Doctor Strange [spoilers within]…

The latest installment from Marvel Comics and Disney Studios is 2016’s Doctor Strange.

It tells of Doctor Stephen Strange, who is a brilliant but egotistical neurosurgeon who through a twist of misfortune ends up crippled and unable to perform surgeries.

doctor-strange-checkmate_keyframe_3_jsze_101314

Much like Bruce Wayne’s genesis as Batman, Dr Strange journeys into the Himalayas to search out the Ancient One and learn the mystical arts of healing. 

Also, like many comic book and hero stories, Strange learns of unique giftings hidden within him and an uncanny aptitude to learn magic and sorcery. With the aide of a side kick and several magical items such as a levitating cloak and necklace which can bend time, Strange becomes a serious force to contend with in the magical realm.

7-8doctorsstrange

The story is classic hero journey.  A skeptical scientist carries the audience with him on a journey into mystery, thrown from his comfortable reality into the depths of dream and deep psyche. 

On this journey, he discovers mentors, allies, enemies and magical weapons and touchstones.

Strange’s story reaches denoument when he faces a choice – he can channel healing into his hands and return to love and career – or he can stay and battle forces of evil, a broken man the rest of his days. 

His choice to remain, carries him to the very nexus of evil, to face the Dormammu or the Dark Dimension.

doctor-strange-1

Herein lies on the most startling hero motifs of any sci-fi or fantasy I have seen for a long time. 

Doctor Strange with the aid of his time bending amulet, creates a loop of time in which he and Dormammu are trapped without end. In doing so, he willingly condemns himself to infinite death so that humanity may live.

Our hero takes infinite death that humanity might live……..

This saviour motif resonates time and time again, throughout stories, myths and legends of many cultures. Too many to recount. 

doctor-strange-marvel-movie-poster-trailer

All in all, the film relies too heavily on computer generated effects and the at times the plot is clumsily narrated through longwinded dialogue. Nevertheless the cast are brilliant and some genuinely witty interchanges brighten the story.

I give it – three out of five stars.

 

Advertisements

Where Are The Female Superheros

A strong theme of Bear Skin is how narrative both reflects the world and shapes it. Story is educative, story asserts a view, story informs and we viewers and readers engage, and re-tell and become.

Deeply truthful stories are vital to good and strong society. This wonderful TED talk by Christopher Bell sums up the importance of this fact by addressing the place of strong female role models in narrative, not only for little girls, but also for little boys.

___

But here’s the question that I have to ask. Why is it that when my daughter dresses up, whether it’s Groot or The Incredible Hulk, whether it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi or Darth Maul, why is every character she dresses up as a boy? And where are all the female superheroes? And that is not actually the question, because there’s plenty of female superheroes. My question really is, where is all the female superhero stuff?Where are the costumes? Where are the toys?

Because every day when my daughter plays when she dresses up, she’s learning stuff through a process that, in my own line of work, as a professor of media studies, we refer to as public pedagogy. That is, it is how societies are taught ideologies. It’s how you learned what it meant to be a man or a woman, what it meant to behave yourself in public, what it meant to be a patriot and have good manners. It’s all the constituent social relations that make us up as a people. It’s, in short, how we learn what we know about other people and about the world.

Tommy Taylor: The Unwritten

Written by Mike Carey and illustrated by Peter Gross, “The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity” is the first episode in a graphic novel series first released in 2010.

TT 4

The novel tells three interweaving stories. The first tells of three kids Tommy, Peter and Sue, facing the wicked wizard Count Ambrosio. Tommy Taylor has dark hair and round glasses and has a wheel tattoo which aches when his nemesis is near. [Harry Potter much ?]

tommy

Tommy speaks the words of a spell defeating Ambrosio but injuring himself in the process. Bruised and dying, Tommy cannot survive the encounter but his friends know the prophecy and taking Ambrosio’s trumpet, they sound the final note.

unwritten_botm_1

The second tale is set in the present day, Tom Taylor is a celebrity doing the rounds of comic conventions. His father, Wilson Taylor authored the wildly successful comic book series about boy wonder “Tommy Taylor”.  His father’s sudden disappearance at the height of his fame, meant Tom unaccomplished in his own right, has been the face of his father’s work.

TT 3

During a comic convention Q&A, Tom is accused by journalist Lizzie Hexam to be an impostor. Evidence emerges that Tom’s childhood records have been fabricated.

 reporter

Fans begin to agitate for the truth about Tom’s identity. One fan, steeped in Tommy Taylor lore, claims that Tom is the “word made flesh” and is the incarnate form of the boy written into the comic books. This fan theory is dismissed as the bogus ramblings of a crazy man but Tom is shaken by it. Framed as an impostor, pursued by crazed fans thinking him to be the real Tommy Taylor made flesh, Tom flees to Europe to track down information about his deceased father.

TT 5

Here Tom is framed for murder by Pullman, a mysterious hitman.

nemesis

The third tale is a behind the scenes account of sinister characters seeking to rewrite public opinion and conceal the truth of Tom’s identity.  In an epilogue famous authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and finally Wilson Taylor interact with mysterious suited gentlemen who offer literary fame in exchange for adherence to their agenda. The ascendency or decline of these authors is determined entirely by the whims and caprices of these mysterious men.

Unwritten_Vol_1_3

The three stories begin to strangely intertwine as the narrative continues. The mysterious suited gentlemen  frame Tom as a murderer but while Tom is being arrested, the winged cat Mingus, his childhood companion from the comic series appears to him.

TT 2

Once in jail, Tom encounters Lizzie Hexam and another inmate Savoy, both reporters who have planted themselves in jail to shadow Tom. Together they plot an escape. Lizzie reveals she is still in touch with Wilson Taylor the author of Tommy Taylor and uses an magic door knob from the comic books to break out from jail. Tom, Lizzie and Savoy, now mirror the three young characters, Tommy, Peter and Sue, from the Tommy Taylor stories. The door knob carries the three into a series of parallel stories.

tom t

It seems we are a party three layers of authorship. While it seems that Tom lives in the real world while Tommy Taylor exists in the scripted world of comic books. However, increasingly it is revealed there exists a higher world vying for control of Tom’s life indicating he is perhaps the one and the same Tommy Taylor written into different scenes, but one with moral agency and self-consciousness.

TT

The stories explore the interesting nexus between fiction and the human consciousness. Is Tom in fact also Tommy, and is he still the subject of Wilson Taylor’s fiction?

Who are the mysterious suited gentlemen and is Wilson Taylor writing Tom into “real life” in order to subvert their controls?

tommy taylor

Like Sophie’s World – the text explores the interaction of author with characters of their literary worlds. The characters are granted life by the author; at what point do they have moral agency or free will of their own?

the unwritten

At what point do we question whether it is in fact us that are the characters within someone else’s story? Who controls the forces within our world, wars, revolutions, famous ideas, cultural change. To what extent are we truly free?

horn blower

Count Ambrosio the arch villain of the Tommy Taylor comics, who breaks into Tom’s world and seeks to execute him, articulates the main point best:

Stories are the only thing worth dying for.

Stories shape our world, powerful story tellers influence generations to think and feel in history shaping ways. Stories shape political and religious ideas and shape cultural identities. It is for stories and ideals that people go to war, begin revolutions, sacrifice wealth and change laws and social systems.

ambrosio

 

Who would seek to control our stories? And as agents within a story, how can we use the devices of stories to escape the powers that would control us?

Tom and Lizzie

JRR Tolkien, philologist, linguist and lover of ancient narratives and myths, argued that:

Myths are not lies.

books

Tolkien detested heaved handed moralism of fables such as Pilgrims Progress, opting instead to created internally consistent worlds with characters each with their own place within history and mythology. So serious was he about story, that he argued with CS Lewis, then a staunch atheist, that life was in fact a grand narrative into which the great mythical archetypes had intersected.

As a Catholic, to him the Christ narrative was the event in which myth…

…has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation.

For Tolkien and later Lewis who later wrote much on the matter, the ground and truth of the Christ narrative was that in it the Word became flesh.  The intervention of voice and hand of the author into history transformed history from a random collocation of events into a grand narrative imbued with profound meaning.

Wilson Taylor

To them both, this miraculous juncture gave ground to the struggle for meaning in their lives. In it, the author meets them and exonerates their quest for agency.

 

Why the French Love Comics

Since childhood I have been charmed by French and Japanese animation or anime. TV shows of my childhood included Astro Boy, Voltron, Ulysses 31, The Mysterious Cities of Gold and more. They held a charm that regular US animation lacked!

cities of goldvoltron

 

As a young adult I discovered the works of Tin Tin and Asterix, both French/ Belgian creations. What was curious to me  was that these works were largely directed at an adult, rather than child audience.

Perhaps this fact helped articulate the charm these works held? These artists took their work seriously. It wasn’t just for kids.

tin tin

A bit of research reveals the fact that the French have elevated comic strips or bandes dessinees, to the level of a national art form labelled The Ninth Art. Comic strips for adults thus portray historical and political events and political satire, philosophy and more.

french anime

 

Certain characters such as Asterix and Obelix have become a part of national consciousness, embodying the national spirit. Peter Davy [2011] in his article published in the June edition of France Today writes:

The indomitable little Gaul fighting off invaders quickly resonated with the [1950s]  French public…..

asterix

Even today, the character [Asterix] continues to represent the determinedly independent French spirit. It does illustrate the fact that comic strips, or bandes dessinées, play a real role in what historians term “the construction of Frenchness”. To put it simply, Astérix is part of the French national identity.

He continues:

 The country boasts the largest comic market in the world after the US and Japan, worth almost €330 million in 2009, and it sells some 40 million comic albums a year. The annual Festival International de la Bande Dessinée in Angoulême is the biggest in the world, say the organisers; San Diego’s Comic-Con doesn’t count, they argue, because it is an exhibition as opposed to an artistic festival.

animation

The gallery dedicated to French comic strips, La Musee de la Bande Dessinee has been elevated to the category of Museum of France, equating it with the Louvre.  In fact,  the Louvre itself hosted an exhibition of comic strips in 2009.

french art

The secret seems to be to take an artform utterly seriously and allow it capture a national spirit. May there be many more de la bandes dessinees toujour !!

Birdman

Birdman is a 2014  comedy-drama with a stellar cast inlcuding Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts [among others]. It is an interesting commentary on being an artist in a celebrity mad world.

Most of Birdman appears to be filmed in a single shot.

birdman 3

 

The story follows Riggan Thomson (Keaton), a faded Hollywood actor famous for his role as superhero Birdman, as he struggles to write, direct and star in a Broadway adaptation of a short story by Raymond Carver.

The parallels between Keaton [Batman] and Riggan [Birdman] overlap parrallels between the Raymond Carver play, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and  Riggan’s own quest for affirmation.

 

birdman 2

 

We follow his feeling of insignificance in an age in which comics make billions and anyone without a Twitter account “doesn’t exist”.

When Riggan is visited by his ex-wife but all he can think of is whether Clooney [another Batman] will be more remembered than him. His wife informs to him that he misunderstands admiration for love.  He is not alone in this delusion however. His charismatic costar Mike [Edward Norton] can only be himself on stage, off stage his life is a mess. Another co-star Lindsay [Naomi Watts], neurotically awaits to be told she has “made it” by performing on Broadway.

 

birdman 6

Riggan faces the harshest of New York theatre critics, one who promises to destroy him and delivers the ultimate insult – he is  a celebrity and not an artist.

Ironcially, a mistake causes Riggan to be locked out of the theatre in his underpants and forced to walk through Times Square, causing tens of thousands of shares on twitter, and thus propelling him into the limelight.

Later a failed effort to commit suicide on stage results in him being declared an exciting new method actor by the same theatre critic.

 

birdman 5

 

birdman 7

The film is a reflection on success in art, fame, celebrity and integrity of being. It looks at the pressures and anxieties artists face to have their work scrutinised and destroyed by critics, at the mercy of the twitterverse, seeking to hold onto a feeling of being a part from their artistic creations.

In a profound life learning, Riggan’s daughter [Emma Stone], a world weary rehab survivor, maps out the age of the universe in dashes on a roll of toilet paper. One small square equals the entire time humans have been in existence.

The illustration reduces human hubris to one insignificant square of tissue.

Ulysses 31

This blog has often touched upon the point that the popularist genre, science fiction, has its roots in high myths and legends. What was once the domain of scholars, philosophers, theologians and literary experts –  is now the domain of geeks and nerds worldwide.

What better illustration of this relationship than the 1980s French-Japanese animation, “Ulysses 31″.

The 26 episodes of the series, describe the struggles of Ulysses and his crew against the divinities that rule the universe, the ancient gods from Greek Mythology.  The gods are angered when Ulysses, commander of the giant space vessel Odyssey, kills the giant Cyclops to save a group of enslaved children, including his son.

Zeus sentences Ulysses to travel the universe with his crew frozen until he finds the Kingdom of Hades, at which point his crew will be revived and he will be able to return to Earth. Along the way they encounter numerous other famous figures from Greek mythology, given a sci-fi twist.

Ulysses_31_by_Bintavivi

Any lover of science fiction and fantasy can recognise many of the themes explored throughout the episodes:
  • The ship passes a moon that brings Numinor back to life, since it’s from his home planet of Zotra. When they investigate, the children disappear and Numinor suspects they’ve been kidnapped by a legendary witch.
  • Ulysses meets an old scholar named Heratos and his assistant, a young Zotrian woman named Atina. Heratos gives Ulysses a map that he says is to the Kingdom of Hades, but is actually to the Graveyard of Wrecks and Hulks which no-one has ever left alive, because the gods threatened Atina’s life if he did not deceive Ulysses. While there, Telemachus finds the black sphere which contains a map of Olympus.
  • Aeolus, King of the winds, kidnaps Ulysses to provide entertainment for his daughter’s birthday party. Unable to watch her father’s cruel sport, she frees the captives and helps them escape.
ulyssess
  • Ulysses encounters Sisyphus a king condemned to fill a crater with boulders for all eternity for having dared to want the secret of immortality. Zeus has promised Sisyphus he can leave if he makes Ulysses take his place.
  • The Odyssey comes across a lifeless city world. On hearing that its people had the technology to bring the dead back to life, Yumi takes Numinor to the planet to revive him. However, she learns why there is no life in the city.
  • A space storm revives the companions as crazed automatons who take over the ship and try to crash it into space glaciers.
  • Passing through the domain of the great Sphinx, Ulysses must answer his riddle to leave safely. His treacherous daughter kidnaps the children and plots to make Ulysses her slave.
ulysses
  • Ulysses is saved from a Trident attack by Chronos, the god of time, who wants to use him as leverage to be allowed to reenter the home of the gods.
  • The Odyssey arrives on a tropical planet, where the ruling tyrant uses a magic prism to shrink them.
  • Ulysses follows a Trident carrier in hopes of learning more about the way out of Olympus, and finds himself trapped in bizarre worlds. To save the children, he will have to give up his memories.
  • Trying to help a stranded astronaut, Ulysses tries to find a hidden base on one of the deadly twin planets Scylla or Charydbis.
  • Coming across a piece of Zotra that could bring Numinor back to life, Ulysses and Yumi pursue it to a swamp planet where they are ambushed by monsters who can copy their forms.
  • Pirates kidnap the children to force Ulysses and No-No to brave the danger of the Sirens, said to guard a map of the Olympus universe.
  • Ulysses and the crew land on a planet similar to prehistoric earth. They encounter a winged female named Sauria, whose people are under attack from mutant vultures called Keconopters.
ulysses 1
  • The crew of the Odyssey are enslaved by the magic of the enchantress Circe and turned into pig-people to build a tower that will house all the knowledge of the universe.
  • Princess Ariadne comes upon the Odyssey, and asks for Ulysses’ help in saving her lover Theseus, who has been exiled to her father’s labyrinth to be killed by the fearsome Minotaur.
  • Mercurius, the bubble-dwelling “grandson of the gods,” enlists Ulysses’ help in taking a jewel from the brow of the giant Atlas under the promise that it will give him the power to send Ulysses home.
  • The shapechanger Nereus calls Ulysses for help when Shark Men, servants of the gods, take over his planet.
  • Ulysses is saved from an attack by the most powerful magician in the universe who breaks the gods’ curse on his crew; however, as payment for his services, demands to hunt Ulysses’s best men.
ulysses 2
  • Princess Hypsipile of the planet Lemnos is found by Ulysses; she tells them that the women of her planet are being forced by the Shark Men to build ships for the gods.
  • The Odyssey is dragged to a planet populated by machines, and governed by the tyrannical computer Cortex. One of its inhabitants, a “female” robot named Nanette, falls in love with No-No.
  • The Odyssey responds to a distress call from Queen Calypso, who tells him that if he saves her planet she will tell him the way back to earth. Calypso has been ordered by Zeus to betray Ulysses, but she falls in love with him and cannot carry out the gods’ orders.
  • Ulysses and the children are sent back in time and meet the original Ulysses, Telemachus and Penelope of Homer’s epic.
  • Needing raw materials to repair the Odyssey, Ulysses travels to a world where the inhabitants are addicted to eating seeds which induce amnesia.
ulysses 3
  • In the final episode, Ulysses and his companions reach the Kingdom of Hades. They meet Orpheus, who seeks Ulysses’ help to find his love, Euridyce, who has been taken to the Kingdom of Hades by Charon. Hades the god of death, tells Ulysses that he must leave his companions behind if he wishes to return to Earth. He rejects the offer, which was a final test, and they all return home.

Into the Woods

The latest Disney holiday release, “Into the Woods” is interestingly, not a children’s film at all but rather an exploration of contemporary philosophical themes.

Written by Stephen Sondheim,  “Into the Woods”  initially debuted on stage in San Francisco in 1986 and since has won several Tony Awards, and toured globally. Despite its mature themes, in 2014, Disney pictures released a star studded version directed by a Rob Marshall to great critical and commercial success.

into the woods 3

The point of the musical seems less to entertain and beguile children, but rather to make a forary into post-modern thought. Admittedly, it does so lightheartedly and with flair.

Step one, de-sanitise the tale, return it to its gruesome original state and juxtapose it with other tales.

 

The musical tells the interweaving tales of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Bean Stalk and the characters sing and dance their way through the narrative with charming ease. Retainin the gruesome elements of the original Grimm’s tales means the ugly sisters chop of toes to fit shoes, Red Riding Hood is eaten by the wolf [and promptly revived by the gallant baker and his knife], and Rapunzel is banished to a swamp by the witch who has blinded her lover.

Step two, explore what happens after the characters attain their wishes, the post- “happily ever after”.

 

Once each character receives their wishes, and “happily ever after,” the narrative explores their subsequent unravelling. Cinderella’s Prince is adulterous, Jack’s giant ramgaes through the country in search of her lost harp and hen, key characters die off. Each of the characters begins to blame the other for the chaos.  The story moves from fairy tale into solemn reality……. things don’t always work out the way we think they will. The witch cautions them all to question their wishes, that each of them contributed to the demise by what they desired.

Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes a spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you

Perhaps the most profound lines come in the closing song:

Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen

 into the woods 2

Step three: Redefine the very notion of knowing and meaning.

 

The characters chant to each other:

Wrong things, right things…

Who can say what’s true?…

Witches can be right, Giants can be good.

You decide what’s right you decide what’s good

The story closes with half the fairy story characters dead or disappeared, and the remaining few, huddled together in the woods, to hear the story from the beginning. They are adrift in a world without certain meaning and outcomes and must define meaning for themselves together. The find comfort in each other and not in the narratives they have imagined.

into the woods 5

So what?

 

Doctor of Philosophy and Catholic commentator, Taylor Marshall in his blog review,  labels the story “pernicious” and outlines the philosophic nominalism evident in the narrative. For him, the moralism evident in which the characters are cautioned to make their own reality, is deceptive. Instead, he cautions that in fact “rationalism” and discovery of “what is” is in fact the fittest form of human endeavour. As sojourners here, our job is to discover the world, it’s rules and paradigms, the order that God has placed and to abide by this order. http://taylormarshall.com/2014/12/into-the-woods-movie-a-dads-critical-review.html

I find his reasoning misses the mark.

Fairy stories have always been ground for phillsophical and theological debate – rich with imagery they naturally speak to the dream and the psyche. They play an important role in our subconscious development. It’s important to know that you can overcome the giant. It’s important to know that while there is wickedness in the world, that goodness still prevails. It’s important to know that love saves and that goodness is redemptive.

However, fairy stories, for their simplicity, can be oppressive too.  Is wickedness so black and white? is the witch always wrong  or is she a person too with a story to understand? Should girls be waiting for a prince or there is there another narrative girls can listen to? Does a requited love story always bestow the end of all unhappiness upon a girl or boy? Can our wishes for wealth, greener pastures, beauty and so on – lead us into more trouble than we know?

“Story is a spell and we should be careful what we tell,  because children listen” !!

Definitely !!

“Be careful what you wish, wishes are children, they come true”.

Absolutely !!

There is ground to question the narratives we absorb year after year. However, what “Into the Woods” shows us is that by dissolving meaning, we dissolve the grounds for narrative itself. The characters cannot ascertain whether the giant is “good” or “bad” and so slay her out of their immediate need. The cling to each other in the woods, a community adrift finding solace, and meaning  in each other.

The true end point of post-modern thought is absurdism. There is no more story to tell because there is no meaning to speak of. We’re just “Waiting for Godot.”

Instead of deciding this,  I would urge the characters of these fairy stories, to not define their own meaning but instead to break out of the story they are trapped within to find a GREATER story and a GREATER meaning. If we as readers find tales we read too limiting in moralism, in their two dimensional villains and stereotypical endings, we need to read MORE narrative, and absorb MORE and broader definitions of meaning, not less.

Narrative by nature, says something, and asserts meaning. Meaning is required for crisis and catharsis. Without these we have no stories to tell, no songs to sing.

Stories are wishes, wishes are children, we should be careful what story we wish, what spell we tell, because children believe them, because they come true. The stories we listen to define us and our perspective on the world. What we believe, we become.

I know a story where the wishes of the two protagonists, unravel the whole of human history requiring a promised hero to save them, a king, a prince to arrive and deliver them. This story covers thousands of years and weaves its way through civilsations and empires and finds itself in a regional outpost, a backwater, where a young man from a country village gives his life up for his nation. And saves the world.

That is a GREAT story.

Madness and denial in Shutter Island

The 2010, Martin Scorcese film, Shutter Island explores madness and denial in a film noir style detective thriller.  The two protagonists are led on a winding tale of secrets, conspiracy, and double motives. Two US Marshals, Teddy and Chuck [Leonardo Di Caprio and Mark Ruffalo], travel to Shutter Island, to visit Ashecliffe hospital, notable for housing the criminally insane. A woman patient, guilty of the drowning death of her three children,  has escaped and things are not well. Strangely her doctor, Dr. Sheehan,  has also just departed on vacation and the doctors and patients seem caught up in a web of secrets.  When the two men arrive, a storm traps them there for several days further complicating matters and compounding the eerie mysteriousness of the island institution.

shutter island 2

Upon arrival, the men are stripped of their weapons and treated to the harsh regulations of the islands. Mysteriously they are barred from viewing certain buildings, and their actions are heavily monitored.  Despite the assurance that the island has been thoroughly searched,  the inmate Rachel Solando, seems to have vanished without explanation.

Throughout the film, Teddy suffers flashbacks of terrors he witness during WWII, especially during the liberation of Dachau concentration camp. He has instinctive suspicions about the motives of the head Doctors, particularly Dr. Naehring, who has a German accent. Moreover, he is haunted by visions of his deceased wife Delores who died in a house fire, set alight by one Andrew Laeddis. In one dream, Delores tells Teddy that Rachel is still on the island, as so is her killer Andrew Laeddis.

After a terrible night of the storm, alarms have been reset and patients are found wandering outside of their cells. Without explanation, Rachael Solando is found. Suspicious the doctors had simply been hiding her, Teddy interviewis her, when she suddenly starts shrieking that Teddy is her [dead] husband.  More and more suspicious the truth is being hidden, Teddy breaks into C Building alone and encounters George Noyce a prisioner in solitary confinement there. He assaults Teddy, telling him to stop searching for Laeddis and warns warns that the doctors on the island are performing illegal lobotomies on patients. He claims that everyone including Chuck is playing and elaborate game to deceive Teddy.

shutter island

 

Increasingly confused by the mysterious island and contradictions among resisdents and staff, Teddy and Chuck explore the forbidden Lighthouse on the island and the two get separated. Thinking he can see a body fallen from the cliffs, Teddy climbs down and meets a woman hiding  in a cave. She tells him she is the real Rachel Solando, who worked as a doctor on the island until she questioned some of the medical experiments being undertaken at which point she was committed as a patient to prevent her from escaping. When Teddy returns, he discovers the staff believe he came to the island alone and that Chuck Aule had never accompanied him.

Isolated but determined to uncover the plot, Teddy returns to the forbidden light house where he encounters the head doctor, Dr. Cawley. Here Cawley explains that Teddy is himself Andrew Laeddis [and anagram of his own name], incarcerated for the murder of his depressive wife who drowned her own children. Thus, Rachel Solando is an anagram for his wifes name Delores Chanal. The past few days, the staff of the institution had experimented with a new therapy, allowing Teddy [Laeddis] to role play a Federal Marshall investigating the island, in an effort to break through this conspiracy laden insanity. The only way Teddy could live after her death, was to invent an elaborate story of her murder and his desire to seek down the killer. Chuck is in fact Teddy’s psychiatrist, Dr. Sheehan.

shutter island 3

The doctors indicate that Laeddis has achieved a state of clarity 9 months prior but had degenerated again into a state of denial. Here again Teddy faces the truth of his actions and admits his guilt for not realising his wife’s trouble and getting her help when she needed it. However, despite this clarity,  the next morning it’s clear that Teddy has regressed into the role play again, refusing to ‘remember‘ who Dr. Sheehan is. Teddy then asks whether it is better to “live as a monster or die a good man.” The film closes as he willingly follows the orderlies, who take him away to undergo a lobotomy.

The film explores a dream-within-a-dream. As we dream of Teddy [as viewers], he dreams of Teddy as Laeddis. The truth comes to him in flashbacks and hallucinations – his wife, the children, her killer. His fractured personality, created to prevent himself from bearing the full weight and terror of understanding his actions, creates in him a distance from his visions. His visions are his true-self.  He can only handle clues, one at a time, a mystery thriller he must solve as the protagonist, the good guy, hunting down the culprit. However, when he discovers the truth it is again too much to bear and he reverts again to the “dream” of forgetting. Finally, he would rather live without the memory and “half a man”. He would rather die with the delusion of being good than know his true self.

If only we would heed the truth that comes to us through dreams, through stories. There we can act as the protagonist and hero, seeking out the culprit to all the ills and wrongs of life. However, when faced with the reality of our own human nature, will we accept it or revert instead to the dream of denial? Would we rather live with the delusion of being good than know our true selves?

 

 

Why archaeologists?

In Science fiction and fantasy there is an abundance of scientific professionals such as archaeologists, journalists, detetectives and doctors who end up on quests in strange realms, seeking talismans of great power or significance, and encountering strange and mythical creatures and tests. My childhood favourite was Tin Tin, who always managed to run into some mystery and follow it through to its mysterious end.

tintin

The more I read, and the more I read “about reading”, the more I discover something called the “hero journey”. This ‘hero journey’ accounts for common features between stories, such as:

  1. An ordinary person, selected for a quest. Sometimes unwillingly, due to birth right or a prophecy.
  2. The leaving of home or the realm of the familar.
  3. Encounter with mythical creatures, tests and trials.
  4. Characters who come along at the right time as “helpers” to aid the hero.
  5. Hero battles creatures and overcomes trials and tests through courage and wit, often this requires great self sacrifice.
  6. Return home of hero to the realm of the familar  but forever changed inside.

In the case of the archaeologist/ scientist, it seems that the curiousity of the individual and their passion for knowledge leads them into a hero quest, often a treasure hunt. Their scientific nature gives them a firm footing in our current familiar world, making them believable as they journey through mythical realms. They stand as though the bridge for us between two worlds, the real world and the mythical dream world which we cannot reach ourselves.

They become our avatar into dreams.

TOMB-RAIDER-1

The tougher, the more sceptical and scientific they are, they more we can trust them and allow them to guide us into the dream world, knowing that they will be able to discern the tests that await and bring us home.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

It surprises me occasionally to hear the comment, “I don’t read much fiction. Real life is more interesting.” or “Fiction is entertaining but I prefer spending my time on something informative.”  It’s clear that temperament types prefer different genres, but the way we frame art and narrative is definitely culturally constrained. Is art simply entertainment and distraction?

Frued and Jung based the science of their psychoanalysis on mythical archetypes. To this day an Oedipal complex or narcissistic personality are terms and types drawn directly from ancient narratives.  Narrative and art are deeply informative about culture, identity and being and carry important conversations about justice, courage and truth. A much maligned genre is fantasy and science fiction. Written off as kiddy or nerdy or pop culture, fantasy and science fiction are the modern version of myths, legends and faery which were the highest form of narrative in millenia past.

Science fiction films, comics, graphic novels and the like are a treasure trove of philosophical, theological and psychological thought. One celebrated and iconic film is a favourity of mine – Blade Runner.

Set in a futuristic Los Angeles, “Blade Runner”, the 1980s film by Ridley Scott, explores the world of artificial intelligence. The film is based on a Phillip K. Dick novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and features a cop, Rick Deckard and his asignment to hunt down artificially created humans called replicants.

Replicants, are highly sophisticated creations of the Tyrell corporation, originally built to be indistinguishable from humans but have become banned on earth due to faults. Replicants have escaped from astro-colonies where they function as servants and soldiers, and have returned to earth to extend their life span. Replicants are genetically engineered, have implanted memories. However, Replicants have been commiting crimes, indicating a mutation in their programming and Rick Deckard [Harrison Ford] has been hired to hunt them down.

frankenstein

The story, not unlinke Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, explores the internal reality of a creature, their consciousness of being and in turn reflects on what it is to be a human being. Decker falls in love with Rachael, a replicant in denial of her identity, convinced her memories and family photos prove her to be human. One by one, Deckard chases and exterminates the remaining replicants, sparing Rachael due to his intimate connection to her.

The plot denoument comes when replicant Roy, breaks into the Tyrell corporation to face his creator, demanding more life. Tyrell dismisses the request upon which Roy embraces his maker and then kills him. Deckard’s final show down with Roy on the roof tops of the city shortly follows. Roy is mortally wounded and when Deckard slips and hangs from the roof top, Roy saves his life and then shares his last minuetes of life with Deckard,  recounting his memories of existence and awareness of his own death.

tyrell

The story artfully explores the elements of human existence. We are because we love, we are because we remember, we are because we desire life, we are because we desire justice, we are because we show mercy. Deckard is haunted throughout the narrative by dreams of a unicorn and famously, the film closes with a henchman of the Tyrell corporation leaving an orgiami unicorn in Deckards office. As the closing credits roll, the audience and Deckard are left asking, “is he a replicant?” and all of ask “are we a replicant?”

unicorn

What if our memories are implanted? what is our frame of reference for existence? what gives us a common bond – our love for life? our shared experiences?

Not unlike the “Wizzard of Oz”, Blade Runner features an encounter with the Maker and the Maker comes up inadequate. Representative of the mega-corporatation ruling the world with an iron fist, the Maker is not capable of extending life and so has created something he cannot care for. Thus Roy commits patricide. Maybe Blade Runner captures the 20th and 21st century disappointment with our philosophical thinking – with religion, with God, with capitalism, with scientific rationalism.

I know another story, when humanity encounters God in flesh, their overwhelming desire was to kill the God out of rage for the existence dealt them. However, in killing God, life is reborn.

But that’s another story.