Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Opposites don't necessarily attract

Subject: Cinema
As a symptom of me "running out of anime", a couple of actual real-people movies slipped into my GreenCine queue again. Quite a rarity.

I started off the evening with disc 1 of "The Yakuza Papers", a series of classic 70's Japanese gangster films. This disc is set in the early post-war era and tracks the formation of a Yakuza gang and tells their story. It's a little dated in a lot of ways, but there's also a lot of ingredients in there that you'll find in most post-modern Hollywood ganster films, like Al Pacino's version of "Scarface", all the way up to "The Sopranos". Another interesting aspect is that, unlike Hollywood, murder by gun is usually a messy, many-many bullet affair, and there's generally a lot of fear and anxiety in the actual act. Still, it does tend towards a bit of a cheesy bloodfest, but even so, the characters are interesting to watch, and it's entertaining overall, even if it's not high art.

On the opposite side of the spectrum was the 1955 Danish film by Carl Dreyer: "Ordet". For once, my word-association game came right into play in the very first minutes. "Meticulous", I thought. The details of the set, the performances, the blocking, the camerawork -- all of it was very precisely staged and choreographed. And at first, I figured I wouldn't particularly be drawn into it, being as formal as it was.

The story hinges on the differences between different residents of a small rural town who believe in different flavors of Christianity. They both seem fundamentalist in their ways, but their seemingly insignificant differences are a barrier between them. In the middle of it all, though seemingly at the margins, is the son of one family who has "studied a little too much Keirkegaard", and now wanders around believing that he's the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ.

Sounds weird, but remember, this is a very formal, very staid, 1950's Danish film; apparently based on a play by Kaj Munk.

At any rate, the characters and the simple scenarios we're set up with draw you into the story, at least out of intellectual curiosity, despite the religious thematics. And then it hits with a heavy hand and draws you into a very sad, very realistic situation; a tragic, unexpected death of one of the characters.

I wasn't entirely prepared for that, but I managed alright. I found myself with a lot more appreciation for some of the aspects of how they were presenting the aftermath of it -- how the characters were reacting, the emotions (or masking thereof) in the unfolding of events.

But then I wound up greatly dissappointed at the very end. Which probably says a lot about me.

I'm no longer a religious person. For a while, many years ago, I was firmly Catholic, and very convinced about the spiritual teachings I had been brought up with. There was no one single event, per se, that changed all of that -- just an overall realization and understanding that supplanted those notions over time. But I don't hold any of my past beliefs in contempt, nor do I think any less of anyone who still genuinely holds them.

But at the very, very end, a miracle occurs. And I was strangely very dissappointed by that.

Earlier in the movie, it seemed like a miracle would occur then, too; right at the point of that character's death. And when it seemed like it was about to happen, I was more accepting of it; it would be a feel-good fine relief to the tension that had built up. And it would be totally realistic.

But then she actually died, suddenly, after everyone thought she was recovering. (which experiencially was kind of harsh for me, but like I said, I managed). Then there was the meticulous portrayal of the final moments of the wake. Again, kind of harsh for me at this time. But fascinating at the same time at how much more I was able to identify with different aspects of what was going on in the different characters than I probably would have previously. The moments were a whole lot more authentic than I probably would have realized, despite the meticulous staging.

And sorry to spoil the ending, but then in the last moments of the film the delusional Keirkegaard-damaged character walks in the room and the miracle occured (gee, just guess what that was). And it was almost a betrayal of all the reality that had been interjecting itself up to this point.

It was a moving moment, most assuredly. And it's not like I wanted her to actually be dead; she was a great character and I liked her a lot. But, reality is reality! I find absolutely zero comfort in the notion that, if I just had a little more faith in a Christian god, that a loved-one could have been brought back from the dead, or even spared of it in the first place. It's almost kind of insulting, and I think I would have found it as such back when I actually believed.

So I guess if there was a more symbolic meaning to it all, it wound up being lost on me after they pulled that stunt. I was quite content to accept all of the moments as they were presented, and even accept the opposing theological viewpoints as a point of philosophy. I also guess that I probably wouldn't know how to have ended it otherwise besides a very sad, solemn, final closure. But I guess I figured that a Nordic film wouldn't have shied away from such a thing. I guess 1955 was too soon for that.

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