Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Final 10 minutes of the movie. Absolutely beautiful

Friday, March 23, 2007

Religion Analysis Essay 3

Question: Compare and contrast the central aspects and concepts of Mahayana Buddhism with those of the Theravada tradition. How is Mahayana continuous and discontinuous with Theravada Buddhism? Is Mahayana Buddhism Buddhism?

Religion Analysis Essay 3

If Buddha were to wake up in his grave, and stroll the earth, would he be pleased with the direction modern day Buddhism has taken? Currently there are two major schools of Buddhism. The first is the school of Theravada, also known as the ‘Way of the Elders”. The second major school we will be discussing is Mahayana, also known as the “Great Vehicle”. Some may view these two schools and mistake them for being like two denominations in Christianity, but upon analysis we find that they’re completely different. Upon comparing and contrasting the two, we will come to a conclusion on which Buddhism Buddha would most likely agree with.

First we will discuss the older of the two: Theravada. This school is of Buddhism is focused on the liberation from suffering (Dukkha), through the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path. The school is non-theistic, meaning that it holds no belief in a God. It also holds no belief in a soul (Atman), and is materialistic in nature. It’s more of an effort of meditations, experience, and self-control in hopes of achieving enlightenment and Nirvana (a state where you achieve freedom from Samsara through extinguishing the ‘self illusion’). It teaches the quickest way to enlightenment as being an enlightened disciple of a Buddha (or an Arhat). In this school, an individual achieves enlightenment through firm focus and meditation on the Pali Canon (collection of Buddha’s writings), as well as following the Four Noble Truths and leading oneself to realize Nirvana through extinguishing the ‘self’. Theravada has clearly defined roles for lay-persons and Monks, and is focused on adhering to the teaching of the Buddha as shown in Buddhist Canon. Theravada focuses on a suppression of desire, and an individual route towards enlightenment.

The second major school of Buddhism is Mahayana. This religion seems extremely different than Theravada in many of its beliefs. For starters, Mahayana isn’t non-theistic, but actually makes Buddha into a God-Man being. In addition to Buddha’s God-man status, individuals known as Bodhisattvas are seen as savior like demi-Gods, with savior-like merit giving powers. The role of a Bodhisattva is extremely important in Mahayana. Bodhisattva’s are individuals who have dedicated themselves to aiding all sentient beings in achieving Buddhahood. They also take this savior-like role in that they transfer their good merits (Karma) to others, and believe this transfer of merit will help the person achieve a better reincarnation and a better chance at Buddhahood. They basically make a pledge to stay here on earth until they aid every last individual in attaining enlightenment. In addition, Mahayana is more of praise and worship oriented school with more of a focus on salvation than liberation.

The major differences between Mahayana and Theravada is that Mahayana believes that everyone will become a Buddha, the element of compassion through transferring merit, the element of salvation instead of liberation, the inclusion of a Buddha-God-Man, Demi Gods, and celestial realms, and that there is a Buddha Nature (A Buddha-Like soul in every individual). It is the celestial, divine, Buddha Nature, and salvation themes that give rise to a conflict between Buddha’s teachings and that of the Mahayana school. Buddha was rather obvious in telling us to ignore these divine and celestial themes in hopes of achieving personal enlightenment, and taught that the achievement of ‘salvation’ was an internal struggle, and could not be attained by another person’s actions (Bodhisattva’s). For these reasons, I believe Buddha himself would disagree in calling Mahayana Buddhism, Buddhism.

-Leonard O Goenaga

Religion Analysis Essay 2

Question: Compare and contrast the meanings of "salvation" (moksha, nirvana) and "the self" (atman) according to Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism.

Religion Analysis Essay 2

In Hinduism and Buddhism, we find the two religions presenting two various solutions to a common problem. This common problem is that of Samsara, which is the ongoing cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Both Hinduism and Buddhism are attempts at eliminating this problem; yet present two completely different methods. Hinduism aims at achieving a transcendent state called Moksha; which is defined as a “release from the cycle of rebirth impelled by the law of karma” , and which results with ultimate peace and knowledge of Atman (self) and Brahman (transcendent reality, God). However, Buddhism aims at achieving a transcendent state called Nirvana; which is defined as a state “in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and Samsara” . The two religions offer different solutions to ending the cycle of Samsara, and conflict in not only how you achieve it, but also what achieving it leads to and what role the self (atman) plays in the end of Samsara. Throughout the essay we will focus on the two religion’s methods of ending Samsara, the role the self (atman) plays in Moksha and Nirvana, and where the two religions agree and argue.

The first major difference of the two religions that must be pointed out is the role of Brahman. Buddhism takes an atheistic approach, which leads to an inner struggle for liberation, while Hinduism holds the belief in a transcendent Godhead reality known as Brahman. In Hinduism, Brahman is defined as an eternal, genderless, infinite Being, who is the Absolute reality. The role of Brahman is important in understanding Moksha because the paths leading to the liberation of Samsara occur when an individual’s soul (Atman) realizes it’s a source of this Super Soul called Brahman. In Hinduism, this realization and Moksha can be done through various paths (Yoga’s). Various paths are given, and different Hindu philosophical schools put emphasis on different paths. One path in particular is that of Bhakti Yoga, or complete loving devotion to God. We find this form of Yoga in the message of Krishna in the The Bhagavad Gita, where he tells Arjuna to “Keep me in your mind and devotion, sacrifice to me, bow to me, discipline your self toward me and you will reach me!” . By the yoga of devotion, one can achieve Moksha and have their self ‘reach’ the Ultimate Self (Brahman). Other Yoga’s that can lead to this realization of Atman (soul/self) and Brahman, and thus lead to Moksha, come in the form of selfless work (Karma Yoga), Knowledge (Jnana Yoga), and meditation (Raja Yoga).

In Buddhism, we do without this Brahman and the Yoga’s. As we saw with the case of Bhakti Yoga, the Godhead (Krishna in our example) is needed to devote oneself to and achieve Moksha. However Buddha states that we waste our time trying to understand Gods, and that it is useless. Buddhism takes a non-theistic approach to achieving Moksh;, which in Buddhism is known as Nirvana. Buddha taught that liberation was achieved through enlightenment, which is done through the knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are “1. Dukkha (suffering), 2. Samudaya (the arising or origin of dukkha), 3. Nirodha (the cessation of dukkha), 4. Magga (the way leading to the cessation of dukkha).” . The Four Noble Truths lead to the cessation of ‘suffering’, and this is done through what the Buddha taught as the Noble Eightfold Path. In Hinduism we find Moksha through the path of Yoga’s, while in Buddhism we find Nirvana and liberation through the Four Noble truths which lead to the cessation of suffering; which is the done through the Eightfold path (right understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration).

In Hinduism, Moksha is the liberation of the Atman in Samsara, and in Buddhism Nirvana is the extinguishing of this Atman. This issue of the self is a sharp contrast between the two religions. Hinduism teaches that one must realize that the self (Atman) is part of the Super Soul known as Brahman (which is done through Yoga’s), while Buddha taught that “the idea of self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and mine…and other defilements, impurities, and problems” . This ‘self illusion’ prevents that person from reaching enlightenment through the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Buddhism literally teaches that the self (Atman) is the cause of all the suffering (dukkha) one experiences.

Buddha’s experience of the failure of the Yoga’s and Hinduism lead to his teachings. We find the two religions agreeing in there being this ongoing state of samsara, yet providing completely different solutions to it. On one side, Hinduism states that we have a self/soul (Atman), and that ‘salvation’ is attained through the Yoga’s, which lead to the realization of the Atman and the Brahman. On the other side, Theravada Buddhism states that we have no self or soul (no-self), and that we must eliminate this illusion of Atman (self) through the Four Noble Truths (cessation of Dukkha), which is done with the Eightfold Path. In the end, we are left with two interesting and conflicting takes on an even more interesting problem.

-Leonard O Goenaga

Religion Analysis Essay 1

Question: What are the three paths to salvation encountered in the Bhagavad-Gita. Explain the meaning of each of the paths and compare and contrast each with the others. Does the Gita favor one path to salvation or does it consider the others equally valid? Justify your answer with quotes from the Gita that illustrate your exposition of the paths. Do not just quote any text but explain how the texts you are quoting apply to the path you are explaining (in other words, be very selective and choose texts that are illuminating and relevant).

Religion Analysis Essay 1

In the Bhagavad Gita we are presented with the story of Krishna (the Avatar of Vishnu), who is also the charioteer of a prince named Arjuna. The Gita is set in the brink of a war that’s about to break out between Arjuna and various relatives and friends. Arjuna suddenly becomes depressed with the thought of murdering those he cares about, and as he begins renouncing the violent actions he seeks Krishna’s advice. Krishna then begins sharing his divine knowledge with Arjuna, and tells him three paths (Yoga’s) that lead to ‘salvation’. This salvation is in the form of the realization of Brahman, or the realization of the ultimate impersonal divine essence of the universe. Upon attaining this truth, one achieves Moksha, which is freedom from rebirth or reincarnation. Krishna offers three paths (Yoga’s) that Arjuna can take in order to achieve oneness with the Ultimate Truth and Moksha (salvation; freedom from Samsara).

Upon being freed from the cycle of rebirth, Krishna teaches that one is united with this Brahman, and that salvation comes in the form of becoming one with this Ultimate Impersonal Essence. The three paths he teaches are selfless action (Karma Yoga), self-transcending knowledge (Jnana Yoga), and devotion (Bhakti Yoga). We will evaluate these three throughout the essay, as well as discuss which of these three Krishna saw as most important. As we discuss these different paths, we will search for how they help one achieve realization of Brahman.

The first path we will discuss is that of action (Karma Yoga). This is presented early to help address Arjuna’s problem with fighting the war, and his role as a warrior. Throughout the Gita, Krishna makes it clear that Arjuna is merely killing a body that houses a soul (Atman), and that he cannot hurt the soul inside the body. Krisha tells Arjuna to “be intent on action, not on the fruits of actions; avoid attraction to the fruits and attachment to inaction” . He teaches Arjuna to act without worrying on gain or loss, and to act without attachment. He teaches that “a man of inner strength whose senses experience objects without attraction and hatred, in self control, finds serenity” Arjuna can gain ‘salvation’ through acting without expectations or worries, and that this leads to a purified mind and the serenity of Moksha. By acting without the distraction of sense pleasures, gain, and expectation, Krishna tells Arjuna that “one finds the pure calm of infinity” , and this infinity is the ultimate truth of Brahman; which leads to salvation.

Besides the path of action (which fits Arjuna most as a warrior), Krishna teaches the path of knowledge (Jnana Yoga). This knowledge comes in the form of being able to discern what is truth, what is eternal, and what isn’t. As I mentioned earlier about the mortality of the bodies, this path focuses on being able to discern what is eternal (the Atman, or soul, in the soldiers) and what is not (the soldiers physical bodies). This leads a person to realize the one True Self (Brahman) is everywhere, and realizing this is true knowledge. “When ignorance is destroyed by knowledge of the self, then, like the sun, knowledge illumines ultimate reality” , and this ultimate reality is that Brahman is everywhere; even in the Self. Destroying ignorance is attained when one realizes that they are one with this Ultimate Reality, and this knowledge leads someone to attain salvation by realizing Brahman. Krishna states that “Knowing me as the enjoyer of sacrifices and penances…he finds peace” , which means that through the knowledge of the transcendent-self and Krishna, one finds peace (salvation).
The third path is that of devotion (Bhakti Yoga). This path comes in the form of a complete loving devotion to Krishna. Here, Krishna explains that salvation and moksha are achieved through complete devotion to Him: “Keep me in your mind and devotion, sacrifice to me, bow to me, discipline your self toward me, and you will reach me!” . In this path, Krishna teaches that salvation is as easy as “relinquishing all sacred duties to me [Krishna], make me your only refuge…” and by doing this Krishna says “…I shall free you from all evils.” Salvation, and one-ness with Krishna, can be attained merely by devoting yourself completely to Him. By doing this, Krishna will free Arjuna from all evils, and Arjuna will “attain the eternal place that is peace” .

Throughout the Gita, Krishna teaches that these three paths lead to what we would call ‘salvation’; however Krishna makes it very clear that one is more important than the others. The Gita itself acts as a Bhakti text, and the main idea behind it’s story of Krishna and Arjuna’s conversation is that salvation can be achieved by devoting yourself to Krishna. Arjuna comes to this realization at the very end, where he tells Krishna “…My delusion is destroyed, and by your grace I have regained memory; I stand here, my doubt dispelled, ready to act on your words” . With Arjuna using this path to salvation, and it being suggested by Krishna, we come to the conclusion of it being the most important and significant path in attaining ‘salvation’.

-Leonard O Goenaga

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Journal 8

Movies: Daybreak, The Seventh Seal

Week 3/11/07-3/17/07

Journal 8,

In this journal, I would like to compare and contrast some themes found in The Seventh Seal and Daybreak. Even though both fields are from completely different countries, with completely different cultures, and starkly different languages, we can draw several shared themes.

The first theme I would like to discuss that was mentioned in my last post was that of the unknowable. Both films aim at putting you in the position of the lead character. Both films put you in this position where you’re given as little information on the situations as the main characters. In The Seventh Seal, you’re not told whether or not God exist, or whether or not there is a meaning to existence. This is shown throughout Blocks journey through Sweden as he tries to find answers. We are not given enough information, just like Block, to knowingly come to a conclusion on meaning and Gods role in society. Throughout the film we are hinted at the existence of God (mainly through Jof and not the grotesque mutilating worship), but not enough to come to any solid conclusions.

In this same way, we’re put in the position of Mansour. The film takes the same technique of putting us in Mansour’s position, and does a beautiful job of allowing us to feel those raw uncertain emotions that plague Mansour. Throughout the film, I was at the end of my seat, wondering if the deceased guy’s family would show up to the next meeting. I was there with Mansour in my anxiety and anger at the lack of attendance from the family. It’s a beautiful thing when a film can provoke such emotions from it’s audience, and Daybreak does a beautiful job at bringing the audience into the film.

One image that strikes me throughout Daybreak is that of the tunnel and the train. They represent the journey made throughout the film. In The Seventh Seal’s case, we have the knight on his journey back to his plague ridden homeland, as well as his spiritual journey to find meaning. In Daybreak’s case, we have the flashbacks of his journey from living in the country side to the city, and then we have the emotional journey as he awaits forgiveness or extinction.

Both films play on this role of death in powerful anxious-inviting ways. In The Seventh Seal, we’re on the other side of the chessboard, watching as piece consumes chess piece, and wondering for how long Block can pull it off. In Daybreak were sitting nervously in Mansour’s cell, attending each execution meeting, only to be disappointed and emotionally sapped. Both characters have death hovering inches away. In Blocks case, it’s literally inches, while in Mansour’s we can feel the presence of it. In Daybreak, we can find death in the night before Daybreak, while we wait for Mansours judgment.

Both characters (and we the audience) are placed in this powerful position of unknowing. The only thing that’s absolutely certain in both cases is death, however this theme is slightly morphed in Mansour’s situation. In Daybreak, not even death is certain! Sure it will come at some time, but we don’t even know when! Even when we mentally and emotionally prepare ourselves, we’re only let down, and left with the task of mending our hope together over and over again. It makes you wonder whether Mansour’s Theocratic State of Iran is warping ‘justice’ through this system. Mansour gets the humanity sucked out of him. The mental and emotional preparation sucks the life out of him, and for this occurring every single time ends up leaving Mansour in a state beyond human. Although we do not know when physical death and punishment will arrive (or in it’s place, forgiveness), Mansour dies emotionally and mentally. Throughout the film we’re witnessing an empty man, whose already tasted death, but in another form. Which is worse; the death brought by the executive, or the death brought by it’s postponement?

What can this all tell us about the human condition? In Mansours case, can we find humans in situations worse than physical death? What is worse; the actual time of death, or the knowing moments leading up to them? They’re firm questions without answers.

This stage of not receiving answers is what makes these films so eerily realistic! What is more certain in life than not being able to predict tomorrow? No one can hop into tomorrow, or an hour in the future, and see what they’ll be doing. For all we know, we can be hit by a car on our way to work, and die instantly. In an instant, our most prized possession (life) can be drained from us, without even our awareness. What can this teach us? Life is extremely frail. We rarely dwell and celebrate such a fantastic delicacy. It’s such a blessing to live, to question, and to seek; yet we can’t even admire the most fragile and important component of our human existence: Existence itself!

What can these films teach us? I would rather say what these films can show us. Besides showing us how fragile life is, it shows us two characters who have became aware of it’s tender state, and how powerful the thought of losing life can be. Just as we stand side by side with our characters as they take step-by-step into the unknowing future, we should take away from this film a sense of humble gratitude for our frail existence.

As shown, the future is so unknowable! Nothing is truly certain. After fighting in the crusades, and nearly dying in battle on a daily basis, Block finds Death not on the battlefield but on a beach! I’m sure that’s the absolute last place he’d expect it! The irony of fighting 10 years in war, only to confront Death on the shores of your beloved home-country… It really puts into perspective the comment I made about stepping out of your car and life’s frailty.

Daybreak does the best job out of the two at portraying this unknowable. It fools us into believing a dream of Mansour’s execution as the end, and then sucks us from this dream, into his terrible reality. It’s as if the director really wanted to hit the message home by giving us one last tease. Then to really put things in perspective he left us at a cliffhanger. This wasn’t a normal cliché. This cliffhanger left us in the now.

This cliffhanger left us reminding ourselves of the moment, and once again, that ultimate unknowable: Tomorrow.

-Leonard O

The Last Year (Full)

Online Videos by

WARNING: This film contains AWFUL acting, dialogue, music, and a bland storyline. Some also may find some scenes offensive (gay oral, etc). It was a class-assigned film, so if you brave the task of watching it, you'll understand some posts.

-Leonard O

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Film: The Seventh Seal (Full)

The Seventh Seal (full)
"The Seventh Seal (full)" on Google Video
The Seventh Seal (Swedish: Det sjunde inseglet) is an existential 1957 Swedish film directed by Ingmar Bergman about the journey of a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) across a plague-ridden landscape. Its best-known scene features the knight playing chess with the personification of Death, his life resting on the outcome of the game.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Journal 7

Movie: The Seventh Seal

Week 3/4/07-3/10/07

Journal 7,

The Seventh Seal was quite an interesting piece of film. It’s nice to have the opportunity in the classroom to watch a film I wouldn’t ordinarily get the opportunity to watch, and The Seventh Seal was one of these. I really enjoyed it, and it probably ranks as my second or third favorite film of the semester.

To keep the summary short, the film is about a knight (Block), who tries to cheat and slow down death with a chess game. After returning from the Crusades, he finds his homeland swamped with the Black Plague, death, and suffering. He is torn between the purpose of his existence, and whether God exists or not. It is for this reason, to find meaning and God, that he tries to cheat Death in a chess game. This theme of meaning, existence, faith, death, and God lead us to the central theme of the movie.

The film is making the attempt at explaining through it’s symbolism, characters, and dialogue the role that religion and God play in humans, and human society. Block is absolutely torn between whether God exists, and why he exists. After witnessing merciless and savage imagery of death and violence in the name of God, he’s placed in another situation with Gods absence. The theme of Gods absence, and in Blocks appearance of God as unknowable is torturous. It appears Block is standing in the middle ground, between wanting to know God, and at the same time aggressively not wanting to. Throughout the film two characters express the scope of belief. On one side we have Blocks squire, who represents defiant unbelief. On the other side we have the actor Jof and his family, who represent simple faith. Smack down in the middle is our main character Block. He admits to having a God shaped hole in his heart, yet at the same time doesn’t make the effort to believe in faith, but rather appeals to his own philosophical and intellectual senses.

This brings us to another interesting point about the film. Block makes several efforts to ask questions, and appears to want answers, but doesn’t take the steps to find them. In the case where he goes to the confession booth, he begins to toss intellectual questions instead of honest confession. We never really see Block performing the steps of a faith-based believer. We never really see him praying to God, but rather find him cursing his name and his ‘unknowable’ nature. Another interesting imagery is the scene where Block, Jof, his family and the squire are sharing a meal of strawberries and milk. The liturgical imagery is extremely obvious, and the comparison to the Eucharist is easily made. Block states that he finds an hour of peace in this simple moment, which leads us to several ideas. First we notice that Block is somewhat borrowing this happiness from the actors. It’s as if he’s feeding off their own serene nature. Another point we can draw from the scene leads us to ask why he doesn’t seek solace in the form of a church-run Mass? We would guess that in such a duplicate event, he would try out a Mass in his efforts to find serenity, but fails to do so. It’s in line with his character of asking, shouting, and questioning but not actively seeking. As before we don’t see him in honest prayer, heart-felt confession, or humbled communion. Another interesting symbol behind the strawberry meal, is how it points in the opposite direction of a normal Mass. In replicating it in symbolism (the music on Jof’s instrument, the way Block holds the bowl like a chalice, etc) we gain new imagery. For starters the strawberries and milk are natural, while in the communion we use bread and wine which are foods and drinks made by man. I believe this is an effort by the director (A self proclaimed nonbeliever, and the real-life character of Block) to show how serenity and joy can be found in the simplicity of nature and reality. This could be a way for the director to make the statement that we discover the pain of questioning our meaning, by questioning, and to borrow from Buddhist thought: we are our form of suffering. All our philosophical and theological questioning leads us to suffer from the lack of answers. This is an idea that my mind tossed around while comparing and contrasting the meal with the Christian Eucharist.

So what is this film telling us about the human condition? First, we’re getting a rather empty feeling on Gods presence. The film opens up with a reference to Revelations, which states: "When he broke open the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour" (Rev 8:1). This is a clear sign of the ‘silence’ of God in the film. We are given signs in the form of Jof and his visions, but we’re never really satisfied in knowing if they are real, or fake. His wife even jokes around about them. With this empty feeling, we’re put into the ‘silence’ of Block. We cannot gain any questions from the simple faith-based Jof, nor from the kind-hearted but strictly-atheistic squire. We’re left to question and seek with Block. The film does this wonderfully! It places us in the position of the times (Suffering, Death, etc), and in the position of following Block in his quest for meaning and existence.

All that is certain in the film is that he will die, and this does not satisfy him. The personified version of Death is the proof of this, and not even death knows of God or the meaning of existence. He merely has a job, and provides no answers. Death, in himself, is the most unknowable unknown. He provides no answer, besides that in the human condition, he is the absolute truth that we will all experience. We begin to think that Block will find meaning in a ‘meaningful act’, but even after he tricks death and saves Jof and his family (They see Block and death playing chess and run away just in time), he still finds no meaning.

What is this trying to tell us? I think the message is that without God, there is no meaning. The quest of meaning is to find God. Outside of God, no acts or philosophy can provide us meaning. You can take this two ways. As the director, you can use this as a form of comfort (in knowing that there’s nothing after death, no meaning, but annihilation), or in Jof’s case of simple faith in God, which leads to a meaningful existence.

Outside of God, only death is certain. Without God, there’s no meaning beyond ones annihilation. This is the message that the film may hint at. You crave an answer to whether God exists, but the director does an intelligent job at making you question this. It puts you in the hungry and silent position of Block.

-Leonard O

Monday, March 5, 2007

Preview: Black Snake Moan

I wouldn't normally suggest a Movie like this (because of the extreme amount of sexuality and drugs), but someone from the community said it had spiritual themes. In the spirit of informing you guys out there about current films with religious themes, I decided to check out a review and got this:

"Raw, misguided, twisted and, despite the film's Deep South setting, typical Hollywood. Black Snake Moan finds preachers drinking and cussing alongside other supposedly "God-fearing Christians." For example, after spouting the s-word, R.L. launches into a prayer for Lazarus, asking the Heavenly Father to provide divine strength for his friend. Later, it's Lazarus who draws attention to the preacher's expressions of "g--d--n," saying, "In your line of work, I wouldn't use the Lord's name in vain."

But it isn't just the foul language—abundant as that may be—used by believers that's the biggest issue here. It's the unbiblical sermonettes that seem to pass as spiritual truth. While beating up his brother and threatening his life, Lazarus randomly speaks of how Cain slew Abel and "God put a mark on him for his sin." Not long after, we find R.L. excusing the bluesman's actions, adding, "I think you did alright by God under the circumstances."

More significantly, Lazarus transforms almost instantly from a levelheaded Good Samaritan into a malicious, crazed, shotgun-toting recluse ... after reading the Bible. When Rae objects to being chained up like an animal, he screams, "I saved your life, I can do whatever the f--- I want!" He then cruelly adds, "Like Jesus said, I gonna sup with you." It's similar to the heated meeting in which Lazarus' wife announces she's leaving him. After viciously grabbing her arm, he says, "God forgive you for what you done to me," then threatens, "You better pray, girl!" To which she responds, "Don't you put a curse on me!"

Amid several other references to God, heaven and church (including a reading of 1 Corinthians 13:11-13 at a wedding), a telling scene has R.L. sitting down for a heart-to-heart with Rae. The two talk candidly about the gospel message of repentance, which Rae thinks is ludicrous because "you can't just turn around and ask for forgiveness" after you've lived a lifestyle of sin—"Why would heaven want people like that?" R.L.'s response? "People carry on about heaven too much." Still, he's right on track when he says, "There's sin in my heart, evil in the world ... but when I'm all alone, I talk to God."

I don't see myself going out and watching it, so if you do make sure to tell me what religious themes you saw.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Journal 6

Movie: Garden of Eden, Acts of Worship, Shawshank Redemption

Week 2/25/07-3/3/07

Journal 6,

This week we didn’t watch a new film, but discussed ‘Garden of Eden’ and the others in more detail. One of the discussions we had during class was about the role of rituals in religious life. We touched upon everything from offerings, to the benediction, to sacramental. The role of these rituals in our past three films have been questionable. You could say that man needs ritual in their lives; or desires them to be there. I’ve always seen rituals as a way to keep mans life in some sort of order. It offers man some kind of control over their life, and maybe even gives man a sense that they’re controlling their fate.

As I learned in my Religion Analysis course, certain religion even take the extremes of believing rituals as a way of controlling Gods. We can even see this in modern day Kabbalism. From here we have an idea of how important (and powerful) this idea of ritual seems.

Now comes our various films. In all three (especially ‘Acts of Worship’), we get several images of objects that represent rituals. In ‘Acts of Worship’, we get ritualistic images that stretch from the statue of St. Jude to the prayer card. Yet the interesting thing is that throughout the film, these rituals seem not only powerless but useless. This theme of powerless and useless ritual is shown in Shawshank, Acts of Worship, and Garden of Eden.

This idea of ritual is shown in the Garden of Eden in two forms. The first form would be the various Latin Catholic images (the Mother Mary decal), and the second would be in the form of this local saint (John the Soldier).
This local saint plays a bigger role than we would initially believe. Our main characters visit the soldiers shrine, and pray for him to grant them safe passage. There’s nothing overtly interesting about the situation; it seems rather the norm for these Latin Catholics to seek the aid of a saint to grant them passage. The power behind the image is in how ineffective he is. This covers the previous theme of how religion, or a savior, cannot walk on over and save you. As we see in Garden, our Mexican male and American female take a statue of the saint with them over the border. When they successfully get across, you would think it was the efforts of their prayer at the shrine, and the help of the soldier saint.

However, upon their arrival to the Garden of Eden hotel, they find out it’s not what they expected. When everything starts to crumble, you begin questioning what role the soldier saint had in any of their adventures, and you begin to draw the idea that this physical Garden of Eden isn’t the paradise they’re supposed to be looking for. The role of the catholic imagery, and the failure of the saint to truly bring them to a state of paradise (not a place), gives you the idea that all that ritual and religion was rather powerless. You begin to look at the soldier saint as merely an again, who might have helped them physically get across the border (he forces you the question if he played a transcendental role)

The useless role of religion and images doesn’t end in The Garden of Eden. This same message is resounded in our other two films; Shawshank and Acts of Worship. In Shawshank, we have this environment of hypocritical Christianity through the vile rule of the warden. Here we have an individual trying to ‘rehabilitate’ it’s inhabitants upon the ethical code of the bible, yet he goes behind their backs and breaks this very ethical code. The Christianity of the Warden reflects that stale uselessness of Catholicism in The Garden of Eden. It’s interesting to note that Christianity plays no real role in Shawshank. It’s really just a way the Warden identifies himself, and it’s easy to make the suggestion that the Warden merely advocates it in an effort to seclude his illegal acts.

We also find that Christianity doesn’t ‘save’ anyone in the films. It’s something they appear to stay away from. Dufrain himself has some biblical knowledge, and uses verses to fool the warden, but this is the last we see of Christianity in use by our main characters. If anything, the individuals own acts ‘save’ themselves.

This same useless role is also seen in Acts of Worship. If anything, the end is questionable to the power of Christianity to alter someone, but we don’t get a direct answer to Alex’s change of heart. What caused her to seek goodness and change herself? Was it a conversion? I would guess so…

Either way, in Acts we find this same redundant imagery. We see Alex in an environment flooded with Catholic imagery. We find everything from statues of Saint Jude, to prayer cards littering a poverty stricken society. It’s as if religion is ineffective in helping all those drug addicts, prostitutes, and poor people. You almost get the feeling that religion is merely standing there, watching everything happening, and standing still. Religion is even shown to be more ineffective when we see Digna praying to God, only to find out later she dies of a drug overdose. It’s rather cruel to see her reaching out to God, only to find her die in a horrible way days later. It’s this death that really provokes Alex to step away from her drug-use, and seek help from her parents. As to whether she comes to God in the end, we don’t have an obvious answer.

In the end, we can conclude that Christianity would appear to play a lifeless and absent role in the three films, and does nothing more than add backdrop imagery.

-Leonard O

The Messianic Complex

The Messianic Complex in Film
By Leonard O Goenaga

Most of us (if not all) have sat through those wonderful films with the good-guy and the bad, and have watched as our hero single handedly saved the day (Star Wars anyone?). It’s probably the most cliché scenario in all of film: The Good Vs the Bad, and the actions of one man having single-handedly tilted the balance in favor of good.

Yet where exactly does this heroic concept come from? There’s many ways to argue it, but what exactly is it that appeals to us about good conquering? Why do we rejoice in the defeat of evil? What is evil? What I’m getting at is what is it about this hero ‘saving’ others that offers a profound insight into the our own human nature?

In various films we find something I call the messianic complex. In order to touch upon this, we must first define what makes up a messiah and savior...

“A Leader or Savior of a particular group or cause”
“The promised deliver of the Jewish nation prophesized in the Hebrew Bible”

“a person who saves, rescues or delivers.”

What exactly makes someone a Messiah? By our first definition, a Messiah could be as equally evil as good; after all Hitler was the Messiah of Nazi Germany, yet Hitler is probably the last person you’d think of when I’d say Messiah. But why is it that the ‘good’ messiah’s appeal to us? Why is it we share this universal concept of Evil, and desire a Messiah to play a role in what we appear to share as universal goodness?

That’s are all wonderful questions, but we won’t be finding answers in philosophical discussions about the nature of man, the concept of evil, and the question of goodness. Rather, we will look at the power of film as a medium and expression of ideas to draw idea’s on what makes a Messiah, and what this can tell us about our own human condition.

We have defined Messiah, so now let us define the human condition. I enjoy fragments of how Wikipedia puts it:

“The term is also used in a metaphysical sense, to describe the joy, terror and other feelings or emotions associated with being and existence.
What is the meaning of existence? Why was I born? Why am I here? Where will I go when I die? The human struggle to find answers to these questions — and the very fact that we can conceive them and ask them — is what defines the human condition in this sense of the term.”

In other words, what can the messianic role in film tell us about our own existence, and our own meaning? What type of truth can the Messianic role in film tell us of ourselves?

The three films that will fill this discussion is that of “Shawshank Redemption”, “El Jardin Del Eden”, and “Acts of Worship”. The latter two are Indy Films, while the first is one most of us recognize. These three films, which appear completely different in their storyline, all can tell us something about the Messianic role. By comparing the three, we will draw similarities on what it means to be a Messiah, and what relationship hope, faith, and salvation (concepts you find in the human condition) share with these Messianic roles.

Now I’m going to take it as given that you have some knowledge of the three films. If anything you can get some by reading synopsis’s online, or renting the movies yourself.

We start by evaluating three characters. Our first three characters are Red (Shawshank), Digna (Acts of Worship), and Jane (Garden of Eden). All three of these characters would initially appear to us to be taking on this savior role. We’ll break down the 3 cases with an explanation. As we discuss these characters, look for the idea of a ‘Garden of Eden’ (Place of Happiness and paradise), the idea of hope, the idea of inner-peace, submitting, the action of searching, and the idea of being ‘saved’.

I. Red

In Shawshank Redemption we have the character of Red. You would initially think that the movie was focused on Dufrain, but after evaluating it I would say it’s meaning is grounded around Red. Red has been imprisoned in Shawshank for years (30+). All throughout his stay he is the guy who can get you what you want. Whether a rock hammer, or a poster, he appears to be the man that can help others by getting them something that gives them meaning. So how does Red fit the role of a savior? For that we must look at where Red derives meaning from. What gives Red a meaning to his existence is helping others. This is a key concept because we will see how this is reflected in our other two would be ‘saviors’.

As the movie progresses, we learn about an old man named Brookes. Upon exciting the jail, he is plugged into the outside world. We would initially assume that he has left the hell of Shawshank and entered into the blessed outside world, or what we would assume to be the ‘Garden of Eden’ (paradise). Yet what happens of Brooks? He kills himself. He found meaning taking care of his bird and helping others in his occupation as librarian. We would assume that Red, being much like Brooks, would end up killing himself. When Red exits what we assume to be ‘hell’, he merely enters another in the form of meaningless existence. He even follows the same occupation as Brooke as a cashier, and the irony overflows in that he even stays in the same residency. It appears that Red has lost his meaning; which initially he believed was helping others. Yet Red does not kill himself. He takes upon the promise of Dufrain and goes on a ‘search’.

It is his willful decision of searching that is key (submission). Within the backdrop of the hypocritical religious system of the jail, Red never tries to find internal peace. Rather he finds meaning not with being at peace, but through trying to save others through helping them (such as the role he takes as trying to be somewhat of a savior to Dufrain by helping him get things). Though all this work, in the end, is meaningless. How does Red gain inner peace? How does Red find paradise? Did he finding it in others? No. Did he find it in what we would believe to be paradise (life outside of prison?). No. Did he even find it in the temporal physical paradise of the beautiful beach? No.

It was his faith, and his free willed decision to take the path towards internal peace and meaning; which is represented by the journey he makes to the wall and him willfully deciding to follow Dufrain (even though Red tells Dufrain that he would be useless to him outside the jail)

It is him finally discovering that it isn’t his actions that bring about paradise, but that it’s being content with who he is inside that bring it about. It stresses the idea that someone cannot only come and save you. Yes, Dufrain came and showed himself as someone who was in paradise even in prison, because he had hope and faith and was internally content; but Dufrain didn’t ‘save’ red.

Rather, Red saved himself…

II. Digna

Now we take up Digna. Digna is a rather admirable figure in herself. She is an ex-heroin addict struggling with the lure of addiction throughout her stressful occupation and life. She is even successful in her job.

Before we compare Digna to Red, lets compare the environment of both Red and Digna. Red = hell of the jail. Digna = the hell of the slums. In addition, we have this same backdrop of unsuccessfully religion. We are bombarded with constant images of Religion, and they appear somewhat unsuccessful and useless in the backdrop of the miserable existence of the slums. In Red’s case, we have hypocritical religion, while in Digna’s it’s rather ineffective.

So how are Red and Digna alike? Digna finds meaning in helping others as well. Just as Red derives meaning in helping his jail mates, Digna finds meaning in helping fellow druggies. It’s funny: Instead of Red and Digna trying to help themselves, they are helping people like them instead. Digna tries to help Alex (a heroin addict), yet even in the backdrop of ineffective religion, she cannot help herself. Instead of trying to find internal peace and paradise, she tries to change others and change her environment (the slums) into a paradise.

Red tries making the Jail into a better place by getting people what they want.

Digna tries to make the slums a better place by helping druggies.

Yet it is Digna’s lack of finding inner peace that leads to her temptation into doing drugs, and dying from overdose.

III. Jane

Jane is another very interesting character. As above, let us compare the environments first.

Jane has crossed into poor Mexico in hopes of finding meaning and ‘paradise’. Yet instead of looking inside out, she tries to help the Mexican people. This is made evident in her trying to help a native by getting her a job. Our environment is once again the same. All-throughout the film we have images of Religion as ineffective; especially in the poor background of Mexico.

So Jane is wandering around, trying to find herself in helping others, and rather failing. Even when she helps a Mexican native cross the border and find the “paradise” of the ‘Garden of Eden’ Inn, she fails in him and a child leaving her. Every time she tries to help others, she fails to find that meaning. This is even made obvious when the Mexican stops her from helping a Mexican family send a dead child back to mexico.

It’s interesting that our three characters are in nasty environments (that we would believe to be hell), and they get to places that we would believe to be paradise, or the Garden of Eden (literally in Janes case), yet even when they get there they really don’t find paradise. What is this trying to tell us about our human condition? Maybe it’s trying to tell us that the human condition of finding meaning isn’t a literal adventure that you take to find a temporal environment. Also, maybe it’s trying to tell us that we also won’t find paradise in merely helping others. Yes; helping in love is incredibly noble, but the feeling we get from these three films is that it doesn’t ‘save’ us.

What does it mean to be saved? I would think it would mean to be rescued from your environment; whether it be the hell of a poor Mexico, the jail of Shawshank, the slums of the Inner City ghetto, or even the outside world in general. Rather paradise, and being saved in it, means to find internal peace.

Internal peace is something that you can carry with you wherever you go. In Dufrain’s case, when he enters Shawshank, he doesn’t find paradise in his library (although we might think he does). Heck, he doesn’t even find paradise in the physical paradise of a paradise (The Mexican Beach). Rather he had paradise all along. He had it inside of him, and he was able to carry it with him in the hell of the prison and the outside world. No matter his location, he had it with him. No one could even take it away from him; as we see in the case of the Sisters and the evil Warden.

Then let us look at Red. Red joins Dufrain on the beach, and doesn’t find paradise there. After all, he received meaning from helping others, and as he said he would be useless to Dufrain on the beach because “it was different”. Yet isn’t it ironic that he finds paradise at that point that he submits and realizes that it’s not his efforts to help Defrain that gives him meaning, but on being internally content. The Mexican beach is symbolic of this. It shows us Red in an environment where he’s completely useless but finally in ‘paradise’.

We can even made this comparison to Alex in ‘Acts of Worship’. She leaves her hometown to find meaning in the city, yet she finds nothing. Rather it is the act of her submitting to God that she finally finds internal peace. It’s ironic that she finds peace in herself and this leads to her allowing to be in ‘paradise’ back at the place she left to begin with.

So what does this tell us about the messianic complex and the human condition? It shows us that the ‘good guys’ and saviors can come and show us a way, but they cannot literally save us. Our messianic complex isn’t something that we fulfill by going out and saving the day, but rather by saving ourself. These three films teach us that paradise is not a physical place, but being at peace in any place. These films show us that the only real savior is not he who tries to find meaning in helping others, or even a place of peace, but rather that we are our own saviours.

It is the act of humbling ourselves and understanding that our actions and environments are not paradise, but that paradise starts from inside of our being. What does this say of the human condition to find meaning? I would think it says that meaning comes from being humbly content with who you are, and this will result with being content wherever you are.

The Garden of Eden isn’t a place you can buy a ticket to, or buy your way into (by helping others), but rather it’s a place that can only be entered through being humbled and understanding that your own efforts cannot saved you. You are saved in knowing this humility and peace. Although we as humans try so hard to go out and find meaning, we forget that meaning has been with us since the beginning, and waits for us to as we try to find it ourselves. It’s a profound truth about why we exist: to find meaning, and where this meaning is.

In other words, you are not a savior, or a messiah, but rather you have been saved to begin with, and you merely need to recognize this.

God Bless!

Humor: Monty Python

In now ways is there supposed to be some rich evaluation of this scene. It's just for good fun ;D