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.

Repost: The Book of Eli: A Review and Reflections

I read this review and would like to share it with you guys. Check out the original here.

The Book of Eli: A Review and Reflections

I believe it was the psychologist Heinz Kohut who introduced the world to the concept of “good enough parenting”. The Book of Eli could be considered an example of good enough film-making. It manages to get its various characters from point A to point B, provide some interesting images, execute fight scenes with relative skill and convey it’s underlying message(s) well enough. It’s not a great movie though.

Eli is the name of the film’s protagonist (Denzel Washington), who we first meet as he preys upon an ill-fated feline in a forest as ash drifts down from the sky (a nod to 9/11). The cat in question is later shared with a mouse (talk about a role reversal!) as Eli enjoys some Al Green and a read of the Book from the movie title. It’s 30 years from now and some sort of man-made apocalypse, possibly brought about by religion, has had a really bad effect on personal hygiene, fashion sense, and civility. It has also contributed to a new diet fad (cannibalism). Eli strides through images of hell on earth: miles of rusting vehicles, grinning skeletons and empty dwellings. A voice has told him to head west in order to take his book to a place where it can do great good for the world.

When his Ipod runs out of juice, he heads into a little Wild-West looking town to get a recharge. This town, like most towns in these movies, is run by a strong man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Like Eli, Carnegie likes a good book (pun intended) and is looking for a particular title that he believes will increase his powers of social control and facilitate the expansion of his rule to other towns. Wouldn’t you know, the book Carnegie is looking for is the one Eli has. The problem is, Eli has no intention of sharing his book with the likes of Carnegie and has a knack with blades and bullets that makes him tough to persuade through sicking tough guys on him.

Carnegie next tries to seduce Eli through sending him Solara (Mila Kunis) who agrees to be used this way in order to protect her blind mother (Jennifer Biels). Solara is rejected sexually by Eli but does spend the night with him and is introduced to the power of prayer and the book in question. Eli decides to continue his westward journey killing anyone who tries to stop him on his way out of town with Solara tagging along as initially a damsel-in-distress and later a companion and willing student of the book’s content. The movie shifts into full-on Mad Max mode as the two are pursued by Carnegie and his thugs in big vehicles (guess carbon footprints are no longer a concern for people). There’s a humorous scene with a couple of fine old cannibals and a huge shoot-out complete with a giant machine gun and grenade launcher.

To make a long story short, Eli does manage to make it to his destination and delivers the book (though not in the way you’d imagine). Carnegie, at a moment of apparent triumph gets what’s coming to him in a twist that is sure to astonish. Like The Sixth Sense, it’s the kind of twist that makes you want to watch the movie again to see if you can notice any signs that it was coming that you might have missed.

Here’s a few reflections on themes, metaphors, and images that align with aspects of Baha’i teaching.

Religion as a Cause of a global calamity: Religion’s contribution to the end of the world is only hinted at in the film, but given current events it is not so far fetched. The Universal House of Justice acknowledges this:

“With every day that passes, danger grows that the rising fires of religious prejudice will ignite a worldwide conflagration the consequences of which are unthinkable. Such a danger civil government, unaided, cannot overcome. Nor should we delude ourselves that appeals for mutual tolerance can alone hope to extinguish animosities that claim to possess Divine sanction.”
(The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World’s Religious Leaders, p. 5)

Manipulation of Religion in the Pursuit of Power: Carnegie describes religion as “weapon” as he tries to explain to a henchmen that Eli’s book is more than just a book. Carnegie sees possession of the book as a means of controlling others, reminding us that “it’s happened before. It can happen again”. Baha’u’llah comments on the potential for religion to be manipulated in this way in strong terms:

“Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people.”
(Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 14)

The Black Madonna/Black Messiah: I’ve discussed this phenomenon exemplified by several recent films in a previous post. Eli’s character definitely fits into this concept, embodying qualities attributed to people of African descent in the Baha’i Writings such as this selection:

“The qualities of heart so richly possessed by [African Americans] are much needed in the world today-their great capacity for faith, their loyalty and devotion to their religion when once they believe, their purity of heart. God has richly endowed them, and their great contribution…is much needed…” (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 532)

Steadfastness in the path of God: Watching Eli’s single-minded and resolute march towards his goal called to mind many selections from the Baha’i Writings. One of them was the following:

“Whoso hath recognized Me, will arise and serve Me with such determination that the powers of earth and heaven shall be unable to defeat his purpose.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 137)

The Oneness of Religion: The Book of Eli has been viewed by some as a “Christian” movie. However, there are aspects of the film that suggest it has a more universal message. Eli for instance could be seen as a more complex figure (his kaffiyeh and scimitar-like blade evoke an Islamic image, while his hand to hand combat has a Samurai feel to it). Also, an important scene near the end of the film includes Eli’s book among a diverse selection of books that have similar significance in other faith traditions and cultures. An interview with the directors of the movie on National Public Radio supports the notion of Eli embodying a broader concept of spirituality. In the words of the Universal House of Justice:

“It is evident that growing numbers of people are coming to realize that the truth underlying all religions is in its essence one. This recognition arises not through a resolution of theological disputes, but as an intuitive awareness born from the ever widening experience of others and from a dawning acceptance of the oneness of the human family itself. Out of the welter of religious doctrines, rituals and legal codes inherited from vanished worlds, there is emerging a sense that spiritual life, like the oneness manifest in diverse nationalities, races and cultures, constitutes one unbounded reality equally accessible to everyone” (The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World’s Religious Leaders, p. 4)

What’s your review and/or reflections on The Book of Eli?

Blog Action Day — Climate Change!!!

In honor of blog action day I would like to point out some films on the topic of climate change and the environment for you to check out.  Taking care of the earth is a matter of environmental justice and social responsibility.  For other posts on the topic check out WALL-E,  the Future We Will Create, and the Man in the White Suit.

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

An Inconvenient Truth poster

An Inconvenient Truth — The Award winning documentary by former Vice President Al Gore which lead to his Nobel Prize.  Edited together from a series of talks Al Gore gave around the country with evidence to show the veracity of human-cause Climate Change and to rally people together to try to act more responsibly.

Earth poster

Earth — A film based on the BBC amazing series Planet Earth which explores the beauty of the earth and how climate change is affecting wildlife around the globe.

The Day After Tomorrow Movie PosterThe Day After Tomorrow — A science fiction film based on a novel about a climate change doomsday scenario focused on a group of intrepid American’s trying to survive the disaster.  Not scientific but deals with themes of social responsibility and environmental consequences to human actions.

Antarctica Challenge Movie Poster


The Antarctica Challenge — An up-to-date look at the climate change research currently being done by the scientists stationed in Antarctica.


The 11th Hour Poster

The 11th Hour — Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary on the environmental crisis and some pretty exciting and radical solutions.

Climate Change may seem daunting but if we unite as a world we can work to solve the problem and create a better, more just and environmentally sound world.  Scientists, political leaders, common people are joining hands.  It is so exciting to see the changes society has already made and how much more we can do if we put our hearts and minds toward the actions necessary to prevent crisis.

Look ye not upon the present, fix your gaze upon the times to come. In the beginning, how small is the seed, yet in the end it is a mighty tree. Look ye not upon the seed, look ye upon the tree, and its blossoms, and its leaves and its fruits. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Damah — Spiritual Film Festival in Seattle!

For all you west coasters there is a film festival happening in Seattle called Damah which looks awesome.  For everyone else, you can watch the short films online and vote.   They also have compilation DVDs of their  submissions from previous years.  Pretty neat.  The info is below:

Damah Header

October 2-3, 2009 in Seattle

EMP | SFM
@ Seattle Center
325 5th Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109

Mission

Damah encourages an emerging generation of filmmakers from diverse perspectives to voice the spiritual aspect of the human experience through film and provides a forum for these artists to develop, discuss and display their vision.

Damah is a non-profit organization that relies on the submissions, contributions and the goodwill of many diverse communities.

History

In January, 2001, a group of individuals met to brainstorm about how they could support artists who desired to explore spirituality. They had a desire to create an event where people from a wide spectrum of spiritual backgrounds could come together to form a community where ideas, thoughts and perspectives on the spiritual aspect of life could be explored through the art of the short film.

Out of this initial meeting, The Damah Film Festival, was born. With little time to prepare, this eclectic group of visionaries partnered with other like-minded film enthusiasts, and in October 2001, the first festival was held in Seattle, WA. It was an amazing success and we’ve never looked back.

We’re now in our 8th year and looking forward to what lies ahead.

Check out our Compilation DVDs.
Damah is the only short film festival with the unique focus of exploring the spiritual dimension of life through diverse perspectives.
We have awarded over $50,000 in prize money and received over 1000 film submissions from 20 countries over the past four festivals.
Our past festivals have featured Screenings, Panel Discussions and Workshops, Interactive Screenings and Q&As – all designed to stimulate discussion and provide a platform for spiritual expression.

Magnolia — Overcoming the Sins of the Father

Film:Magnolia Poster

Magnolia, 1999

Starring Tom Cruise, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Felicity Huffman, Philip Baker Hall, and Alfred Molina.

Synopsis (from IMDB):

24 hours in L.A.; it’s raining cats and dogs. Two parallel and intercut stories dramatize men about to die: both are estranged from a grown child, both want to make contact, and neither child wants anything to do with dad. Earl Partridge’s son is a charismatic misogynist; Jimmy Gator’s daughter is a cokehead and waif. A mild and caring nurse intercedes for Earl, reaching the son; a prayerful and upright beat cop meets the daughter, is attracted to her, and leads her toward a new calm. Meanwhile, guilt consumes Earl’s young wife, while two whiz kids, one grown and a loser and the other young and pressured, face their situations. The weather, too, is quirky. Written by {jhailey@hotmail.com}

My Thoughts:

This film is dark, and sad, and clever.  Through out it one of the themes I picked up on was how “sins of the father” affect the children.  Various characters suffered abuse, abandonment, and molestation at the hands of their fathers leaving them angry, depressed, and struggling.  The film even quoted scripture regarding it.

“And he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God”  1 Kings 15:3

I remember watching this film when it first came out and really hating it.  I realize now that what I disliked was the tragedy caused by the actions of the fathers in this film.  The film reveals how much pain and suffering there is, and how so much of it we put onto each other.  Frank T.J. Mackey, abandoned by his father, and left to take care of his dying mother, rewrote his own history.  Ironically, he became a misogynist and used women just as badly if not worse than his father did.  Jimmy Gator left his daughter a neurotic, self-loathing, drug abuser by the worst sin of a father, sexual molestation.

“If love and agreement are manifest in a single family, that family will advance, become illumined and spiritual; but if enmity and hatred exist within it destruction and dispersal are inevitable” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

We see evidence in this film of family disunity and how destructive it can be.  Often the rift starts between the married party and then effect the children.  Several characters had committed infidelity.  In one scene Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore) broke down in tears lamenting how she did not love her husband when she married him, and just wanted his money, and so she had constantly been unfaithful.  Now that they had been together for a while, and he was dying she realized she truly did love him and because of that could not possibly take a cent from the will.  The lawyer told her that adultery was not illegal.  That did not comfort her because either way it was wrong.

“Every other word of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Writings is a preachment on moral and ethical conduct; all else is the form, the chalice, into which the pure spirit must be poured; without the spirit and the action which must demonstrate it, it is a lifeless form.  When we realize that Bahá’u’lláh says adultery retards the progress of the soul in the after life – so grievous is it – and that drinking destroys the mind, and not to so much as approach it, we see how clear are our teachings on these subjects.” ~ From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

I think this scene was an incredibly potent one and points to how often the people who suffer most by committing a wrong against someone is not the victim but the perpetrator.  God has given us spiritual guidance, whether it be the 10 commandments, or the Laws of Bahá’u’lláh, or the Middle Path of Buddhism, that is meant to protect us from ourselves.  These laws actually free us from the pain we would suffer by not following them.  This film shows that pain, whether it is through drug use, sexual impropriety, or not being a good parent.

It also shows how important honesty and truthfulness are.  Many characters were both not honest with themselves or with others, but despite trying they could not hide from the truth for long.  While most of the film was dark and forlorn, there was a glimmer of hope in two story lines, one of which touched upon the importance of kindness and the other of truth.

Stanley, a quiz kid genius has had a lot of pressure to deal with.  While it is not explicitly stated, he lives in a single parent household with his father.  His father is often on his case, and picks him up from school late.  He brings him to the game show and is more excited about the prospect of Stanley winning a lot of money, than for his actual wellbeing.  Stanley is a good kid.  He is under a lot of pressure, and because he arrived late to the studio was not able to go to the bathroom before the show started.  He is on a role answering every question, until his bladder fails him.  Mortified he sits like a statue and no longer participates.  He realized that everyone was really just using him.  The show for ratings, his father for the potential payout, and he is left forlorn.  It is hard to see a child experience disillusionment, but in the end Stanley stands up for himself telling his father that he has to be nicer to him.  Stanley has the potential not to fall in the same trap Quiz Kid Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) did, and for this there is hope.

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”  ~Mark Twain

The other hopeful story consists of an unlikely match.  Officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) and Claudia Partridge (Melora Walters) met through a disturbance call.  He was a cop and she a drug-addled victim of abuse.  She spent the beginning trying to hide the fact of her drug use from him.  However, the cop liked her anyway and asked her on a date.  He was a Christian and prayed to God regarding meeting this woman.  In fact, they showed him in prayer more than once, and he was the only character in the film portrayed with any faith.

As they went on their date the woman asked if he ever lied on dates, because he was afraid the other person would not like the truth.  Or even if he hadn’t lied, maybe left important things out.  He said that was natural, and tried to waylay her fears.  She then said they shouldn’t do that.  They should be honest and tell their secrets.

“Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

She clearly was trying to get up the courage to admit her addictions and seek help.  She told him she thought he would hate her, because he was so together, and such a good person, and she was not.  He then comforted her by admitting that he had lost his gun that day and was now the laughing stock of the entire police force.  He too made mistakes.  She then kissed him and ran off, chickening out.  At the end of the film though, there is another scene with them together, and the cop is talking about how people have great capacity to forgive and to help each other through times of trouble, and she smiles.

She was onto something about honesty and he was onto something about help and forgiveness, and trying not to be judgmental.  It is through these two characters, and the healing power of faith and listening to divine guidance that this film has a sliver of hope to it.

Amistad — Discovering Truth

Film:

Amistad, 1997Amistad DVD Cover

Starring Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Morgan Freeman, Stellan Skarsgard, and Anthony Hopkins.

Synopsis (from IMDB):

Amistad is the name of a slave ship traveling from Cuba to the U.S. in 1839. It is carrying a cargo of Africans who have been sold into slavery in Cuba, taken on board, and chained in the cargo hold of the ship. As the ship is crossing from Cuba to the U.S., Cinque, who was a tribal leader in Africa, leads a mutiny and takes over the ship. They continue to sail, hoping to find help when they land. Instead, when they reach the United States, they are imprisoned as runaway slaves. They don’t speak a word of English, and it seems like they are doomed to die for killing their captors when an abolitionist lawyer decides to take their case, arguing that they were free citizens of another country and not slaves at all. The case finally gets to the Supreme Court, where John Quincy Adams makes an impassioned and eloquent plea for their release.

My Thoughts:

This film touches upon many different ethical and spiritual themes. The film centers upon a slave revolt on the Spanish ship “La Amistad” and the subsequent court cases in the United States as the justice system tries to unweave the various crimes from their victims and perpetrators. As for spiritual themes, there is the obvious issue of slavery itself, and the injustice it represents, but there are some other more subtle themes interwoven into this larger one.  The Abolitionists, who serve as advocates for the slaves, are ardent Christians and see slavery as opposed to their faith.  Other Christians come and pray at the prison in which the West Africans are being held.  The faith of the West Africans themselves is in question, though they could be Muslim due to a few shots of them on the boat praying all together in one direction, potentially Mecca.
Throughout the film, each side begins to better understand the other.  At first the West Africans seem wild and violent to the Americans, and even their advocates are at time confused, frustrated, or fearful of their behavior.  The Americans are just as strange to the Africans who cannot understand their language, or customs, and are also confused to see freed American blacks dressed just like those of European heritage.  Throughout the film, the advocates strive to learn the language and to find a translator, and to better understand the West Africans so that they can better serve them.  The West Africans also learn more of the ways of the white people when they are given a Bible.  Through the pictures they see the suffering these people went through as well, and how they revere Christ as in every picture “the sun follows him”.

“When a man turns his face to God he finds sunshine everywhere.  All men are his brothers.  Let not conventionality cause you to seem cold and unsympathetic when you meet strange people from other countries… Let it be seen that you are filled with universal love.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

While this may seem over simplified or contrived, I think it is important to think about how people of different cultures learn about one another.  In this age of the Internet, and global tele-communications, it is much easier and more common to interact with people from different places, cultures, and backgrounds.  Two hundred years ago, while there was still cultural interaction for sure, mixing took effort and was not on equal footing.  It took months for ships to cross the ocean, and people were brought over under duress.  The effort of the abolitionists to truly understand the West Africans cannot be taken lightly.  It really was a sign of changing times.
Another interesting dilemma throughout the film was the issue of what was a “win” to the Abolitionists.  The property lawyer argued that he could get the West Africans acquitted for murder of the crew by claiming they were unlawfully acquired property, since in 1839 slaves were no longer supposed to be taken, but had to be born into slavery.  To the Abolitionists this was repugnant since the West Africans were just as human as they were and to use the language of property would be backward.  But what is most important? Noble ideas or action?  If this could save the West Africans from the death penalty, and could allow them to return to Africa is it ok?

“Some men and women glorify in their exalted thoughts, but if these thoughts never reach the plane of action they remain useless: the power of thought is dependent on its manifestation in deeds.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

In the end, after taking the case to the Supreme Court and getting a favorable verdict, one of the Christian Abolitionists argued that perhaps it would have been better for the greater Abolitionist cause had the West Africans been put to death, since martyrdom tended to motivate individuals to action and to fight for change.  He pointed to the example of Christ.  While this may be true, it disgusted the other Abolitionist, a freed slave himself, since life itself is sacred and it should be the goal to free these innocent people who were defending themselves, and not to seek the martyrdom of other people.
This film really caused me to grapple with our cultural heritage, as well as how far we’ve come.  The most progressive people in the 1839 case would probably seem pretty backwards now.  It was 5 years that the Báb came heralding in the new age and calling people to unity, and 11 years later that He Himself was martyred.  I can see how humanity so very much needed the message of love and unity He and Bahá’u’lláh after Him, championed.

“Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.  Deal ye one another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Awaken! International Spiritual Film Festival

Film FestivalI am both so happy and so sad.  I was wandering around the internet (like you do) and I happened upon this film festival… Awaken! International Spiritual Film Festival: the first ever spiritual film festival in New Jersey, where I’m from.   And it happened a month ago and I missed it!  I hope that they hold it again next year, but who knows if I’ll even be here then.  Either way I wanted to share it with you guys.

I find trolling film festivals a great way to learn about small market films.  Unfortunately some of these films never even make it to mainstream theaters or DVD so it is hard to even see them without these festivals.  I hope to catch a few of these at some point.  It looked like a pretty good bunch of movies.

The winners for the audience choice awards were:

Feature-length Film:
Stranded: I come from a plane that crashed
in the mountains.

Documentary (up to 1 hour):
The Cats of Mirikitani

Short Film:
The Peace Tree

Family Favorite:
Raising Lucy

Watchmen — Justice, Accountability, and Distopia

Film:Watchmen Poster

Watchmen, 2009

Starring Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Patrick Wilson.

Synopsis (from IMDB):

In a gritty and alternate 1985 the glory days of costumed vigilantes have been brought to a close by a government crackdown, but after one of the masked veterans is brutally murdered an investigation into the killer is initiated. The reunited heroes set out to prevent their own destruction, but in doing so discover a deeper and far more diabolical plot.

My Thoughts:

I am the type of person that enjoys lighthearted films, films that make me laugh and pick me up, films that inspire.  That being said, sometimes gritty, raw, and dark films can also inspire.  Watchmen is definitely a downer, as one can tell from the opening credits as the heroes fall from favor as society turns against them and they must go into hiding.  But there is a lot we can learn from these dark emotions that Watchmen so artfully invokes.

I have talked about justice before, but this film focuses so heavily on it that I feel it is important to discuss again.  In an ideal society government would function in a way to serve and protect its citizens.  Unfortunately in this universe, during World War II society needed assistance.  The Watchmen formed and were initially heralded as heroes, though soon were villianized as vigilantes.

Much of this had to do with the Watchmen wearing masks.  This anonymity gave the appearance of a lack of accountability as the public rallied crying “Who watches the Watchmen”?

O SON OF BEING! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Accountability is important.  Afterall the film, as well as the graphic novel it is based on, showed that there were reasons for the people to be weary of the Watchmen.  They were just people too, afterall, and while some had noble intentions, others, like the Comedian, acted on more base instincts.

But the film does not stop on the surface level of accountability.  As we can see in the current economic crisis, people without masks can be just as wreckless as those who remain hidden.  In the movie this comes to light through the one living Watchman who had “gone public”.  He was viewed honorably and as a hero and a successful businessman, but he turned out to be the most deadly of all, whereas others like Night Owl had a strong moral compass that kept them accountable even masked.

I think that is a lesson we can all take to heart in our own lives and meditate on the true meaning of accountability.  For those who believe in God,ultimate accountability rests in His hands.  I think Watchmen really plays with the idea of loss of accountability.  This distopia lacked God, it lacked government, it lacked a social contract.  In that system it is little wonder that Ozymandias could see the sacrifice of several million people for peace as valid.  We can see how tragedy can unite people, and through unity peace can be achieved.  Maybe it was valid argument, but Ozymandias does not have the right to make that choice.

How can we build unity?  In a way that does not resort to destruction like it did in Watchmen.  I see this movie, and graphic novel as warning, a look into a world unchecked.  Some people see our world like that, but it does not have to be.  We can make good choices, and keep ourselves accountable.

I think I will end this post with a beautiful story from Persian culture about another Watchman.  I think it has a lot to do with seeing the end in the beginning, which was a theme of this film as well.  Rorschach could see there was something wrong before the others could, but he could not see the end as quickly as he would have liked.  Ozymandias believed the end was just.  Dr. Manhattan withdrew from humanity.  The difference, or perhaps similarity if you share Ozymandias’ point of view, is that the end in this scenario is good.   Perhaps the people should have listened to the Watchman, which watchman is up to you.  Without further ado, the story as recounted by Bahá’u’llá

There was once a lover who had sighed for long years in separation from his beloved, and wasted in the fire of remoteness. From the rule of love, his heart was empty of patience, and his body weary of his spirit; he reckoned life without her as a mockery, and time consumed him away. How many a day he found no rest in longing for her; how many a night the pain of her kept him from sleep; his body was worn to a sigh, his heart’s wound had turned him to a cry of sorrow. He had given a thousand lives for one taste of the cup of her presence, but it availed him not. The doctors knew no cure for him, and companions avoided his company; yea, physicians have no medicine for one sick of love, unless the favor of the beloved one deliver him.

At last, the tree of his longing yielded the fruit of despair, and the fire of his hope fell to ashes. Then one night he could live no more, and he went out of his house and made for the marketplace. On a sudden, a watchman followed

after him. He broke into a run, with the watchman following; then other watchmen came together, and barred every passage to the weary one. And the wretched one cried from his heart, and ran here and there, and moaned to himself: “Surely this watchman is Izrá’íl, my angel of death, following so fast upon me; or he is a tyrant of men, seeking to harm me.” His feet carried him on, the one bleeding with the arrow of love, and his heart lamented. Then he came to a garden wall, and with untold pain he scaled it, for it proved very high; and forgetting his life, he threw himself down to the garden.

And there he beheld his beloved with a lamp in her hand, searching for a ring she had lost. When the heart-surrendered lover looked on his ravishing love, he drew a great breath and raised up his hands in prayer, crying: “O God! Give Thou glory to the watchman, and riches and long life. For the watchman was Gabriel, guiding this poor one; or he was Isráfíl, bringing life to this wretched one!”

Indeed, his words were true, for he had found many a secret justice in this seeming tyranny of the watchman, and seen how many a mercy lay hid behind the veil. Out of wrath, the guard had led him who was athirst in love’s desert to the sea of his loved one, and lit up the dark night of absence with the light of reunion. He had driven one who was afar, into the garden of nearness, had guided an ailing soul to the heart’s physician.

Now if the lover could have looked ahead, he would have blessed the watchman at the start, and prayed on his behalf, and he would have seen that tyranny as justice; but since the end was veiled to him, he moaned and made his plaint in the beginning. Yet those who journey in the garden land of knowledge, because they see the end in the beginning, see peace in war and friendliness in anger.

Cashback — Boredom, Sexuality, and Beauty

Cashback Movie PosterFilm:

Cashback, 2006

Starring Sean Biggerstaff and Emilia Fox.

Synopsis (from IMDB):

When art student Ben Willis dumps his girlfriend Suzy, he develops insomnia after finding out how quickly she moved on. To pass the long hours of the night, he starts working the late night shift at the local supermarket. There he meets a colorful cast of characters, all of whom have their own ‘art’ in dealing with the boredom of an eight-hour-shift. Ben’s art is that he imagines himself stopping time. This way, he can appreciate the artistic beauty of the frozen world and the people inside it – especially Sharon, the quiet checkout girl, who perhaps holds the answer to solving the problem of Ben’s insomnia.

My Thoughts:

I subscribe to NetFlix instant and it is through their recommendation that I happened upon this quirky, independent British film.  It reminded me that despite how sexualized American culture is/may seem, we do have puritan roots compared to Europe.  This film is filled with nudity of all kinds, some that would make an American film NC-17.  At first it shocked me a little, but I do think that it served a purpose, as well as could provoke a discussion that perhaps the religious and secular shy away from, and I will delve into that more later. I just wanted to be upfront about the content of this movie since I’ve noticed the promotional materials geared to Americans tend to neglect it (I was surprised myself).

This film started as an 18 minute short film.  Due to it’s critical acclaim and Oscar nod, the writer and director, Sean Ellis, turned it into a full length movie.  This film is an exploration of how the main character, Ben Willis, views the world.  Because he is an insomniac and an artist the whole quality of the film is dreamlike.  It’s actually quite beautiful and some of the shots really capture the art of film, as opposed to just its story telling ability.

In fact, beauty is a central theme of the entire film.  Ben Willis is attending art school in the hopes of becoming a painter.  It is clear that he is enamored with the female form and women are his muse.

Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it ~ Confucius

There is a real juxtaposition between his wonderment, how he revers women and the beauty of their bodies, and how the rest of the males in the film do.  His male coworkers are juvenile and look at porn and hire strippers.  In return they do not get very far in relationships, since the women can see the vileness and crassness they exhibit.

Ben, on the other hand, is different.  In the film he has the ability to stop time, something I have always wanted.  It is his way of dealing with boredom and monotony.  At first, when he does so, he looks at all the women.  He undresses them.  This is a really challenging part of the film for me, being a woman and thinking about how unwillingly exposed I would be in that situation, completely unaware of what Ben was doing.  However, I think it is a true metaphor for what men (and women!) do to each other in our vain imagination.  How frequently have people talked of “undressing with the eyes”?

ALAS! ALAS! O LOVERS OF WORLDLY DESIRE! Even as the swiftness of lightning ye have passed by the Beloved One, and have set your hearts on satanic fancies. Ye bow the knee before your vain imagining, and call it truth. Ye turn your eyes towards the thorn, and name it a flower. Not a pure breath have ye breathed, nor hath the breeze of detachment been wafted from the meadows of your hearts. Ye have cast to the winds the loving counsels of the Beloved and have effaced them utterly from the tablet of your hearts, and even as the beasts of the field, ye move and have your being within the pastures of desire and passion. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

I think Ben’s undressing though is less sexual, and more focused on the Eve-like true beauty of women (at least I hope so 🙂 ).  Ben was sexualized at a young age when he and his best friend found his father’s stash of dirty magazines.  Through the film it is clear how much of an effect that had on both him and his best friend (who pays for strippers and chases women to no avail).  I think this also speaks to the taboo on discussing sexual topics, since these children discovered all this on their own, without any parental guidance.  These topics are hard to talk about, especially in religious households that value chastity, but not talking about it does not mean that children will not be exposed.  I do not have an answer as to what is the best thing to do, but I do think “ostrich syndrome” doesn’t help.

Speaking of chastity, Ben’s budding relationship with Sharon, and his fascination with her is incredibly chaste in comparison.  All his drawings of her are of her face and eyes, and he sees her beauty through her expressions, her dreams, and her inherent nobility.  She is different than the other hooligans working the night shift.  She is learning Spanish and wants to travel the world.  He respects her and is enamored by her, and when is given the opportunity to kiss her merely pecks her on the cheek.  It is their first kiss (again pretty chaste, not the tongue filled make out kisses we are used to in Hollywood) that breaks the spell of his insomnia.

For when the true lover and devoted friend reacheth to the presence of the Beloved, the sparkling beauty of the Loved One and the fire of the lover’s heart will kindle a blaze and burn away all veils and wrappings. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Unfortunately when Ben takes Sharon to a party, his ex is there.  She corners him and kisses him, and Sharon sees, though she turns to run before seeing him pushing his ex away and rejecting him.  Ben pauses time, but he cannot rewind it.  He knows the hurt he has caused and wants to stay in this moment as long as he can before Sharon runs away and cries.  He knows how important trustworthiness, fidelity, and respect are and in that moment he lost them.

The ending is beautiful, and while I have already given so much away, I will save that.  If you end up watching the film, Ben’s character shines through with his consideration, fortitude, and love in the final scenes.

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Your thoughts?



Victor Victoria — Justice & Gender Roles

Victor Victoria Poster

Film:

Victor Victoria, 1982

Starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Leslie Ann Warren, Alex Karras, and John Rhys-Davies.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is a struggling soprano who, with help from a fellow performer (Robert Preston), finally finds success by posing as a male female impersonator. But what will happen when a nightclub owner (James Garner) finds himself attracted to Victoria’s cross-dressing male persona and begins to suspect “Victor” is really a woman? This gender-bending musical comedy received seven Oscar nominations and won for Best Score.

My Thoughts:

Firstly, any film which discusses gender roles and sexuality is bound to be controversial, even if it was made over 25 years ago, so before I go any further I would like to preface that whatever your opinion regarding homosexuality is, as well as of people who hold a different view than your own,  please keep this spiritual guidance in mind before commenting:

1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  ~ Matthew 7:1-5 (New International Version)

and

O SON OF BEING! How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.  ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word #26

When I first heard of this musical I thought it would be a mere comedy of mistaken identity and gender swapping, akin to a Shakespearean Comedy, and while it definitely has that feel and element, it also speaks on a deeper level.  In 1982, when this film came out, the United States had just gone through the Civil Rights movement,  Women’s Rights movement, and the Sexual Revolution.  Thoughts about what true justice meant were circulating around public consciousness, and being wrestled and debated with.  This film comes out of that context.

Victoria Grant is an amazing operatic soprano, yet due to the poor economy she is unable to find work in Paris during the 1930s.  She is so down on her luck she even auditions for a burlesque theater, insisting that she has a legitimate voice but the manager replies:

I’m looking for something
a little more illegitimate.

Victoria: I’m sure that with a little practice l…
Manager: Lady. That’s like a nun saying, with practice, she’d be a streetwalker.

However, Victoria is hungry and is about to be evicted so she is willing to compromise her virtue.  Toddy, a Gay nightclub performer, shows her kindness and as a result comes up with the idea that she should pretend to be a drag queen. Victoria is initially skeptical:

Victoria: Toddy, I don’t know how to act like a man.
Toddy: Contrary to the popular conception of how a man acts… there are different men who act in different ways.
Victoria: I mean, as opposed to the way women act.
Toddy: I am personally acquainted with at least a dozen men who act exactly like women…and vice versa.
Victoria: But there are some things that are naturally masculine.
Toddy: Name one.
Victoria: Peeing standing up.

This is interesting to me because it is true that society has carved out roles for men and roles for women and those who do not fit into those roles can feel excluded, or worse yet have assumptions made about them.  We should love all people and should not try to constrain people unnecessarily and unequally (clearly there are some social constraints that are necessary, like punishing theft or murder, but they should be applied across the board, regardless of gender or creed.  The constraints I am talking about here are things like not allowing certain people to pursue a profession based on their gender, class, or creed.)

Apparently there is no market for a woman with amazing musical talent, but there is a market for a man who can impersonate a woman with amazing musical talent.  However there is no man, so now a woman must pretend to be a man, who is pretending to be a woman.

This amuses me.  Truly, it is all about perception.  It should not matter if it is a man or a woman, we are equal in the sight of God, yet for the audience it does.  Perhaps because a man should not naturally be able to sing that high, or perhaps because it forces them to wonder about gender roles.

Victoria ends up being wildly successful but is conflicted when she begins to develop feelings for a man.  If she were to pursue the relationship it would either out her as a woman, or cause people to think that the man was gay.  Eventually they get together clandestinely but it soon becomes a problem:

Victoria: I mean, a woman pretending to be man pretending to be…

King: Well, you can stop pretending.

Victoria: And do what?

King: Be yourself.


Victoria: But, you see, I don’t think I want to. I’m a big star now. I’m a success… And something more. I find it all really fascinating. There are things available to me as a man…that I could never have as a woman. I’m emancipated.

Victoria: Would it be fair for me to ask you to give up your job?

King: lt’d be ridiculous.

Victoria: But you expect me to give up mine.

King: There’s a difference, for Christ’s sake!

Victoria: Right, but there shouldn’t be.

King: Well, look, I’m not the one pretending to be someone else.

I think there are two very different and equally important spiritual truths in this conversation that need to be teased out.  Both Victoria and King have valid points.  Victoria has experienced injustice.  Despite her talent and hard work, as a woman she was not able to find employment.  Also, once she got used to pretending to be a man she realized how much more freedom this lifestyle afforded her (this is the 1930s).  Victoria shouldn’t have to pretend to be a man to get work, she shouldn’t have to pretend to be a man to be respected, yet this was the case.

O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word #2

King is right though about her pretend game.  In the end she is lying, to herself and to the world.  What starts as innocent deception can cause a lot of emotional and social turmoil.  As much as we want to correct injustice we cannot do so by being unjust ourselves.

Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

The ending of the film was a bit confusing and unsatisfying, personally, because it did not resolve these problems.  Instead it seemed that Victoria chose to be with King and to give up her career, but maybe she will be able to continue singing now that people love her.  After all they clapped before she “revealed” she was a “man” so hopefully they would still enjoy the beautiful music despite the vessel it is in.