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Showing posts with label Paul. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul. Show all posts

Thursday, 20 February 2014

What sort of man is Theodore ?

This is a follow-up review of Her (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

20 February

This is a follow-up review of Her (2013)

The film is called Her (#UCFF's initial response here) and she (Samantha, the voice of Scarlett Johannson) permeates it, but the person anchoring the film and about whom it arguably is must be Theodore : if this is ‘A Spike Jonze love story’, it is love from his perspective (when it feels good, and when he sits on the steps of the underpass, not understanding what is happening), and invites us to wonder what makes him tick.

He does not sleep heavily or sometimes well, but does not mind being woken – which Samantha manages with just a brief signal via his data-handset – and seems generally of a good-natured disposition. In fact, he seems a bit too amenable to have a stable and certain sense of self, for he is wedded to the idea (no longer the lived reality) of ‘being married’, which he says that he likes, and so has long delayed finalizing the divorce. (His lawyer, who appears not familiar – or maybe just not sympathetic – with how people often enough put off the final step, is irritated with him.)

Acquiescence in what does not bother him means that, although clearly troubled by the suggestion that he should stifle his unseen sex-partner with the cat (even if it is only a virtual reality), he goes along with it, and also with many of Samantha’s suggestions / interventions. Just as for his job, Theodore adopts a persona, that of a stud, for remote-sex assignations, and maybe, in effect, he also does for contentedly being on the beach, fully clothed and smiling, ‘with’ Samantha. He even seems to adorn his breast-pocket with large safety-pins (good to see that they still exist in this world !) so that the handset is at the right height for Samantha to see.

The paradigm for Theodore is where he asks a voice-controlled system to select a song of specified type (melancholy ?), in that he rejects what he first has chosen for him, but then settles for the second one. It is in the video-game that he plays at Amy’s (Amy Adams’), where he has to be the best mum, that he lets his fantasy free, bumping his way to the head of the queue, by driving riotously up the verge, as if this behaviour in the game-world is sufficient to express himself.

In his game at home, he appears stumped by a verbally abusive character, but gets a prompt from Samantha that it is a test and swears back. (A brief shot later shows him not playing the game, but communing with the character.) At work, the effusive compliments of Paul (Chris Pratt), who also talks about Theodore’s feminine side, seem to feel awkward to him and he does not seem to find it easy to accept them, but, having met Tatiana, Samantha and he go on a double-date with Paul and her.

He is at ease with Samantha, and he does value her, but one feels that he is better understood and more able to express himself with Amy – probably still just as friends, but, newly divorced, maybe he does not need more than that and to discover himself…

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Time-travel and temptation

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

25 January (Burns' Night)

* Contains spoilers *

Following on from Stale old arguments about Scorsese, here is the main act...

The Dean and Chapter of Wells Cathedral may have had screenings in the nave before, but, if so, never like that of The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). For one, one's admission is not usually greeted by someone, without explanation offered, handing out what appeared to be a blank slip of paper (usually, the giving or showing is the other way around). It was later found to be a piece of folded A5, but, when asked, the giver said that it was 'an alternative view' (and appeared to be a reprint of a 2* review for the film, as if its existence proved something). For another, the quality of the projection, brought from Festival Central :

There were three introductions to the film, by The Dean, by Scorsese's editor Thelma Schoonmaker (who is also Michael Powell's widow), and (on film) from Scorsese himself for this 25th-anniversary screening, from which we gathered that he had started training for the priesthood, but had not got the necessary grades (and dyslexia was mentioned). The impact of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel on Scorsese became clear, and also the fact that the novel, and the film based on it, is not meant to be a direct Gospel-based account of Jesus' life, but a work of fiction that asks questions. We, too, were invited to ask questions.

The concern about showing a Scorsese film here might have been justified, if it had been Taxi Driver (1976), or even the very immediate Life of Belfont in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) - that would have been inappropriate (sacrilege ?), but there is no way on Earth that this film is blasphemous. It simply asks the question, based on Jesus being fully Man and fully God, what if temptation did not end with the forty days in the wilderness, but extended to the cross :

In essence, what if this Jesus of the film were tempted to believe that there is a parallel with Abraham not being required, having shown himself willing, to sacrifice Isaac, and that he, having abandoned wanting the comforts of a life with wife and children and been crucified, has done all that is needed of him, need not actually undergo death this way after all to save Man ? Scorsese imagines this temptation, which has been mentioned earlier, and shows us Satan peddle Jesus his lies that he is like Isaac, and another way has been found.

Theologically, we are thrown back on that moment on the Mount of Olives when Jesus asks Peter, James and John to mount watch and pray whilst he goes off a little way to pray alone (which happens twice in gospel accounts, but once here) : he prays that the cup that he is offered may be taken from him, if it is possible, i.e. that he need not undergo crucifixion. (He has already broken bread and shared a cup of wine with his disciples, saying that they are his body and his blood). The film shows Peter, although Peter is asleep with the other two, present the cup to Jesus for him to drink from (echoing the earlier scene, and invoking transubstantiation), which Jesus takes as his answer that there is no other way.

In the Miltonic vision of the early Books of Paradise Lost, between the Fall of Lucifer / Satan and the Fall of Man, a council in heaven has Jesus volunteer to redeem mankind from the consequences of his as-yet unperformed disobedience - being omniscient, God knows beforehand what will happen, whereas, in John's Gospel, we have 'The Word' being God and with God before the creation of the world (1 : 1), and God sending his only son to give eternal life to believers (3 : 16). Scorsese / Kazantzakis gives us a picture of a Jesus whose certainty as to his mission and messiahship is not constant, who has had Judas close to him before and in his ministry (suggesting that Judas (Harvey Keitel, with orange hair), not John, is 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' ?) and hired by the zealots to kill him, and who has asked Judas to betray him to the officers of the High Priest, which turns out to be just after that moment of prayer*.

The Jesus of this film already knows Mary Magdalene and has called his disciples before he goes into the wilderness, and, as carpenter, has provided the Romans with crosses for crucifixions - all of these things stress that this is not the exact Jesus of the Gospels, as well as the fact that Peter seems to have no very special role (unlike that of Judas), and that we are shown Mary both as an active prostitute, and as 'the woman caught in adultery', with no invitation 'to cast the first stone', because stones have already been cast. All of this alienates us from mistaking Willem Dafoe for the Biblical Jesus, as does our familiarity with the actor - he is not another Robert Powell, this is not Pasolini.

It is a subtle effect, for we have the necessary distance on Jesus come the purging of The Temple, the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the further defiance to how The Temple is being run with the claim to rebuild 'this temple' (traditionally, following Paul ?, taken to mean Jesus' own body) in three days. We have seen the raising of Lazarus as a real and frightening struggle with the forces of death, not a casual opening of the tomb (despite the warnings that a body has been in there three days, which becomes a stark reality in this film) and calling to Lazarus to come out.

On the Mount of Olives, then brought before Pilate (David Bowie, before whose scene there is none with Caiaphas or the like), this is a Jesus who has not found it easy to discern his mission, and whom Bowie dismisses as just another to add to the 3,000 skulls on Golgotha. There, Jesus who provided the means to crucify others (and with distorted motives), is nailed up in just the same way, but beforehand, with the way of the cross, Peter Gabriel's soundtrack breaks through into its own, evoking the hubbub, mockery and jeers that we see on the screen - it is almost deafening, and there is a long moment when time stands still and Jesus is forever carrying the cross, being jolted and mocked, and it almost does not let up until Jesus is presented with the title's last temptation.

When this Jesus believes that there is another way, filmically and theologically, several things happen at once : we know that the Gospel accounts and the Christian churches say that Jesus died on the cross, we know that this sweet girl who claims to be his guardian angel must be lying (and that this is the temptation), and we will Jesus to wake up from the deception, which means that we are asking him to die for us, to be The Crucified Saviour, we ask him to give up for us the things in life that are shown desirable to him.

How curious is that, that we should want him to defeat this temptation and die ! A Jesus who even confronts Paul (whom we saw earlier as Saul (Harry Dean Stanton), and whose account of the blinding on the road to Damascus we hear), telling him that he did not die and that Paul's and the other apostles' testimony is false - neither believes the other. If the comparison is not trite, we have a celestial Doctor Who story, certainly a dream sequence, where the deceived Doctor / dreamer cannot spot the clues that he has been tricked, that he did have to die on the cross, that he cannot have what this temptation offered him.

Inevitably, we are thrown back to the temptations manifested as cobra, lion and fire that Jesus experienced in his Richard-Long-like dust-circle in the wilderness, to the doubts and hesitations to which we elsewhere see Jesus subject. Through Scorsese's film, Kazantzakis poses to us the possibility that Jesus could have been tempted on the cross, and the moment is placed when Jesus cries out (in English) words from The Book of Isaiah, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?. Some theologies want to say that, at this moment, Jesus is cut off from contact with God, and that it is in this aweful separation that the act of saviourhood consists. This film places the moment when Jesus is most human, when he most wants and is offered what everyone else expects in life, at this time.

As a theological argument about what that postulated separation means, if one accords meaning to Jesus as fully God and Man, this would not make a film**. However, led into the place of temptation by Gabriel's sweetest music, and in purely cinematic terms, seeing Jesus live our life, meet and reject Paul, and be tempted as we are is compelling film-making. This is not blasphemy or a source of challenge to Christian believers, but a heartfelt and carefully thought-through meditation, as a film, on what can otherwise seem the sometimes tired and unconsidered question of what it cost Jesus to go to his death. At the very end, as we looked up above the screen, a faint light was on The Crucifixion, Jesus on the cross and those at the foot.

All at the Cathedral and Bath Film Festival are to be commended for their determination to show this film, despite objection

More here on what Scorsese has written about the film (in Scorsese on Scorsese)...


* The accounts about Judas throwing the thirty coins of silver back at the officers of the High Priest, The Potter's Field being bought, or of Judas hanging himself have no place here.

** Surely, at its heart is Paul's Letter to the Hebrews (4 : 15), which says For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. The protesters (Wells Journal, 23 January) assert - baselessly, as far as I can see - that the film propounds that Jesus did marry Mary Magadelene (by citing The Christ Files), and seek to disprove the claim.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 18 March 2012

You'll break it! / It's not a toy!

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 March

A micrometer - great therapy though it is to find, over and over, the thickness of a piece of paper, and hear it click click when it has reached the point of measurement - is Not a toy.

Nor is a spring-loaded tape-measure, but that doesn't stop it being great fun to have it literally reel itself back in, with that distinctive noise as the stop at the end of the tape (0", 0 cm) hits the metal of the aperture.

So what does that tell us about anything? That - as do other creatures* - we like to play, to repeat, to test things to the limit? Maybe

That, knowing what something is for, we find another use for it? - and, in art, it is Marcel Duchamp who is credited with calling doing this 'a readymade', Fountain probably being the most infamous of such works of his. So our inventiveness, turning our hand to other things, seeing something anew / from another angle?** Perhaps

Or the impulse - coupled with the enabling power - to subvert the order of things?:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

in the words of early Joni Mitchell***. Possibly

And if not ourselves being those who act, then allowing it? - being those who 'having the power to do good', fail to do so? Conceivably

Saul, the man who became Paul and spread the Christian message over vast distances (from Malta to what is now Turkey), stood by, looking after the others' garments when Stephen****, the first follower of Jesus to be martyred, was stoned to death:

Whoever is not with me is against me (Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23)

but also

For he who is not against us is for us (Mark, 9:40)


* Including plants?

** Yet this is not a purely human trait, as those will testify who try to devise ways either of keeping squirrels out of a bird-feeder, or even challenge the creatures to puzzle out a series of steps to secure rewards intended for them.

*** The song 'Big Yellow Taxi' from the album Ladies of the Canyon.

**** So what is usually called Boxing Day, 26 December, is St Stephen's Day.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

I am the walrus*

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

16 March

Ringo, if anyone, looked more and more like a walrus at one point (some, maybe cruelly, would say that such a beast could have better performed his role in the band, whereas modern science has proved that the walrus has a near-congenital (?) tone-deafness, unsuited to a drummer).

On the celebrated cover of the Sergeant Pepper album**, we think that we see Ringo, standing as one of the group at the front. However, microscopic analysis of the cardboard (and also of some DNA from Orson Welles that was knocking around the lab) shows that he is really beneath the surface, having been pulverized to a few microns thick in a freak fishing accident***.

John, not wishing to be outdone, sewed himself into the lining of one of Marilyn's gowns (allegedy, the pinkish one from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), and refused to come out until Paul admitted that, as had been shown by the famous backwards playing of Pepper, he was actually dead.

He then buried Paul in a box of England's Glory, empty except for two used matches and an excessively large piece of cotton-wool, which he liked to squeeze inside, despite the box's protests (the arse**** even went to the House of Lords).

George wasn't interested much in any of this, and slipped off to play squash (in the nude?).


* It is now postulated that, on account of the fact that George Martin misheard, taking the uninflected neutral vowel-sound (which peppers spoken English) in the indefinite article (sc. the word 'a') and thinking that it was in the definite article (to wit the word 'the'), and then promulgated this error in the written material for the album (which the boys weren't much bothered about), what should have been understood, more meaningfully, was that the notional singer of the song is saying I am a walrus, which is no longer counterfactual.

** According to Andrew Graham Dixon's latest art-historical study, The Vanishing Socks (London, 2011), it is the unacknowledged work of Pablo Picasso (under the influence of Frida Kahlo, who had just been floating past) .

*** Sadly, as is all too often the case with this sort of fishing exploit, no freaks were caught either.

**** Some assert that this should be emended to read 'case', but a matchbox is clearly no sort of case, so that just doesn't 'make the grade' as a theory.