Category Archives: Films
Thor – the extended trailer, and Source Code – an ill named, ill conceived, illustration of why time travel movies suck
What should have been a really cool chapter in the Marvel comix/movie build up to the Avengers was a dreary exercise best described as a perfunctory pronouncement. It was less of a movie and more of an extended trailer.
Filmed and directed with great flourish, a powerful sound track, and beautiful actors, who were all sitting around waiting for a cohesive story to come along and give some meaning to their existence. Alas it did not. To make matters worse, of all the interesting enemies that Thor has battled over the last 50 years the frost giants might have been the least interesting and least plausible. This is because according to the Vedic theory of film criticism, mythological personalities have resonance with humans because at some level our sub-conscious recognizes that these are not made up ideas but rather reflections of something that actually exists in dimensions now sealed off to us.
We may not have an abundance of evidence for the existence of mythological beings, but we do have enough to consider it as a hypothesis. It can hardly be a coincidence that all cultural cosmologies share an amazing number of attributes among their descriptions of mythological beings. It is a bit too facile and poor scholarship to simply relegate this phenomenon off to shared subconscious archetypes. As open-eyed scientific observers we should consider the possibility that other life form yet undiscovered by everyday science may exist. According to the Vedic model demigods, fairies, ogres, angels, demons and all manner of extra-human being are real.
But frost giants do not have a place in the pantheon of potentially real persona. They are a dumb concoction of the marvel writing team of Stan Lee and his brother. The Norse mythology does describe the jotunn or giant and demon races, similar to descriptions in Vedic texts. But frost giants were simple a very weak substitution. Though these were some of the first villains described in the original comic, the film makers took so many liberties with the origins story they could easily have made the frost giant into real giants with more reasonable powers.
The story would also have been better if it had clung to the aspect of the original story that made it such a valuable comic in the silver age of the 60’s (I remember finding a forgotten trunk in a storage shed in the early ‘70’s, filled with many of the original Thor comics and loving every minute of reading their musty smelling pages.) In the original story Odin banishes Thor to earth where he becomes Donald Blake medical student and lives as an ordinary mortal. Eventually he reconnects with his hammer and for a time lives with a dual identity. The film makers decided to jettison all this in favor of a parade of special effects and muscle flexing. The result is a film that is all form and little content.
Recommendation: if you are, like me, a fan of the Marvel Comic world and you are counting the days to the release of the Avengers movie, you pretty much have to see it. Everyone else, stay home and watch something else.
Source Code was a film filled with potential. It had an intriguing theme, that when we die enough of our mental energy persists in the three-dimensional realm that if you could capture it or contain it you could mine it to explore the experiences and sensory input of those last moments (eight minutes according to the filmmakers). But sadly the filmmakers took that potentially interesting concept and rammed it into a bad Hollywood action romance. A world where our hero is repeatedly experiencing eight minutes of somebody’s last moments alive before being blown to bits by an anti-government atheist. A sort of Ground Hog’s day that descends into hyper incredulousness because in this person’s eight minute memory the internet works, you can call people the memory keeper didn’t know (like the hero’s father) and you can go places that they never went; even get off the train and run around a train station that clearly wasn’t in memory. But let’s say we give them all that. Let’s be a bit flexible and give these befuddled writers some leeway. Unfortunately they will return the favor by resorting to one of the weakest and worst cinematic devices known to filmkind: time travel.
The reason time travel is such a crummy ploy, at least according to a Vedic theory, is that traveling back in time is impossible. According to both physics and Vedic rules time is one directional. And nothing can reverse events transpired in the past. In the Vedic view time is an incarnation of God known as Kala. Hence the famous verse, “Time I am, the great destroyer of worlds.”
It has always felt to me as though the plethora of time travel themed movies share an almost pathological evidence of God Envy. It is the bitter longing of the religious atheist to fantasize about the ability to bend or reverse time. It is even understandable. But as a plot device it remains a creative intransigence. A time travel plot is that most immoral act of writing: it lacks imagination.
Recommendation: not worth the price of a movie ticket at the theaters and not worth the time of an intelligent working person on DVD or Netflix.
Inception has Nolan & DiCaprio Dreaming of an Oscar…
Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan (the Dark Knight), Inception made for a good time at the movies. Inception is a film about a world where science makes it possible to enter in to another person’s mind through dreams. This allows unscrupulous types, like the Leo DiCaprio character to go into a person’s mind and steal valuable information, in a process called ‘extraction’. The story in the film however, focuses on the supposedly much more difficult concept of going into someone’s mind and implanting an idea. This is called, ‘inception’.
So Leo gathers together a top notch team for this ‘inception’ endeavor, making the film an ensemble piece that was pulled off on the strength of decent writing and a talented cast. Ellen Page (from Juno) was the bright spot in the group.
Think of Inception as having the excitement of a heist film but in a psychologically unstable and surreal environment, a sort of Bourne meets M. C. Escher. It was original, intelligent, visually interesting, and had an excellent score. Most importantly, it was fun.
So what is the Vedic take on this?
Dreaming is sometimes described by yogis as being more real than the waking stage of life, but it is still part of the material world.
The general Vedic view of dreaming is that it is one of the four states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, sleeping, and turiya. We are all familiar with the first three as they make up the sum total of our experience of life. The fourth state, however, is almost completely unknown to us. In fact, it does not even have a direct translation into English. Turiya simply means the fourth state of consciousness which is accessible to accomplished yogis and mystics.
Turiya is also the playground of Bhakti yogis as they are constantly meditating upon the Divine, who by definition is always in turiya. Hence the goal of the modern yogi is to meditate on the divine as much as possible so that he/she can begin to play in that magical realm of the fourth state.
In general Gurus do not stress the importance of dreams as they are primarily just symptoms of your unconscious combined with your overall karma. The great sage Narada once told King Prachinabarhisat: “Sometimes we suddenly experience in dreams something never yet seen or heard of in the present body. My dear king, a living being develops all kinds of thoughts and images because of his previous body. Take this from me as certain. One cannot concoct anything mentally without having perceived it before.” (4th canto, Bhagavat Purana) Here we also see a connection to the theme of the movie that an idea once planted at the deepest levels will persist for a very long time.
It is interesting to note that some Gurus have said that in the lives of a spiritually determined person, karma can be worked out and dealt with in the dream state. This is said to be a natural byproduct of those who are pursuing spiritual awareness in the waking state. And almost all Gurus state that they have the ability to work on their students while the student sleeps. In my own life I can distinctly recall dreams with visitations from at least three different Gurus that I consider examples of direct aid and supervision.
In the Tibetan system of yoga you have the concept of lucid dreaming or ‘dream yoga”. This is an appealing concept to many people. They think, “wouldn’t it be great to control the dream state and do what I want!” This sad thought misses the main point of yogic philosophy: this entire material experience and all three of its states is a dream. We are already lucid dreaming in the so-called waking state.
If we do things without awareness of the absolute (divine nature) that underpins the reality we experience in the waking, dreaming, sleep states we are lucid dreaming (i.e. most of us.) If we are present to the transcendent even while performing the mundane we are stepping in to the fourth state of consciousness.
The point of yoga is to wake up from the dream that is material life, as the Bengali philosopher Bhaktivinode Takur once wrote, “Wake up, sleeping souls! Wake up, sleeping souls! You have slept so long on the lap of the sorceress Maya.”
The movie hints at an important question, how do you wake up from a dream that even death can’t end?
I liked that they used sound as one of the triggers to pull the operatives out of the dream state, as sound is clearly one of the keys to waking up the sleep soul. In fact in its etymology the word Guru means to cause to sound or to raise an alarm. The real trick in the yogic tradition is to die consciously with the mind focused on something spiritual. The movie doesn’t go that far but it raises the specter of how an idea at its core is a very resilient thing, and it can shape one’s destiny. This why in yoga philosophy so much effort is put into planting a spiritual idea at the deepest part of our being; so that we might wake up from this dream state upon death.
Recommendation: an engaging and thought provoking distraction, worthy of a bag of buttered popcorn
QUICKY Review* Iron Man 2
Iron Man not 2 great
Director Jon Favreau seems to have lost his way here and he wasn’t helped by Justin Theroux’s very poorly written script. While Justin should stick to acting, Jon shouldn’t give up directing, but he needs a better support team and much better writers.
The actors were good with the exception of Scarlett Johansson, who has done much better work and came off like a cut-out from a Top Cow comic book (Top Cow is the king of busty two-dimensional characters.)
With a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes this film is a good example of how the aggregation of reviews can be dramatically skewed up by the very subjective choice of what makes a good review. If you look at the so called “good” reviews you will see that they are faint praise indeed.
Let’s hope the franchise gets better as it appears from the after the credits sneak peek that the next avenger to be brought back to film life is Thor.
Vedic view point – I’m sure there is something to say here but this movie has not inspired me to look to hard.
Recommendation: this will probably make a good blu-ray DVD for your home theater no need to rush out and see it
* Quicky Reviews are when I saw the film but didn’t write a full length review….
Kick Ass, Kicks Ass
Kick Ass the movie, based on Mark Millar’s graphic novel, is not the most important film in the genre of comic book movies, it does not have the weighty social commentary of V for Vendetta, or the literary depth of Watchmen. It certainly is not as beautifully adapted as Sin City. Kick Ass is, however, a fun and even thought provoking movie experience. The writing does rely a little too heavily on the revenge fantasy scenario so dear to the undemanding comic fans. It has the feel of the Punisher meets Paper Moon (a great father-daughter film by a Mr. Bogdanavich from 1973-netflix it if you are too young to remember.)
Kick Ass’s father-daughter team offer their own version of “punishment, not revenge”, with the young actress, Chloe Grace Moretz, stealing every scene she is in, and some she is not in, as the eleven year old vigilante, Hit-Girl. Nic Cage does a surprisingly in depth job of playing the ethically, if not morally questionable Dad bent on destroying his nemesis, even at the cost of destroying his daughter’s childhood.
The theme of the film attempts to address the issue of civic responsibility, through the adolescent and not too deep question,” if so many guys (and some gals) fantasize about being super heroes, how come nobody does it?”
The initial answer is, “that with no power comes no responsibility.” But the deeper insight is provided by the film’s protagonist, Dave Lizewski who sets out to become a real life superhero, only to discover the real meaning of hero is in the heart and not in the costume, and that even though we as individuals have little responsibility, we certainly do have some responsibility. I can attest to this.
As somebody who has been in a position to risk injury in order to help or protect a disadvantaged or innocent victim, I can honestly say it is far worse to live with the shame of turning one’s back on the needs of others. I say this even though my own crime fighting has not always ended well for me.
Once in the 80’s I was working in music promotions at a downtown Minneapolis night club when in the middle of the business day someone called into the office that there was some disturbance in the parking lot. I was sent to investigate. In those days I wore all black leather and had a mohawk, looing a bit like an extra from the film Road Warrior. When I came into the garage I saw two goons mugging some accountant looking guy. I yelled at the two guys and ripped one of the chains decorating my leather off and began to run straight for them. They looked up, literally dropped their victim and took off running. True story, happy ending.
Another incident didn’t end as well. I was coming out of a night club after closing hour and came across two young mods wearing skinny ties and 60’s suits who were being threatened by a trio of drunken-polo-shirt-wearing jocks. All of whom were considerably bigger than the two new wavers (and me for that matter.) Still it was my responsibility to say something, which I did. Probably something like, “shouldn’t you pick on somebody your own size?” Which, they decided they would. Unfortunately, to them, that meant me. So they all jumped on me, knocked me to the ground and proceeded to kick the shit out of me. They eventually tired and I was able to walk away a bloody mess with busted ribs and broken nose. Not so happy ending. But I remained convinced that I did the right thing. The short term pain of bruised ribs and a busted nose is inconsequential to the never ending shame of walking away from someone who needed help.
This moral is consistent with the moral of the movie. It is also (here comes the connection to Eastern Philosphy) consistent with the expectation of a yogi. Although the yogi’s first tenet is non-violence (ahimsa), this also includes preventing harm. A yogi would gladly sacrifice their own life to safe that of anothers. Like the great Maharaja Shibi, who saved the life of a pigeon by supplying flesh from his own body. A true yogi does not occupy any specific post but is always available to fill any post in service to God and humanity. Sometimes a yogi must fill the post of a kshatriya. Kshatriya means one who gives protection. It is never that the yogi thinks, “now I am renounced from worldly concerns so I do not need to help my fellow spirit souls.” No, it is the opposite; the yogi is always concerned about the welfare of others, spiritually and materially.
Thus the lesson for the Modern Yogi: meditate on compassion, and the nature of the absolute, but always be prepared to kick ass if needed. 🙂
Recommendation: better than most of what’s out there…
Avatar – the descent of the bad filmmaker
The spiritual strength of stories is in their ability to touch the soul. If we capitulate to poor storytelling we become the cheated instead of the uplifted. Stories matter because they connect us, enliven us, and are means of transmitting important information about who we are.
Art and spirituality share an important partnership in the telling of stories and their ability to touch and even awaken the soul. But this ability to use a story to hint at the inexpressible mystery of life does not come easily. This is why great directors, are known to say, “It’s not the story; it’s how you tell it.” This of course assumes that you are starting with an actual story worth telling – a story that has in it the types of personalities that we can connect with and care about. As well as circumstances that, no matter how fantastic, provide us with meaningful struggles that when overcome teach us about ourselves.
Avatar, sadly, has none of these qualities. It is an arguably insane use of human and material resources, to satisfy the technological whims of an effete filmmaker. It is hundreds of millions of dollars of cinematic geek-dom with no redeeming spiritual or artistic value. Avatar is the ironic equivalent of a four-hundred-million dollar PSA by the Sierra Club. (So you cannot excuse this film by saying it engenders discussion on the environment – that could have been accomplished with 1 percent of the budget in a superbowl ad.) It is a mind numbing display of hour after hour of digital fireworks. Like most fireworks displays after ten or fifteen minutes of oohs and ahhhs, it becomes quite boring.
Avatar is a two-dimensional and utterly un-profound movie shot in high-end 3D-CGI. This total lack of story should prompt outrage. It is important for members of society to raise the standard for our art and culture. We need stories, good ones. We should not settle for the threadbare recycling of mediocre stories, as Avatar is of the Disney movie, Pocahontas (see graphic at bottom for the plot summary of Avatar and a funny comparison.) The story Avatar – the space age Pocahontas, is a weak and sentimental approach to the condescending notion of the noble savage. People are not necessarily noble or dharmic just because they reside in nature. Virtue or dharma is a quality found in varying quadrants of life. The tendency to look at a setting like the film’s mystically beautiful Pandora and compare it to earth and lament the difference is a form of sentimentalism. In the Vedic model of reality majestically opulent planets exist in the universe, but even they pale next to the realm of pure consciousness, the spiritual goal of the yogi.
For a filmmaker to copy the story arc of another film is not always bad. It happens all the time. What is bitterly disappointing is to hear that after someone has worked on a movie for over 10 years the best they could come up with was a script that just rehashes someone else’s insipid and poorly thought out script. And trying to call the story in Avatar “the hero’s journey” is a poor characterization. The story of an unwitting dupe thrust into a new environment where he meets a cute girl, gets the cute girl, loses the cute girl, comes back with a bigger phallic symbol, (car, jet, dragon…) and gets the girl back, hardly qualifies for the dramatic and spiritual depth that constitutes the hero’s journey (which, by the way, is not even that great of mythic story arc to begin with.)
The two dimensional characters and implausible plotting of Avatar remind one of skimpiest of comic book stories. (The guy who played the big mean army colonel looked and acted like a cardboard cutout.) It was as if Cameron and crew purposely decided that the only thing that mattered was the visual effects and that the story was of no particular importance. But technology is supposed to serve the story and not the other way around. It appears that with this film James Cameron’s filmmaking career has come full circle. He peaked with the original Terminator and Aliens and he has returned to the quality of his first film, Piranha II: the Spawning.
Avatar should be seen as an insult to the film viewer who is expected to shell out hard earned money to watch what amounts to an autoerotic techno-fest. Viewers who waste their money on this film have a right to feeling duped. A better use of entertainment dollars would be to buy the DVD set of Lord of the Rings -great movies, great stories, and great effects.
Sadly the hyped-up Hollywood fan boy awards system has already begun to give statuette accolades to this bit of techno-treacle. But that does not make it a good or important movie. It just means we are once again settling for mediocrity.
Rating: Looks 8, Dance 2
Synopsis: This film is all form and no content. See it if you are a geeky fan boy with a World of Warcraft screen-saver, and nothing better to do than waste your mom’s money.
Revolutionary Road (Block)
A beautifully shot movie with no redeeming social or artistic value
Walking out of the film Revolutionary Road, my mind was numb from the deadening effect of this miserable film. It was like Requiem for a Dream but without the drugs. It’s as if the filmmakers just got out of a bad relationship and figured out for the first time that material life is hard. Jesus, the Buddha, and countless Vedic texts have already told us that life is hard. Or perhaps they heard about the artistic genre known as a tragedy, read some cliff notes of the Greek plays or read about Ibsen and Chekhov on Wikipedia, and decided that a tragedy is a movie about bad things happening to sad people. Or maybe they just found out that the illusion of a nuclear family in the 1950’s collapsed under the pressures of relentless, sexism, racism, and classism, but hadn’t had time to come up with something meaningful to say about it.
Hmmm, actually I can’t really come up with an excuse for these filmmakers. Except that they have written and produced a move with great, art direction, cinematography, music and with absolutely nothing to say. Unless their goal was like the upbraiding owner of a new puppy who must rub our collective noses in the crap pile that is life. This movie says nothing new, nothing important, and deserves no accolades. The one bright spot was the acting of the so called crazy realtor’s son (Michael Shannon) who played the part of the chorus in a greek melodrama telling us the obvious moral of the story. He played his part very well, as did his mother (Kathy Bates) the realtor. Kate Winslet was a seeming paragon of pathos, and Mr. Dicaprio’s performance ranged from wooden to apoplectic, not his finest hour.
Unless you are a masochist for mediocre melodrama, do not waste your precious time on this travesty of a film. It is a film that wanted to be about emptiness and hopelessness and instead became an empty and hopeless film. If you want to catch up with a meaningful drama, stay in and rent, The Grapes of Wrath, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, or Wuthering Heights… these are examples of what a tragedy, or a melodrama, is supposed to be.
Recommendation: avoid like an unanaesthetized root canal
Film auteur Danny Boyle’s rags to riches story is a genre-defining masterpiece. But first, a word, two words actually, from our sponsors: karma and dharma.
Karma is what you are born with, the stuff you can see, birthplace, family, body, etc… Karma is also the stuff you can’t see, i.e. destiny, the future you have created by your choices and actions from the now forgotten past. This includes your successes, your failures, your happiness and distress, as well as your income for life. This may be one of the most unpopular and ill received aspects of Vedic philosophy. Nonetheless, it holds true for all of us. As was quoted in the Sanskrit classic, Mahabharata, “Destiny is all-powerful and it is difficult to evade the consequences of our past actions.”
So if Karma is what you are born with, then dharma is what you do with it. Free will is the choice to act virtuously in relation to your lot in life, or not. You get to choose if you are going to be a zero or a hero by the way you handle what comes your way. If you protect dharma, dharma will protect you.
Slumdog Millionaire is the superbly told story of karma and these two dharmic options. The hero is Jamal Malik a young man born in the slums of Mumbai. The zero is his brother Salim.
The film is the retelling of Jamal’s life and his one true love Latika. The context is a jail house interrogation. Jamal is arrested because he is suspected of cheating on the Indian version of, Who Wants to Be Millionaire, and is on the verge of winning twenty million rupees ($420,000 US).
The ensuing story of poverty, simple aspirations, tragedy, cruel gang lords, decency, and unrequited love is a marvelous, upsetting, and rewarding adventure to witness.
From a spiritual point of view, we see how two people can be given the same horrible circumstances and yet choose two very different paths. Jamal consistently pursued virtue (dharma) and time again he was protected by virtue. All the while his karma, both fortunate and unfortunate, pursued him relentlessly.
While the concept, destiny, may be a difficult pill for many to swallow, it is not as bleak as it appears. Pursuing our dharma offers a path to personal strength and peace of mind. It can be very freeing to realize that even though we can’t know what lies ahead for us there is joy in hoping for the best and strength in preparing for the worst.
Our destiny may be written for us, but our fortune is in the storehouse of love, patience, kindness, forgiveness and the celebration we have in our hearts. Sadly, this is a store house, which, for many of us goes forgotten and unused. But what is keeping us from breaking down the door and looting the love in our hearts? That would be the six dark shadowy figures known in Sanskrit as the Sad Garbha that guard the heart’s door: 1) selfish longings, 2) anger, 3) perpetual dissatisfaction, 4) delusion, 5) pride, and 6) envy. Throughout the film Jamal’s older and decidedly unvirtuous brother demonstrates all six of these traits. How we deal with these six enemies of the heart has everything to do with dharma or the choices we make. This is a film that powerfully brings out this idea.
It is so gratifying when art provides us with powerful experiences that prod and poke at our consciousness. When art does its job, it finds us thinking new thoughts without seeming to have told us to have new thoughts. Director Danny Boyle and writer Simon Beaufoy, working from a novel by Vikas Swarup, have managed to do just this with Slumdog Millionaire.
Recommendation: See it and tell me what you think…
“Beth I hear you calling…” KISS
In spiritual life affiliation is everything – because you will be drawn up or torn down by the consciousness of those around you. Sometime life doesn’t always give you a choice about how you have to around. It is at those times when it is most important to find common goals that can lift you and your unsolicited fellow traveler upward.
Role Models is a hilarious film about just this theme. The film centers around the downward-spiraling, increasingly contemptuous, dourly-disparaging of all Danny, played by Ben Affleck look-a-like Paul Rudd (a fact that is used for effective laughs on multiple occasions) and his over-the-top sense-enjoying coworker, Wheeler played by an effervescent Seann William Scott.
After the two spokesmen for a Red Bullesque energy drink get in trouble with the law they are forced to do community service at a big brother type center. The center’s director is scene stealing Jane Lynch, whose performance of a recovering cocaine whore deserves an Oscar for funny. The two charges given over to the court ordered mentors are hilarious Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Augie Farks, the nebbish geek who has found refuge in a dungeon and dragon role playing sword fighting tournaments, and Ronnie the all too cute uber-foul mouthed, booby infatuated twelve year old (played like a pro by 12 year old Bobb’e J. Thompson.)
The result of these pairings is good comedy (notwithstanding a few over sentimental and simplistic turns) that brings home the message that cynicism is dead. And that to see the good in life and in difficult situations is the key to self transformation. There are no short cuts in life. You have to roll with the punches, get back on your feet and go at it again. It just helps if you can see the humor in it. This is a film that definitely sees the humor and the irony of life in a world where materialism tends to bring out the worst in us and the desire to go against the current brings out the best.
The sweetly sober message of this film is that everybody needs something or someone to believe in. Maybe the Legendary Rock Group KISS isn’t the ultimate higher power, but the idea of using something bigger than you to uplift you is certainly the right idea.
Recommendation: A comedy worth its weight in buttered popcorn, enjoy.
Some of my friends have encountered people who have dedicated themselves to a spiritual lifestyle. After meeting them they have noted that they often seem the opposite of spiritual. These would be spiritualists are stressed, frustrated, insensitive, etc… “How is this possible?” they ask me.
This unfortunate but all too often observable contradiction is because people often go towards spiritual life as a refuge from life’s confrontation rather than a place to confront their lives’ refuse. Consequently the people you meet at yoga retreats, ashrams, spiritual conventions, and the like tend to have the same personality or similar characteristics they had before they took up spiritualism.
Our personalities are deeply structured emblems of our heart (shakti) and our history (karma). Personalities tend to change very little over lifetimes. This is partly because significant change requires soul age, which is the resilience that comes from many lives in a human form, what I call heart.
Mike Leigh’s new film, Happy Go Lucky is a study of personalities and soul age. His principle character is Poppy, a resiliently souled optimist, who is determined to keep a sense of joy and wonder about her. Her nemesis is an immature souled, paranoid, racist, victim of a institutional standards – who has now found a minute sense of control as a driving instructor. The other characters in the movie serve as marvelous foils to Poppy’s irrepressible good nature. The most interesting of which was a schizophrenic homeless man with the countenance of mature soul who has somehow been left behind, i.e. the right heart, wrong history.
But the most interesting part of the film was its total lack of anything remotely cinematic (at least by Hollywood standards.) The events and people portrayed were events and people of everyday life. The story was about as provocative as oatmeal. But as I have said, many times before, it is not the story, but how you tell it. Happy-Go-Lucky is a story well told.
As you allow Poppy’s very mundane life to unfold in front of you have a chance to explore the multihued fabric of Poppy’s world. While Poppy’s almost preternatural optimism carries her a great way we are able to see its limits and even its down side. For example, we have to ask ourselves, was she at least partially responsible for the driving instructor’s breakdown? Did she, in her over exuberance and insouciance, fail to assess the dark and tormented man’s emotional frailty? She had entered in to his phallic realm (the car) the one place he felt he had dominion and she unseated him completely. Yes, we saw her effort to peer into his troubled past, but did she go far enough to see the impact she was having on him. This is the responsibility of the more mature soul, and an important lesson of the movie. A lesson Poppy learns the hard way.
There is much to be mined from this delight of a movie. This includes an insight into the question of what does it take to be a good person? And, is it more than just a sunny disposition? (This does seem a good place to start.) It also takes a willingness to look into the soul’s of others and see what is it that they need. And that can be hard work, but hey, happiness is hard work.
Recommendation: If you are a fan of Mike Leigh, or if you like thoughtfully paced cinema, then you you will like this.
The Dark Knight Triumphs
Like Godfather II, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Night is that rarest of sequels: better than the original. In my review of Batman Begins (entitled, Best Batman Movie Yet) I called the film, “a smart and insightful piece of psychological film making.” Dark Knight earns that same accolade and a little more.
The film is a masterful metaphor for the complex challenges of healing the human mind. Gotham City is the mind field and the characters the different aspects of the self wrestling for dominance. Gotham City has risen up from its crime-infested haze, thanks largely to the efforts of the Batman. A more cowed criminal force remains at large, but their weakened state is of much disappointment to the Joker (played with artistic force and psychotic glee by the late Heath Ledger.) Gotham’s recently emerged villain du jour, a dark and volatile psychopath, so perverse that he ends up frightening even the city’s own leading criminals. His goal is not wealth or power but rather to be the voice (and source) of chaos.
The story itself can be viewed as allegory for the well known psycho-spiritual phenomenon, the dark night of the soul. This ‘dark night’ is sometimes experienced by those who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of virtue and spiritual activism. It is somewhat like the darkness before the dawn. It results from tenacious efforts of the false ego to maintain dominance over the mind field. Consequently, the mind is overwhelmed with feelings of doubt, terror, and conflicting desires. At the worst moments the chaos reigns supreme. This is the capacity of the false ego in the mode of darkness and ignorance. The word for this in Sanskrit is tamasic. This tamasic energy in the uninspired person generally shows up as laziness, envy, hatred… but for the individual striving for virtue and betterment, this energy can take on a blackness (a heart aching, lonely, sense of desolation) that attempts to cover the heart. This is what has come to be known as the, ‘dark night of the soul.’ In the film, Gotham City is experiencing a dark night of the soul (personified by the Joker.)
A person experiencing the dark night of the soul is not to blame. This phenomenon is wired into the nature of material existence. Material energy is designed to confound us in various ways at different times; The dark night of the soul is one possible aspect of the material energy. Another is to cause us to identify with our bodies, our possessions, and our material desires. This is the role of Maya (represented in the film by asst. DA Rachel Dawes – who by the way represented intelligence in the film Batman Begins). Maya’s role in clouding the seeker’s heart and mind is part of the interplay of light and dark–the cosmic dance meant to push us onward and upward.
All the various dark, downward pulling energies work not just on individuals, but on the collective mind as well. One example of this in the Sanskrit texts is the dark and evil personality of Kali who rules over the Iron Age. (Yes [gasp] our present age – that explains all the greed, quarrel, and hypocrisy.)
In other words, the same thing that can happen to the human mind can happen to the world or the various epochs of time. The 18th century Sanskrit scholar Visnavatha Chakravati Thakur described how it is possible for the influence of a dark age (the aforementioned Kali Yuga) to enter into and influence a Golden Age (like Satya yuga.)
Other smaller, but equally vicious agents of change can be put into the game by the Big Guy. These dark force angels are responsible for wreaking havoc on behalf of the drama known as life. They are representatives of God who bring unimaginable hate and destruction. There are several examples of these in the Vedas: the evil Ravana in the Ramayan; the cruel and vicious Hiranyakasipu in the Vedic history of the Nirsinghadeva incarnation, and the malevolent and despicable Kamsa in the Mahabharata.
One might wonder, “What is the purpose of these evil doers?” But they are crucial to the unfolding of God‘s story or as they say in Sanskrit, lila. Remember that in the Vedic paradigm this whole reality we know so well is just a play, a dream, a construction for our benefit and our development. Bad guys are as important here as they are in any story. Without the protagonist there is no one to move the story forward.
Spoiler alert below!
The Joker plays the role of the dark force angel; he is even self aware of the nature and importance of his role. He doesn’t want anything materialistic. He is just here to teach lessons. The only way to beat the Joker at his game is to not surrender the values he is assailing. When he targeted deception and dishonesty, people died because Batman (who in our analogy to the mind would be compared to intelligence) did not want to surrender his identity. Batman’s dual identity is a rich example of how human intelligence becomes adversely identified with its various roles. When Joker targeted fear and selfishness and set the prisoners in one boat against the good citizens on the boat, they chose compassion and frustrated his dastardly plan altogether. When the Joker disguised evil henchman as hostages, and hostages as henchmen, only the refusal of Batman to accept things as they appeared, and his willingness to seemingly break the rules of conduct–attacking the so called “good guys” to prevent them from harming the true innocents–saved the day. This is what is known as protecting virtue as contrasted by the blind adhesion to virtue practiced by Harvey Dent.
The Joker as the Dark Night of the Soul is able to render the most ardent representative of virtue into an agent of darkness. Harvey Dent was a paragon of upholding virtue (dharma.) But he was known to cling too tightly to his values, creating a dual perception of himself; so much so that he was referred to as “Two-face” in his career as an investigator of police conduct. In the end his over adherence to rules and regulations (known in Sanskrit as niyamagraha) caused him to succumb to the dark influence. This is what happens to those who adhere to the rules simply for the sake of adhering without understanding the larger picture. There can be this dramatic reversal of roles, exemplified when the District Attorney goes on vigilante killing spree. In the end, only the influence of mature intelligence can prevent a warped aspect of the mind, a dysfunction (called an anartha in Sanskrit and represented by Harvey Dent as Two Face) from doing irreparable harm.
Another dark force angel the Joker has traits in common with is the personality of the planet Saturn, known as Shani in Sanskrit. Persons familiar with Vedic astrology are terrified of Shani coming to their house, i.e. influencing their lives. Shani brings sorrow, destruction, loss (although he also brings wealth to some). The lessons to be learned from Saturn is that virtue coupled with compassion, and free from material or ego gratifying desires, are the keys to success. Shani, like the Joker, cannot be eliminated only overcome.
Here is a summary of the Vedic model of the mind based on Samkyha (analytical) Yoga, with the corresponding characters from the film Dark Knight.
Mind : [Sanskrit –Manas] importer/exporter of data, the conscience; that which tells you, “That looks good”, or, “That looks bad.” Represented in the film by – Alfred, Lucius (The overall-inclusive mind field, i.e. ones “heart” is known as Antahkarana; represented by Gotham)
False ego: [Ahamkara] the I or id maker, that which ties you to the material realm; the false ego has three facets: 1) goodness, 2) change (for the sake of change), and 3) darkness (which was represented by the Joker.)
Intelligence: [Buddhi] the part of the mind that is supposed to protect you and lead you in the right direction, but if it succumbs to the false ego it works against you. When it is functional and mature it will do whatever is necessary to help get you back on the path of self development; even sacrifice itself. [Batman]
In the Vedic model it is super consciousness [Paramatma] that is the source of virtue. And the goal of the individual is to regain its original awareness of super consciousness and in this way rise above the influence of the mind altogether. A common underlying (and rarely acknowledged) theme to most modern hero and adventure movies is that without regaining the realm of pure spirit the cycles of life, death, good and evil continue unremittingly. Consequently any well written adventure movie will subconsciously remind us of this.
So while Dark Knight does not give us the answers to life (nor should it necessarily, after all, we are learning to think for ourselves) it does, however, give us an extraordinary, even operatic insight into the challenges facing the human mind.