Sunday, 26 July 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road - The Art of the Action Film

Mad Max: Fury Road

Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron
Release: 15 May 2015
IMDB User Rating: 8.6
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Rating: 89%

I have come to realise that this whole debate about the illegal downloading of movies is little more than a storm in a tea cup. The reason I say this is because if the movie studios were not making any money because everybody was downloading the movie over the internet for free then they wouldn't make any more movies because it would no longer be profitable. The thing is that even in the age of the internet movies are still very profitable, and Mad Max Fury Road is a prime example. Costing $150 Million to make, as of 19th July it has had a world wide gross of $367.2 million, which isn't a bad effort.

It is the cinema that will make or break a movie, and despite sophisticated home entertainment systems, and the internet, people still flock to the cinemas to see the latest release movies. While the success of any given movie is measured against its takings on the weekend of its release, in my opinion it should be the length of time in which the film is in the cinemas. Once again Mad Max is a prime example because five weeks after it first opened it still packs out a cinema (albeit the smaller ones). Age of Ultron, which hit number one around the time Mad Max was released, was no longer showing. In the end, I suspect that if the Dallas Buyer's Club didn't make as much money as they anticipated, it probably has little to do with people downloading the film and everything to do with the fact that despite it winning awards, the average punter really didn't want to see it. 


An Impossible Film
Anyway, enough of this discussion about internet piracy since this post is supposed to be about the film as opposed to a rant about how the film industry isn't actually affected by it all that much. Anyway, I read an interesting article about how this film should never have been made. While I never actually thought about it in the lead up to the movie, after reading the said article Rob Bricken does actually make some very interesting points:
  • Movie making is a business: Hollywood executives want to see a return from their investment, and when considering what movies to fund, they simply don't throw money at a project simply because it looks good. The reason that we see so many sequels appearing is because the original idea worked and made lots of money, so they work on the principle that if something worked once then it is going to work again. While the original Mad Max had been a hit, by the time they reached number three the punters simply weren't interested in any more so the concept was shelved. Sure, the Star Wars prequels appeared years after Return of the Jedi, but that had more to do with George Lucas having a lot of clout in Hollywood as opposed to the executives attempting to resurrect an old idea. 
  • Mel Gibson wouldn't have worked: when a movie is resurrected it is always tempting to bring back that which made the original movie work, and in the case of Mad Max that was Mel Gibson. Sure, Gibson has a number of characters that he has become associated with, however Mad Max was one of his signatures. Yet they took a risk in using somebody else and it worked, and worked big time. This is not surprising because Mel Gibson is way past his prime, and with the recent (or not so recent) negative publications, he no longer has the drawing power that he once had. Okay, Tom Hardy is hardly an unknown (he played Bane in Dark Knight Rises), but once again staring him in the lead role was a huge risk, a risk that paid off big time.
    Spike Car
  • George Miller hadn't directed an action movie in years: which is true. In fact the last action movie that he directed was none other than Mad Max III, and while I still think it is a pretty cool movie (if only for Angry Anderson's one fingered salute at the end), it never went down all that well. What I discovered was that the last movie that he directed was none other than 'Happy Feet' - a children's movie. So, for some unknown reason the Hollywood directors approached George Miller, gave him a bunch of money, and told him to make a sequel. As I have suggested, that was a huge risk. Take A Phantom Menace for instance: while it was highly anticipated it ended up being a huge disappointment, and if that was going to be a lesson for Mad Max then it would be to leave the idea on the shelf. Once again, it turned out that George Miller delivered the goods, and delivered them in spades. 
  • It doesn't follow the standard script: sure, every movie has a script, but Hollywood works on the principle that there is an overarching script that every film must follow, including action movies. However Mad Max simply does not seem to follow that script. Right from the get-go the film is literally non-stop action, with a few spots to allow us to take a breather, before the action really heats up again. Another thing where Mad Max deviates from the Hollywood Script is that the title character, Mad Max, basically plays second fiddle to Imperator Furiosa. This is almost unheard of, and in fact Max spends the first part of the movie chained to the front of a car as a prisoner. Sure, action heroes get caught and imprisoned, but they are still the focus of the film and every other character works to support him (or her), yet Max seems to be the character that is supporting Furiosa.
War Boys Fleet

Cinematic Art
I must be honest and say that I simply did not know what to expect when I first bought my tickets, and the main reason I did so was because I had liked the originals and I thought that I might as well see this one. When I sat down in the cinema I must admit that it took some time to actually come to terms with what I was seeing. For instance: when the infamous Doof Warrior first appeared with his flaming guitar my initial reaction was 'what the...' In fact I thought he was pretty silly until I discovered that he pretty much steals the show. As Richard Vine suggests, it is one mean feat to steal the show in a film like Fury Road, yet jump onto the user reviews on IMDB, and you will find him coming up time and time again.

Sure, it is actually not unusual for armies to have drummers banging out the beat to which they would march, but George Miller literally takes it to a new level with some guy in a red jumpsuit thrashing out heavy metal on a flame throwing guitar. As Richard Vine says: "It’s the moment, when director George Miller shifts gears from Mad Max to Mad Maximum, and you realise you are watching an action film determined to push things as far as possible."

The thing is that it is true - Mad Max: Fury Road pushes the boundaries on what it is to be an action movie, to the point that people have written articles praising it as a work of art. For me, that first time I didn't know what to expect, and it wasn't until I sat down, thought about it, and read about it on the internet, that I came to realise how extra-ordinary this film was. Mad Max is one of those very rare movies that finally drew me back to the cinema to watch a second time, and after the credits began to role, I resisted the temptation to run back to the box office and buy another ticket to watch it again. 

Mad Max - Sand Storm

In fact everything about the film has the touch of an artist, from the incredible visuals to the amazing soundtrack that is almost operatic in its composure, and the fact that you will leave the cinema breathless. Sure, for most of the two hours that you spend watching the film you will be drawn into what is effectively one incredibly long car chase - yet isn't that what draws us to action movies: car chases. Once a group of friends were having a discussion on which film has the best car chase, and if you have seen the previous instalments you will have an idea of what to expect from Fury Road. However, once again, Miller shifts up a gear and goes from having the car chase at the end, to basing the entire movie around it.

Take also into consideration the cars. It is only in a movie like Mad Max where you use the vehicles that we see roaring across the desert, yet this is what we could expect from such a world where vehicles are created from what can be scavenged from the world that existed before. Yet even though we can be caught up in the action, or blown away by the visual effects, and left breathless by the film's intensity, the film then captures us even more through the story that it tells us (a story that has flowed from the previous movies, yet has adapted itself to the modern, 21st century world).

The Politics of Gender
The world of Mad Max has always been a world that has been ruled by the strong - we see this in the previous movies where wild gangs roam the land looting and plundering all that they see. However there is an interesting twist to this male dominated brutal world, and that is that woman have a role to play. We see that in Beyond Thunderdome where Tina Turner rules Bartertown with an iron fist. Here Miller that given us a twist and given the reigns of power to a woman, who in turn becomes the antagonist of the film. However times have changed, and thirty years have past since this last instalment, and on fury road we see a different story unfold.

Furiosa

The film begins at the Citadel of the Warboys where their leader Immortum Joe rules the place with an iron fist. Unlike the first films, where it was gasoline that gave power, water has now come into play, and it is his access to drinking water that gives him power. This is a male dominated society where woman are relegated to commodities, either as a means of producing offspring, or being farmed for their milk like cattle. However Furiosa stands against this trend being one of Immortum Joes trusted knights, and it is the role that she plays that demonstrates the distinct shift in the politics of gender.

The world of Immortum Joe is the old world where women are treated as property and for their usefulness, yet the goal of this film is to escape the world and to bring about a new world where people, especially women, are no longer things but people. We see this when Joe walks into his harem to discover the words 'Women are not things' scrawled all over the walls, but it didn't click to me until that scene where Max approached the War Rig to discover a group of scantily clad women washing themselves down.

Sure, there has been criticism about the use of these beautiful white women, but we must remember the male ideology that for a woman to be a breeder then the woman must be beautiful. Isn't that the essence of sexual selection - the strong mate with the beautiful while the weak and the ugly are left to die? It is understandable that Miller used these women in the film as Joe's breeders because it is not only logical, but it is what would be expected from such a character. However, we do note that it is the harem girls that are freed by Furiosa to take them to the promised green land, and not the cattle that are being used to produce milk (even though they are liberated in the end).

Women Washing

Also consider the scene where they reach their destination - the tribe that they encounter is a tribe of women, and one of these women carries with her a box of seeds. This seems to imply that women are creators and preservers, where as the men are the destroyers. The question is asked 'who killed the world?' and the answer that is implied is 'the men'. In Fury Road the men are the destroyers and the controllers, while the women are the ones who produce and conserve life. This is clear with the women who produce the milk, as well as the breeders who provide Imortum Joe with his army of warboys.

Misplaced Hope
Mad Max: Fury  Road is also a film about hope, or about the search for hope. Furiosa and the breeders flee Immortum Joes citadel in a quest for a new life in the Green Land. We see this in other Mad Max films, particularly Beyond Thunderdome, where the characters go on a quest for paradise, only to discover a world ravaged by war. They are found in an oasis, but this oasis is too small, and they forever stare at a post-card promising a paradisical land that simply does not exist. The same theme comes out in Fury Road, for as they travel along the road, fleeing the wrath of the warboys, they are looking ahead for a world that simply does not exist, a world that Furiosa only remembers from her childhood. When she learns that this world has gone, having been destroyed by poison, they look across a parched salt plain and decide to set off in a quest in the hope that such a land may exist.

However, as Max points out, such a land does exist - the Citadel, yet to get to the citadel they must once again face the fury of the warboys. This is the thing about hope - it exists and it is within our grasp, yet the road we must travel to grasp this hope is not an easy path to travel. Many of us look at this path and say that it is too hard, that it does not exist, and that it is impossible, and we then look across the salt plain and convince ourselves that hope must lie in that direction, and then embark on a quest that in the end is fruitless. In reality, our hope does not lie in uncharted territory, but rather in a place that is familiar to us, especially those of us here in the west.

Hope Destroyed

While I generally don't link to too many Christian websites, I found one of the comments on the review on Christian Answers quite interesting. The commenter points out that there is actually quite a lot of biblical imagery in the film, particularly from the book of Exodus. For instance we have water coming out of the rock (and in the Bible the water of life refers to Jesus), however we should note that the water is controlled by Immortum Joe. To me that is quite reflective of the people that seek to control our access to understanding the true nature of God. Just as Immortum Joe turns on the tap for a short time, he then turns it off, warning us that for us to have too much might turn us into addicts. This in a way has been my experience in that there are people who will warn us away from 'bad influences' and seek to restrict our knowledge based on what they believe is helpful. There was a time when the church even made it illegal for the Bible to be written in the common tongue, least people learn the truth and seek to think for ourselves.

The desert plays a significant role in the film, as does the desert in Exodus. The desert is reflective of the difficult life, and the journey that we make towards the hope that we have. True, the hope in Mad Max turns out to be empty hope, but as I explained, sometimes we flee the difficult road in search of hope down the path well travelled - a path that ends up leading to death and despair. The green place did not exist across the salt plains, it was back where they came, though no doubt it was controlled by Immortum Joe. To reach that hope, and the water of life, they had to confront him, challenge him, and in the end over come him, so that the water could be released to flow continuously and provide endless nourishment.

We also have the slaves being released from captivity, which is also the case in Exodus. The Israelite slaves are held captive in Egypt, just as we are enslaved to our past actions, and our base lifestyles. The choice to flee our captivity is a choice that we must make ourselves - just as the breeders chose to follow Furiosa and the Israelites chose to follow Moses. They also had the choice to return to the Citadel, where they knew that water flowed, and to confront the challenge that is Immortum Joe. While neither Max, nor Furiosa, may be messiah figures, what it does show us is that we know where our hope lies, but we also know that the road to that hope will be faced with obstacles that we can ultimately overcome.

Water of Life


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Thursday, 23 July 2015

Don Juan in Hell - George Bernard Shaw's Man & Superman

Man & Superman

Liberty is Responsibility: That is why most men dread it

As I have said on my numerous reviews on Goodreads (and elsewhere), a play is meant to be watched, not read, and it can be very difficult to truly appreciate a play unless you watch it performed. The problem is that you rarely see many plays performed by playwrights of the past (unless that playwright is Shakespeare - he is still very popular). This means that it was going to be difficult, if not impossible, to actually see any of Shaw's works. However, imagine my delight when I jumped onto the website of the Palace Nova Brighton Bay and discovered that they were showing a production of Shaw's Man & Superman that was recently staged in London. While I have seen movie adaptations of couple of his plays (The Devil's Disciple and Caeser and Cleopatra - both of which have now been removed from Youtube due to copyright violations), I have yet, until now, seen one of his plays performed. Of all the plays that they could have chosen they selected a relatively obscure one.

What makes me even happier is that I have also discovered that the Sydney Theatre Company, later this year, will be staging a performance of Arms & the Man.

The National Theatre Production
I probably should say a few things about the production itself especially since every production of a play will have it's own unique twist. However, while I thought the  performance was awesome, and the play had me chuckling quite a few times, I feel that Susannah Clapp and Michael Billington describe it much better than myself. Even then, since the play is now finished I guess we probably won't have the opportunity to go and see it performed live (even if it means a trip to London).

I don't really feel comfortable saying that the play was in 'modern dress' particularly since it was written in 1903. Sure while the fashion and the trends of the turn of the 20th century were somewhat different to our own, and technology has changed dramatically, there is still some familiarity with our own time. However, considering that many of Shaw's works were written in the context of Edwardian England we still need to remember that there are probably some in jokes, and some references to ideas that are now obsolete (such as the concept of the superman - more on that later).

It wasn't until the end that I discovered that Ralph Fiennes played the lead role. Okay, I am not really all that familiar with many of his productions (with the exception of Coriolanus - which I must say is one awesome movie), but I do recognise the name. In fact as I was watching the play I had this sneaking suspicion that John Tanner was somewhat familiar (and it turned out to be Ralph Fiennes) which encouraged me to hang around for the credits.

Anyway, here is a trailer for the production:



Shawvian Theatre
Bernard ShawOne of the things that I have noticed about the Theatre at the turn of the century and that it is anything but minimalist. When I have read Shaw's plays I have noticed detailed set descriptions and stage directions. This quite different to the Shakespearean plays that have minimal notes at best. The thing about Shakespeare is that his plays are quite minimalist and I have even seen productions where there is little more than a single chair in the centre of the stage. Mind you, most of the ones that I have seen also have flashing coloured lights flying across the stage, but as for the plays themselves, it seems as if Shakespeare has given quite a lot of latitude to the directors (or maybe because he simply didn't need to write down stage directions since most of the plays from that period are similarly sparse on details beyond the speaking lines).

The funny thing about this play, at least when I first began to watch it, was how similar it was to The Importance of Being Ernest. Not so much the plot (which I will get to in a moment) but rather the style in which the play was written. This is not surprising considering that Oscar Wilde was writing around the same time as was Shaw (though I suspect that Wilde was somewhat older than Shaw). The thing is that the themes were quite different. While The Importance of Being Ernest is a comedy, Shaw gives this play the subtitle of 'A comedy and a philosophy', and there are quite a few philosophical points that he makes (as he tends to do with a lot of his plays).

The problem with a Shaw production though is that some of his plays have lengthy prologues and epilogues, and this is very much the case with Man & Superman. The play begins with a lengthy letter and ends with the text of John Tanner's 'The Revolutionist's Handbook' (who gives himself the title of MIRC - Member of the Idle Rich Class). There is also a list of Maxims for the Revolutionists, some of which are quite caustic:
A fool's brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence university education.
The most anxious man in the prison is the governor
  Your word can never be as good as your bond, because your memory can never be as trustworthy as your honor.

A Romantic-Comedy?
Man & Superman could be considered a romantic comedy, however it doesn't fall into the category that we normally expect to come out of Hollywood. In fact many of the romantic comedies that appeared in the theatre had their own style and convention. Even then Shaw hated convention and would be more than willing to go his own way. The play is certainly a comedy (as could be seen from the laughter coming from the audience) and it is certainly about how a man and a woman become romantically involved, but it doesn't fall into the traditional category where the man chases the woman and ultimately succeeds. It certainly doesn't fall into the category where the man is a hopeless romantic who ends up finding true love.

The story is about John Tanner, a self confessed Member of the Idle Rich Class, and a left wing reactionary (as can be seen by reading his Revolutionist's Handbook). The thing about Tanner is that he does not believe in marriage, and he certainly does not want to marry Ann Whitefield. In any case he believes (or at least wants to believe) that she is going to marry Octavius, who has been given the pet name Ricky Ticky Tavey. As the play progresses it begins to become clear that she isn't interested in Octavius, she is interested in him. When he begins to realise this he jumps in a car and tries to drive as far away from her as possible (ending up in the Sierra Nevada’s in Spain) only to discover that she is hot on his heals.

Sierra Nevadas Spain

The problem with this play is that it is supposed to be a philosophy, but it was never received as a philosophy (probably because people don't generally go to the theatre to see philosophical productions). Rather it was taken as another of the many romantic comedies that would regularly plough the stage, though you would hardly consider this to be the traditional romantic comedy (as I have already indicated). The thing with Bernard Shaw is that he is hardly a romantic and from what I can see from this play he has little time for the hopeless romantic.

While Man and Superman is not traditionally a romantic comedy, at the beginning we see that Octavius is smitten with Ann and it is believed that he is going to marry her. On the other side we have John Tanner who is the revolutionary philosopher that is not interested in getting married. The problem is that when we think of a philosopher we automatically think of them also being hopeless romantics - Neitzsche was a case in point. What Shaw is pointing out is that this is not the case: philosophers are not necessarily hopeless romantic and John Tanner is proof.

The thing with hopeless romantics is that women tend to be put off by them - I know because I can be one at times. One thing that I have learnt over my life is that women do not like to be told by somebody whom they hardly know, or are friends, that this person is in love with them. This tells them that this particular person is emotionally unstable and has little understanding of what it means to be in a relationship. Sure, understanding whether a woman likes you or not (and vice versa) can be a difficult task at best, however coming to them with flowers and chocolates and declaring your undying love can actually be quite disconcerting. As Ann says: Octavius is the type of person who will end up being the perpetual bachelor whom is loved by the landlady because he is just so nice.

The Hopeless RomanticThe problem with Hollywood is that they love hopeless romantics, namely because they can be really funny. In fact having the hopeless romantic as the centre piece of the production is what gives the production its life. We see this in the Importance of Being Ernest. The problem with this is that the Hollywood production cannot simply have an ending where it is agreed that they can only be friends - they have to over come their difficulties and live happily ever after. Take Leonard Hoffsteader from the Big Bang Theory - he is the classic example of the hopeless romantic. In real life he would have never got into a relationship with Penny, and in fact the best part of the series was when they weren't in a relationship. The problem is that we want Leonard and Penny to get together, however for those who have followed the show, when they actually did get together, and became engaged, the show ended up going downhill. It is actually more believable that Howard Wolowitz got married because, well, he is a sleaze, and the thing with sleazes is that they simply don't give up and sooner or later will meet somebody who actually likes that time of behaviour. However hopeless romantics always dream about that relationship that is forever out of their grasp.

The Question of Marriage

Home is the girl’s prison and the woman’s workhouse.

One of the problems that we have when we approach this play is marriage. Throughout the play Tanner repeatedly tells us that he does not believe in marriage. To us in the modern day we see this as meaning an unwillingness to commit, whether it to be one partner, or to a single partner beyond that of a long term relationship. What I am suggesting is that we have two types of people - one who sows their wild oats and one who is generally monogamous but feels that marriage is just a layer of commitment that one does not walk to accept (though it has always baffled me why there is a different between being married and living as if a couple were married - the only differences in the eyes of the human law are with tax and welfare benefits, and even then that is changing). Since John Tanner is equated with the legendary philanderer Don Juan later on in the play, we automatically assume that he is the first type.

This may be true, but marriage was a lot different in England during the turn of the 20th Century than it is today. For instance, when a woman married all of her property would pass onto the husband - in fact women weren't allowed to own property. Any property that the woman 'had' was actually the possession of her father, and in marriage this would pass onto the husband (in the form of a dowry). Secondly, women didn't have a choice as to who they were to marry. Even these days the tradition still exists where a suitor must get the father's permission to marry his daughter. This is why, at the beginning of the play there is so much talk about the wishes of Ann's father, and why there is a belief that she was going to marry Octavius.

John Tanner didn't want to marry simply because he wanted to sow his wild oats across as many fields as possible, but rather because he saw it as a form of institutionalised slavery. Men and women had specific roles in that the man was the bread winner and the woman would stay home caring for the children and looking after the house. In many cases it was expected (and still is to some degree) that when a couple marries, they do so for the purpose of child bearing (and this concept will become important a little later on). Once a woman married she had to quit her job to basically become a housewife.

It is this idea of marriage, the idea that the woman becomes the slave to the husband, and that the woman has little choice or freedom as to whether she wishes to enter into (or even leave) the union that is being riled against. However, Shaw is not completely against marriage because there is an important role that marriage plays in Shaw's philosophy, which is probably one of the reasons why marriage is one of those cross cultural phenomena.

The Devil and Don Juan
This is sort of a play within a play, or more aptly a dream sequence that occurs halfway through Act III. John Tanner has fled to Spain where he is ambushed by bandits, however after a bit of a tet-a-tet where the bandit leader Mendoza tells Tanner that his profession is to rob from the rich to which Tanner replies that his job is to rob from the poor, they end up becoming friends. The funny thing about these bandits is that one is introduced as an anarchist, and the remainder as three different types of socialists (thus suggesting that there is little unity in the left, yet they are all able to work together for the common goal - robbing from the rich). As night falls all go to sleep and the dream sequence begins.

This mini-play, which is sometimes cut out, and sometimes performed as a one act play, begins with Don Juan, who looks remarkably like John Tanner, sitting alone on stage and a elderly woman enters (the production I saw had her dressed in black with a veil over her head) and they begin to talk. While the thrust of this mini-play follows the thrust of the play as a whole, it was the discussions on heaven, hell, and the afterlife that intrigued me.

Don Juan in Hell

Okay, Shaw actually didn't believe in heaven or hell, namely because he was an atheist, however the discussions about the nature of the afterlife that occur here I found quite intriguing, and somewhat interesting, which is why I want to touch on them specifically.

The thing about Heaven and Hell is that the idea about the gulf that none can pass separating them, as we are told, is little more than a parable. This gulf is not a physical gulf but a psychological gulf (and C.S. Lewis explores this concept in The Great Divorce). While most analogies fall down somewhere, the example that Shaw uses is that of the opera and the race track. The thing is that people who go to the race track simply do not want to go to the opera, and those who go to the opera would not be seen dead at the racetrack. A more modern example would be that a person who goes to a rave would not necessarily go to the theatre and vice versa (though I have been to both on the same day, so I guess that analogy falls down - or I'm just one of those unique people). The thing is that we are dealing with two different societies - that of the working class and that of the propertied class. While they are found in the same city, you will not see members mixing simply because of the cultural differences.

However, that does not necessarily mean that members of these classes do not mix. In this instance we see the commander descending from heaven to spend time in hell, and Don Juan ascending from Hell to spend time in Heaven. In fact, as I think about it, it seems that Shaw seems to be using the concept of Heaven and Hell to paint a picture of the two classes. The thing about the propertied classes, as is painted in this scene, is that they put up with things that they simply hate because this is what is expected of them. They won't go to the race track simply because that is a place that people of that class simply do not attend. Even in the modern day we see similar things - people who go to the theatre simply do not go to raves (which is not really true, but you know what I mean).

The thing about Heaven is that people put on this sense of virtue, a virtue that is not created through divine law but rather through human law. We believe that this is the way people in heaven behave, therefore we behave as such, and the people of hell (the working classes) are vulgar and distasteful. However it is interesting that Don Juan, at the end of the piece, ascends into heaven willingly, but Ann, who wants to pursue him up the elevator, is forbidden - she simply would not like the place. Don Juan ascends through choice, Ann wants to ascend because she is pursuing Don Juan, and there a major reason as to why she is pursuing him, a reason that is hinted at throughout the play, and spelt out clearly here - she wants to give birth to the Superman.

Birth of the Superman
When most of us hear the word Superman there is one person who immediately comes to mind:

Superman

Look, when Shaw first wrote this play the Man of Steel simply did not exist (though I'm sure Shaw was alive when he made his first appearance in 1938 (and it would have been interesting to see his reaction). No, the superman that Shaw is referring to is Neitzsche's Ubermensch (better translated as overman). However Shaw's belief differs from Neitzsche's namely because he was influenced more by Darwin's concept of sexual selection (I will explain Neitzsche's approach below).

The thing with sexual selection is that the woman is not the passive subject of the relationship, but rather the active participant (which is why Shaw's concept went against the grain). The idea is that the goal of the woman is to give birth to the superman, thus she will purse the male that she believes is the best mate to reach that goal. This is why Shaw was so objectionable against the institution of marriage - it hindered the goal of giving birth to the superman because men who were not worthy of such a task were partnered with women who were, thus making it difficult, if not impossible for the superman to be born.

The thing about the superman is that a specific specimen is required. A member of the working class is simply not suitable because while they may be strong, they tend not to be intellectuals, meaning that strength and intelligence simply could not flow through to the progeny. While the rich class had money, meaning that the progeny could afford an education, they tended to be idle, and in a way useless. Because they have money they can get other people to do all of their hard work. Sure, they can spend time studying, but they didn't do that either. Thus the rich class are not strong, nor do they have the intelligence, to be able to give birth to the superman.

Certainly John Tanner, by his own admission, is a member of the idle rich class, and being a member he is reliant upon others to do the meanial tasks for him (which is demonstrated through the use of his chauffeur - the chauffeur isn't just a driver, but also an engineer, which gives him skills that Tanner could never have and thus making him incapable of performing such tasks). Yet Tanner portrays an intelligence that makes him a suitable candidate, which is why Ann pursues him. Octavius, being emotionally immature, could never give birth to the superman, which is why he is doomed to live his life as a perpetual bachelor. However, there is one problem - Tanner does not want to get married.

The Evolution of Ideas
From what I gathered from Thus Spake Zarathustra, Neitzsche's idea is that the ubermensch is not born but created, and is created through ideas. In the book Zarathustra (an ancient Persain prophet) is teaching his disciples, and as the book progresses his disciples ascend to become ubermensch through these teachings. This is my understanding of how the ubermensch is created - not through procreation but through ideas and through eduction. This type of education is not about learning how to do a skill, but rather how to think, to reason, and through this process, evolving. Mind you, some capacity to be able to think and reason is required, and I do accept that there are some biological elements, but the thing is that if somebody is not taught how to think and reason, despite them being able to do so, they will not be able to do as such.

It is at this point that I now jump through to my spiritual beliefs (I hate the term religious simply because, to me, religion is simply a set of rituals that people follow in order to attain a good afterlife). My belief is that there has existed, at one point in history, an ubermensch - Jesus Christ. It's not so much that he was able to do all of these miraculous things that made him as such, but rather through the life that he lived and his teachings. The thing about Jesus is that he demonstrated to us, through his life and his teachings, a path that we as humans can take to evolve ourselves. The thing about humanity is that we hold back our evolution through our belief in following sets rituals, and indulging in luxury, and the accumulation of material wealth. We also live selfish lives seeking only our pleasure and gain for ourselves and in living such lives we as humans do not grow.

Okay, while I might sound like some head-in-the-clouds Christian, or hippy that dances around putting flowers into the guns of soldiers, or some Buddhist that suggests that we must reject wealth and pleasure, I do not believe that is what Christ is saying. Sure, he does suggest that materialism is quite destructive, and that decadency is basically unhelpful, but he does not go as far as suggesting that we should all become paupers. When he told the rich man to sell all that he had, he was not telling him to become a beggar on the street adding to the numbers of the poor, he was pointing out to him that the thing that was holding him back was his wealth. For him to evolve (that is, enter the Kingdom of Heaven - yes, the Kingdom of Heaven does have an earthly aspect to it) he needed to discard that which was acting as a barrier to that ascension. The thing is that there are many barriers that we must overcome to reach that final point - that point where we can lie on our death bed with a certainty, not blind faith, but a certainty, that when we finally die all is not over but rather we will ascend into glory and become ubermensch.

There is an awesome commentary on the play on Diary of an Autodidact.


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Don Juan in Hell - George Bernard Shaw's Man & Superman by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you  wish to use the creative commons part for commercial purposes, please contact me directly.


Man & Superman soucre: National Theatre used under the fair use laws of the United States for illustrative purposes only, and also because it is a pretty cool opening picture.
Sierra Nevadas Source: Antonio Morales Garcia used with permission under creative commons attribution-share alike 2.0 generic 
Leonard Hoffsteader Source: Wikipedia used under the fair use laws of the United States for illustrative purposes only - I'm talking about hopeless romantics, and he is the classic example.
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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Spirituality behind Jupiter Ascending



It is funny that after the second time I saw this film I have the urge to write another blog post. The previous post was a more general look at how the concept of deity is being secularised and that the wealthy elite of our world are being turned into gods, however after seeing this film a second time I suddenly realised that not only are there a lot of references to the UFO phenomena of the 1980s, but also a lot of references to Christianity. The movie in effect turns it into a cult religion that worships aliens.
So, the question is, why did I see this movie a second time? Well, first of all because I think that it is a pretty good movie. Okay, it gets a rating of 5.9 on IMDB (which isn't bad, but isn't that great either), but on Rotten Tomatoes it gets an absolute pasting (which is quite a shame because I quite liked the film). The other reason that I saw it a second time was because I knew that my brother would love it. After the credits had began to roll I turned to my brother and asked him what he thought, and he said 'pretty good'. So I guess in the end the opinion of the critics count for squat because all that matters is that my brother liked it.
Another thing I should quickly mention is that this is not a review of the film. If you would like to see my review it has been posted on IMDB (where all of my movie reviews have been posted). Rather, as I have suggested, this post is more of an exploration of some of the concepts that I have seen in the film the second time around. However, before I continue, here is a trailer:

 
Watching the trailer again I must say that I really liked the way that they did the ships, and the warp drive sequences, and there are a lot of scenes involving Mila Kunis falling great distances, but that is beside the point. However, before I continue I probably should outline the plot.

Synopsis (or Plot)
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is an illegal Russian immigrant who was born on a cargo ship in the middle of the Atlantic as her her family were fleeing Russia for a new life in America. Her father has been brutally murdered when some thugs burst into their Moscow apartment to steal anything of value (including his telescope). Her name reflects her father's passion for astronomy and also his love of the planet Jupiter. Anyway, she lives with her extended family and spends her life cleaning the toilets of the rich and famous and her only wish in life is to own a telescope. However her cousin comes up with an idea of selling her eggs to a fertility clinic for $15000 with which she can purchase her telescope from her cut.
Unknown to Jupiter, she is the exact genetic recurrence of an ancient interstellar queen who had dominion over a number of planets, including the Earth. While she may not realise her true identity, the queen's three children of the royal house of Abrasax do. They happen to be fighting among themselves and each want Jupiter for their own purpose (expect for Balem Abrasax, who simply wants her dead because under the current will the Earth belongs to him). Thus, when Jupiter goes into the fertility clinic she discovers that she has been marked for death, but is rescued at the last minute by the genetically bred super-soldier Kane Wise (Channing Tatum).

Background
Okay, if you haven't seen the movie it is probably best to stop reading now because there are going to be a lot of spoilers. That said, I will say a few things about the background. The thing about the Earth is that they are not alone. In fact they are one of many millions of planets out in what is called 'The Verse'. However, the people of Earth did not develop on their own - they had a little help, thanks to the Abrasax. A hundred thousand years ago they discovered Earth, at a time when it was inhabited by dinosaurs, and decided that it would be of use. So they basically wiped all of the dinosaurs out and then seeded the planet with genetically engineered humans to grow and develop until the time was right to harvest them.

The reason that I use the word harvest is because the people of Earth, to the Abrasax and to the wider population of the Verse, exist only for one purpose - their genes. What the Abrasax do is that they wait until the population of a seeded planet reaches capacity and then they pretty much wipe them out. The reason they do this is so that they can then extract their genes, which they use to rejuvenate their own decaying body's, which in effect revitalises them, gives them eternal youth and immortality.


UFO Phenomena
There are quite a few references in Jupiter Ascending to the UFO phenomena that I grew up with in the 80s. Okay, I must admit that I was fascinated by the scene but gradually lost interest along with the rest of society. However, we see in Jupiter Ascending images such as the crop circles, the Greys, and humans being kidnapped by aliens for the purpose of being probed. While they do not necessarily need to be linked, the use of these images do work to reignite the imagination, especially those of us from the 80s who were fascinated with UFOs.

The crop circles were intricate patterns that would appear in crops around the world, and while there are some artificial creations, many of them still remain a mystery. There are theories ranging from weather patterns to the exhausts from alien ships to explain these strange effects. Even thirty years later many of us are still baffled as to their cause. However, according to the Wakowski's, these circles are created by the spaceships of house Abrasax as they visit Earth on a regular basis to monitor their populations.
 
Then there are the Greys, referred to in Jupiter Ascending as The Keepers. These aliens were originally popularised by Whitley Striber in his book Communion. Since then these aliens have been a mainstay of the modern science fiction horror scene and appearing regularly in shows such as 'The X-Files'. In many cases they are antagonists, however in some instances they are friendly and helpful. However the Wakowski's paint them in a much more sinister light as they happen to be connected to Balen Abrasex, and are the ones who have been charged with getting rid of Jupiter Jones.

As well as these two aspects there is also the myth that people are abducted by aliens and subjected to being probed before they are returned to Earth. Whether aliens exist or not is a moot point, but if they do I am not all that surprised that abductees would make such reports. The reason I say that is because if we were to find an alien then no doubt it would be requisitioned by the military and also undergo medical examinations which basically involve probing. However, in Jupiter Ascending people are also abducted by the Abrasax for the purpose of testing their genetic purity and they do this through, you guessed it - probing.


Angels & Demons
I was sort of wondering how the Sargorn, the draconian like creatures, all fitted into this UFO perspective when I realised that in a way they don't. What we have been looking at goes much further back than the UFO phenomena of the 1980s. In fact they go back to the medieval belief of angels and demons and the idea that demons were monstrous winged creatures. This is where the spiritual aspect of the film comes along because what is suggested is that the demons of legend are in fact visitations from the servants of house Abrasax. However there are other elements to be considered as well.

Consider that Earth is in effect a farm for House Abrasax which means that ever since the planet was first seeded Balem has been visiting the planet to make sure everything is going ahead nicely. The idea of humanity being created through a method of gene splicing suggests that the stories of the creation of man stem back to this event. In effect Balem Abrasax is no other than God - which is not surprising, at least in the Deist point of view, as he is distant, uncaring, lives in the heavens, and created humanity. Mayhaps there is also a suggestion of the rapture here as well because the plan is to return to Earth to harvest the population, and maybe there is a suggestion that a select few are able to escape (or is it just a lie created by him to keep the population ignorant, and as such less of a threat, which is why they seek to harvest the population when it grows too large because that also implies scientific advancement, and with scientific advancement comes the rejection of religion).
Consider this also: Balem Abrasax has a base located inside Jupiter which is accessed through the Red Spot. Thus we have what is in effect a space station that is surrounded by red gasses, that creates a red tinge, in which dwell the Sargorn. Could it not be that this place is a representation of hell. What about heaven? Is there a heaven? Well, it is true that it exists up in the stars, but when we travel there with Jupiter we discover that the society of the Verse is no different to that down on Earth. In fact the only place that comes close to being heaven is the planet that is harvested prior to Balem's interest in Earth, and that place has been destroyed.

Finally let us look at Caine Wise's character. He is an genetically engineered soldier that has been dismissed from the army for attacking a superior. Originally he had wings, however as part of his punishment these wings were removed. Okay, he is actually spliced with a wolf, however when the film comes to a close we discover that he has got his wings back, which we discover are that of a bird. As such, we now have our angel (though he hardly can be considered angelic).

Conclusion
So, I shall now bring this to a close and with that the movie (I told you there would be spoilers). So, Jupiter Jones has gained her inheritance, Balem is dead, the Earth has been saved, and we return to the beginning of the film where Jupiter has awoken at 4:45 am and is back cleaning the toilets of the wealthy. So, she has inherited the wealth of the Abrasax, has the universe at her fingertips, yet returns to cleaning toilets? Maybe there is a message in that for us, or was it just a dream.
Okay, the film is not that lame, but we have this godlike being who was willing to give everything up to save her family to simply return to her ordinary life because, well, that is much better than a life of adventure. Yet she is also in effect a god, however she has relinquished her godhood, and her chance at immortality to remain on Earth with the people she cares about. While she is a somebody, while she holds guardianship over the Earth and the Abrasax can no longer take charge of it, she has chosen the life of a mortal. Herein we have the final spiritual connection - Jupiter Jones is the Christ figure.

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Spirituality behind Jupiter Ascending by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If use wish to use the creative commons part for commercial purposes, please contact me directly.

The following pictures Jupiter Ascending Title, Keepers, The Sargorn model, Caine Wise, are used under the fair use provisions of the copyright law of the United States of America. The use of these pictures are not meant to claim ownership of or title over, but to provide examples to the content of this blog. Any owner who does not wish the picture to be used in this context please contact me and the picture will be removed forthwith.