Movies and voice dialog

 

I watched Pale Rider tonight, and found myself doing voice dialog with the Preacher a few times. It was very helpful, and gave me some added insight into some long-standing patterns in my life. So this is of course one of the ways of working with movies: Use the characters in voice dialog. Hear what they have to say. Take in their insights. Listen to their advice to you and perhaps some of the other voices.

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Movie: The Hurt Locker

 

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I saw The Hurt Locker a while ago. It is very well crafted. Shot and told in an apparently neutral documentary style. Suspenseful. Heartbreaking. Entertaining.

But it isn’t neutral of course.

The story may seem free of ideology. It may seem that the author and director missed an opportunity for commentary or including a message. And it is exactly in that neutral emptiness the message lies. War is meaningless, especially as experienced from the point of view of the soldiers, and especially this war.

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Darwin’s complex loss of faith

 

In reality, Darwin’s loss of faith was, as he recognised, gradual and complex. The reasons were not new – suffering always has been and always will be most serious challenge to Christianity – but they were newly focused. Plenty of Darwin’s scientific contemporaries….. could accommodate their Christian beliefs with the new theory. Indeed, as historian James Moore has remarked “with but few exceptions the leading Christian thinkers in Great Britain and America came to terms quite readily with Darwinism and evolution.”

But Darwin, brought up on William Paley’s harmonious, self-satisfied vision of creation, could not.

From brief and good article from The Guardian.

Creation

 

Creation is a movie about Charles Darwin and will be out in the theaters at the end of September.

The trailer highlights the tension between one particular image of evolution, and one particular image of God.

It may seem quaint. I know it does for me, having grown up in a culture where most are lukewarm agnostics, where religion plays very little role in society, and where the few Christians have no problem reconciling their religion with science. (Mostly by telling themselves they belong to different realms.)

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God is a superstition

 

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I watched There Will Be Blood tonight (as always long after it was released!).

In one of the last scenes of the movie, Mr. Plainwater has the preacher say God is a superstition, and I am a false prophet.

Of course, if we take that as not true, it would be difficult even to say the words – especially if our whole identity is built around God and being a preacher.

But if we find the truth in it, the genuine truth for ourselves, it is easy to say. It is the simple truth. There is a sense of coming home in it. A sense of fullness. A sense of relief, if I previously hadn’t found (been open for) the truth in it.

So how are those statements true for me?

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Joker

 

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I watched The Dark Night a couple of days ago.

This is where I expect myself to say whether I liked it or not, and what I liked about it, but does it really matter? 

I find it more interesting to mention one thing that stood out for me in the movie… the trickster role of the joker. 

It’s the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer, you had plans, and uh, look where that got you. I just did what I do best. I took your plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hm? You know what, you know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!

The joker plays the role of the trickster in the movie. The one who upsets our plans. Just as life does. 

Where batman and the officials try to keep everything orderly and going according to plan, life – and the joker – reminds them that there is another side to life. We are not in control, even when it seems that we are. Life is just aligning with our shoulds for a short while. 

Said another way, when we attach to stories as true, we go into a should about life. And life doesn’t follow our shoulds. Life doesn’t follow our opinions. Life is far more kind than that. Life shows us that our stories are just that, stories. They have no substance. No reality, even when we try to act as if they are real. They have no truth, apart from in the most limited sense of sometimes being useful guidelines for how to orient and function in the world. 

Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh and you know the thing about chaos, it’s fair.

Yes, chaos – or life showing up differently from our shoulds – is fair. It goes against any and all stories we hold as true. And it does so for all of us. 

You just couldn’t let me go could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you, because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.

The joker is wise enough to recognize that both are needed. We need our stories. They do have a function as guidelines for how to function in the world. But we also need life to go against our stories, as it will, to remind us that they are only stories. Life is infinitely kind and patient in that way. 

Batman: Why do you want to kill me? 
The Joker: [laughs] Kill you? I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, you… you complete me.

And by the way, I did like his green vest. I have a similar one myself. 

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Norwegian resistance and two thoughts in the head at the same time

 

Since the movie about Max Manus is coming to the theaters in Norway these days, there is a resurgence of interest in the Norwegian resistance during WWII. A couple of things has puzzled me about it. One is why the communist resistance continues to largely be ignored, even after the fall of the Soviet Union and so many years after the war. The other has to do with how the Norwegian resistance is sometimes talked about, as if it had more – or different – impact than it really did. (Not that I am a historian.)

A recent essay in Aftenposten addressed the last issue and led to some controversy.

But it seems that this too doesn’t have to be so complicated.

The Norwegian resistance acted in genuinely heroic ways, giving everything – including often their lives – for a free Norway. Their existence lifted the morale and gave a sense of purpose and hope to many in Norway. And their actions did have an impact, although often local and limited.

It is also pretty clear that their activities were often no more than a nuisance to the occupying forces. Mosquito bites. Not contributing significantly to the outcome of the war. And quite often, the Nazi retaliation against civilians (executions) was predictable and maybe not justified by what the resistance achieved.

As they say in Norway, it is possible to keep two thoughts in the head at the same time. We can greatly appreciate and value their efforts and sacrifices. (If I had lived then, I hope I would have joined them.) And we can also acknowledge that their actions led to needless loss of civilians, and didn’t contribute significantly to the outcome of the war.

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Beliefs and dehumanization

 

I watched the Terminator last night, and wondered why there are so many sci-fi movies about cold, calculating, apparently unstoppable robotic and/or alien adversaries. What is so fascinating about them?

Of course, it can be exiting – and useful – to get in touch with the clarity and energy of our basic survival instincts. There is a sense of all of us, all humanity, being in the same boat. There is comfort in the simplicity of having a clear enemy and knowing what to do, and entertainment in the openness of not quite knowing how to do it. And it is enjoyable to vicariously experience drama without being part of it ourselves.

Then, if I see these movies as a dream, with all parts mirroring something in me, what in myself do these characters remind me of? 

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Deep patterns in movie preferences

 

There’s a sort of unsettling, alien quality to their computers’ results. When the teams examine the ways that singular value decomposition is slotting movies into categories, sometimes it makes sense to them — as when the computer highlights what appears to be some essence of nerdiness in a bunch of sci-fi movies. But many categorizations are now so obscure that they cannot see the reasoning behind them. Possibly the algorithms are finding connections so deep and subconscious that customers themselves wouldn’t even recognize them. At one point, Chabbert showed me a list of movies that his algorithm had discovered share some ineffable similarity; it includes a historical movie, “Joan of Arc,” a wrestling video, “W.W.E.: SummerSlam 2004,” the comedy “It Had to Be You” and a version of Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House.” For the life of me, I can’t figure out what possible connection they have, but Chabbert assures me that this singular value decomposition scored 4 percent higher than Cinematch — so it must be doing something right. As Volinsky surmised, “They’re able to tease out all of these things that we would never, ever think of ourselves.” The machine may be understanding something about us that we do not understand ourselves.

From an interesting NY Times article on the quest to improve Netflix’ recommendation software. 

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Voyage to the planets, and to a thrivable future

 

I watched the BBC fictional documentary Voyage to the Planets which reminded me of the bigger picture of space exploration.

It helps us see our planet from the outside, as a whole, as one ecological and social system, as the larger body for each one of us and humanity as a whole. It helps shift our awareness into a global sense of us, realizing that what we do to the larger whole is what we do to ourselves.

Us is no longer a group of humanity, or even the whole of humanity. It is the earth as a whole, with its complex ecological systems, species and individuals. In this sense, space exploration is one of the ways the earth brings itself as a whole, as one living system, into awareness.

Space exploration is also, in a quite literal way, how the universe explores itself. As Carl Sagan once said, we are the local eyes, ears, feelings and thoughts of the universe. And space exploration is one of the ways this universe, through humans, brings more of itself into awareness.

Space exploration is the first step in the Earth, as a living system, reproducing itself. It is the beginning of the birth of new living planets in our solar system, through terraforming of dead ones.

Space exploration is also the beginning of humanity as a multi-planet species, which is of benefit to our long term survival and would help this particular sense and awareness organ of the universe to hang around and evolve a little bit longer.

Although the episodes didn’t explicitly bring in this context, I thought the episodes were very well made. It made a possible future manned mission to several planets in the solar system seem sexy, gritty and real.

So why not do something similar with a sustainable, or thrivable, future? It could be a glimpse into a society where those forming it act from a global and ecological sense of us, in a very practical and real way.

It could be a society where what is easy to do, individually and collectively, is also what benefits the larger ecological and social whole. Shifting taxes away from work, and to what does not support the larger social and ecological whole, is a good start.

It could be a society where buildings and factories clean the air and water that goes through them, and produce food of its waste products. Where energy is produced cleanly and locally. Where communities are organized around humans and basic human needs, not around cars.

This is not an utopia. There are already many examples of each of these, and they could serve as models and be extended upon for such a documentary, serving as a guide for choices we make today, and making such a future a little more real for us.

Into the Wild

 

I watched Into the Wild some weeks ago, and as any good movie, it brought up a good deal for me to look at.

As usual with movies and life in general, it is an invitation to find in myself what I see in the characters in the movie, and especially those my attention is drawn to through sympathy, aversion or ambivalence.

And it an invitation to see what beliefs come up for me in watching the movie, and inquire into them.

My attention was mainly drawn to the idealism of the main character, and there was some ambivalence there. On the one hand, it was heartfelt and beautiful. On the other hand, it was naive, reckless and harmed himself and others.

So the question for me then is how am I idealistic in that way?

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