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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Pompel & Pilt

 

An episode of Pompel & Pilt, an anti-pedagogical Norwegian children’s TV series that made a big impression on one or two generations of Norwegian kids. I believe it was meant to get kids familiar with the absurdity of life, and question authority…! Worked for me, at least. Sorry about the lack of English subtitles, but it doesn’t make much more sense even if you understand Norwegian.

Pompel & Pilt are repair men, looking for something to repair, and get into uncomfortable situations with Gorgon The Janitor and some other creatures.

It is inspired by dadaism and absurdist theater.

Lila as inquiry

 

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Stories are really questions about the world, which means they are an invitation for inquiry.

The story of lila, of God playing hide and seek with itself, is just such a story, as Alan Watts so elegantly shows in this talk on Hinduism.

:: each dream a full life, what content would I choose? ::

Just as a thought experiment, say that each night I dreamt a full human life, from birth to death, in great detail. And say I could choose the content of these dreams, with no limitations.

What would I do?

Maybe we would start with a few months of dreams that fulfills all our most immediate desires. Then, it may get a little boring, so why not add some drama? And to spice it up, why not forget within the dream that it is a dream? And to really make it juicy, why not take it to an extreme?

:: each day the same day, how would I want to live it? ::

I just watched Groundhog Day for the first time (better late than never), and that story too is really a question for ourselves, an invitation to inquiry. If I lived the same day over and over, how would I live that day? How would I, eventually, want to live that day?

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Resistance within experience

 

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Nothing special here…

Whenever I listen to music, read a book, watch a movie, or similar, I notice the difference between a resistance within and to experience.

When there is a resistance within experience, it usually makes it interesting to me. I am attracted to the experience, and there is some friction there. It feels meaty, substantial, challenging, nurturing.

This is how it is for me with music such as Jaga Jazzist, Meredith Monk, Bulgarian folks songs, and even – for instance – lounge music. Anything that is a little outside of the familiar for me (Meredith Monk), outside of my expectations (Bulgarian folk songs) or shoulds (metal!), or outside of my familiar identity (lounge).

When there is not much resistance within experience, which I experience with Mozart and some writings and movies, there is either not much interest there, or it becomes more of a – sometimes welcomed – relaxation and a vacation.

And when there is resistance to experience, it is quite different. This is when it becomes uncomfortable, and there is a sense of separation and of a separate I disliking an experience.

Milarepa: Magician, murderer, saint

 

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I was fortunate enough to see the new Milarepa movie tonight, made by Neten Chokling who was one of the actors in The Cup and assisted with Travelers and Magicians.

Since I have been exploring the early part of the chain behind “deluded” actions lately, that was one of the things that came up for me.

Especially, how, when we unravel what is behind motivations, the ones stemming from a sense of an I with an Other, we find first fear, and then love.

In his case, fear of losing his mother (she threatened with committing suicide if he didn’t take revenge on the village), fear of what may become of him (they had lost their family fortune), fear of not getting his girl (he was poor, she more affluent). When I look for myself, I find that these types of fears are often behind ill considered actions, and also reactivity and reactive emotions. (Anger, frustration, despair.)

And going behind that fear, there is love. In his case, love for his mother, his father, his sister, himself. Love for those he included in his circle of us, which probably shrank due to how his family was treated by most others in the village.

And of course, behind the fear and reactivity, we find beliefs. A sense of being a separate self, beliefs in justice, in wanting a good life, and so on.

And mixed in with it all, pure innocence. Pure innocence in believing certain thoughts, just because most people around do it. Pure innocence in acting from fear, because this fear is inevitable when we take ourselves to be an I with an Other. Pure innocence in this fear taking the form of anger, hate, despair and wanting revenge, because that is inevitable when we resist the experience of fear, and also when it gets mixed up in typical beliefs. Pure innocence in the love that is behind it all, because that love is what we are. Pure innocence in filtering that love through a boundary of us and them, because that is inevitable when there is a sense of a separate I. Pure innocence in where that boundary falls, because that comes from culture, family and where we are in terms of maturity.

The story, as any other story, is a mirror for myself. Can I find what I see in Milarepa, his path, and in the people around him, in myself?

Where do I find the confusion? Being caught up in a sense of a separate self, and everything that comes from that? Where do I find the turning point? The situation or situations where I went far enough in acting from confusion, reactivity and beliefs that it stunned me, invited me to see if there is another way.

And in the sequel, which is about his training and awakening process, where do I build up stone towers just to have to dismantle them again, or having them dismantled for me?

King of Kong

 

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I saw the movie King of Kong tonight, a surprisingly fascinating and touching documentary about the two top competitive Donkey Kong (!) players in the world. One, Billy Mitchell, is the “gamer of the century” and is increasingly cast as the villain as the movie progresses. The other, Steve Wiebe, is a thoroughly likable underdog taking on the champion, and unwittingly gets embroiled in an old feud between Billy Mitchel and his nemesis, Mr. Awesome.

Two things struck me as I watched the movie.

Steve Wiebe’s great achievement is how he lives his life, independent of whether he is successful and recognized in sports, music or arcade games (all areas he has a great deal of talent, but never got it quite off the ground apart from in arcade games). And this is probably obvious to anyone watching the movie, although maybe not always to himself.

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There must be many movies out there presenting the same story from different perspectives, although the only one I can think of now is Kurosawa’s Rashomon. (If anyone reading this knows of other movies, please tell me about it in a comment.)

Documentaries lend themselves especially well to this as there is usually hundreds of hours of footage which can be edited in many different ways to tell different versions of the same story, each one with a very different message, point and feel to them, and with the audience siding with different people.

In this case, the movie could have been even more interesting if it was made up of two 40 minute or so stories shown back-to-back. The first, told first from the perspective of Mitchell, casting Wiebe as someone associated with his arch enemy Mr. Awesome and out to take him down at any cost. And then from the perspective of Steve Wiebe, as a more tightly edited version of the one out now. Each would independently tell a fascinating story, and together would also remind us of how things look very different from different perspectives.

A good movie does this anyway, weaving perspectives into a larger story, but separating them out adds something extra to it.

Most of the time, even when a story weaves in several perspectives, one perspective dominates or unifies the others, and the other ones are there more for texture. This is of course good and appropriate most of the time.

But once in a while, it would be interesting to see the different perspectives separated out in a more obvious way. It allows for a more thorough exploration of each, how each one seems very real and true when we are absorbed into it, how easily we can shift into another, and how we can find a space holding them all and from here find the limited truth in each.

Thoughts and space

 

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In continuing to explore thoughts, I keep discovering how thoughts first create a sense of extent and space, and then use this space to map perception and thoughts themselves.

For instance, all perceptions get mapped onto space, which also allows for a sense of I and Other. I, as a separate self, is located here, in the center, somewhere in or around this body and especially this head, and Other is out there, in the periphery, as anything else arising. A sense of extent allows for an easier differentiation, and it also allows for a sense of an I with an Other.

And thoughts in general also get spread out in space. When I notice the play of thoughts and images arising, and how the mind creates connections among them and shift from one set to another, it is very clear how the mind spreads thoughts – mimicking any and all senses – out in space, and then uses it as a canvas for shifting focus around, for exploring relationships, and so on.

At least for now when I explore it, it seems very similar to the gestural interface used in Minority Report. A wide range of images and information are spread out in space, and manipulated in space to make sense of it.

Movie analogy and disidentification

 

I wrote a post about movies as analogy for Big Mind, and movies can also be an analogy for the process of disidentification.

Imagine watching a movie over and over. If it is good, it may capture our interest for the first few times. But after a while, it gets less and less interesting. We know it already. There may be slight differences in how we perceive it, maybe some new details we didn’t see before, but overall, it gets less interesting. Eventually, it may still be playing, but our attention doesn’t go there much anymore, and even if it does, it does not get absorbed into it as in the beginning. It is just recognized as the same movie, the same story unfolding, the same drama. The charge goes out of it for us.

And the same is the case for our own stories, the ones we play over and over in our own life. The only difference is that if attention continues being absorbed into it, taking it as real, then that pattern most likely continues. But if we pay attention to what is happening, for instance through mindfulness in daily life, or meditation practice (watching “channel me” for hours!), or inquiry, or even just being with the experiences, then the interest in it fades, just as when we watch the same movie over and over. We recognize it as the same movie, the same story, the same pattern, and it becomes less fascinating over time. Eventually, it still plays, but attention does not go there so much, and when it does, it does not become absorbed into it. It is just recognized as the same story as before. In other words, there is a disidentification from it. My identity is not wrapped up in it so much anymore.