Have you ever went to the cinema where the outside world peppered your viewing of the film so much that it ruined it completely? Some would argue that you can never look at any piece of art, let alone a film, from an objective viewpoint. Something always peppers your experience.
Why do some people like The Star newspaper and some The Irish Times? Why do some people watch The X-Factor and some Mad Men? Bourdieu thought that taste came to us partly through class distinctions and what part of the social strata that we happen to find ourselves in.
So, we find ourselves with opinions which to some extent are pre-ordained. That much is pretty obvious. Whether this is purely down to class, or even simply a highly developed personal sense of whats what, we are always influenced by something that comes before the art, a history that rests outside of it. And yet, the art obviously accesses a history, through the cues and beats of the story, say, or the rhythm of a brush stroke.
This is not what I am talking about. Have you ever had the real world bleed into your enjoyment of art, a film, so that it was ruined completely? This happened to me once before.
Though not a religious person, as a youngster I found the story of Jesus fascinating. I wrote a poem outlining how Jesus was a good man, with decent, honourable teachings, but he was a man nonetheless. This to me was more profound than the implication, through his divinity, that we could never be as good as him. I was a weird child! I showed the poem to my English teacher who was generally very supportive of the other stuff I gave her. Being quite religious herself, she simply gave me back the piece of paper on which it was written, stating in a soft non-threatening voice that the Resurrection was important.
Nobody’s perfect, me not least.
When I heard that Mel Gibson was making a movie about the life of Jesus, I have to say that I was intrigued. Mel Gibson had yet to become the racist, gibbering mess that he would. Later, I would read that on the set of Conspiracy Theory he sent a present of a dead crow to Julia Roberts.
Obviously, he was always a little odd. Perhaps all of Hollywood knew this fact, and never saw fit to release this vital information to the public at large. The film industry is filled with oddness, like most industries based around some kind of creative art.
But for me, at this time, the illusion still held. Mel Gibson was still your man who made Brave Heart, who starred in the Lethal Weapon movies, and who seemed like a pretty cool guy. So when I heard he was making a film about the life of Jesus, my curiousity was peaked.
What would he include? Would it be controversial? What would Gibson’s take on the world’s most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) carpenter?
So what was the film like? Torture porn, to put it simply. Basically, all the best bits of the Saw franchise, packaged lovingly for the bible bashers of our world. Nobody told me that Mel Gibson was a fundamentalist. But that’s not what ruined the film for. It was rather a foreshadowing of what was to come, a ghost of the future, one which, with hindsight, reflected the whole controversy surrounding the film in the first place. It did not so much ruin my experience of it as reflect and reinforce it before I saw the film. My reaction, what would have been my reaction, which probably would have grown somewhat throughout the ensuing controversy, was instead shaped and moulded before I even saw the bloody thing.
My friend had asked me to go. The screening was many months before the actual release of it, so the furore surrounding it had yet to begin. He was an interesting, sound guy, and his family were nice if a bit odd, but not in a negative way. They were very involved in the community, usually through the church. His mother used to hand out communion at mass. I just didn’t know many people like that in a suburban Dublin which had quietly thrown aside religion, years before the rest of the country followed suit.
I was not aware of the culture war between the believers and non-believers that was brewing. Or, if I was, I took a more inclusive approach, trying to see both sides of the story. Sometimes in vain; perhaps every time in vain. But that was and, I hope, is my way, or my goal. This may seem like a recipe for peace, but trust me, this can be a road to anywhere other than peace.
My friend’s family was just a bit odd, in the sense that I knew nobody else whose family was so involved in that side of things. The suburbs could be a harsh place, as Arcade Fire are well aware, a place where hopes and dreams find not soil and grass to grow in but concrete and brick.
It perhaps helped me that my mother was from the country, and she inspired within me the countryside as an aspiration, as a break from suburbia, as another way to be. Perhaps.
I admired my friend’s family in some way, in their attempt to rewrite history and actively create one for a community that had none. This is always the problem of suburbia - the fake, virtual sense of history, poorly manufactured, always fractured, simply a surface detail detailing a deeper ennui. I admired them, to a point. They had to spirit, like pioneers in old America, to carve out a place to live and survive. If they had to convert the natives, what of it? They would have to convert the natives.
I know that my friend did not actively bring me to the screening of The Passion of the Christ with the hope of saving my eternal soul. That wasn’t him. He knew I’d be interested in it, so he asked me to go. That was that, exactly what it was.
We went to the screening. We all sat down to watch the film. I noticed that there were a lot of old people at it. The film started. About five minutes through, in the Garden Gethsemane, the lights came back on and the screen went blank in a first act of betrayal. A man in his late twenties/early thirties came up to the front. He was skinny, with blonde hair and glasses. He thanked us all for coming. He said that he hoped that we would tell everyone we knew about the film, that we would “spread the good news”, so to speak. He even had leaflets for us to give out!
I was not impressed. Suffice to say, the film began afresh, resurrected from that original affront. But the damage was done. My viewing experience was soured. The world had well and truly encroached. A spectre of what was to come haunted it, a shadow of what was to come, a shadow of the impact that the film would have.
Gibson would appear in an episode of South Park, depicted as mad sadist who smears his own shit on his face. I didn’t get that exactly from this little introduction. But what I did get was the militancy of both sides that was to come. That they were relying on a film which showed Jesus being tortured brutally, dying, and rising again - not to mention an androgynous devil disappointed at Jesus’ victory over death - with not so much as a whiff of his teachings told me something.
The time for intellectual debate was over. This was might against might. Violence was being waged on a metaphysical level. This was what he went through for your sins, Goddamnit! That’s all there is to it. Our way or the highway. And the other side was gearing up for something similar. Lumped in with atheism was the belief in science and its wonders. Now, it has shown us a great deal. But I must say, I have seen more people get offended and pissed off at religion, pissed off when people questioned evolution, than I have seen religious nuts. They belonged to internet news stories about the madness of America.
Don’t get me wrong, I am uneasy with both sides. I lean towards science naturally, for that is the explanation I have grown up with, though my curiousity brings me back to philosophy, best encapsulated by one of its first disciples. When Socrates was told that he was the wisest man in Athens, his reaction was one of disbelief. I know nothing, he proclaimed. That was what made him the wisest man in Athens.
While many scientists themselves must hold such an outlook, it is how science comes down to us, how it is presented as an alternative to religion by Dawkins, or how Brian Cox waxes lyrically and rather poetically about the wonder of the universe as interpreted through the scientific prism, that puts it in the position of being a belief system. This is not about what the right answer or the wrong answer. It is about that basic human need to have an answer.
To put oneself in Socrates’ position is either to be a fool, a revolutionary, or to open yourself to divergent possibilities. I’m just not sure which.
Part of the reason my friend’s family were strange was because they were not enlightened suburban secularists like the rest of us. I thought that was fine. It wasn’t for me, but they did good work for the area, and they had a sense of duty I found admirable. They had a place.
Then your man at the front of the cinema told me that I should spread the good word which was, going by the film, our way or the highway. And both sides knew it.
After the screening I was fuming. I’m sure my friend noticed, though he did not confront me, nor me him. We simply allowed it to be what it was, as we waited for a bus home on that dull winter day.
Was my experience of the film ruined? Probably not. I would have loathed it anyway. In that way, it served as a kind of premonition, a warning of what was to come. It showed explicitly art bleeding into the real world. I write that sentence as if it were ever not a part of it.
Yesterday evening in Denver, Colorado, a guy one year younger than me killed twelve people and injured fifty at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.
What can we say about that?