Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Dogma-Free Society

a : something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet
b : a code of such tenets 

a: companionship or association with one's fellows
b: a voluntary association of individuals for common ends; especially : an organized group working together or periodically meeting because of common interests, beliefs, or profession 

I saw this sign posted on a college bulletin board last week. It sounds great, doesn't it? If I take language seriously, the poster is inviting me to be a part of an organized group that will be free of established opinions on the issues.

Who, I wondered, would take the time to start a group that stands for nothing? And who would attend the meetings?  An article on the Dogma-Free Society answered at least one question:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Life of Pi: Searching for the Better Story

Life of Pi recounts the story of Piscine Molitor Patel, mercifully known as Pi.  You can read the plot overview on Wikipedia; I'm not going to reinvent the Wiki wheel.  I will, however, highlight particular events that will lead us to the worldview embedded in this confusing, compelling story.

As a boy, Pi’s mother raises him as a Hindu. When he is fourteen, he begins to follow the teachings of Christianity and then of Islam, believing them all capable of teaching him something important about God. So, Hindu/Christian/Muslim. His father, a champion of reason, notes, "If you believe in everything, you believe in nothing." That's solid advice, but Pi seems far more motivated to embrace ideas based on personal experience, strong feelings and intuition. As a result, he does confusing things like a) embrace three contradictory notions of God and b) try to pet a tiger by luring it closer with a piece of raw meat. Think of these two events as related.

When his family and a bunch of their zoo animals head for Canada (read Wiki), a storm capsizes the ship, leaving Pi stranded on a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a tiger named Richard Parker (the one he once tried to feed). Eventually only the tiger remains, and it is not inclined to share the space.

Pi ties a raft to the side of the lifeboat, and thus begins the heart of a mesmerizing story as they float for 227 days, fighting each other and the elements, surviving storms and carnivorous islands, and eventually making peace before finally landing on the shore of Mexico.

Insurance company representatives visit Pi in the hospital to find out what happened. They don’t believe his incredible story, so Pi quietly tells them a much darker one. It’s a horrible story of human atrocity, with a murderer and cannibal (the hyena) who preys upon Pi’s mother and another sailor (the zebra and orangutan) while Pi (the tiger) waits too long to intervene, then becomes a violent killer to destroy the evil on the boat. They believe that one.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Warm Bodies: Exhuming Humanity

“Once you’ve arrived at the end of the world, it hardly matters which route you took.”

Isaac Marion's Warm Bodies has been a surprise recent hit. Though this zombie romance book (?) was originally written for an adult audience, the recent movie targets a YA crowd. If you are tempted to dismiss the story as yet another sign that we are staggering toward cultural annihilation, you might want to reconsider. Warm Bodies gives a sobering, concise and (I’m afraid) largely true warning about the trajectory of a humanity consumed by the worst parts of its own nature.
“What happened to the world was gradual… A smoldering dread that never really caught fire till there wasn’t much left to burn. Each sequential step surprised us…The abandoning of quests, the surrendering of desires, the settling in and settling down that is the inevitable fate of the Dead…

It didn’t take much to bring down the card house of civilization. Just a few gusts and it was done, the balance tipped, the spell broken. Good citizens realized the lines that had shaped their lives were imaginary and easily crossed. They had wants and needs and the power to satisfy them, so they did. The moments the lights went out, everyone stopped pretending… 

I can no longer believe in any voodoo spell or laboratory virus. This is something deeper, darker. This comes from the cosmos, from the stars, from the unknown blackness behind them. The shadows in God’s boarded-up basement… I think we crushed ourselves down over the centuries. Buried ourselves under greed and hate and whatever other sins we could find until our souls finally hit rock bottom of the universe. And then they scraped a hole through it, into some… dark place.”
This is a zombie apocalypse in which no one is to blame but the collective, growing decay of humanity. The zombies were just the inevitable product of a civilization full of people who were already dead. The plague just removed the facade. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Paperboy: Quagmire of Evil

"We are trapped in our own situation...We are in darkness, and cannot see. We are ill, and cannot heal ourselves. We are injured, and need someone to bind our wounds. We are trapped, and cannot break free from our captivity. We are addicted to patterns of behavior that we cannot master. We need an illuminator, a healer, a liberator."   - Alister McGrath, in Redemption
 The Paperboy, based on Pete Dexter’s 1995 novel, was nominated for a boatload of awards in 2012, including Best Actress (Kidman was even nominated for a Golden Globe), Best Film, Best Supporting Actress, Best Ensemble, and Best Supporting Actor. I occasionally watch award-winning movies just to see what is currently considered commendable, and based on the official site summary, this movie sounded intriguing:
“The Paperboy takes audiences deep into the backwaters of steamy 1960s South Florida, as investigative reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and his partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) chase a sensational, career-making story. With the help of Ward's younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) and sultry death-row groupie Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), the pair tries to prove violent swamp-dweller Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) was framed for the murder of a corrupt local sheriff. Based on the provocative bestselling novel by Pete Dexter (Mulholland Falls, Rush), The Paperboy peels back a sleepy small town's decades-old fa├žade of Southern gentility to reveal a quagmire of evil as dark as a Florida bayou.”
John Grisham meets James Lee Burke, perhaps?  Maybe it would be worth watching. I’m all in favor of a moving story where those who fight for justice wade through the quagmire of sin and defeat evil.  Note to self: next time, check out other reviews first, and read the official blurb more carefully. I foolishly assumed that it must take light to "reveal a quagmire of evil as dark as the Florida bayou," and that the purpose of exposing evil was to deal with it. I could not have been more wrong.