist dips his brains in a weightless tank and observes his thoughts flutter away from him into the land of hallucinations.  That's step one.  Step two: hang out with some Indians and trip out on their blood-hallucinogen mixture.  Step three: Mix hallucinogen with weightless chamber.  

Step four: Repeat until your body chemistry devolves into some sort of fetusy thing.  

I call this procedure the MegaMan Effect.  Once upon a time I asked some smart people (and some not-so-smart folk as well) as to how spiritual gifts work.  Responses tended to speak of sanctification.

For those God foreknew
he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, 
that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 
And those he predestined, he also called; 
those he called, he also justified; 
those he justified, he also glorified.
Romans 8:29-30
Looks like a process, smells like a process.

In the game MegaMen (I think I was familiar with MegaMan X for Nintendo), MegaMan runs around defeating 9 bosses.  The cool thing was, that after every boss conquered, MegaMan than received said boss's power.  If he killed the IceMan, well whadayaknow! -- MegaMan can now shoot ice balls from his gunBy the time you reach the final boss, MegaMan's got a whole list of awesome powers to illicit to eviscerate the final evil doer.  

Does relationship with God work on the same level?  What distinguishes the Abrahams, the great men of faith, from the Sauls and Solomons?  

Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. 
Genesis 5:24

How did Enoch do that?  

Soren Kierkegaard, writing as "John the Silent One" in his book "Fear and Trembling" appeared to have come up with a three step process.  The first step I assume as 'conversion', or submission to the Lord God, Jesus Christ.

Step Two: Become the 'Knight of Resignation'.  Here, the believer must relinquish everything he has.  He must empty himself (perhaps this is linked to Philipians 2:7?).  For the sake of God, he must give up everything, his ambition included.

Step Three: Once all is given up, it appears the sinner now has acquired the right disposition to be honored as the 'Knight of Faith'.  Kierkegaard said that he knew of no man that has reached such a place.  At this miraculous height, the individual can freely act in absurd manners that are pleasing to God (case in point: Abraham being willing to murder Isaac for God -- a most vile sin if committed in any other context)

O God, how can I reach you?  You have promised your Holy Spirit of comfort to me.  Holy Spirit, become real to me.  

We protestants are big grace alone folk.  But do I not still have responsibility?  Are my actions forcing God closer or further away from me?  Can my desire be realized based on God's promises combined with my actions?  

Still --- though Paul's writings to the Romans (under my assumption) must by necessity be accurate and true, and though Kierkegaard speaks with astute reasoning, I find the idea of the MegaMan Effect as intuitively absurd.  I say this because I am always either hungry or full.  Sure, I can be at places where I say, "I shouldn't eat any more..." but this is my mind adding a moral constitution to an otherwise black or white occasion.  My body wants to process food, or it doesn't.  There is no half-way hungry.  I can't be put in a sensory deprivation chamber and find that I am half-way to being not hungry.  Even while I eat, I keep eating because I still long for that which is in front of me.  

 What component parts lead to intimacy with God?

  1. Do I need to prayer more, 
  2. fast more, 
  3. be happier, 
  4. be sadder, 
  5. be quiet, 
  6. repent more, 
  7. tell more people about Jesus,
  8. condemn demons in the name of Jesus,
  9. never watch movies, 
  10. say no more bad words, 
  11. refuse to get tattoos, 
  12. fill my body with inked art? 
  17. ... I am so weak, I know not what to do. 

Now I come to the end of this undisciplined essay.  My mind bounces around from here to there, rarely holding a thought long enough to get it exercised and articulated accurately enough for transmission.  And now I admit my cheat: my questions will find their own answers... I don't need to write them all out on this electronic paper.  But I wonder, has everyone else found their wives, so that they are content without answers?  

Whether you are a Christian or an atheist, does it not bother you that there are still so many answers left out there?  

Love from the Divine, from God alone will satisfy me. That's the infinite answer to the infinite question.  Either that, or I need an answer to every solitary question that exists. Until then, how can I claim satisfaction with my soul?  

How can you?