As cinema and story-telling, The Case for Christ leaves something to be desired. But if ideas are your thing, then this movie may hold your attention as it held mine. It will help if you are at least open to the possibility that Christ rose from the dead.
The review in Christianity Today is worth reading, but the anti-intellectual tenor of the following bit stuck in my craw:
Alas, all that goes out the window when it comes time for the portions of the film that actually make the case for Christ. It is beyond the scope of a film review to evaluate the specific arguments and assumptions articulated by the people whom Strobel interviews, but regardless of their rhetorical and historical merits, the apologetics sequences make for bad cinema and bad storytelling. Periodically, the domestic melodrama and character development come to a screeching halt, superseded by enormous chunks of exposition that work better on a page than on a screen.
Gunn does his best to stage the interviews in an interesting way, but the results are nonetheless stilted, sometimes comically so. (A conversation with a medical professional, for example, is set in a laboratory with lots of doctors milling about, doing vaguely science-y things while ignoring the reporter who is distracting their boss with questions about the Crucifixion.) The audience is left with little to do other than twiddle their thumbs while they wait for the story to start rolling again.
Twiddle their thumbs? Are you serious? That part of the flick raised in a graphic way the issue of whether the Swoon Hypothesis holds any water, and to my mind, showed that it doesn't. To hell with story-telling. The best parts of the movie were the apologetics sequences.
But if you are looking for entertainment, or think that a man's relation with his wife is of more importance that the question of the Resurrection, then you should stay away from this movie.
As the book reaches its climax, Rodrigues feels the sand giving way beneath him:
From the deepest core of my being yet another voice made itself heard in a whisper. Supposing God does not exist. . . .
This was a frightening fancy. . . .What an absurd drama become the lives of [the martyrs] Mokichi and Ichizo, bound to the stake and washed by the waves. And the missionaries who spent three years crossing the sea to arrive at this country – what an illusion was theirs. Myself, too, wandering here over the desolate mountains – what an absurd situation!
Scorsese’s Silence is not a Christian film by a Catholic filmmaker, but a justification of faithlessness: apostasy becomes an act of Christian charity when it saves lives, just as martyrdom becomes almost satanic when it increases persecution. “Christ would have apostatized for the sake of love,” Ferreira tells Rodrigues, and, obviously, Scorsese agrees.
The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful [sic] untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.
Tully Borland points us to The Sinister Theology of Endo's SILENCE. A good article, but a bit smug and pat for my taste. The author seems not to appreciate the moral bind Rodrigues is in. A topic to be explored in a separate entry.
Not everything in the NYT is leftist crap. The new Scorsese effort is based on the novel “Silence,” by Shusaku Endo.
My copy should be arriving today. A tip of the hat to Karl White for informing me of it.
“The novel poses a very profound theological question,” Peter C. Phan, a Jesuit theologian at Georgetown who was born in Vietnam, told me. “The question is this: Are we allowed to do an essentially evil act to obtain a good result?
If the recipient of this insulthad been a philosophy professor instead of a mere history professor, he might have responded as follows. "Darling, by the Existence Symmetry of Relations, if a relation R holds, then either all of its relata exist or none of them do. Now one cannot divorce a person to whom one is not married. So you and I stand in the marital relation. It follows that if I don't exist, then you don't either."
Money, power, sex, and recognition form what I call the Mighty Tetrad of human motivators, the chief goads to action here below. Hillary specializes in the inordinate love of the first two, Bill in the inordinate love of the second.
Do you know who he is? I found out only recently, which I suppose is fitting given the man's Pynchon- and Salinger-like desire for obscurity. A while back, I caught the last half-hour of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, classic celluloid from 1948 starring Humphrey Bogart and John Huston. The Wikipedia article on The Treasure sent me to an entry on B. Traven who wrote the German novel, Der Schatz der Sierra Madre, on which the movie is based. Now you know the rest of the story.
They don't make movies like this any more. HollyWeird liberals don't know how. They'll snow you with meaningless special effects and gratuitous sex and violence in every possible permutation, but they are well-nigh incapable of delivering decent dialog, or stories of human interest, let alone stories that illustrate philosophical themes or raise philosophical or moral questions. The exceptions prove the rule.
One issue raised by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre concerns the status of moral conscience. Is it merely a social construct whose validity evaporates in the wilderness? Or is it a source of trans-cultural moral insight? In one scene, Dobbs, the Bogie character, tells his young partner, Curtin, that he "sounds foolish out in this wilderness" airing his Sunday-School scruples about cheating the old man (the Huston character) of his supplies and gold. Later, after shooting Curtin and leaving him for dead, Dobbs wrestles with his conscience while trying to fall asleep. "If you believe you have a conscience, then it will pester you to death. If you don't believe you have a conscience, what can it do to you?"
The issue, of course, is not whether one believes one has a conscience, for one can believe that one does without believing that conscience is a source of moral knowledge. One might hold that the conscience one has is merely a product of acculturation and that its 'deliverances' don't deliver any objective truths about the moral order, but merely reflect upbringing. The line should go like this, "If you believe conscience is a source of objective moral insight, then it will pester you to death. If you don't believe that it is such a source, what can it do to you?" Unfortunately, screen writers, even back in the '40s didn't write like this. Too philosophical!
There is a nihilistic streak in far too many liberals and leftists which makes them want to pander to the basest instincts in people. So if a HollyWeird liberal were to re-make this film, Dobb's shooting of Curtin would be probably shown in gory detail so as to incite blood lust. In the actual film, the shooting is not shown; only the upshot is: we see a wounded man in the dirt. For only the latter is needed for the story. This was the way things were done until about the time of Peckinpah in the '60s. But the nihilists of the Left are not interested in a human story, they are interested in degrading people in order to line their own pockets. Of course, they will hide behind their right to 'free expression' as if this justified anything and everything.
The film presents [Dalton] Trumbo as a hero and martyr for free speech, a principled rich Communist who nevertheless stands firm, sells his beautiful ranch for a “modest” new house in Los Angeles, and survives by writing film scripts -- most run of the mill but some major films (such as the Academy Award-winning Roman Holiday) -- using a “front” who pretended to be the writer.
[. . .]
While Trumbo was an interesting and colorful character, the film gives us the story of the Communists and the blacklist in the mold of the Ten’s own propaganda book published after their HUAC appearances. The book is Hollywood on Trial, which portrayed them as advocates of free speech who were defending the American Constitution, civil liberties, and American freedom itself.
[. . .]
In presenting this rosy picture, Trumbo avoids dealing with the actual nature of Communism and the role played by the CPUSA in Hollywood in the 1940s. It shows Trumbo and the others of the Ten who invoked the First Amendment as unadulterated heroes, and contrasts them with a group of nasty and brutish anti-Communist villains, including Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Roy Brewer, two conservative groups that supported a blacklist and opposed the Communists, and virtually all those in Hollywood who opposed Communism.
[. . .]
Trumbo was no defender of free speech. He was a serious Communist and a defender of Stalin and the Soviet Union.
[. . .]
He could not have claimed innocence of Stalin’s crimes. In 1956, after Nikita Khrushchev’s speech about Stalin to a Party Congress, he told an old friend of his that he was not surprised, because he had read George Orwell, Koestler, James Burnham, Eugene Lyons and Isaac Don Levine, authors who told the truth about Soviet totalitarianism. In other words, Trumbo supported Stalin while knowing at the time that “Uncle Joe” was a monster and murderer.
[. . .]
Moreover, as the blacklist came to an end, Trumbo had time to reevaluate much of what he believed that led him to join the Communist Party. When my wife and I were doing research for our book Red Star Over Hollywood, we came across an article Trumbo had written but never published.
In this 1958 article, Trumbo told some frank truths about the Party -- truths which eventually led him to quit. You would never suspect this from Roach’s film. There is nothing about the Party accusing him of “white chauvinism” -- in today’s terms, racism. The CP, he told one old comrade, threw “a bucket of filth over me.” Moreover, he wrote that the Ten did not “perform historic deeds,” but took part “in a circus orchestrated by CP lawyers, all to save [ourselves] from punishment.”
He concluded that the blacklist took place not only because of the Committee, but because of the antics of the CP itself. In this article, he wrote that “the question of a secret Communist Party lies at the very heart of the Hollywood blacklist,” which is why Americans believed the Communists had something to hide. They lived in the United States, not Stalin’s U.S.S.R., and should have openly proclaimed their views and membership so that the American people could judge them for what they believed. Instead, they formed secret Leninist cells. The CPUSA should have been open and its members all known, he wrote, or the Communists in Hollywood should “not have been members at all.”
Despite the lukewarm reviews, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. But then I am a chess player who lived through the Fischer era and who remembers that far-off summer of '72 when Caissa and Mars colluded to give a chess match geopolitical significance.
Boris Spassky had the support of the Soviet state; Fischer stood alone, his sole state support consisting in a phone call from Nixon's Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urging him to play. In some Cold War calculus there is perhaps a computation of the contribution of Fischer's victory to the ultimate demise of the Evil Empire.
She was created in a poem called Caïssa written in 1763 by English poet and philologist Sir William Jones.
In the poem, the god Mars falls in love with the goddess Caissa, portrayed as a Thracian dryad. Caissa rebuffs his advances and suggests he take solace in the company of the god Euphron—the god of sport. After hearing Mars' laments, Euphron
...fram'd a tablet of celestial mold, Inlay'd with squares of silver and of gold; Then of two metals form'd the warlike band, That here compact in show of battle stand; He taught the rules that guide the pensive game, And call'd it Caissa from the dryad's name: (Whence Albion's sons, who most its praise confess, Approv'd the play, and nam'd it thoughtful Chess.)
Mars then presents the game of chess to Caissa in an attempt to win her affection.
Jones' work was inspired by the poem Scacchia ludus ("The game of Chess"), written by Italian poet Marco Girolamo Vida in 1510.
Until he hung hanged himself, that is. Williams, that is.
I knew who Williams was, though I have seen only two of his films, The Dead Poets' Society and Mrs. Doubtfire. From what I know of the others I have no desire to see them. The gushing over celebrities at their passing is as tolerable as it is predictable. One only wishes that people had better judgment about who is really worthy of the highest accolades and encomia.
Here is the memorable carpe diem scene from The Dead Poets' Society. I think Dalrymple would appreciate it.
A Most Wanted Man, based on the John le Carre novel and starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, was well worth the two hours I invested in it this morning. Some critics called it slow-moving. Why? Because it is thoughtful and thought-provoking with no unnecessary action or gratuitous sex and violence or mindless special effects? Most movies are garbage made for the consumption of morons, like the trailers I had to sit through; but not all.
To Scottsdale this drizzly dreary dark December morning to see the Coen Bros. latest on its opening hereabouts, Inside Llewyn Davis. A tale of two kitties is a sub-motif that symbolizes the self-destructive folksinger's troubles, but it would take a couple more viewings for me to figure it out.
The film gripped me and held me its entire running length, but then I lived through that era and I know the music and its major and minor players. Figuring out the the cinematic references and allusions is part of the fun. Tom Paxton, Albert Grossmann, Jim and Jean, The Clancy Brothers, Bob Dylan . . . they are all there -- or are they?
A distinction is made between purely fictional objects (native objects) and immigrant objects: historical individuals that have been imported into fiction from reality. Many of the characters in the Coen Bros. film seem to belong to a third category. They are not wholly unreal like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, or lightly fictionalized individuals like many of the characters in Kerouac's novels, but fictional surrogates of real-life individuals. For example, there is a character who suggests Tom Paxton, but could not be said unambiguously to represent him, pace Dave van Ronk's ex-wife who writes, in a critical review, "The character who represents Tom Paxton has a pasted-on smile and is a smug person who doesn't at all resemble the smart, funny, witty Tom Paxton who was our best man when we married."
Ann Hornaday's Washington Postreview ends brilliantly:
In many ways, “Inside Llewyn Davis” plays like a waking nightmare of creeping anxiety and dread, as the era’s grandmaster of brazen self-invention arrives unseen in New York while Llewyn’s self-defeating near-misses pile up like so much street-sullied snow. But this soulful, unabashedly lyrical film is best enjoyed by sinking into it like a sweet, sad dream. When you wake up, a mythical place and time will have disappeared forever. But you’ll know that attention — briefly, beautifully — has been paid.
The era's grandmaster of brazen self-invention is of course Bob Dylan, who blew into town that bitter winter of '61 and who in a few short years brought about a sort of Hegelian Aufhebung of the folk era: its simultaneous cancellation, preservation, and transmogrification into the heart of the '60s as represented by the trilogy of Dylan at his most incandescent: Bringing it It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde.
It debuted hereabouts in Scottsdale this morning at 11:00 AM at Harkins 14. There were exactly three souls in attendance, mine included. Beautifully done and especially moving for this native Californian Kerouac aficionado who knows the book and the road and the bridge and the views and has had his own remarkable experiences at Big Sur. Gazing out at the Pacific over 40 years ago I felt as if locked into the same nunc stans that I had glimpsed a few months before at Playa del Rey on the southern California coast. Nature in the extremity of her beauty has the power to unhinge the soul from the doorjambs of what passes for sanity.
I saw the movie Hannah Arendt this afternoon. I thought it well worth my time despite the bad reviews it received. Critics complained about the clunky portrayal of New York intellectuals and the hagiographic depiction of Arendt, but those faults and others escaped me immersed as I was in the ideas. The movie is about Arendt's coverage for The New Yorker of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem and the bitter controversy that erupted among the magazine's readership upon the publication of an article series by Arendt on the trial.
It was my good fortune to happen across Rosselini's Socrates the night before last, Good Friday night, on Turner Classic Movies. From 1971, in Italian with English subtitles. I tuned in about 15 minutes late, but it riveted my attention until the end. It is full of excellent, accurate dialog based on the texts of Plato that record Socrates' last sayings and doings. I was easily able to recognize material from the Platonic dialogues Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and the immortal Phaedo. The dialog moves fast, especially in Italian, and near the end it was difficult to read the fast moving subtitles through eyes filled with tears.
One ought to meditate on the fact that the two greatest teachers of the West, and two great teachers of humanity, Socrates and Jesus, were unjustly executed by the State. This is something contemporary liberals, uncritical in their belief in the benevolence of government, ought especially to consider.
My eyes glued to the TV, I was struck by how Socratic my own attitude toward life and death is. Death is not to be feared, but is to be prepared for and embraced as a portal to knowledge. It is the ultimate adventure for the truth seeker. It is not unreasonable to suppose that it is such a portal even though we cannot know it to be so in this life. There is no dogmatism in the Socratic wisdom: its incarnation does not claim to know here what can only be known, if it will be known, there. He is an inquirer, not an ideologue defending an institutional status quo. The point of the arguments recorded in the Phaedo, and partially rehearsed in the movie, is to persuade sincere truth seekers of the reasonableness of the philosopher's faith, not to prove what cannot be proven, and especially not to benighted worldlings who care little about truth, smug worldlings whose hearts and minds have been suborned by their love of power and money and the pleasures of the flesh.
His friends want the seventy-year-old philosopher to escape and have made preparations. But what could be the point of prolonging one's bodily life after one has done one's best and one's duty in a world of shadows and ignorance that can offer us really nothing in the end but more of the same? This vale of soul-making is for making souls: it cannot possibly be our permanent home. (Hence the moral absurdity of transhumanism which is absurd technologically as well.) Once the soul has exhausted the possibilties of life behind the veil of ignorance and has reached the end of the via dolorosa through this vale of tears then it is time to move on, to nothingness or to something better.
Or perchance to something worse? Here is where the care of the soul here and now comes in. Since the soul may live on, one must care for it: one must live justly and strive for the good. One must seek the knowledge of true being while there is still time lest death catch us unworthy, or worthy only of annihilation or worse.
Socrates' life was his best argument: he taught from his Existenz. He taught best while the hemlock was being poured and his back was to the wall. His dialectic was rooted in his life. His dialectic was not cleverness for the classroom but wisdom for the death chamber.
Whether his life speaks to you or not depends on the kind of person you are, in keeping with Fichte's famous remark to the effect that the philosophy one chooses depends on the sort of person one is.
Does it matter whether Socrates existed and did the things attributed to him in the Platonic writings? I don't see that it does. What alone matters is whether a person here and now can watch a movie like Rossellini's and be moved by it sufficiently to change his own life. What matters is the Idea and the Ideal.
What matters is whether one can appropriate the Socratic message for oneself as Johann Gottlieb Fichte did in this very Socratic passage from The Vocation of Man (LLA, 150):
Should I be visited by corporeal suffering, pain, or disease, I cannot avoid feeling them, for they are accidents of my nature ; and as long as I remain here below, I am a part of Nature. But they shall not grieve me. They can only touch the nature with which, in a wonderful manner, I am united, not my self, the being exalted above all Nature. The sure end of all pain, and of all sensibility to pain, is death; and of all things which the mere natural man is wont to regard as evils, this is to me the least. I shall not die to myself, but only to others ; to those who remain behind, from whose fellowship I am torn: for myself the hour of Death is the hour of Birth to a new, more excellent life.