16 July 2008

Not for the faint of heart

This little piece of dramatic art from Canadian filmmaker Mathieu Ratthe is heart-wrenching. It's also wise. I won't tell you what teaching(s) (of Jesus, and many others) I think it illustrates, because, well, that would be telling. But please be warned: don't hit "play" if you find disturbing images and situations hard to take. Seriously.


Rob Craig: said...

I'm curious what teachings you feel it illustrates. I thought the clip was creepy but very well made.

Mike Croghan said...

Well, at the time I posted it (after having just watched it and my heart was still going pitterpat), I was thinking "judge not", but upon reflection I guess it's more like "don't judge a book by its cover", which isn't exactly a teaching of Jesus. :-)

But I do feel like there's a message there (or at least I read one into it) that an initial negative reaction - even a powerful and rather justifiable one - is not the thing to trust. A negative reaction might prove justified, but taking the time (and the risk) to really get to know a person or situation is almost always the right (and, I would submit, Jesusy) thing to do.

I just felt like it speaks to our relationships with folks whom we would tend to react negatively toward, whether they are people of a different race, ethinicity, religion, or economic class, or immigrants, "rednecks", homeless folks, etc. - and the example Jesus set for relating to marginalized folks.

It takes time, energy, and willingness to risk, and those things tend to be in short supply, at least in my neck of the woods (metro DC).

I'm clearly reading way too much into a little bait-and-switch not-really-a-horror-video. :-) But I did feel like it was well-made and rather moving.

Rob Craig: said...

Nice thoughts. Thanks for sharing. I showed it to a co-worker who loves the horror genre (and Jesus). She loved the clip and thought it was a good illustration for not judging a book by its cover also, predjudices, etc. A couple other thoughts included the pains of childbirth, a child born into darkness, etc. It made for a good discussion in which others wanted to join and in and see the clip.

Mike Croghan said...

Cool! I found it through a pop-culture blog feed: the same filmmaker made a demo scene to try to convince Steven Spielberg (who owns the film rights to Stephen King and Peter Straub's The Talisman) to let him make a Talisman film, and the person blogging about it said, "And check out this other remarkable video from the same filmmaker." The Talisman clip was good, so I checked this one out too. A little anecdote on the spiritual value of listening in to pop culture, maybe. :-)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I think this film is offensive. Not because of the subject matter, but because it is manipulative. All art is perhaps in the broad sense manipulative, but this is deceptive in the narrow sense. It is designed to make you think something that is not happening, is happening. And it doesn't do this by playing off your prejudices, it does it by playing off the conventions of film language: dark moody music, the sudden stillness of a bloodied body, stabbing a knife in the ground, the pregnant pauses, eyeline matches, etc. If the guy was really running back to the car to get a blanket for the baby, why does he spend 30 seconds making big eyes at a crow while the baby is freezing? A good filmmaker would have made the point much more effectively. What is the point anyway? The point I get from it is, "Ha ha, fooled ya!" I never get that point from the stories of Jesus.

Mike Croghan said...

@gary, I was thinking about this as I was watching (and enjoying) The Dark Knight just now, and I realized that I *like* being manipulated by fiction. There are several pretty emotionally manipulative moments in that film - one of which actually made me cry - and I dug it. Now, I can see thinking the moment was a cheat or wasn't earned, and disliking the work for that reason - this is why a lot of people don't like some movies with "twist" endings (such as a couple of M. Night Shamalan's less beloved films) that I quite enjoyed - because they saw the twist coming or otherwise thought it was a cheat. But I tend to fall for that kind of thing and like it.

So I can see not liking an artwork on those grounds - but offensive? Why is it offensive for art to be manipulative? I don't like being manipulated in real life, but it's OK with me if art does it, especially if I find it effective. In the same way, I enjoy some (not all) horror films - I wouldn't enjoy being scared in real life, but it's OK for art to do it, and if the art tries to do it and fails, I might dislike the art, but I don't get how that should be offensive.

Anonymous said...

It's offensive because it's moralizing, but it's moralizing is dishonest. The intent is to make me come away feeling "Oh I shouldn't have thought the slavering tattooed hick standing over a bloody body with a big knife was a murderer! See what a depraved prejudiced jerk I am!" Only I'm not. I'm just someone who can read the conventions of filmmaking accurately. The film is not a depiction prejudice, it's an accusation of prejudice, and the accusation is a lie, and a lie is offensive. There is so much real prejudice in the world, and in me, and the more we can expose that prejudice to ourselves the better for us because then we can make choices about our attitudes that we couldn't have made as long as we were blind to them. But lying to people about their failings with self-righteous trickery only buries their shortcomings deeper.

Mike Croghan said...

Or perhaps a shocking, exaggerated, unreal gesture will cause people to pay attention and actually reflect on those shortcomings? Jesus didn't have to overturn the money-changers' tables and drive the animal vendors out of the temple - he could have just preached a sermon. He could have even aimed that sermon explicitly at the people he was probably actually pissed off at - not the poor vendors who were actually providing a needed service, but the temple authorities who were collaborating with the Roman oppressors in setting up a religio-political system that had nothing to do with God's Jubilee economics and had truly made the temple a den of thieves. The thieves weren't the vendors, but the authorities (Jewish and Roman), but it was the vendors he drove out - so in that way his gesture was also a "lie" that missed the mark.

OK, maybe that's a bad example, because the Church actually took that episode and tamed it into a "Church buildings are sacred!!!!!" story.

But anyway, I think it's convoluted to suppose that most people will look at something like this and think, "Well, since my prejudice was fake in the context of this stupid little movie, then I guess my prejudice in real life is probably fake too. Ah, I feel so much better now." I think it more likely that something shocking and even fake will spur discussion of and reflection on the issues it (fakely) addresses. It may indeed not deepen that discussion, but I think it's a stretch to claim that it will probably deaden such reflection and lead to justification of the failings it deals with.

I'm beginning to suspect this may be a "T" vs. "F" on the Myers-Briggs sort of thing. I'm a hard "F", and I'd guess that you're a "T". To me, if something grabs hold of my heart strongly (however artificially), it can have me wrestling with its issues for weeks, and I have been known to actually change my habits (for the better, I hope) over such a thing. For you (I speculate), if it fails to engage, or cheats or fakes on an intellectual level, it fails, period.

Anonymous said...

It's not an intellectual issue at all. Most people aren't consciously reading the language of film when they watch a film because they aren't students of film (as I am). People will latch onto any excuse they can find to avoid facing their pettiness and prejudices. You (I'm speculating too) latch onto your emotionalism, you're desire to be improved or enlightened. I latch onto my artistic snobbery. A great work of art presents a picture of people that is resonant, realistic, undeniable, and leaves it to the viewer to make of it what they will. Great art is not fakery. This little film is not great art.

Mike Croghan said...

OK, granted - but I would contend that there's a huge gap (call it the Gulf of Banality) to the south of Great Art and to the north of Offensive. But if you really believe that fakish stuff is the opiate of the people, then I can see the "offensive" charge - though I agree with you that people will latch onto anything to avoid improvement, and I don't personally think that something like this is more likely to cause the downfall of man than "great art" is.

Anonymous said...

Bad art (as distinct from incompetent art) is bad because it is immoral. Every nail in the coffin is another nail in the coffin. If you know you're nailing a coffin, a part of that death is on your hands. It seems to me that I have a moral obligation to decry deceit wherever I see it. The more subtle the deceit, the greater the obligation. Perhaps that sounds self-righteous, but I don't see it as my obligation alone. I don't see Jesus doing anything like this. Part of what makes the gospels stories so inspiring is that Jesus reveals truth but exposing these subtle self-justifications for the lies that they are, never by emotional or technical double-dealing.

Mike Croghan said...

Dude, I thought *I* was reading too much into this little flick. :-)

I don't feel like you've made the case that trickery and deceit inevitably lead to moral decay. Leaving Jesus out of it for the moment, what about Buddhist spiritual teachers who use trickery and deceit to shock disciples into deep consideration of a spiritual truth? For example, in a good portion of the koans found here, the masters employ some form of deceit to convey their teaching. Horribly misguided?

Anonymous said...

You began your post with:

>is heart-wrenching. It's also wise. I won't tell you what teaching(s) (of Jesus, and many others) I think it illustrates

I disagree that it's heart-wrenching, or wise, or legitimately illustrates any teaching of Jesus or any other wisdom teacher. Not because it uses trickery to make its point, but because it deceitful to the viewer about its subject matter. It's like the difference between a good joke and a bad prank. A good joke often works because it stuns you into a realization of something you just took for granted. A good teaching often works the same way. A bad prank is only funny to the perpetrator. His good joke is at the victim's expense.

If this little film was meant to be a commentary on filmic conventions, that would be one thing. Read as a moral teaching, as you suggest we do, it utterly fails.

Suppose Jesus taught his disciples they should give away all they have, renounce worldly possessions, and live in penury as he does. Then one day Peter finds him riding in an expensive car, wearing fine clothing, drinking expensive wine, surrounded by beautiful adoring half-naked women. Peter says, "But you told us to give up everything and be like you! We've given away our fortunes because of you!" Jesus laughs and says, "Gotcha! You shouldn't put so much store in what other people say."

Lesson learned? Maybe. Great teacher? Doubtful.

Mike Croghan said...

But this all seems extremely subjective to me - "A bad prank is only funny to the perpetrator." Right - so if someone else *does* find it funny, does that make it a good joke? You've been arguing like this is some black-and-white, clear moral dualism, and to me it seems like a discussion about quality (or lack thereof) - about differences of degree, not kind; or of perception, not inherent value.

It comes down to "it didn't work for me." Which is fine, but call it what it is. It's like the twist endings of M. Night Shamalan's films (as I mentioned before) - if you bought it, it works for you. If you didn't, you think it's a cheat and hate it.

I'm not saying that deceit on the level of Jesus in your closing parable is in this class, but I am saying that deceit on the level of a verbal joke - or piece of art - is either effective or ineffective - thought-provoking or infuriating - based on totally subjective criteria: "Did it work for me?"

There's a huge gulf between Jesus' deceit in your parable - which actually caused people to change their entire lives for a lie - and a little piece of art which either provokes reflection, or fails to, based on subjective criteria. (No fair using the objective criterion "all deceit is wrong" unless you're willing to condemn Zen Master Tanzan and his ilk.)

Anonymous said...

>You've been arguing like this is some black-and-white, clear moral dualism,

Really? Where?

To me it is clearly a defective work of art. -- To me. -- Of course it's subjective.

Mike Croghan said...

Well, to me, that's the connotation of words like "offensive" and "immoral" - but that may be just my personal baggage around those words.

So I guess we may be in violent agreement about the *kind* of argument we're having (which is what I was primarily arguing about).

As far as the argument about the actual subjective value of the art goes, I'm more than willing to grant you the flaws you're pointing out. Still, for me, it twisted my heart strings, which then got me thinking - it "worked" for me, on some level, despite its flaws. It might not have deserved such a response, but hell, today I almost cried while re-watching "Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog." To say I'm an easy mark, emotionally, would be to make an extreme understatement. :-)