The death toll for U.S soldiers in Iraq is now 3000. Everyday countless Iraqi civilians fall victim to car bombs, sectarian kidnappings and murders, the country seems to slide deeper and deeper into sectarian division--this is how we end yet another year.
I have also been deeply disturbed by the hanging of Saddam Hussein and the obvious sectarian issues which it brought to light. I keep scouring the press and the web for information, I cannot work out why I am so morbidly obsessed by it or why I am so disturbed. I have had a dry mouth
here, and also find some other stimulating and provocative thoughts about Zizek's work.
I few weeks back when I saw Joseph Arthur at the Troubador, there was a guy in a velvet suit and big feathered hat who was drawing and painting throughout the show. He created quite a few really interesting pieces that seemed to echo the sentiments of some of the songs. He is a Houston-based artist named, Anglebert Metoyer, whose work is inspired and influenced by his love of music. His site is well worth a visit, from it you can see why he intersects so well with Arthur, they seem to share a lot of ideas and perspectives on things.
I feel like I have done nothing but write reviews of movies lately, that's because I have been taking things pretty easy the last few days, but watching films is not the only thing I have been doing. I am finishing up a new book, Entertainment Theology: Media Culture and the rise of democratized religion, or something like that, it's about how pop culture is reshaping the way we think, experience, and practice belief. It is essentially drawn from my doctoral dissertation which I thought I could adapt quite easily, but I have changed my mind on a few things
I have seen quite a few films over the holiday period, a few that I have really liked and one or two that I absolutely hate(Dreamgirls--the worst film I have seen in ages!). Last night I watched Perfume at a friends house. It has received little attention, and most of the reviews have not been too positive, but I have to say that for me it was one of the best films I have seen this year.
A miraculous pregnancy. A pregnant mother victim of a repressive regime. A baby born in humble surroundings, threatened with death. Sounds familiar? Perhaps you're thinking that I wasted my afternoon at the movies watching The Nativity Story, but actually it is the core of another film far more watchable. Children of Men is a science-fiction film set in Britain in a dystopian near-future in which humankind is gradually dying off with no hope of regeneration because all the women have become infertile. Britain has decided to eject all foreigners and aliens, there is tension in the streets and everyone is crying because the youngest person on the planet has died. Well, everyone is crying except Theo(Clive Owen) who basically doesn't give a shit about anything. Owen is great at playing jaded, worn-out and despairing characters and he is on his game in this film, as a man drawn into a plot to save the only pregnant woman on earth. It sounds a bit murky I know, but this is a rich and deeply spiritual film about loss of hope, meaning and the point of the future. A world without the sound of children is a world no one would want to live in. Without children there is no future for humanity and in Children of Men the clock is ticking for humankind. Police state tactics, arrests, secret prisons, there is so much in the film that connects with right now.
The film is directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien) who also had a hand in the screenplay of a book by P.D. James. Cuaron is a gifted filmmaker who can handle troubling circumstances in a compelling way, you get drawn into the story right from the start.
I haven't read the novel the film came from so I don't know how much of the theological references are coincidental or otherwise, but it is quite amazing that a film that parallels the Gospel account of the birth of Christ should appear at this time of year. The Christians who want to "impact" the world with their faith should really go and see this film, because it shows how a tale can be told that carries all the weight one needs in telling a spiritual story without weighing the thing down with unnecessary and heavy-handed insider religious posturing.
Even the score clues the viewer into the fact that something important, perhaps even sacred, is happening in the film. There is original music by John Tavener. Tavener, who is Russian Orthodox creates beautiful music with a decidedly spiritual focus and intent and this is what drives the important scenes in the film. What is striking is how subtle the music is, it doesn't force an acknowledgement of the sacred or holy, but merely invites it--granting the viewer permission to connect in that way.
Of course this is not technically the Saviour of the world, or is it? Most Christians only want people to be saved from going to hell, this saviour is hope for recreation of humanity. The mother, Kee, is African--another "Eve" from the cradle of civilization perhaps? The father is unknown, not the spirit, just one of the faceless men she slept with when she was a prostitute, but the connections can still be made quite easily. Amazingly, it's the future but God is still angry. There are various resistance groups in the film, Renouncers and Resisters and the Fishes (another reference perhaps?) The Resisters are apparently Christian, and while some might argue that it is an easy shot to take, the protesting, the slogans they carry declaring that infertility is God's judgement and punishment ring true, because it is what Christians seem to do time and time again--judge the world and then declare that they are speaking for God.
In this film, the god that seems to be most connected to the situation is not the god of monotheistic faith but rather a Hindu, or 'hinduized'(not a word I know, but you perhaps get my point)version of the sacred--perhaps pointing to the religion few pay close attention to but which is perhaps the one world religion that could truly handle the plurality of a globally interconnected world. Hinduism as a belief system could be viewed as series of intersections for various spiritual ideas to come together and express a bigger picture. There are so many gods in hindusim, in a sense anything can be a god and that allows for different views of the sacred to live together a little easier. Please don't read that necessarily as an endorsement of hindusim (I honestly don't know that much about it and do not wish to speak of it with any sense of expertise or authority) as much as a way of looking at it which explains how it might prove helpful when thinking about how to mediate all the various ways people think about and express their understanding of the sacred.
This understanding of the sacred comes through a couple of key characters in the film, both of whom were formerly part of alternative communities with decidedly anti-institutional postures. Miriam, Kee's companion and a midwife, played by Pam Ferris, and Jasper Palmer, Theo's oldest friend and former political cartoonist, played with great depth by Michael Caine in a definitely unlikely role for him. Jasper lives in the woods in a solar-powered house, growing pot and listening to old music, and basically waiting for a new world. He has one of the film's best gag lines. In the movie, the government provides a number of ways for its citizens to kill themselves if they don't wish to linger in a world on the fast track to desolation. They have a package called Quietus, that provides the means necessary to end it all. "Here we are with government assisted suicide and ganja is still illegal," moans Jasper, as he lights one up for his friend.
The Fishes, led by Theo's ex-wife are trying to smuggle Kee out of the country to connect her with a mythical group of scientists called The Human Project, who are desperately searching for ways to save humanity--this new "Eve" becomes the key to hope. Children of Men is dark and filled with despair but their is a big light at its centre that makes for really good commentary and cinema.
It's Boxing Day something that is completely lost on most Americans. The day after Christmas is back to business as usual for most people here. Sales begin, people return presents they don't want, and that's about it. No bad telly, no bubble and squeak, no visit to your Gran's, no football(thank God for Fox Sports channel here). Oh well, to all who know the beauty of Boxing Day may yours be filled with nothing much--the best gift on B-day.