The Power of One — Working toward Unity

I recently had a film night with a few friends and we watched this movie which I’d never seen before and it reminded me of my blog.  It’s been a long time readers.  Please forgive my hiatus.  I shall reward you with one of my classic style reviews.

 

Film:The Power of One

The Power of One, 1992

Starring: Stephen Dorff, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Morgan Freeman

Synopsis:

Based on the book by Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One is set in South Africa during the 1930s-40s, and follows an English orphan named P.K. who faces prejudice from his Afrikaaner classmates.  Taken on by an elderly German pianist who, upon the outbreak of WWII, is interned in prison, P.K befriends black inmates, learns how to box, and listens to stories about a mythical rainmaker who is to bring unity and stop the infighting among the tribes.  P.K. works to fight injustice and challenge adversity while befriending people based on the content of their character rather than their skin color or ethnic background.

 

My Thoughts (mild spoilers):

The film came out while South Africa was still in the throws of Apartheid, an incredibly oppressive system of racial segregation, and the movie covers the time period of the genesis of apartheid.  At first I thought the title was a reference to the power of one individual, especially since it follows the exploits of one boy who through facing shameful bullying based on prejudice developed incredible empathy for those who experienced even more systematic oppression.  P.K. then works to provide training for black teachers so that they can teach people how to read and write English, education that was illegal.  However knowing history it might look as if P.Ks efforts were for naught.  Apartheid continued for another 50 years after all.

 But in reality I think the title is actually a reference to the power of becoming one, the power of unity.

So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. ~Bahá’u’lláh

Throughout the film the biggest accomplishments were when people came together despite their differences.  Whether it was a German pianist helping a Zulu prisoner, or an English boy conducting a concert of people from all tribes, or an Afrikaaner girl joining English and black South Africans to teach literacy, it was when diverse people came together for a united purpose that we saw beauty, that we saw hope.  Unfortunately there were many times in the film, and even more so in the history of South Africa and the world more generally, that people were unable to come together and instead were blinded by difference into conflict, often brutal and sometimes even lethal.

O ye beloved of the Lord! In this sacred Dispensation, conflict and contention are in no wise permitted. Every aggressor deprives himself of God’s grace. It is incumbent upon everyone to show the utmost love, rectitude of conduct, straight forwardness and sincere kindliness unto all the peoples and kindreds of the world, be they friends or strangers. So intense must be the spirit of love and loving kindness, that the stranger may find himself a friend, the enemy a true brother, no difference whatsoever existing between them. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

This film highlights the intense desire that despite the conflict in the world many people hold out hope for unity and recognize its beauty and power.  It is a call to action for us all to be aware of what unites us rather than what divides us, to work toward building a better world together.  The point is not whether or not this story is realistic, but that we want it to be, which to me is a sign of progress, for in time:

If you desire with all your heart friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger until it reaches the minds of all men. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Your thoughts?

 

 

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The Humble Earth

Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. There can be no doubt that whoever is cognizant of this truth, is cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory….
(Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Wilmette, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1988, p. 44)

Happy Second Birthday Moving Pictures!!!

It has been a great two years.  Thank you readers for sticking with me!  To celebrate I have included some wonderful passages from The Bahá’í Writings about joy and celebration.

Exalted art Thou, O my God! All mankind are powerless to celebrate Thy glory and the minds of men fall short of yielding praise unto Thee. ~ The Báb

The universe is wrapt in an ecstasy of joy and gladness. ~ Shoghi Effendi

Were it not to celebrate Thy praise, my tongue would be of no use to me, and were it not for the sake of rendering service to Thee, my existence would avail me not. But for the pleasure of beholding the splendours of Thy realm of glory, why should I cherish sight? And but for the joy of giving ear to Thy most sweet voice, of what use is hearing?  ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Repost : Movies (Spiritual motivation behind movie watching)

I just read a wonderful post on a blog I just discovered called “One Baha’i’s Approach” that shares insight into watching films with a spiritual eye that I thought you guys might enjoy to see why I do what I do.  I highly recommend the blog, and you can find it here, and the original post here.

Movies

I recently asked you, dear Reader, for your thoughts on ideas for topics I could try and address. Many wonderful suggestions came in, but one, in particular, was one that I could immediately write: Movies.

The idea was presented in the context of writing a review of a movie in light of the Baha’i teachings, but I’m not sure I want to do it quite like that. Instead I will talk a bit about my own approach to movies, in light of the Baha’i teachings.

My guidance comes mainly from two quotes, one by Baha’u’llah and another from Shoghi Effendi. The first, found in the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf ,refers to arts and sciences, saying that they should be “productive of good results, and bring forth their fruit…conducive to the well-being and tranquility of men“. This quote alone radically changed the way that I approached my own work as an artist.

The second quote is found in The Advent of Divine Justice. In that text, Shoghi Effendi speaks of the three spiritual weapons we have at our disposal in our fight “to regenerate the inward life of their own community, and… to assail the long-standing evils that have entrenched themselves in the life of their nation.” The three weapons, as I’m sure you know, are “a high sense of moral rectitude in their social and administrative activities, absolute chastity in their individual lives, and complete freedom from prejudice in their dealings with peoples of a different race, class, creed, or color.”

The second of these three is further defined by the Guardian in the following quote: “Such a chaste and holy life, with its implications of modesty, purity, temperance, decency, and clean-mindedness, involves no less than the exercise of moderation in all that pertains to dress, language, amusements, and all artistic and literary avocations.”

It was this second quote that got me to re-examine those arts to which I subjected myself, as he particularly mentions “all artistic and literary avocations“. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not believe that he is telling us to avoid movies, or anything like that, but just to be more selective, recognizing the influence that they can have upon us. I love a good fantasy novel, or a fine science fiction movie. In fact, I even enjoy a fun shoot-em-up action adventure movie, too. (Shocking, I know, but true.)

The key word in that second quote is, to me, “moderation“.

The question now is, “How does this effect my movie-going?” Easy. It makes me examine each movie after I see it, explore the motives and morals within it, and see how it effects me as a person. Now, I believe that I get far more out of every movie I watch, and every book I read, than I did before.

This also gets passed on to those I work with.

For years now, whenever I take a group of youth to a movie, I willingly take them to see whatever movie they want, on condition that we can talk about it afterwards. A two-hour movie? I want at least thirty minutes of conversation. And during that time we explore the story and motives of the characters, framing the whole thing in the context of virtuous development, and the Baha’i teachings.

Conclusions? Well, I have to admit that I used to love horror movies, but now have absolutely no desire to see them any more. I have not found anything worth the time invested in seeing them. Although I don’t criticize anyone for watching them, they are just not for me. My time can be better spent elsewhere.

I have also come to love some of the action movies even more. Why? Because it gives a lot more room for discussion of motives, and allows a great deal of exploration in how we would react to similar circumstances. Now I don’t expect to ever find myself hiding in a building that is being taken over by terrorists intent on robbing a bank, or having to jump on a moving train to try and save someone from being blown to bits by a bomb, but I have found myself reacting instantly to seeing people getting beaten to death by gang members on the street. This little exercise of asking myself what I would do in such a situation allowed me the ability to draw the attackers away long enough for the victim to survive (without getting killed myself).

Some of the most enjoyable movies I have seen are ones that I was “dragged” to by a group of teens who thought I would never want to see them. They figured that those movies just weren’t my type, whatever my type may be. But I enjoyed them, and we had a very fruitful discussion afterwards.

The teens also told me later that these discussions have changed the way they watch movies, television, and on and on. They are far more selective, and always ecplore it afterwards, no longer content to view them as mere entertainment.

Going back to the first quote, in which Baha’u’llah tells us the purpose of the arts, I began asking myself if a particular work was conducive to my well-being and tranquility. I didn’t expect to only enjoy works that put me in a drug stupor, but looked at that in a broader context. Did they lead me to tranquility? Did they improve my well-being? If not, why was I subjecting myself to it?

By looking at the overall purpose of the arts, I found myself in a better position to decide whether or not I wanted to take the time to view a particular work. Now that said nothing of the merit of the work itself, just whether or not I wanted to take the time to find out.

The second quote, about absolute chastity being related to artistic endeavours, made me further examine what I watched, read or listened to.

These two quotes also helped me better refine how I wanted to spend my time on my own artwork, but that’s probably better suited for another article.

Instead, I’d like to just take a moment to look at an example, Lord of the Rings. While I could go into the artistic merits of the film, or how they used so many different artisans to create the world, I, instead, want to look at one part of the story. Or actually, one part not of the story: the bad guy.

This is a story that does not focus on the bad guy. It focuses almost completely on the good guys, and their epic struggle. You never really see the bad guy; he’s always just this big eye in the distance.

Too often in artistic works, the artist focuses almost exclusively on the bad guys, or at least spends a considerable time on them. They get into the minds of these people, and really, do you want to get in there?

But Tolkien focuses on the good guys. He gets into their headspace, and brings us with him. You feel their fears, their concerns, and their courage. And that is a space I want to get into. Don’t you?

So next time you read a book, or watch a movie, look at these two quotes again and see how they apply. It’s a wonderful experiment that I will explore more and more in the future.

Cape of Good Hope — Love, Compassion, and Race.

Film:

Cape of Good Hope, 2004

Starring Debbie Brown, Eriq Ebouaney, Nthati Moshesh and Morne Visser.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Mark Bamford’s thought-provoking comedy explores the ever-present friction between class, race and faith in modern-day South Africa, tracing the intersection of multiple lives. Although her tiny animal shelter is open to all creatures great and small, Kate still can’t seem to open her heart to romance. Meanwhile, her employees and clientele are in need of rescue themselves.

My Thoughts:

First off, I highly recommend this film.  If you haven’t seen it, please do.  It’s on NetFlix Instant so you could even watch it tonight.  It’s an award winning independent film and deservedly so.

Ok, hyping aside let’s get to it.  The film opens with this quote which is a theme that runs through the movie:

He should show kindness to animals, how much more unto his fellow-man, to him who is endowed with the power of utterance. ~Bahá’u’lláh

South Africa is known for it’s institutionalize Racism in the form of Apartheid and has been working to overcome that negative legacy.  This film focuses on people from a variety of racial backgrounds and classes within South Africa, all of whom are affiliated somehow with the Animal Shelter.  Through the film we are able to see how those of different races, religions, and backgrounds can potentially be united and work together in love and harmony within the staff of the shelter, but then we also see how outside of the shelter there are still tensions and injustices regarding race, class, and religion.  The multi-level “shelter” for both animals and people reminds me of this prayer:

I have wakened in Thy shelter, O my God, and it becometh him that seeketh that shelter to abide within the Sanctuary of Thy protection and the Stronghold of Thy defense. Illumine my inner being, O my Lord, with the splendors of the Dayspring of Thy Revelation, even as Thou didst illumine my outer being with the morning light of Thy favor. ~Bahá’u’lláh

The film is great at using subtlety and metaphor to help unravel these thematic threads.  For example people frequently request pure breeds, whereas the shelter mostly has mutts and mongrels.  The one pure breed it does have at the moment had been trained to attack blacks by it’s previous owner and so is slated to be put down.  However a tenacious Congolese refugee takes the abuse from the animal while treating it with love and eventually is able to get the dog to stop attacking him despite the color of his skin.

The fact that people want pure breeds may seem harmless, but the film shows how that mentality when applied to humans is dangerous.  Overcoming prejudice and injustice are themes throughout the film, and the way this is done is through patience, love and compassion.

Each of the characters goes through tests, each different, but each allows them to make the better choice towards love and unity, or the less good choice towards selfishness and ego.  The characters do not always make the right choice in the beginning, but are able to learn and grow and make better choices by the end of the film.

This movie was fun, but felt real, and showed how it can be done, how we all can learn to be more loving, compassionate, and truth seeking, to overcome our prejudices and our baggage.

Your thoughts?