Archive for February, 2006
Actually, it didn’t. The instance of spontaneous human combustion occurred about halfway through the BBC/Masterpiece Theatre miniseries, not at the end. When you’re working in serialized TV (or novels), you have to have something to grab the audience’s attention and keep them hooked. Why not death by spontaneous combustion?
(On a side note, one of the particular features of the serialized novel was that authors often had a chance to respond to criticism of the previous installment before the next one was published, sometimes even incorporating a response into the text itself. Dickens ended one installment of Bleak House with the spontaneous combustion incident, and was roundly attacked in the press for the improbability of such an occurrence. Thus, he added a paragraph to the first chapter of the next installment: “Some of these authorities (of course the wisest) held with indignation that the deceased had no business to die in the alleged manner; and being reminded by other authorities of a certain inquiry into the evidence for such deaths, reprinted in the sixth volume of the Philosophical Transactions; and also of a book not quite unknown, on English Medical jurisprudences; and likewise of the Italian case of the Countess Cornelia Baudi as set forth in detail by one Bianchini … and also of the testimony of Messrs. Fodere and Mere, two pestilent Frenchmen who would investigate the subject; and further of the corroborative testimony of Monsieur Le Cat, a rather celebrated French surgeon … Still they regard the late Mr. Krook’s obstinacy, in going-out of the world by any such by-way, as wholly unjustifiable and personally offensive.” This seems a more elegant way to respond to criticism than Anne Rice’s diatribes against readers on Amazon.com. By the way, see this article for more information about 19th-century beliefs about spontaneous combustion.)
I’m fascinated by the ways in which 19th-century reading practices must have been affected by the novel’s serialized publication. Of course there’s the well known story about how, when a ship bearing the latest installment of Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop arrived in New York, eager crowds on the pier shouted to those on board, “Is Little Nell dead?” It’s rather like the contemporary mania for each new volume of Harry Potter—though, if you considered all Rowling’s books as installments of one single novel, the said tome would easily outweigh any of Dickens’s voluminous works.
Anyway, the creators of the Bleak House miniseries wanted to replicate the feeling of reading a serialized novel, and Bleak House originally aired on BBC in 16 half-hour segments, close to the original 19 installments of the novel. However, in the U.S., PBS chose to air the series in 6 segments, with the first and last segments clocking in at two hours long and all the in-between episodes at one hour each. Instead of airing the episodes on successive nights, as PBS has done with Masterpiece Theatre in the past, they made us wait a week between each one.
I became a Bleak House addict, eagerly waiting to find out what would happen next: who would Esther Summerson marry? Who would die of consumption? Would the law case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce ever end? I thought Porpoise was hooked too, when, after one episode had ended, he echoed my wish that we could see the next one right away. It turned out, though, that he just wanted it to be over. Sigh.
When I asked him why he wasn’t as intrigued as I was (after all, as different as our literary tastes are, we’re both in agreement that Dickens is the only Victorian novelist worth reading, because he has something none of the others seem to have: a sense of humor), he replied, “Nothing really happened in that whole hour.”
“What? Esther got the smallpox, Krook spontaneously combusted . . .”
“Okay, but other than that. Nothing happened that was essential to the main plot.”
Porpoise was much fonder of last night’s finale, two hours of relatively fast-paced action moved along by the investigations of Inspector Bucket. People died, people got born, and people got married—but mostly after the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce finally comes to an end.
Reflecting back, I think the feeling of inertia towards the middle of the miniseries was probably quite intentional, an attempt to replicate in the viewers the same sense of stagnation that the characters experience with the interminable law suit, as well as Lady Dedlock’s anxiety over the impending doom of the revelation of the secrets from her past. We know that it’s going to happen, but when? I suspect that this effect was intentional because the skilled Andrew Davies (screenwriter for The Definitive Pride and Prejudice, as well as for Masterpiece Theatre’s Middlemarch) was in charge of adapting Bleak House for television.
Another particularly interesting choice Davies made was in some alterations to the character of Esther, who is the narrator for significant portions of the novel. Apparently (and once again, I can’t judge here, because I haven’t read the novel yet and probably won’t until I have a vast chunk of free time) if modern readers dislike Bleak House, it’s usually because they find Esther’s voice insufferably goody-goody in her preaching of Christian virtue. In the TV series, we see Esther’s high morals more through her compassionate actions than through her words. Moreover, she has a bit of spunk. My favorite scene from the whole series is a brief moment of humor in the final wedding montage, in which Esther almost attacks Mr. Skimpole, who’s smirking in a corner, until her new husband pulls her back into the dance. Her feistiness is all the more admirable—and funny—because of her usual quiet demeanor. She’s only aroused to wrath by Skimpole’s claim to be innocent and defenseless while he defrauds the truly innocent and defenseless.
Justice for the downtrodden, the reversal of fortunes for the wicked rich, is of course one of Dickens’ values that he imparts—sometimes quite blatantly—through most of his fiction. It takes a gifted screenwriter to translate that sense of waiting, longing, for retribution and restoration to a 21st-century audience—without 19th-century didacticism.
But I still want to read the novel.
February 27th, 2006
It’s Latin for “otter-like,” and it’s the species name assigned to a newly discovered semi-aquatic mammal from the age of dinosaurs.
The new old critter’s full name is “Castorocauda [beaver-tailed] lutrasimilis,” and the name says it all. Its skeleton suggests webbing between the toes, like an otter’s, but its tail is as flat as any beaver’s. Scientists believe that this is the earliest fur-bearing animal they’ve yet found. I don’t know how they can tell this from a skeleton, since skeletons don’t usually have fur, but they must have their ways.
Having recently gotten married, I’m having so much trouble deciding exactly what my last name now is: his, mine, or a combination of the two. Maybe I’ll just chuck the whole thing and go by “Lutrasimilis.”
By the way, an astute reader from Denver suggested, in response to my 2/18 post, that otters would participate in the skeleton event in the Olympics. I have to admit that this was exactly what I had in mind, since skeleton involves sliding down the ice on your belly, something otters love to do anyway.
February 25th, 2006
Gilead has been on my must-read list for over a year now, and I finally secured a copy from the local library. Had I known it was as good as I suspected it might be, I would have plunked down money and bought my own.
Robinson’s novel, first published in 2004, made available in paperback last month, won a Pulitzer and a National Book Critics Circle Award, not to mention many less famous prizes. I’d read Housekeeping (Robinson’s only other novel, published to high critical acclaim 25 years ago) in a graduate seminar, and when I heard she was coming out with a novel that had to do with religion, I had high hopes that, if any religious-themed work of fiction could gain entrance into the fiercely guarded halls of academia, Gilead would be that book (and I’ve recently seen a call for presentation on Marilynne Robinson at a big conference in 2006, so it looks like I’m not wrong).
Academic accolades aside, the book is full of small moments of grace in a seemingly insignificant life in rural Iowa. The narrator John Ames, Congregationalist pastor in a long line of Congregationalist pastors, describes the town this way: “To me it seems rather Christlike to be as unadorned as this place is, as little regarded.” The place has seen miracles, too, such as Ames’ marriage in his late sixties to a much younger woman, and the child born from their marriage. It is this seven-year-old son to whom Ames writes in letter form, telling him all the things he would have told him had he lived (Ames has been told he has a serious heart condition and knows that he will miss out on most of his son’s growing-up years).
Of all the miracles in Gilead, my favorite is one of Ames’s memories of a day when he and other neighborhood children decided to play “church” and baptize a new litter of kittens—not, Ames explains, out of lack of respect for the Sacrament, but because “we thought the world of those cats.”
“I still remember how those warm little brows felt under the palm of my hand. Everyone has petted a cat, but to touch one like that, with the pure intention of blessing it, is a very different thing. It stays in the mind. For years we would wonder what, from a cosmic viewpoint, we had done to them. It still seems to me to be a real question. There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that. I have felt it pass through me, so to speak. The sensation is of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time.”
I happened to read this passage on the very day that my 22-year-old cat, hardly a kitten anymore, had to be put to sleep, and I think the timing was no coincidence. I thought of all the ways our old feline had blessed us simply by being the mysterious creature she was created to be.
I’ve always struggled with what the word “bless” means, especially when the Psalmist says “Bless the Lord!” Sure, God blesses us, but how can we bless him?
I don’t yet understand it completely, but maybe I see a glimpse of what blessing God means when I think of how cats bless us simply by being cats. Is it possible that when I am most fully myself, I bless God? That God touches my warm little brow and takes joy in me just as young Ames took joy in the kittens (and later human parishioners) that he baptized? That blessing flows back and forth between Creator and created, sort of (but not exactly) as it flows back and forth between created beings who salute each other’s createdness?
I don’t usually think about it that way, but that’s the kind of thing that Gilead makes you appreciate: God’s love and grace expressed in the everyday.
February 21st, 2006
I have no idea, but there’s an interesting article in the New York Times today that gives several theories. Apparently the usual explanation (pressure from the ice skate blade melts the surface just enough to create a thin layer of water) is wrong. Among the alternative theories is the possibility that ice just has an intrinsic layer of water. Weird. Creation’s pretty amazing.
February 21st, 2006
Here’s a question for all my readers: if otters were to compete in the Olympic Games, which sport would they most likely choose? I’ll post the most interesting responses . . . though of course I have my own ideas, too.
I’ll give away right now that I don’t think any otter in its right otter brain would participate in figure skating as it’s currently practiced. Most of the skaters seem to have no fun on the ice or off it, particularly with the pressures of the new scoring system. Figure skating is the only Olympic sport I watch obsessively, but I have to admit that I don’t watch it because it looks enjoyable. But neither do I watch it for the quad jumps that seem to have become mandatory for medal contenders in the men’s competition. I watch it for the artistry, for the beauty of bodies in motion on a rather strange, slippery element—and artistry has been sadly lacking so far at the Torino Games.
Yevgeny Plushenko is indeed a master of his sport, but I wonder if his gold medal is more due to his mastery of the numbers game required by the new scoring system. Instead of being judged against a perfect 6.0, athletes now earn their technical scores by getting points for each jump attempted, completed, and completed well (different values for each of those). This encourages the skaters to pad their programs with as many jumps as possible, often sacrificing choreography to do so. Plushenko’s free skate, though undoubtedly the best technically, lacked any sort of unity: it was composed of alternating sections of “I’m going to jump now” and “I’m going to move my arms expressively now,” with no real connection between them.
Of all the evening’s performances, I most enjoyed Jeffrey Buttle’s because of his seamless incorporation of difficult jumps into fluid skating that fit the mood of his music (I admit that I’m judging as a dancer and not a skater, but oh well). However, both bronze medalist Buttle and silver medalist Stephane Lambiel fell while attempting quads. According to the NBC commentators, both knew that they were likely to fall, having seldom successfully landed quads in competition. But with the new wacky scoring, trying a quad and muffing it can actually win you more points than not trying one at all. I’m not sure I like this trend. It’s bound to result in more injuries, for one thing.
Today Porpoise called my attention to an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about the increasing numbers of injuries among young figure skaters. According to the article, hip surgery for skaters still in their twenties is common practice (former gold medalists Tara Lipinski and Alexei Yagudin are among those on this list). Surely something needs to change.
According to the WSJ’s sources, the problem may be not only higher technical expectations in the sport but also flaws in skating boot technology, which hasn’t changed much since the 19th century. The current structure of skating boots immobilizes the ankle, which helps to prevent twists and sprains, but that also means that when a skater lands a jump, she lands on her heel. All the impact travels up to the knees, hips, and spine. There’s a reason that other dancers and athletes usually land on their toes, rather than their heels: it doesn’t hurt as much.
Apparently scientists and doctors have designed a more flexible boot that redistributes some of the impact to the toes, but they’ve had trouble getting an athletic company to mass-produce the new design (not enough market, Nike says).
Wherever the blame lies, I hope something happens soon to bring more joy into figure skating. As addicted as I am to watching it, I’m definitely more uplifted by another televised athletic competition I watched this weekend: the American Kennel Club National Agility Championships. The dogs who run the course don’t care whether they win or lose; they’re just happy to be out there, doing what they love. Their canine attitude seems to wear off a bit on their trainers and handlers, who know that they need to reward their dogs with affection, attention, and a chew toy at the end of the race, no matter how quickly or correctly they complete the course. Interestingly, the one handler who seemed most concerned with how his dog performed was a former Olympic gold medalist: Greg Louganis. Louganis was so eager to encourage his terrier’s speed that he misdirected him, commanding him to jump off a platform before the dog reached the end. Both were disqualified. It’s something that could easily happen to any competitor, but I wonder how much the “Olympic attitude” entered in. Happily, dogs don’t have this attitude, and if Louganis is the good dog owner that I suspect he is, his terrier has no idea that it didn’t win.
Maybe figure skaters (and skating judges!) should spend more time with canine athletes.
February 18th, 2006
So many movies about the “South” are saccharine fables (Steel Magnolias, for example) populated by actors employing the “generic Southern Hollywood” accent, which sounds like nowhere I’ve ever been but nevertheless manages to convince non-Southern viewers and reviewers alike.
Junebug is different. Its characters actually sound like they’re from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where the movie was filmed (admittedly, I’m no expert, but I do visit family there every few years). This isn’t too surprising, when you learn that Junebug’s writer (Angus MacLachlan) and director (Phil Morrison) are both Winston-Salem natives. None of the main actors are Tarheels, but maybe the local extras helped to keep them on track with their accents.
With its main plot of “Southern boy returns home, bringing new, sophisticated wife along,” Junebug could easily fall into a city mouse-country mouse culture clash. But it doesn’t. Junebug avoids the stereotypical caricatures of Southerners that abound in other movies. You don’t get the sense that you’re supposed to be sneering at any of the characters. In fact, as soon as you start to feel scorn for anyone, the film presents you with a moment that makes you think twice.
For example, I started off with extreme dislike for Johnny, the younger son of the Johnsten family, who sulks around his parents’ house without lifting a finger to help them or his pregnant wife Ashley, to whom he always speaks in monosyllables. But then, during Ashley’s baby shower, while Johnny is in another room flipping through the TV channels, he sees the image of a meerkat pop across the screen. We know from one brief earlier comment that meerkats are Ashley’s favorite animal, and so I saw when Johnny lunging across the room and frantically trying to get the VCR to work, I actually shouted in relief, “He really does love her!” The moment becomes even more poignant as the VCR remains stubborn and Johnny starts yelling and cursing and banging on the machine, drawing Ashley in from the other room. Of course, he can’t admit that he was trying to record the meerkats for her, so she returns to her shower never knowing. Uf.
That’s one of the refreshing things about the movie: the members of the Johnsten family, Southern though they be, are handicapped in expressing love for each other, while the Chicago art dealer Madeline is touchy-feely and emotive. And all the characters change—not in any big dramatic way, but in tiny shifts. There’s just enough growth by the end of the film to leave you with hope—hope grounded in real, broken characters that you’ve learned to love.
Love is the best word I can think of to describe the attitude of the writer, director, and the actors towards these characters. My husband (whom I will henceforth refer to as “Porpoise”) and I were trying to figure out why we liked Junebug so much more than Lost in Translation, a similar film in some externals (quirkiness, cross-cultural conflict, loners who fail to connect with each other) but which, frankly, we hated. The best we could come up with is that the people involved in Junebug had an almost tangible love for their characters, whereas Lost in Translation seems to celebrate the artists’ “sophisticated” detachment from their characters.
Junebug is one of Beliefnet’s five nominees for Best Spiritual Film of 2005 (the criteria for the “spiritual” designation don’t seem to be explained anywhere on the site, but they seem to be rather broad). Currently, including my vote, Junebug only has 1% of the people’s vote. Waaaah! If you’ve seen Junebug, cast your ballot now!
Here are my reasons why Junebug should win:
1. Anytime I see artists (broken themselves, no doubt) this committed to loving broken characters, I see Christ’s love. During the movie, Ashley intones the evangelical-speak proverb “God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way.” When she says it, it’s trite; when the characters live it out, even in the smallest of ways, it’s true.
2. The film has a matter-of-fact, neither sentimental nor sarcastic, portrayal of the role of faith in the lives of these people. When George (the returning Johnsten son) is asked to get up and sing a hymn at the church potluck (filmed at a Methodist church in Winston-Salem with the real congregation members as extras), he does so, beautifully and sincerely, even though you have the feeling he hasn’t been to church in a while. (By the way, Amy Sullivan has an insightful article on Junebug titled “Translating Between Red and Blue” in which she calls attention to George’s role as a cultural translator between “red” and “blue” America, a role he often tries to avoid. Sullivan writes, “The tensions and the misunderstandings in the movie . . . are what happen when those of us with dual red/blue citizenship fail to play a mediating role as translators and cultural ambassadors.” An interesting and relevant perspective, though not one I thought about as I watched the film.).
3. God surely has a preferential option for independent films (actually, I don’t believe that at all, but it’s fun to say).
P.S. If Junebug doesn’t win the Best Spiritual Film award, here’s hoping that Amy Adams picks up a Best Supporting Actress Oscar (see the list of nominees) for her portrayal of Ashley.
February 12th, 2006
As expected, U2 cleaned up at the Grammy Awards on Wednesday night, with wins for Album of the Year, Song of the Year (“Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own” a.k.a, “Sometimes Even Bono Sings in a Really Annoying Falsetto”), Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (ditto), Rock Song of the Year (“City of Blinding Lights”), and Rock Album. As blogger Dena Ross wrote on Idol Chatter, “the people in the Recording Academy who decide the winners want to go to heaven–they’d be stupid to vote against God’s favorite band.”
While I often find myself singing and wiggling around the kitchen to “Vertigo” and “City of Blinding Lights,” I’d have to say that my favorite song from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is the more mellow “Yahweh,” a modern-day psalm or hymn along the lines of “Take My Life and Let It Be.”
I love the pun in the opening lines: “Take these shoes / Click-clacking down some dead-end street / Take these shoes / And make them fit.” Make them fit my feet, and make them fit for service. (It especially tickles me because there was a week about two years ago when, for some reason, U2’s song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” kept following me. It played everywhere I went, and I couldn’t escape it. The final straw was when I was shopping for shoes to fit my impossibly narrow feet, with no luck, and I heard the opening notes of the song playing over the store speakers. I now refer to it as my shoe-shopping song. Anyway, U2 and spiritual shoes: I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, but oh, please take these shoes and make them fit. The very way Bono intones the word “Yahweh” in the song’s chorus sounds the desperation of this prayer.)
Listening to the last verse (“Take this city / A city should be shining on a hill / Take this city / If it be your will”), I can’t help but think of Bono’s recent sermon at the National Prayer Breakfast, and I imagine that this is his plea for nations, as well as for the Church. He moves fluidly back and forth between community and individual as he finishes the song with “Take this heart / And make it break.” Silence. The abrupt end of the song. And that’s Bono’s prayer for all of us, as well as for himself. Take our hearts and make them break for Africa, for the poor, God’s beloved.
February 10th, 2006
I heard a story on NPR this morning that made my cynical little heart a bit more otter-like for the day. According to the report, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have signed The Evangelical Climate Initiative (pdf), a document calling for immediate governmental and individual action to halt global warming. Prominent signatories are as diverse as Rick Warren, Ron Sider, and Duane Litfin, President of Wheaton College (hardly a poster child for social activism).
One of the things that impressed me was how both the document and the NPR report about it stressed the evangelicals’ dual concern for human and nonhuman inhabitants of creation. It’s not an either-or issue. NPR described Leith Anderson’s view that “global warming is a social justice issue because, he says, it is the poor who feel the brunt of famine or flooding that may come from climate changes.” Whoa! The evangelical pastor of a megachurch defends environmentalism by saying it’s a social justice issue. Not so long ago, “social justice” was a no-no word in evangelical lingo. Thank you, Bono, for helping it become acceptable.
Of course, the report also quoted Christians who oppose the Evangelical Climate Initiative, namely Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Land argued that “human beings come first in God’s created order” and that “primacy must be given to human beings and for human betterment. If that means that other parts of nature take a back seat, well then they take a back seat.” Land obviously didn’t read the Initiative document, and I do find myself asking how closely he’s read the Bible (not that I necessarily read it any better).
The NPR story itself was impressive in that it drew attention to diversity of opinion within the evangelical community, refusing to simply conflate the terms “evangelical” and “religious right,” as often happens in the media and, even more sadly, in our churches.
The otters of the world raise their webbed paws and clap for the Evangelical Climate Initiative. And this Otter also applauds NPR for its well balanced and timely story.
February 8th, 2006
I’ve wanted to see Show Boat for a long time, and my loving husband kindly TiVoed it for me this week. As it turned out, it was the 1951 version starring Howard Keel and Ava Gardner, not the 1936 version starring Paul Robeson and Hattie McDaniel. (That the most recognizable names are the white actors in one movie and the African American actors in the other may be significant . . . but we’ll get to that later). Pretty much all I knew about Show Boat, besides its composer (Jerome Kern) and lyricist (Oscar Hammerstein), was the footage I’d seen of Robeson singing “Old Man River,” which, even out of context, was enough to floor me.
So I was disappointed that Robeson wasn’t in this version, and I’ve since learned that most people regard the 1951 Show Boat as vastly inferior to the 1936 one–but, even so, both my husband and I were moved by it. And here’s the strange thing: I was most moved not by what happened, but by what we didn’t know about.
The inciting incident occurs when Julie (Ava Gardner) and her husband Steve, the leads of the Cotton Blossom’s show, are kicked off the boat because Julie’s would-be lover reveals that she is mixed-race. It seems that this little event only occurs, however, to get Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel) on board as the new leading man, so that he can romance the ship captain’s daughter Noli. Most of the rest of the movie follows Gaylord and Noli up and down the Mississippi, as their marriage goes on and off and on again. After Julie and Steve leave the Cotton Blossom, we never see Steve again; one brief line tells us that he abandoned Julie. Julie makes episodic appearances charting her decline into alcoholism and prostitution, and she becomes a minor character whose main function plotwise is to ultimately reunite Gaylord and Noli. The white people get on and off the ship, the river keeps rolling along, and no matter how stupid they’ve been, they get happy endings. Not so for Julie. We don’t even know what happens to her. The movie closes with her staring off after the Cotton Blossom as Joe (a black character we know nothing about, except that he’s got really powerful lungs) once again sings “Old Man River.”
You could argue that it’s because of racism that the movie focuses on the rather spoiled, self-pitying white characters rather than giving well developed roles to its black characters (including Julie, a mulatta character played by a white woman). And that may be part of it. But the movie—at least the lyrics of “Old Man River”–seems to actually call our attention to the fact that the African American characters’ story isn’t being told. Oddly, that’s where part of its power lies: you see how petty the white characters really are. They see only their own problems. Thanks to the narrative focus, we also see only their problems. And we recognize the racism there, perhaps more than we would if the plot were more balanced. Is the narrative focus racist or is it a commentary against racism? I don’t know. But in our tell-all culture, I’m awed by the power of a story not told.
That’s what reminds me of Gosford Park, the Robert Altman film. You go through almost the whole movie thinking that the main story is who killed the old, rich philanderer: then it turns out that the real story has nothing to do with the murder or whodunit. It’s stunning. Shocking. And it’s intentional in Gosford Park. I’m not sure how intentional it is in Show Boat. My husband thinks it is. “Look at who the lyricist is,” he says. “He knows his stuff.” And we know for a fact that Oscar Hammerstein had a powerful social conscience when he was working with Richard Rodgers. “You’ve Got to Be Taught” from South Pacific did so much to teach people about their own racism—rather didactically, I admit, but that’s fine. Show Boat’s subtler (Show Boat? Subtle?) approach, whether it’s actually there or I’m just imagining it, is more intriguing, though.
Now I just have to get my hands on a copy of the 1936 version.
February 4th, 2006
Let me start off with a confession. I do not like Star Wars. If you wish, you may attribute this abnormal attitude to the fact that I didn’t see any of the movies while still in my childhood. I was nineteen when my roommates sat on me to make me watch Episode IV. With the stilted dialogue and the thingies constantly zinging across the scene, I couldn’t tell who was shooting who, let alone why. Same problem continued when the aforementioned roommates and my boyfriend ganged together to make me see Episode I. And then Episode II. In the theater. Any mention of sand in conjunction with skin will still send me into an uncontrollable giggle fit.
So that was where things stood until this past summer, with the imminent release of Episode III. Out of love for my boyfriend, knowing that we would soon be engaged, I made the ultimate sacrifice: I surrendered the last remnants of my blissful Star Wars ignorance and consented to watch Episodes V and VI before accompanying him to see Episode III in the theater. Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi impressed me just about as much as a wet dishrag. Revenge of the Sith, however, got me thinking. Thinking! George Lucas actually inspired thought! Not that the script was any better than the previous ones, not that the characters’ motivations really made sense, but there was still something inherently compelling about the mythic plot of one person’s fall into evil.
My boyfriend and I found ourselves discussing Jedi ethics for days afterward. We were both fascinated by how the simplistic “Jedi good, Jedi noble,” mind-over-body preachiness of the original three Episodes IV, V, and VI wasn’t present in the newer films, particularly Sith. We wondered how much the Jedi’s teaching that general compassion couldn’t be combined with love for individual people contributed to Anakin’s demise. We saw truth there: that disembodied “compassion” ultimately leads to cruelty. As Flannery O’Connor wrote, “When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chambers.” Of course, the Jedi themselves never would have sanctioned Anakin’s means-to-a-better-end actions (motivated not only for the protection of Padme, it seems, but also by the desire to create a safe and controlled galaxy), but didn’t their teachings that individuals don’t matter make it possible for him to slay the Younglings?
There’s room for debate there, of course. But as we chattered endlessly about a movie I’d thought I would hate, the idea for this blog was born. Here you’ll find ruminations and rants on discoveries I’ve made as I do some of the things I love: watching movies and reading books. Some of my entries will have ethical or religious (specifically, Christian) reflections, some will just be fun. After all, my favorite animal is the otter, and otters, I’ve been told, won’t do a thing unless they can find a way to make it fun.
February 3rd, 2006