Category Archives: New Age Movies

Best Halloween Cinema #30: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So begins the list of the #30 best things to watch for Halloween (I by no means claim this is a definitive list and the ordering is rather arbitrary).

We start this month of horror films off with a TV show. But not just any TV show, the single greatest TV show in the history of human civilization (at least up to this point…Whedon could easily come out with something new that would surpass it in a few years). That show is of course Buffy The Vampire Slayer. High tragedy, high comedy, deep understanding of the human condition, skill in writing, acting and directing, and of course a hopeful view of humanity that forgiveness is possible and that people can grow and improve themselves. There is simply no show in the history of television that has dealt such profound philosophical themes without being heavy handed and with characters who were human and never just two dimensional cutouts who were allowed to followed a predictable pattern.

The reason such a great work of art gets put last in this list is that it’s really not a horror story. Yes there are vampires and werewolves and monsters of all stripes. But even though it has all the tropes of horror, it is not focused on death as any good horror story is, rather Buffy is focused on life, specifically the growing up part of life. And in this respect it works as a good counterbalance to everything that’s going to come after, but that does not mean it does not have its horrifying moments.

So let’s do a quick rundown of some of the more terrifying episodes.

The Gentlemen from “Hush”

“Hush”: Possibly the most horrifying episode of Buffy. Corpse like emaciated men dressed in 1920’s style suits come to town, steal everyone’s voice and rip out their hearts. It’s frightening for several reasons. The first is the villains, The Gentlemen. The scariest monsters are always the ones that look human but are just a slight bit off, the fact that they were so concerned with manners and courtesy in their actions toward one another just adds to the horror because it is so out of place when you’re about to cut out a live and awake person’s heart. The other reason that it’s such a terrifying episode is that it takes away from the characters something they take for granted: their voice. The idea of not having something we have been so dependent on that we take it for granted, like our ability to communicate brings up the simple question in our minds: “what would I do in that situation?” It’s not a pleasant question. We use our voice for so many things and the idea that we should have to live without it–not a pleasant thought. And of course there is the fear of death. Few episodes have shown people so helpless as this episode when being killed, they’re restrained almost immediately so they can’t run away; they have no voice so they can’t scream for help and then they feel everything as their heart is cut out. One of the things that frighten people so much about death is that they think it is something out of their control, that it will come in the night without warning or rhyme or reason and there is nothing they can do about it, and they are utterly powerless in the face of the unknown. It’s powerlessness against it that frightens them (it’s why waiting for the diagnosis of cancer is worse than the diagnosis itself, when you know what it is, you have a name, an MRI, an idea you can fight against or give into, it’s your choice—but when you’re waiting you still have no choice about anything). It is this powerlessness that the scenes of death in this episode capture so well, and remind most of us of our own fears of death.
Helpless: People run a lot in Buffy. But either they’re one episode’s extras whom we’re not really all that invested in, or they’re main characters and we know Buffy will save them. But when it’s Buffy who is doing the running because she has had all her powers taken away, that adds a lot more terror. The safety net of “Buffy will save the day” is gone, and being Joss Whedon, we never had any reassurance that he isn’t willing to kill main characters, so there’s not that usual safety net either.

“Restless”: There is something terrifying about the unknown and the bizarre to most people. If they can’t understand and make sense of it, it frightens them. So putting our four main characters in a rather symbolic and random dreamscape with an unknown assailant killing them, is quite terrifying. Oh and there’s cheese (if you’ve seen the episode you’ll get that).

“Fear Itself”: Finally my favorite Halloween episode in Buffy. The Scooby Gang faces off against a demon who makes them live out their worst fears and then face the fear demon itself. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This episode shows how foolish that is. Why? Because the fear demon is three inches tall, which is possibly the most insightful and genius representation of fear I have ever seen in of all of literature. Fear is something small, something insignificant, and something if you use reason isn’t worth worrying about…yet we let it control us because we refuse to look at it. If we did confront it head on we would probably find that most of our fears are so small and so insignificant that they can just easily be squashed and ignored.

Xander: Who’s the little fear demon? Come on, who’s the little fear demon? Giles: Don’t taunt the fear demon.Xander: Why? Can he hurt me?Giles: No, it’s just… tacky

Honorable Mentions:

None these are exactly great films (not that the top 30 are all Oscar Winners) but they get trotted out every Halloween and I would say they do meet my criteria of an unhealthy obsession with death.

Constantine: An epic battle between good and evil with a poorly executed story of redemption.  Fun but ultimately pointless.

Stigmata: It’s not exactly a horror film, (and I’ll probably deal with it later in my blogs about movies for New Agers) but with all the blood and suffering it has many of the tropes of a horror film.

Bless the Child: Certainly not as dense and preachy as the novel it’s based on, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still just a little preachy.  And then there is just the rather low quality direction.

The Shinning (TV movie 1997): You know the Nicholson/Kubric version of the film is actually well done, the problem is that it seems to completely ignore that there is actually a great book that it’s supposed to be based on. The TV movie, while not without its flaws was more true to theme and characters of the book and thus I prefer it to the older version.

Fringe: Again it’s not really about the fear of death, but there are some truly horrifying moments.  Like in the first episode where everyone’s skin is melting off, that’s frightening at levels I can’t begin to describe.  And that 3rd season episode where they guy is playing with a corpse and through levers and pulleys make it dance ballet, that’s disturbing at a level I seldom see.


Filed under Art, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Death, Faith, Fear, Free Will, God, Halloween, Joss Whedon, Movies, New Age Movies, Popular Culture

Hope, the American Way, and the “Man of Steel” Trailer

So there appears to be some brouhaha over the newest trailer for Man of Steel.  I have seen complaints about this on no less than 3 different political web sites, which seems a bit much for a trailer, but since they want to make a federal case over it, it should be pointed out that their case is baseless.   Namely the problem seems to be with the following lines:

Lois Lane: What’s the “S” stand for?

Superman: It’s not an “S.”  On my world it means “hope.”

Lois Lane: Here it’s an “S.”  How about Super…ManofSteelsymbol

Now the first complaint is that this is changing the story, where it has always stood for Superman.  This is a silly claim, especially for a comic book movie, which is based on comic books that have been restarted so many times with so many variations D.C. comics actually had to come up with a storyline about multiple universes just to keep all the versions straight (still didn’t help).   When you’re translating a story from one medium to another it’s pure insanity to think everything can remain the same.  Further, yes you might be justifiably angry at those changes…but only if those changes make the story worse.  The new Star Trek stripped all the good out of the original series and created a cheap sci-fi film that would never have gone anywhere without banking on the greatness of the original…so there bitching about the changes is justified.  Conversely, Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy took the Batman story from a more simplistic action/detective comic and created one of the deepest most meaningful films ever made.  Those changes made the story better, and so whining about purity of the original story is just bunk.  Rewriting stories is a part of literature dating back to when Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides rewrote the works of Homer for stage, nobody in their right mind claims they ruined the stories.  Now it may be that whatever changes Nolan and Snyder have made to the Superman myth in this film may make it better or worse, we’ll have to see, but change is not necessarily good or bad on its own.

The other reason this is silly (and keep in mind I’ve never read a Superman comic in my life, and even I could find this out easily) is that in terms of the meaning of the “S” they haven’t really changed anything.  In the original film starring Christopher Reeve, the symbol stood for the House of El, the Kryptonian family that Superman is a part of. But what about the “Hope” thing?  Apparently some on the Right are having knee-jerk reactions to the word and thinking that this is intended to be a reference to Obama.  It’s not.  This actually is taken directly from the 2004 comic Superman: Birthright written by Mark Waid (Obama had only come onto the national scene at the 2004 Democratic convention in July, the comic came out in September which means it was probably written well before July).  I will shortly come back to why using Waid’s work as a basis for this movie is a very, very good thing.

Finally there are of course the constant complaints still going on about the line from the last movie “Find out if he still stands for Truth, Justice, all that stuff” and how the writers shoved away the phrase “the American Way” and the worry that this will still continue in this film (this of course ignores that the line came from Perry White, the most cynical character in the Superman universe who probably would find the phrase silly).

ManofSteelAfter this trailer I especially find this fear also fairly unwarranted.


Well what is the American Way?

Contrary to what many believe, it has nothing to do with land, or resources, or economic success, or military prowess, or scientific achievement. America is America because of our ideals.  The ideals of liberty, of meritocracy, that anyone can achieve by their own will.  Or as I have stated before:

We’re the nation that fought to create a republic where the haves and have-nots gave equal measure.  We’re the nation that fought our own citizens to free slaves.  We’re the nation that pioneered capitalism and law that gave liberty and opportunity and progress to more people than any other country in history.  We’re the place where “tired, the poor, the huddled masses” come to be energetic, successful and stand on their own feet.  We’re the country that conquers whole nations so that others may be free then tries to rebuild them and then leaves without tribute or power.  If you don’t think we’re the “shining city on the hill” you don’t know history, philosophy or human nature.  We’re not perfect, we’re not always right, but we are consistently the nation that calls for the best in humanity to put down the worst.

The American way isn’t a habit, or a land, or a race, or even the citizens of this particular country, it is an ideal that believes the best in humanity can always rise above the worst in humanity, that the individual left to their own devices will rise to the pinnacle of achievement and not sink to the depth of depravity.

And just in this trailer alone, we see that way, that ideal.

We see it in Jor-El’s statement

What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended?  What if a child aspired to something greater?

Are you going to tell me a line about how a single individual can rise above the shackles of whatever society throws on them, and achieve because of their own will and merit isn’t at the very heart of America?

Or perhaps Jonathan Kent’s:

I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason.  And even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.

The belief that life has a purpose.  It has been seen in philosophy since Aristotle, but it has never been realized until America.  And this quest to find meaning is a personal one, “you owe it to yourself,” not one laden down with obligations to family, or clan, or religion, or state, or culture, or history or whatever other un-American claptrap other nations have followed.

Or perhaps we should go to first trailer, with another line from Jor-El

You will give the people an ideal to strive towards.  They will race behind you.  They will stumble.  They will fall.  But in time they will join you in the sun—In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.

Shining city on the hill anyone?  The beacon of hope and light that America is supposed to be.

Oh I said “beacon of hope” which brings us back to the symbol and them taking that point from Mark Waid.  This is important that they are drawing form Waid’s version. Why?  I would direct you to an essay written by Waid in the book Superheroes and Philosophy entitled “The Real Truth About Superman and the Rest of Us, Too.” (It’s an excellent essay which you may want to read.)

The essay covers the thought process Waid went through when the head of D.C. asked him a simple question: “Why does Superman do what he does?  Why doesn’t absolute power absolutely corrupt in his case?”  He quickly found the stock answer of, because he’s Superman, to be unsatisfying to the employer who was hiring him to revitalize the franchise.

What follows is an argument that references two of my favorite philosophical beliefs.

The first is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Waid starts from the premise that even though an alien, he has the same needs in the same order as any human.  Physical needs then Safety needs then Emotional Needs then Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsAchievement needs then finally the need for Self Actualization.  (You’ll find that the American beliefs in liberty and capitalism parallel this order of needs quite well).  Now for Superman, the first two, physical and safety need, aren’t an issue at all.  So that leaves emotional, achievement and self actualization needs.  Now he might gain some emotional connections by just being mild mannered Clark Kent, but certainly not achievement or self actualization.  Which then comes to a question of how much does he need to achieve…and this is where Waid turns to another idea, a quote in fact (which I’m hoping against hope will make it into the movie):

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” [Italics on the last part added]


It is the realization that Superman is who he is because to do anything less would not lead to his Happiness, and that a central theme of the story has always been that we should all strive to the edge our abilities, as Kal-El does, not just to help others achieve their goals (You will help them accomplish wonders) but to also achieve our own Happiness (you owe it to yourself).

So this is why I’m happy they are pulling from Waid, with the concept of Superman being a symbol of hope, the city on the Hill, because it places the whole story in a very strong and correct footing of spiritual values and Aristotelian virtue based ethics.

Now while Waid, or Marianne Williamson who first wrote this in her book A Return to Love: Reflections on A Course in Miracles, don’t make the connection, it is only through the American Way of personal liberty and personal achievement that we achieve the heights of shining our brightest.  So I feel the need to again point out, that the American Way is being championed in this movie already, whether they say the words or not.

Now, no one has seen this film yet, so it could either suck or make the Dark Knight Rises look like an F film student’s half-hearted attempt…or anything in between. I am merely pointing out that the complaints based only on this trailer are completely unfounded.  This movie appears to appeal to the best in this story, the core ideals that have let it rise above whatever flaws have plagued the various incarnations over the years.


Filed under American Exceptionalism, Aristotle, Art, character, Faith, Individualism, Marianne Williamson, Movies, Movies for Conservatives, New Age Movies, Patriotism, philosophy, Popular Culture, virtue

Reflections on the Election: Why I was wrong, Why Obama Won, and what the GOP needs to do. Part I

Okay so I needed to reflect on the election for some time before I wrote anything meaningful on this.  Quick statements just to fill air time have over the past couple of weeks mainly been ignorant, self-serving or just stupid.

Why I was wrong

I was wrong because I made the incorrect assumption to trust that polls like Rasmussen would continue to be the most accurate.
I was wrong because I made the incorrect assumption to trust equally respected polls that showed huge Republican enthusiasm which would usually mean that the Rasmussen polls were off in favor of Republicans.

I was wrong because I simply assumed PPP polls would continue to hack partisan polls that were never all that close.

I was wrong because I assumed Democratic cheating wouldn’t be as effective as it was.
I was wrong because I, even I who have a very low opinion of people, couldn’t possibly conceive of people being so fucking dumb that they would reelect this idiotic wanna-be-despot.  I really couldn’t believe America could be that dumb.

Why We Lost

First off, between counties that had over 100% turnout, military ballots being sent out at wrong times and then going missing, programmers saying every electronic machine was rigged, and buses of immigrants showing up to vote out of the blue, the fact is that there appears to be a heavy amount of cheating going on by the Democratic party.  I’d say I’m shocked but I’m not.  This is what democrats do.  Now is every accusation of cheating real, doubt it, and fewer still are provable, but you’re living in la-la land if you think elections have been on the up and up when it comes to Democratic votes…it’s how they’ve won elections ever since Joe Kennedy bought the election back in 1960.

But I was expecting cheating and fraud…which means either the Democrats have gotten even better at it, or, as I’m more afraid is the truth, people were kind of dumb on November 6th.  The fact that cheating was enough to sway the election means that we have problems because this shouldn’t have even been close, this should have been a landslide against Obama and yet it wasn’t.  So that can’t be the only problem.  What else went wrong?

We can also blame the media.  Almost every reporter on the Romney trail and most of the major outlets were trying to find gaffes and slip ups.  They were actively trying to portray him in the worst possible light.  And they were conveniently ignoring everything about Obama and his record, including, low and behold that Obama let 4 Americans die through his depraved indifference because he thought going in might be bad for his reelection.  But we can’t lay full blame on the media, because as annoying and biased as they are, there’s Drudge, there’s FOXNews, there’s Breitbart and the Blaze and Twitter and NewsBusted and the Washington Times and the Heritage Foundation and a 101 other sources.  The information was there if people just listened.

Well apparently the ground game was abysmal from the GOP and great from Obama’s side.  Now part of this is that Obama used his obscene huge data mine to play his usual game of divisive politics (more on this later) Part of the problem is also that Romney’s system  which was supposed to help make sure all GOP voters got to the polls, ORCA, failed on election day—hmmm, an online system to help conservatives failed…I’m going to offer 50/50 odds that the terrorists known as Anonymous might have had something to with this.  But whether they did or not, I have to ask where was the ground game for the GOP House, for the GOP Senate, from local state parties?  As usual the entire party disappoints me.  We had a terrible ground game and did not do enough to get people to the polls.

Now many idiots (Santorum, Gingrich, Levin, etc) want to blame Romney.  This is beyond wrong because Romney didn’t do anything wrong.  As Ann Coulter points out Romney wasn’t the problem.  Romney was a conservative’s conservative.  Now I think Romney was not as much of a fighter as he could have been…but I don’t think that would have made a difference because every time he tried to hit the worthless jackass hard the media spun it as Romney was a terrible person…so is it Romney wasn’t a fighter or is it that Romney just knew to avoid a fight he couldn’t win?

But even with all of that why did we lose?  Well because Romney was right.  There is a portion of this country that thinks they’re entitled to shit and Obama targeted specific groups and pandering to them by giving them gifts.

Oh before you dare complain about that statement, let’s look at a few facts.

According to the exit polls here are the groups Obama did really well with (I’m defining really as over 10%) Women, those under 30, non-white voters, those with a high school diploma or less (he was +29 with those with no diploma), the LGBT crowd, those people who never get out of academia known as the post graduate crowd, those making under 50K, people who do not go to church very often.

Hmmm let’s look at those groups again.

Women…pandered to with the fake war on women and Fluke’s endlessly whining.

Under 30…pandered to with promises of more college money (by the way you do know he’s cutting Pell grants right?)

Those without education and making less than 50K pandered to food stamps and welfare and a whole lot of other entitlements.  As Dennis Miller points out you can make close to 45K just by living off the dole these days.

And those with Post Graduate degrees (already being fairly clueless of how the real world works) he pandered to with promises of more teaching jobs.

The LGBT crowd with promises of gay marriage (then turned around and said it wouldn’t be a priority for him).

And the largest group with the non Caucasian crowd, Latinos, he gave that Dream Act amnesty with the implication more was on the way.

Of course the difference between Obama and Santa is that, worst case, Santa will give you a piece of coal, whereas Barry is not only not going to give anyone what they promised, but he’s going to outlaw coal as well.

Yes how terrible of Romney to point out that that Obama’s giving out things and making promises to specific groups was giving out things and making promises to specific groups.  How dare he pay attention to the man behind the curtain and not just fall in line with the typical intentional ignorance of what is going on?

Obama divided people into groups, played on the most base impulses and fears of any individual and treated them as he sees them, only as groups.  And this worked for him because education, media and the government have treated people only as groups for years.  And we lost because of that.
Now the knee jerk reaction might be to start playing their game of identify politics, as some have suggested.  But this is a losing strategy.  The only way to win identify politics, to say that this group values things that other group don’t, is Obama’s way to give out gifts.  We are conservatives, we believe in ideas, in values and in individuals, and to treat people as only members of groups is to betray our values and forget everything that makes America, America.  Now there are things we need to do, and I’m going to go into more detail on that soon, but we must realize we lost because for years they have been playing this game of divisiveness and hatred and that we haven’t confronted it head on is the reason we lost.

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Filed under American Exceptionalism, Capitalism, character, Congress, Conservative, Constitution, Corporate Welfare, Economics, Education, Election 2012, Evils of Liberalism, GOP, Government is corrupt, Government is useless, Mitt Romney, New Age Movies, Obama, Occupy Wall Street, Patriotism, Paul Ryan, People Are Stupid, politics, Tyranny, Welfare

Movies for New Agers–Groundhog Day

“This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it. You’re hypocrites, all of you!”

“What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing you did mattered?”–Bill Murray, Groundhog Day.

So today of all days, February 2nd, is the only day to discuss one of the greatest films of all time, Groundhog Day. I think by now we all know the film and the concept…although just in case you don’t know let me quickly recap the movie (I have to do this because I found some people just live in caves and don’t know movies at all). Phil Connors (Bill Murray in his last enjoyable role) an unhappy, misanthropic TV weatherman gets sent to Punxsutawney, PA to cover the annual Groundhog festival to see if famed weatherman and groundhog Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow or not. Then a snowstorm hits and he can’t get out of the small town he loathes. But what’s worst of all is that when he wakes up the next morning, it’s still Groundhog day. It’s always Groundhog day. Every day he wakes up and it’s Groundhog day. The universe seems to reset itself every time he falls asleep and only he seems to remember what happened. And after having all the fun you could think of having when there are no lasting consequences, a funny thing happens, the meaningless pleasures become, well meaningless, and he starts to actually improve himself and become a better human.

Ever since it came out this film has been popular with spiritual people of all faiths because it shows progression of self-improvement and placing value on things that actually matter as just about all religions actually call for. For New Agers it works as an allegory for a very abbreviated form of reincarnation and movement toward enlightenment. Bill Murray as Phil Connors works his way both through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (First food, then sex, then money, followed by thrills and the fun stuff we’d always like to try but never have the guts to) soon, he, like all of us, become both fixated on something of value and something which is just out of his reach (in this case Andie MacDowell’s love). As these lower pleasures give no lasting pleasure he tries to find something that lasts for more than a single day. But as he cannot find it by being his shallow petty self he becomes depressed.
In spiritual discussions of a lot of religions there is always a point where a person has progressed far enough to understand that the world isn’t enough to bring Happiness, but, in spite of deeply held faith (and oddly usually because of it) a person will hit a point where both the material world they have left and the spiritual world they have yet to fully enter both become meaningless and bereft of hope. “You want a prediction about the weather, you’re asking the wrong Phil. I’ll give you a winter prediction: It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.” In Christianity this period is called the dark night of the soul. It’s a necessary spiritual point, but also a dangerous one as the soul hits rock bottom and feels it has nothing to lose. In the case of Groundhog Day this manifests in repeated suicide attempts.

“I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned. […] and every morning I wake up without a scratch on me, not a dent in the fender… I am an immortal.”

Luckily, like most people, he arises from the dark night with the help of a higher power believing in him which allows him to again continuing through the levels of Maslow’s hierarchy to work on issues of personal improvement, achievement and self actualization. After passing through the dark night he ceases to be fully fixated on only himself which actually allows him to better himself (which harkens back to my constant point that there is an extreme difference between narcissism and rational self-interest, between materialism and finding joy in the material world). And by becoming a better person he actually becomes a much happier one.

“Whatever happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now… because I love you.”

This movie works as a good movie for New Agers because, more or less this is what we believe happens to us through reincarnation. We get sent back life after life after life, confronted with the same problems over and over and over again until, like Phil, we learn how to deal with them. There is no limit to how much time we can take to learn, there is no force other than our own desire for happiness that forces you to learn. But if we wish to escape the particular cycle we are in, we must learn.

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Filed under Death, Faith, Free Will, God, Happiness, Humor, Love, New Age, New Age Movies, Purpose of Life, Reincarnation, Religion, Spirituality

Movies for New Agers: “Lady in the Water”

“Man thinks they are each alone in the world. It is not true. You are all connected.”

It’s been a while since I’ve done a New Age movie, and I realized I still hadn’t done Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water (I primarily realized this while watching Shyamalan’s Devil this weekend which has convinced me he had five great movies in him and that’s it. He’s got nothing left. He could make a semi-decent movie right now and I’d probably spit on it. Unless he somehow finds it within him to outdo Nolan this man has no career left. It’s even worse that I need to write a whole blog on how terrible a movie Devil is.) It’s kind of odd that I put off doing this one as it’s actually my favorite of all of Shyamalan’s movies.
Also I realize that I have to do all these older movies because very seldom does it appear that people get the more spiritual message of these films.
So we at last come to the final great film of Shyamalan where M. Night still could remember how to make movies (and while 5 great films in a row is a spectacular accomplishment, The Happening, The Last Airbender and Devil do seem to almost erase my opinion of him as a writer/director, but Lady in the Water is a great movie regardless). So why is this movie great? Well because it takes most of the topics of his previous themes, that everyone has a purpose in life, that there is a higher order in the universe, that nothing happens by chance, that fear is the greatest enemy in life, that faith and love are a great weapon against that fear, and puts them together into a single magnum opus.
Well first off, Shyamalan had the guts to do what every other person in Hollywood wants to do but doesn’t have the guts to do: he showed movie critics to be small, petty, disgusting people who can only critique things they couldn’t make and praise crap only because they can’t understand it. And then had the critic eaten by a monster. No shock that critics panned this movie.
Now it’s not an overly complicated movie. It’s not meant to be. In fact it has all the subtlety of an Ayn Rand speech. I think at some level Shyamalan knew this was his last hurrah and knew he had to get this message out in no uncertain terms. The story is simple enough; an angel comes down to inspire people, does, is threatened by the forces of darkness, but returns home. Sure it’s dressed up in the following tale:

Once, man and those in the water were linked. They inspired us. They spoke of the future. Man listened and it became real. But man does not listen very well. Man’s need to own everything led him deeper into land. The magic world of the ones that lived in the ocean… and the world of men… separated. Through the centuries, their world and all the inhabitants of it… stopped trying. The world of man became more violent. War upon war played out, as there were no guides to listen to. Now those in the water are trying again… trying to reach us. A handful of their precious young ones have been sent into the world of man. They are brought in the dead of night… to where man lives. They need only be glimpsed… and the awakening of man will happen. But their enemies roam the land. There are laws that are meant to keep the young ones safe… but they are sent at a great risk to their lives. Many… do not return. Yet still they try… try to help man. But man has forgotten how to listen…

But it’s essentially a story of an angel. The difference between this and real life is that we don’t have an angel come to only a few people only once in a lifetime, we have them talking to us, each and every one of us, at all times during our lives. And just like in the movie “but man does not listen very well.” We can choose to ignore those voices of advice, but only at our own loss.
What is the message that they bring? It’s a simple one as repeated several times by the story’s central character “Story” (yeah, not very subtle that you should take her message as allegory, but then again somehow everyone seemed to miss this basic interpretation): “You have a purpose. All beings have a purpose.” This is what Shyamalan has been building up to through all of his films (the kid and Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense had a purpose to help people, Bruce Willis in Unbreakable had a purpose to be a hero and was miserable until you fulfilled it, every person had a role to play in Signs leading up to a moment that made it clear everything is part of a higher plan). It just becomes so obvious in this movie as people are put into purely archetypal (The Healer, The Guardian, The Interpreter, The Guild…you get the impression that Shyamalan is getting tired of trying to get a message across and said “screw it, I’m just going to be so blunt a 5 year old could get it”…it of course went right over the head of critics) roles to show that people do have a purpose in life. The idea that you’re supposed to get from this is that yes, you too have a purpose in life. It may not be obvious, it may not be pleasant at all points in time, but it is your purpose, and you do need to find out what that purpose is. Or as one character states:

“This world is about finding your purpose, right? And the only way to do that is to find your own voice. You told us that. […] Finding one’s purpose is a profound thing. Sometimes it is not always what it seems.”

The movie also brings up the problem of the false path. Lots of times we get it in our head that we are meant to be something when we’re not…or worse we think we can tell other people what they should do with their lives. “What kind of person would be so arrogant as to presume the intention of another human being?” What kind of person? Well in Shyamalan’s mind it’s the petty self-righteous intellectual embodied in a movie critic…but I might extend that to anyone who thinks they have a right to dictate what another person does with their life. We all have this habit of trying to tell people what do with their lives, especially when people ask us for advice, try and downplay that urge. Advice has its time and place, but don’t let it become a habit. People need to find their own way, and sometimes that involves taking a detour or wrong path for a while so that they can learn with clarity what the right path is—it should be noted that while the first group of people who took on the archetypal roles in Lady in the Water were technically not the right people for those jobs, they were the right people to help set up the situation so that the right people could find their purpose (so were they the wrong people if they helped bring the correct realization about?)

Lady in the Water also shows in a very clear way the nature of the universe in intervening in our lives. In the film there are a group of creatures known as Tartudek, they are the police of this magical world and enforce the rules of this world…and meet out punishment when they need to. However they don’t show up until the very end of the film, long after they could have been really useful. However, while it might seem as if their lack of intervention made everything more complicated for the characters in the story, it is actually that his is merely a reflection of the way the world works. People actually complain, maybe not always vocally but pay attention and you’ll see signs of this; that the world (read God) doesn’t perfectly always line up for them. They don’t always get that raise. Traffic backs up on them. It’s raining. Why me? And with this comes a list of prayers to a higher power for just a string of incredibly small and trivial things (you ever prayed for a parking space?) and the indignation that comes when your prayers are not answered. This is not exactly how the universe works. Yes, I do believe if you’re in tune with the universe everything has a domino effect of working your way, but most of this is more that you’re recognizing the signs and responding, not that the universe is always going out of its way to provide big budget miracles to you. The universe/God only intervenes in major ways when you can’t do things on your own. Tartudek only appears in the film once the acts of people alone are not enough to stop the villain of the film, ONLY WHEN THE ACTS OF HUMANS ARE NOT ENOUGH. If you can do it for yourself, the universe expects you to do it for yourself. That it is hard, you complain. Tough, it’s hard only because you make it so…as pointed out in this movie and Shyamalan’s other films, the universe has been trying to show you signs and messages on how to make your life easier, it’s up to you to listen to that or not.

“Man thinks they are each alone in the world. It is not true. You are all connected. One act on one day can affect us all. “Even more central than the idea of your purpose in life is how connected we all are in life. The lives of almost everyone in the small apartment complex that the story of Lady in the Water takes place are interconnected. It is only through the actions of each of them that they are all able to learn and progress in life. One of the main characters, a writer, (played by Shyamalan himself) writes a book that will one day help change the world for the better. Now some have criticized Shyamalan’s choice of casting himself in this role (even though they didn’t critique him putting himself into all his other films), however this kind of makes sense as, it’s not so much arrogance, as it is the feelings of any artist. Nobody does any kind of art without hoping that it will affect people. Yeah most of the time artists may just be hoping to entertain or please, but you’re always hoping it will affect people. Is it then wrong for the artist of the film, it’s writer/director, to put himself in the archetype most fitting himself (at least he didn’t try and tell us what to believe in terms of politics which many other people in Hollywood are all too eager to do). Not really. But this small matter aside, this central idea that we all have the power to affect change in our own lives and in the world this is not exactly a new idea, but it is one that we too often forget and become depressed about because we don’t immediately see. Shyamalan’s more extreme tale of a single book causing great change is trying to tell us that we can change the world for the better, just not necessarily in the next three seconds. Change takes time…even in Lady in the Water it takes nearly a generation. This should make you think about each small act you perform each day. What will the long term effects of each choice in your life, each moment you could have been creative, charitable, helpful…what will the ripple effects (like how I use the water metaphor there relating back to the title) of your actions will be. How much greater might that be if you actually tried to do things if we intentionally did things we thought would make the world better for years to come. And because all actions have effects that stretch far beyond our own little corner of the world it could eventually reach everyone in the world, thus we are all connected.
…What have you done to make the world better today?

If the movie has a flaw it is in its promise of hope, “The world will line up and reveal we are on the right path….” Yes we are given this in that we see everyone find their purpose and our main character get through his greatest personal problem…but we are only left with all of the characters staring at the sky at the end as if being shown this moment of revelation in the last scene. I know there is probably no way even the greatest artist could show anything even more revealing, but it still feels like I’m being cheated just a little.

The movie is simplistic in its plot and characterization, yes, but that is so you have no choice but to focus on its theme. If you haven’t seen the movie, or haven’t seen it with an eye toward looking at it as a philosophical story you should give it a try.

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Movies for Conservatives and New Agers: A tale of two comic book movies

Movies are getting pretty bad. Between the low class comedies, the overly melodramatic dramas about people I couldn’t care less about, zombies, and vampires so wimpy the weakest nerd in the world could kick their ass, the last decade of movies has been a few really great movies in a vast sea of crap. One of the few advantages over the last decade is that the comic book movies, which now seem to be about the only genre that is now consistently entertaining (not always good, but usually entertaining), have been getting deeper and deeper. Yeah the X-men movies were more philosophical from the beginning, but you have to admit that they do seem to be getting deeper on a whole (Dark Knight was a comment on ethics and the war on terror, Thor was laced with Branagh’s trademark obsession with Shakespeare, Iron Man 2 had shades of Atlas Shrugged, and The Incredibles was like an Ayn Rand cartoon).

Which leads us to the last couple of weeks which have given us two new films X-men: First Class and Green Lantern. On the whole X-men is the better of the two (but it also is aided by the fact that after Last Stand and Wolverine our expectations for an X-men movie was that it didn’t !@#$ing suck) however I think it is Green Lantern which has a more interesting and meaningful theme. (I just couldn’t bring myself to believe either film deserved a blog of its own)

I know that seems kind of a dumb assertion to make. But bear with me.

Yes I will immediately concede that First Class was a superior movie on all plot/character/stylistic fronts. Green Lantern seems to be missing much of its second act which kills all character development and relationships between our hero and his friend/the audience (I can hope that the missing 2nd act will show up in a director’s cut, but I fear it was never filmed and probably never written). Not that X-Men doesn’t have plot problems. From the previous films I had the impression that Charles and Erik knew each other for more than a few short months, but apparently they got to know each other really fast. Also, how did Charles go from mild rake to St. Xavier in two minutes of film? Also I do not see how someone as intelligent as Erik/Magneto, who has enough self-control and introspection to control his powers as fully as he does, but be completely unable to put his own beliefs to any kind of logical test whatsoever. Not to say that the intelligent don’t hold contradictory or wrong beliefs in real life…but it does seem a bit odd. Also a problem with both movies was their action sequences…am I the only person getting bored by these extended, special effects laden, action sequences? (Although watching Erik kill the S.S. officers in the first part of the film did warm my heart.)

(And I realize that the character of Magneto has been Jewish since the first comic, and it was not an Anti-Semitic choice in making him Jewish, it was a stylistic choice of irony that if there was one person who should understand why it was evil it should be Magneto, thus showing how human the mutants are in their personal flaws. But it’s probably just that I’ve seen too many Anti-Semitic themed news articles in the last week that scream at Israel for defending themselves when attacked, but I find it odd that the villain is a villain because he defended himself when thousands of missiles were fired at him. Somebody lobs that much fire power at me, I will be understandably pissed, especially when I just saved them. And then there is of course Charles’ defense of the sailors who launched those missiles, which boiled down to “They were following orders.” And in that case the fictitious U.S. and Soviet Navies were on a moral equivalent with the S.S. who tried to use that excuse. So while the vengeance would not have been a moral good, it would have been self-defense. Could not the writers have come up with a situation where Erik was not as justified in being pissed to no end? Yes, trying to kill the people who just killed him doesn’t make him a saint—it just makes him human, not necessarily a villain. Honestly, couldn’t they have made him a villain for a better reason than personal vengeance against Nazi’s and self-defense? It’s probably that I’ve been watching other things in the news, but I am detecting just a trace of Anti-Semitism in those choices…but I’ll admit I could easily be seeing what was not intended in this case).

But back to why I think the Green Lantern is the more meaningful picture. Art has only a few purposes. Three of these purposes (and the ones you’re most likely to run across) are to entertain, to provide social and political commentary, and raise philosophical questions of the universe, ethics, and human nature. Good (or at least tolerable art) usually deals with at least two of these, which both of these movies do. Great art usually deals with all three (neither of these movies hits all three). Both movies set out to entertain and did that to varying degrees of success. But X-men attempted only social commentary (its lack of character depth prevented the third) and a very limited social commentary at that, while Green Lantern looked more toward the philosophical. And it is this difference where I find Green Lantern to be superior.

The social commentary of X-Men has always been one about bigotry. In the 60’s when the X-Men were created it was an allegory for racism. Now that racism (except for Anti-Semitism) has been driven to the fringe of society, it is now an allegory for how society treats homosexuals. And there in is the reason X-Men is weaker—in a generation, maybe a generation and a half, society will likely have grown up and this allegory will not exactly be relevant. Further, this is more a message that is preaching to the choir—no one stupid enough to see homosexuality as a sin is going to change their minds because they saw a movie about mutants. So unless we actually do start having mutants this is a message with an expiration date on it (hopefully sooner rather than later)…and that’s the problem when art ventures into social commentary, to be truly great it either has to be an issue that is not specific to a certain place and time (1984 will always be relevant to humanity) or it needs to be so shocking that it doesn’t just preach to the choir but rather persuades the other side (things are so bad in Ireland we have no other option than eating the children). So while I think it is a correct argument, and a well made film I have a hard time seeing it venturing into greatness or even a movie I ever need to watch again. (But if you want a different opinion or here)

However, Green Lantern for all of its many stylistic flaws reached a much deeper part of my soul. I don’t think I’ll be giving anything away when I say the main villain of the film is a creature called Parallax who is am embodiment of fear itself. It feeds off of fear, it creates fear, it is fear. This is contrasted with our hero Hal Jordan, the Earth Green Lantern, who more or less is an embodiment of the will. Yeah, I know, not all that subtle, but it certainly has a far deeper point to make if you ignore the lack of grace. Now some smaller minds have critiqued the movie associated with the Nazi misinterpretation of Nietzsche concept of the will to power….but anyone who actually knows philosophy would not see anything of Nietzsche in this the concept of will shown in the Green Lantern. This will is more akin to you sitting between the cartoon devil and angel sitting on opposite shoulders, akin to the Freudian superego balancing the ego and id—the will in this case is the part of you that chooses. That chooses to move forward. That chooses to be good. That chooses to acknowledge that you are afraid but that you WILL move past it.

You’re afraid to even admit you’re afraid. I know — I’ve spent my entire life doing it. You know, we have a saying on Earth — we say: “I’m only human.” We say it because we’re vulnerable, we say it because we know we’re afraid. It doesn’t mean we’re weak. Help me save my planet! Don’t give in to fear — fight it! Fight it with me!”

I realize that probably much of what I like about this sentiment probably comes more from years of source material (although still not enough to make me want to read a comic book, but I’m a bit of a snob that way) but it makes Green Lantern a superior piece of fiction. The idea that life is very much a battle between our will power and our fear (or in New Age parlance the battle of the soul and the ego) and we have to choose to move past our fear or not. Evil and fear are placed as one in the same, which is an accurate assessment of the real world. The movies shows in multiple forms how fear is seductive because it is so easy and so superficially powerful and thus becomes quite tempting for all of us to give into (exemplified in the line “those who worship evil’s might”—it seems to be powerful, because it’s easy, but will always lose). However the film also correctly ties intelligence and imagination to the idea of will (and I would go a step further and say good will) in opposition to fear as fear is an emotion that will destroy all of these things that make us human. For all these reasons (and a few more, but they do have a variation on theme nature to what I’ve already said and there is no need to bore you with information when you really need to roll these ideas around in your head and apply some self-reflection to get anything out of it) Green Lantern, at least philosophically, is a better movie.

Again X-Men is a more entertaining and well done movie, but Green Lantern has a more transcendent theme and I will probably end up buying Green Lantern and not First Class because the Lantern gives me more to think about.

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Movies for New Agers: Inception

What is the most resilient parasite? An Idea.

The Academy Awards are this weekend. Now given that Nolan has twice been robbed of directing Oscars for directing two of the greatest films of the past decade (
Dark Knight and Inception) I don’t hold too much hope that this near completely irrelevant award show will have the good sense to admit the basic truth that Inception was unquestionably the greatest film of the year (okay maybe not unquestionably, I can see how an argument for The King’s Speech or The Town might work, but I still think Inception is superior hands down).
Reality is that the Academy is probably going to show it continues to be out of its mind and give the Best Picture award to something like
The Social Network (who in their right mind would want to watch a movie about Facebook?).

However, Inception is not just a great movie in its own right; it is also a wonderful film that demonstrates many of the themes and ideas of New Age belief. Now I’m not sure Chris Nolan is actually sympathetic to the ideas of New Age thought; nor am I saying that the movie is arguing that these ideas are true—however, whatever Nolan’s intent, the film does allow for several ideas of New Age belief to be understood in a deeper, or at least more understandable, way.

Where to start?

“Dreams feel real while we’re in them.”
One of the first ways this movie demonstrates New Age principles so well is in its portrayal of what we perceive to be reality to be an illusion, a dream. And not just any dream but a dream with layers. What New Age thought realizes that many other beliefs systems do not is that the afterlife is as much a dream as this world is. The cycle of karma and reincarnation is going constantly between two different levels of the dream, neither one the reality we will embrace when we reach enlightenment, but both appearing quite real when we are in them. This constant cycle of never being able to escape the dream and its intoxicating nature is shown again and again in Inception. In the group of men who come to Yusef every day to dream because “The Dream has become their reality”; in the nature of Cobb’s totem, a top that never stops spinning symbolizing this constant cycle that never ends; in the shade of Mal’s call to stay in limbo because “you don’t believe in one reality anymore” the temptation to stay in the dream and how hard it is to separate ourselves from its Siren’s call is shown in Inception as a perfect parallel to New Age belief.

The nature of the illusion of the dream

Inception also does a wonderful job of showing what the nature of the illusionary world is. Not only does the film do an excellent job of pointing out the fluid nature of time and our perception of it (see the video above). Time is in the mind like everything else, and our perception of it can be just as fluid. Also there is the fact that it shows that the time spent in reality is negligible to the time in the illusion. “Who would want to be stuck in a dream for ten years?” Remind me how long ago the big bang was? Inception also starts with the basic premise that New Age belief, along with most eastern philosophies would agree with that, “pain is in the mind.” Everything is in the mind. Because it is ideas that create and form the world of the illusion.

“The smallest seed of an idea can grow to define or destroy you”

Ideas are what create and drive the world. The physical is probably the least important thing in life. It is ideas that are the prime factor, and this is shown quite well in Inception. We move forward or don’t by the force of our own ideas. And like Cobb’s projection of Mal, we often put our own worst obstacles in front of ourselves and have no one to blame but ourselves. It is our ideas that need to change and not our physical condition. The movie shows us that we are the ones who create our own prisons through Mal’s decision to remain in limbo, “She had locked something always something deep inside her a truth she had once known but choose to forget. Limbo became her reality” but it further shows us that we are the only ones who can truly free ourselves, notice that in Inception the idea while it can be suggested to the character of Fischer must come from himself if it is to become rooted in his mind. But Inception also shows how ideas, especially those left at that bottom level of limbo (i.e. for a New Ager the physical world) affect our ability to move out of it—Cobb could not move on before he dealt with his issues with Mal in limbo, and no one is reaching Enlightenment until they deal with their issues here on this planet.

The Labyrinth of the mind and Ariadne’s thread

But luckily Inception shows the way out of limbo which is strangely similar to the way out of the prison we have created for ourselves in real life. While the dream of Inception is intoxicating and filled with deep personal issues, the character of Ariadne (named after the mythological character who led Theseus out of the labyrinth and then married the god of spiritual understanding) tells Cobb “Your guilt defines her. It empowers her…if we are going to succeed in this you have to forgive yourself. “An interesting parallel to a New Ager is the lack of forgiveness and guilt and fear is what keeps us from achieving Enlightenment. But even Cobb knew a spark of this truth himself as he was obsessed with a song entitled “No I have no regrets” (the song they use to time their kick out of the dream, also that is the translation of the lyric we always hear in the film). He knows, just as we need to learn that it is regrets that tie us to that bottom level and it is regrets that prevent us from living in the real world. And it is through happiness and forgiveness that we give up our regrets, or a Cobb states, “Positive emotion trumps negative emotion any time. We all yearn for reconciliation, catharsis.”

So the question now only remains will you let go of your regrets, forgive and love?
“Do you want to take a leap of faith, or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?” And you may complain that death seems to be the way out in Inception keeping in mind that death has always been a metaphor for killing our lowest and darkest fears that hold us back.

And on a final note. The pitch went down and it wobbled.

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New Age Review of "Hereafter"

Most of the reviews of this movie are very negative. This is sad because this was actually a very good movie, certainly better than most of the movies that come out of Hollywood. Now it certainly isn’t as good as Inception or The Town, but you can’t always be the best movie of the year. Also the movie suffers from being a Clint Eastwood movie. Why is this a problem? Well if this was almost any other director’s work it would be praised for its skill–but when you by nature get compared to Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino and The Outlaw Josie Wales it becomes very hard to match up to that.

But, still, Hereafter is well done and points out some very important things.

Now I could go over all the artistic qualities of the film, but every other review I’ve seen has already done that. However, almost all those reviews seem to complain about one very important aspect of the film. They complain that they wanted to see something “more metaphysical”, that the film “didn’t give any answers”, that it just left you with questions. These complaints missed the point of the movie.

Hereafter deals with a medium who can channel the messages of those who have crossed over. He is unhappy with his life because (1) this gift has separated him to a large degree from those around him and (2) he feels he isn’t able to give people what they are looking for. The first point while true has been dealt with in just about every other avenue of media (Medium, Ghost Whisperer, a slew of movies and books) that has dealt with speaking to the dead. But the second point is probably more relevant.

The main character of the film, played by Matt Damon, is caused great pain partly because he cannot give people what they want. In the first scenes he does a reading for man and keeps telling him that he keeps hearing about a date in June and the man he does the reading for says he does not know what that means (but later that man admits to someone else he knew exactly what it meant, but couldn’t bring himself to say it at the moment) which leaves Damon’s character feeling like he failed to help the man. Damon’s character is plagued by the fact that he can’t give specific answers, that he doesn’t know where the souls go, that he can’t always get clear messages, and that it separates him from other people. But this is a completely accurate problem for real mediums. After all you’re dealing with souls that have had a whole life time to get used to using their voice to communicate while their thoughts are wandering all over the place. Think about it, how many random thoughts have you had in the last five minutes. Yes, you’ve gotten used to having a block between your brain and your mouth (at least I hope), but you mind is still a jumble of random ideas. If you grant that reincarnation exists, then you have to admit it took you years to relearn how to use vocal communication, it would take as long to learn to control your thoughts and communicate through just thought (and that’s not admitting that maybe not all mediums are perfect receivers). I’d like to think that the frustration that many audiences feel by not getting much detail out of the movie is meant to parallel the frustration a psychic feels trying to get information from the other side (but I can’t be sure that Eastwood was going for that).

One of the really nice points about the movie Hereafter is that it’s honest. While it very clearly states that there is an afterlife and that there are people who have the ability to communicate with it, there are also a whole slew of fakes. One of the characters, a young boy looking to talk to his dead twin brother goes through a short montage of fakes, scams, and crooks while looking for a real psychic.

However for all the frustration and chicanery, the central point of the movie is one that is very true: That while it may be comforting to know something from the other side and hear our lost loved ones, life isn’t that. It’s moving forward (in the first reading that Damon gives, in the life of the young boy who is wishing to talk to his brother, and in several other story lines in the movie). To not move forward and just focus on the past and our loss leads to great pain and a sense of being lost.

On the whole I would say you should see it, but you might want to get it from Netflix.


Filed under Death, Faith, Movies, New Age, New Age Movies

Movies for New Agers: Shyamalan Part II–The Meaning In Everything and Fear

The next two movies of M. Night I will be dealing with are Signs and The Village. Both did spectacularly poor given how good they are. This is probably because both were advertised as horror and suspense films. They really aren’t horror and suspense films in any way shape or form.

But what deeper meanings were lost while people looked for aliens in cornfields and monsters among the trees?

“So you have to ask yourself, are you someone who believes in signs, in miracles?”

Really it was kind of hard to miss the central theme of Signs, or so I thought. But when I talked to most people about it they didn’t seem to have picked it up. So just to make sure that we’re all on the same page here, the central theme of Signs was that the universe is full of small little things, signs, coincidences, luck that isn’t just random but all for a very specific purpose. This builds on themes of the previous two Shyamalan movies. It’s not just that people have a purpose and a role, it’s that everything has a purpose and a role. Even the most meaningless of things is really a part in the large Rube Goldberg machine that is life. Why is life such a complex system with little signs and signals? Why doesn’t God just come out and say things bluntly? If you hadn’t noticed he does that too, people don’t listen to the bluntly and they only pay attention to the signs when they have no other option.

But a more subtle theme of Signs is the concept called the dark night of the soul. Broadly speaking here, (understand I’m taking something you can discuss for volumes into a few sentences), the dark night is that point in your spiritual journey where you have reached a moment where nothing means anything. You’ve lost your faith and doubt everything you may have once believed in and you are lost in a dark night of doubt. Nowadays we might refer to it as an existential crisis, but that phrase doesn’t imply the spiritual nature of this journey. The dark night of the soul is actually an important step in spiritual growth because it is only through it that we can move from believing in our faith to actually acting on it. The name derives from the poem “The Dark Night of the Soul” written by St. John of the Cross, but the most famous example of it in literature is probably the spiritual despondency of Ajurna in the Bhagavad Gita. In the Gita, Ajurna wonders what’s the point of slaying his ego based desires, he is at a point where the sense pleasures don’t give him happiness but he is still too far from God and Enlightenment to find joy there either. So what’s the point in any of it. The dark night of the soul. But through communing with his higher self, represented in the Gita by the god Krishna, Ajurna (a metaphor for each of us) goes onto slay the manifestation of the ego and metaphorically reaches a higher state. This is a natural stage in our spiritual progression and the trick is not to get bogged down it. I have a friend who seems to have one of these crises every six months or so and she always seems to come out of it much wiser…so I figure in about 15 years I’ll be kneeling at her feet asking the great spiritual teacher to show me the way.
In the movie it is seen through Mel Gibson’s character’s loss of faith caused by the death of his wife. However when the signs come clicking into place, he not only acts on his faith, but in a very underplayed scene at the end it is suggested that he not only returns to being a priest, but assuredly one whose faith is now rock solid. (One could only hope a similar personal revelation would come upon the disgusting excuse of a human being known as Mel Gibson).

On the flip side The Village shows us what happens when you get lost in that dark night and give into the fear. You retreat from the world. Okay so maybe you don’t set up a community that makes the Amish look like they’re on the cutting edge of technology, but giving into fear is a cowardly retreat from the world. And that is what we see in the village; a retreat from the world where only the characters of Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard are willing to face fear and act out of love and compassion. The Village does not contain the higher purpose message of other films, but it does focus on something that is extremely New Age: That the only two opposing forces in the world are fear and love. Everything else is merely the battle between these two forces. And while this theme subtly appears through the whole story it most clear, sadly, displayed in a scene that can only be found in the deleted scene content on the DVD (and I would argue it was a mistake to cut this scene even if it did screw up the pacing of the last act).

Thinking that she has stumbled upon the monster in the forest (really just wind and sound producing pipes) Howard’s character overcomes her fear of being killed and calls out “It is for love that I am here. I beg you to let me pass. It is for love.” While it probably doesn’t help the suspense it is the clearest expression of conflict between love and fear.

This film is also the most negative of Shyamalan’s good movies as it depicts only two (maybe three if you count the security guard) people who are able to overcome the fear that society encourages and forces on them. Otherwise fear is a paralyzing force that literally destroys the people it touches forcing them to try and hide in a made up world…and even there the evils they attempted to escape follow them. The movie quite clearly condemns their cowardice, but few viewers got that their inability to live their own lives without fear made them just as sad as the characters in the movie.

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Filed under Movies, New Age, New Age Movies, Shyamalan

New Age Movies: M. Night Part I

“Do you know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in the world. To not know why you’re here. That’s just an awful feeling.”

So I finally got around to watching the movies of M. Night Shyamalan, I had nearly forgotten that yes, once many years ago the man could write and direct…in light of The Happening and The Last Airbender it isn’t hard to see how I could have forgotten this. I started to make notes for a blog only to realize that there were more themes than I could deal with in a single blog. So I’m going to try and break this down by movie. I’m going to go chronologically, since I do see him building thematically upon the messages of the previous movies.

But before I get into the details of the films I want to explain why I bring up these films, because, hasn’t everyone seen them? With the previous movies I mentioned they were clearly not well received initially so someone could have easily missed them–but we’ve all seen Shyamalan’s movies haven’t we? Yes we’ve all seen them, but every time I hear people discuss them, they discuss them only as horror or suspense movies (maybe occasionally discuss Shyamalan’s skill as a director, or lack thereof with the recent films). People seem to have missed that every one of these movies have such a strong emphasis on theme they border on being nothing more than pure allegory for deeper nature of reality. So I discuss these movies, because I feel many (not all, but many) people have missed the actual point of the movies themselves.

The first two movies of Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, give us one of the strongest themes that appear in almost all of his movies: That there is a higher order to universe.

What do I mean by a higher order? That nothing happens by chance, that every piece, every event, every person is put in a certain place at a certain time to do certain things. That each and every one of us is born to fulfill a purpose; destiny if you will. Now fate does not exist, and you have the choice to ignore that purpose, but you won’t learn anything by trying to escape that destiny and you certainly won’t be happy. But even if you have free will to not follow your purpose, the universe is certainly going to keep trying to remind you of your purpose…and only a fool doesn’t listen.

We see this in The Sixth Sense with both of our lead characters. Bruce Willis’s character, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, knows that his purpose is to help children, but he literally cannot rest unless he helps the one child he could not, hence his inability to cross over until he has done his job. This is made all too clear in the first scene when Crowe’s wife points out his gift with children and how she loves this gift in him, even though it means that she is put second in his life behind the children he helps. This is why his spirit is literally drawn to Haley Joel Osment’s character, Cole. He had failed to help a child with the same problem and needed to make up for that failure. And Cole has been given a gift too, the sixth sense to see the dead, and he is miserable while he tries to hide from it and as we see quite well adjusted when he embraces it.

“This morning was the first morning that I can remember that I opened my eyes and didn’t feel sadness.”

But much of this theme is lost in all the trappings of a horror movie.

Which, is why this same theme is brought more into focus in Shyamalan’s second movie, Unbreakable. Both main characters do not know their place in the world and do not feel comfortable in their lives because they do know now their place and do not live there. And through this movie Shyamalan makes several points about the higher order of the universe in giving everyone a purpose. The most obvious is of course the one found in our hero played again by Bruce Willis, a superhero who doesn’t know what he is. But once he finds his calling, that he has been given beyond normal strength, endurance and psychic abilities for the purpose of helping others, he finds happiness in his life by pursuing the destiny set out for him: to help people.

But Shyamalan represents this higher order more than in just a single man finding his purpose. I think it is not coincidence that Willis’s character embraces his calling first in a train station. What’s so important about a train station? A train station if a favorite example of economist in showing that just because something appears chaotic it does not mean it is chaotic. As the analogy goes, hundreds of people are going in and out, changing trains, meeting people; trains go in and out at what to a casual observer might appear random. But even though there is no discernible order on a first glance, each person is moving in a very determined and organized way. Each train goes in and out at scheduled time to meet other scheduled times. Thousands upon thousands of plans, each rational and done with purpose–the very definition of ordered. It just appears chaotic because we can’t see the whole plan. This in turn is easily expanded to the greater sphere of the world. It appears chaotic and random, but there is planning and purpose and meaning behind everything. Or the metaphor can be taken down to an individual life where things seem to happen for no reason or without meaning. But nothing happens in any our lives without meaning, purpose, and planning. There is a higher order, a plan in all things.

The last point which is also often ignored in Unbreakable is that just because you have a purpose in life it does not mean you do not have free will. This is not only shown through the personal problems and unhappiness of Bruce Willis’s character when he does not live up to his purpose, but it also is shown in the Samuel L. Jackson character. Jackson’s character is a man who is the very opposite of the superhero, weak, low endurance, victim to all of life’s suffering has the purpose of showing Willis that he is a superhero. But here’s where free will comes in–as Jackson’s character sees life reflected in comic books and comic books reflected in life, he sees himself as the opposite of the hero, as the villain and as such is more than willing to kill hundreds of people to find his superhero. He could have just as easily seen himself in the role of mentor (the Prof X’s and Alfred Pennyworths that litter the field of comic books) and still fulfilled his purpose. But he chose to cast himself as the villain. Just as many of us can chose to do things that are not in our best interest. Even though there is a higher order doesn’t mean we do not have free will.

These themes do reoccur in the later Shyamalan films (even that waste of film called the Last Airbender) but they are built upon with even deeper and more important themes.

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Filed under Movies, New Age, New Age Movies, Purpose of Life, Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense

New Age Movies: What Dreams May Come

“You’re losing your fear.”


“That you disappeared. You didn’t. You only died.”

I know I promised the New Age meanings work of Shymalan, but that’s a lot of movies to analyze (that and the foul taste of “The Last Airbender” is still in my mind…not to mention I still can’t stand watching Mel Gibson in anything, even if Signs is a great movie) so I’ll be holding off on that collection of movies for just a while longer.

So instead I will cover “What Dreams May Come.” It is a very underrated movie (although the book is a little more accurate in describing the afterlife, but a little more dull)…and as the movie was made in ’98 I don’t feel I will be spoiling it for anyone.

This movie is a great way to see New Age principles for two reasons. The first is that the first half of the movie is exceptionally accurate in describing the process of dying (with only a few things glossed over by Hollywood). The second is of course demonstrating the all powerful force of forgiveness and love. Both ideas deeply tied to New Age philosophy.

The first half of the movie deals with the main character, Chris Nielsen (played by Robin Williams) as he dies. And it accurately describes what most of use will go through when we die. We’ll have the “I see my body from above” stage. Followed by the moments of denial where we don’t quite admit that we’re dead. If we’re very lucky, and have prepared ourselves mentally, this stage will not last too long.

Then of course you have the famous tunnel of light…

…And then we have a temporary version of Heaven. I say temporary because the real heaven, the one you reach when you get to Enlightenment, is not the one you go to after death. This temporary heaven is a place of rest and learning. And as shown in the movie, we get reincarnated and go back to learn more.

Now where the movie gets it wrong is when Chris’s wife, Annie, kills herself. Yes suicides go to hell. But the real hell that people go to when they die is not quite the Dante-esque and visually stunning place shown in the movie. Real hell is quite boring. It’s a foggy, dense, cold place where your soul, unable to fully realize it’s dead but still existing can’t really form a body and more less just oozes through the mists. But where the movie really gets it wrong is that hell is not eternal. The way out of hell is to forgive yourself, even just a little. Suicides actually have one of the easiest times getting out, because they get out when they would have naturally died (and they can get out sooner if they realize what they’ve done and forgive themselves) while others can last for centuries bogged down by their own self-absorption and self-hatred. Now that still is not to say that hell is a nice place, it’s not, but no one is doomed to hell for all eternity…so really it’s more like Purgatory.

To sum up if you want to know what heaven is like, go see this movie; if you want to know what hell is like, don’t see this movie.

The other important point that the movie brings up is that forgiveness and love (they kind of are tied together when you think about it) are an all powerful force. In the movie it is the force that pulls Annie out of hell…but in a larger sense, at least for a New Ager, it is the force that will pull us all out of this hell we have created called existence. I could go on with this, but really it kind of is self-explanatory and I don’t mean to insult your intelligence. It’s not that we don’t get this rather obvious truth, it’s that we keep forgetting to put it at the forefront of our mind and let it guide us.

A final note. The movie also shows one other rarely discussed point: Soulmates make terrible parents. Soulmates, true two halves to one soul, are so bound to each other that sometimes there isn’t room for anything else. They love their children, but it can never fully replace the love they have for each other, which is a little screwed up. This leads to some shaky relationships between parent and child, as shown through Chris’s relationships with his children. So if you think you have found your soulmate…keep this movie in mind before you have children.

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Filed under Death, God, New Age, New Age Movies, Reincarnation, What Dreams May Come

New Age Movies: The Air I Breathe

“Sometimes risking everything is the only choice you have.”
So I’ve tried to get back to writing those New Age movie reviews but the last month has been a bit taken up with real life…and I tried to get movie reviews finished in that time….4 different ones, in fact…each one matched to my emotion of the week…seemingly going from pleasure to love to happiness to sorrow…and I was about to get down to finishing at least one of those 4 when looked over the pattern they provided and realized a very different movie was calling to me. “The Air I Breathe” A 2007 film that was fairly ignored and even less understood. I have found the film is a great barometer for whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. I find the ending hopeful and inspiring…a lot of people I know find it utterly depressing…I find something like that a wonderful reflection of how hopeful your inner soul is.

So before I ruin the movie, go rent it. Do not read the rest of this…go rent the movie.

No really.

I’m serious here.

Go rent it.

Okay, you’ve been warned.

So if you listened you’ll find that I’m only going over some of the most cursory observations as this movie has volumes of meaning. If you didn’t listen and just kept reading you’ll find some of these observations a little trite, but trust me they’re not.

“Sometime being totally fucked can be a very liberating experience. Today I see things in a new light.”

The movie follows four otherwise nameless characters: Happiness, Pleasure, Love and Trista (which if you translate that into English means sorrow). This comes from some old Chinese proverb that states that life is made up only of moments of happiness, pleasure, love and sorrow.

And while none of these characters live up to their names in the way you would think, through the course of the movie they each teach you, in a very New Age way of thinking, what the true nature of their names.

Happiness is a moment of living totally in the moment, not the future or the past, but the complete and total present.

Pleasure is found in those unexpected moments. Pleasure is knowing that you and you alone control your fate and that nothing is predetermined.

Sorrow is only temporary. And the sorrow that comes into your life is often what will in the end lead you to where you should be.

Love is often unrequited. Not always, but often. But requited or not, it should be given freely and completely without any attempt to possess or coherence.

“A new day dawns and I have no idea what to expect. I can change someone’s life if I want to. Make it worse. Make it better. It’s up to me.”

As I said before you can find volumes in this movie if you look for it….at least if you’re an optimist. If you’re a pessimist you’re going to miss that this miss quite explicitly states that there is a higher order to the universe and what appears to be a moment of sorrow is really only the beginning of something else. If you can see the brighter side of things it is an especially hopeful movie that reminds you, when you’re down, that happiness is always at the end of journey if you try to find it (which is why I don’t understand how people can find this movie depressing as every character ends finding happiness).

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