Monthly Archives: August 2009

Exorcist II: The Heretic

One scarcely knows where to begin in evalutaing John Boorman’s sequel to The Exorcist.  Suffice it to say that his film is laughable, incompetent, and insulting to viewers of intelligence and good taste.  Some salient points among too many to be fully listed are:

1)  Boorman is on public record as despising the original Exorcist film based on William Peter Blatty’s novel and screenplay and directed by William Friedkin.

2) Boorman seems to have aggressively manifested this contempt via his ludicrously idiosyncratic perspective on, and direction of, Heretic.

3) Boorman took  Blatty’s tenderly conceived and thoughtfully developed characters and subjected them to Boorman’s own hack revisions.

4)  For example: Delicate, vulnerable Sharon Spencer becomes Boorman’s mean-spirited, deeply dysfunctional Sharon The Witch Lady. He dresses her in a Witch Costume when she escorts Fr. Lamont (Richard Burton) to the MacNeil house. Then he incinerates her at the end of the film. That’s what we do to Witches (if we are Primitives or inept Film Directors).

One beloved Exorcist character down, three to go…

5) The Boorman version eliminates Chris MacNeil (mother of possession victim Regan, played in the original film by Ellen Burstyn), replacing her with brain-addled neuro-shaman Dr. Tuskin (Louise Fletcher), whose Rube Goldbergesque brain machine understandably elicited pained guffaws from intelligent theater viewers. (The leadwires springing from the helmet are particularly inept. Check out the ones used by Quatermass incarnation Andrew Keir in Five Million Years to Earth for a respectable and believably “futuristic” headset.)

6) Boorman/screenwriters violate the dignity of Blatty’s character, Fr. Lankester Merrin. In the Blatty book and the Blatty-Friedkin film, Merrin is a towering intellect resisting the sin of pride, as well as being a world-renowned archaeologist and an experienced exorcist-theologian.

In Heretic, however, Merrin has become a spooky question mark, who may or may not believe in ESP, may or may not approve of Teilhard de Chardin’s evolutionary theories, and may or may not continue to exist posthumously in some virtual paramental-spiritual realm. No longer an exorcist-paleontologist, Heretic’s Merrin is now a loopy promoter of Boorman’s parapsychological speculations, having discarded his original role of presenting Blatty’s interesting theological ideas. Not only this, but, in a scene worthy of Woody Allen, Boorman’s Fool-Merrin gets his heart literally ripped out by a surrogate Linda Blair, who…

7) … refused to immerse herself completely into her reprised role and declined demon-make-up, forcing the studio to rely on hiring a not-believable body double for the flashback possession scenes.

Not that this matters a whole lot, since Heretic violates Regan’s character as viciously and arbitrarily as it does all the others.

Not only is Regan MacNeil no longer an unfortunate victim of a previous possession:  Boorman transforms her into a shamanic evil-fighter, The Good Grasshopper (perhaps even the Best Little Bug in the World) – albeit with a Terrible Dark Side (ever so sensitively symbolized by draping her in a flimsy negligee) with whom Burton/Lamont bed-grapples, to his credit, without gaining an erection.

(Also, in an extremelypointless subplot, it turns out that Regan has become a sensationally inept tap dancer.)

8) Heretic literalizes the demonic, insisting on a literal Pazuzu (the demonic symbol in The Exorcist: a Middle Eastern g0d turned demon for novelistic purposes).

9) Merrin confronts Pazuzu, an ordeal referenced in the original novel and film as supposedly taking months to complete, but in Heretic taking only long enough for Merrin to rope-jockey the possessed lad Kokumo up a cliff to an Ethiopian rock church.

Merrin’s chief struggle in Friedkin’s Exorcist was to subdue the demon who was, to say the least, extremely uncooperative. But not in Heretic:  No sooner does Pazuzu possess Kokumo than he immediatly – seemingly even with some pride – gives away his identity to Merrin (hint!): “I …am …PAZUZUUUU…!!”

A prime point of exorcism is to force or to trick the demon into giving away its identity, since according to ancient tradition, to gain the Enemy’s name is to gain power over him. Heretic’s Pazuzu simply wimps out and hands Merrin this coveted morsel on a platter.

8) “Ecumenical Edwards,” played by Ned Beatty, who is obviously introduced as comic relief from all the surrounding incredible suspense and horror, is about as funny as Richard Burton’s excessive sweat. “This is the traditional route of the plague!” Edwards warns Burton, who by now must be wondering if the plague consists of locusts or of a leprous script.

9) Gratuitous female breasts – ah, yes – the breasts!  Sharon’s are visible (through a moist robe)… as are those of the black girl who is offered to Lamont, as are those of the clothed-but-still-showcased and under-aged Linda Blair.  Apparently the idea here was to make the film more engaging for the teenage mentalities who presumably would be its chief marketing base.

10) Burton obviously hates the role and the movie. Maybe he was also bright enough to  despise Boorman. His unconvincing and hysterically lethargic performance is a huge drag on a movie that is already leaden. In fact, it sinks the film from the first frame.  Perhaps this constitutes Dick’s Revenge.

11) The Friedkin film communicates Catholicism accurately and humanely.  Heretic makes a joke of the whole thing, including a colossally inaccurate description of Teilhard’s philosophy and an embarrassingly trite depiction of internal Church politics and clergy.

12) Veteran film composer Ennio Morricone’s score, to borrow a demonic line from Blatty’s novel, “sucks to the roots… to the bristles”. Morricone and Burton may have gotten together and commiserated – over multiple bottles of Chivas Regal – about the bum deal in which they were mired. Morricone’s contempt for the material is obvious from the ear-killing music he wrote for Heretic.

From the first note, Morricone’s score screams at the audience, This Flick Is A Terrible Joke and I Am Parodying it Musically Every Chance I Get! His faux-African “sound” is a truly grating listen. Morricone’s past career is triumphant, having  grandly achieved an African “sound” in the Brando film Burn/Qaemada, so it’s proven he can do great African-surrogate music. His apparent sonic trashing of Heretic could of course be seen as fair play, based on Boorman’s own trashing of the franchise. How sad that Morricone’s sweet-melancholy Regan’s Theme (an exception among the other poorly scored tracks) turned out to be so lovely – it is completely too poignant, sophisticated and sensitive for this mucoid glob of a film.

This list could be expanded, at the price of monotony.   At least there is solace in knowing that Exorcist II: The Heretic has been “honored” by inclusion in The Golden Turkey Awards.  Fortunately, Blatty came out with his own sequel to The Exorcist, namely, the novel Legion.  A revised version of the novel was released by Morgan Creek studios under the title, Exorcist III: Legion, with Blatty directing and providing the screenplay.  Happily, Exorcist afficianados have this little gem to covet, and to make up for Boorman’s misconceived freak show.

God: Transcendent, Transcosmic

Analogies are bound to break down, especially when trying to describe a transcendent transcosmic “It.”

Imagine a vast, egoless consciousness that is called “God.” By egoless I mean “no separate sense of individual selfhood with all the ego-defense mechanisms and ‘selfishness’ those imply; something not of the egoic mind; something not ‘below’ but ‘above’ the egoic mind.” I.e., no simian scrambling for alpha position in a hierarchy or pecking order; no “smiting” of enemies (in fact, no enemies to be smitten)…

Imagine a God who “performs work” but without an anthropomorphic, non-biologic volition.  Volition is a material-world motivator that gets things done in the physical world, so the transegoic transcosmic God cannot be said to be volitional.  Such a god can be said to “work” – but that idea is a human depiction and interpretation of a human experience of a transhuman “Other.”  This Other “works,” one imagines, like the Christian god is said to create, or have a “face” or a “strong arm” or “hands.” Metaphor is the best possible means of talking about it, and always with the ancient Taoist caveat that, although the Tao is real:

the Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.

So the Other’s “volition” is Its “working” within the subjective psyche,  in a way perhaps similar that  sun exposure causes the “working” of Vitamin D within the metabolism.

Unlike the received divine attributes of the Abrahamic faiths, the transcendent, transcosmic, transegoic God represents untamed, undomesticated Reality. It doesn’t conform to conventional wisdom, conventional religion, conventional society, conventional politics, etc. Whether or not that’s advantageous to conventionality is another question.

But it may be asked, of what use is such an extra-cosmic God?

Well, I think that human beings can benefit by “paying It mind” – because cross-culturally,  various divine union mystics extoll many positive effects deriving from that union.  “It” – although difficult to name, and possessed of such paradoxical attributes as Nonexistence and No-thing-ness – is almost universally experienced as infinite wisdom, grace, compassion, vast consciousness, “Big Mind,”  and other such terms, with a resulting internal transformation in the experiencer – such as, for example, a fresh, liberated life that is centered in “Spirit” rather than in convention, materiality or culture.

A crude physical analogy would be our paying mind to the sun, the atmosphere, or wind systems. They are what they are, with or without humans to pay them mind… but paying them mind in the right circumstances with an appropriate attitude can enhance living. A precious gem or mineral hidden in mountains or soil exists as-is without humans paying it any mind. But if by exploration  humans unearth the precious hidden treasure, it becomes a new and oftimes useful human acquisition. Similarly, if by employment of contemplative practices humans “discover” the hidden God – that “treasure hidden in a field” –  this disclosure becomes a new and oftimes  positive spiritual acquisition.

The analogy is similar to those picture puzzles that say: “Find the animals or the Presidents’ faces hidden in this forest.” The animals and faces are not immediately visible, but once spotted, one’s entire conception of the picture undergoes a radical change. The picture – in this discussion, the “givenness” of reality – doesn’t change, but one’s perception of it changes drastically.

Some say that the supernatural is the natural not yet understood. Similarly I’m saying that the “Other God” mysteriously exists as part of our reality-picture but is not yet (generally) perceived. Once perceived, our view of the reality-picture changes, with consequent positive spiritual benefits. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas:

“The Kingdom of the Father is spread out over the earth, but few see it.” 

Seeing It is the key.

God’s Unexpected Nature

What makes any being God? The name we place on it? Its function? Its theological or socially attributed traits?

The non-creating, non-interventionist god whose definition I happen to accept as “God” works for me personally – IF the definition and function placed on the term “God” includes:

Profundity, silence, simple Presence, undivided beingness, nonduality, serenity, infinite wisdom and infinite compassion, “Tao-ness,” unconditioned-ness, unborn-ness, non-materiality, non-object-ness, egolessness, “Tathagata-ness,” and many other divine attributes not usually, generally, or commonly ascribed to the Abrahamic and creatorist-interventionist gods.

Some folks  seem to reason that either the moon is made of green cheese or it doesn’t, or shouldn’t, exist… or that the moon would somehow become trivial or meaningless;

or that either anomalous flying objects must be extraterrestrial craft or they don’t, or shouldn’t, exist… or they become trival or meaningless.

Likewise, some people think that either God is a creator/intervener or god doesn’t, or shouldn’t, exist… or God becomes trivial or meaningless.

But that kind of thinking is just arbitrary prejudice unjustified by common sense or by more formal standards of logic. It’s prejudicial to the truth.

For example, what  if ufos turn out to be mere illusions, delusions or hoaxes – or on the other hand what if they turn out to be completely new, unknown phenomena having nothing whatsoever to do with extraterrestrial craft?

In either case the truth -whether the “common sense/reductionist/naturalistic” Mundane or the supra-rational, mind-boggling Unknown – will trump the extraterrestrial thesis and disappoint its fans.

The same applies to the god-question. Some think that either god must be a creator/intervenor, or the whole question is uninteresting and trival;   and the god question so becomes petty and meaningless.

But I say:  Not so – if truth is really our motivator.

If god turns out not to be a creator/intervener, those who insist that “He” be so will surely be disappointed. But… so what?

Truth, not human expectation, is the issue. If someone wants the moon to be made of green cheese and finds out that it’s really a space rock, that individual is bound to be disappointed… but again: so what?  Truth trumps expectation.

An Emergent Non-Literalist Christianity

Most religious people don’t need to accept the Bible literally – only fundamentalists are so obliged. Moreover, and somewhat ironically, even a literal reading of the Bible argues against reading the Bible literally (!), since biblical stories often show their protagonists arguing with Yahweh, challenging him, even accusing him of breaking his own covenant,  wrestling with him in angelic form… and even casting doubt on the inerrancy of scripture itself – as Jeremiah (8:8) does: “How can you say, ‘We are wise, we have the Lord’s Law,’ when scribes with their lying pens have falsified it?”

How do educated Christians know what to take/not to take literally?  That can be a relatively concise task for the non-fundamentalists: they utilize the fruits of critical biblical scholarship, which analyses the texts into their respective formats. It determines which are folkloric, which are expanded or shortened texts, which are secondary editions, which are interpolations, which are derived from surrounding cultures, which are prescientific attempts at recording history, which are consciously constructed myth, which are parabolic, which represent various parties (such as Genesis’ multiple authors: Priestly, Elohist, Yahwist, etc.), which are products of the prophetic tradition, which are derived from the royal house traditions, which are more or less individual statements, which are more or less communal statements, etc.

Many sincerely-seeking, educated non-literalist Christians realize that there is no literary test for “Godness” and they realize that scripture is not the “Word of God,” but rather the word(s) of people about god. They maintain that, to the extent a particular scripture preserves an accurate description of human communion with God, that particular scripture can be said to be “inspired” – but not  an “inspiration” viewed as the inerrant word of God. Rather, this means that something of the ineffable Deity is disclosed in parts of scripture. In fact, something called “the emerging paradigm” is currently developing in progressive churches, which is a model of renewal that views the Bible as a disclosure, a lens, and a sacrament that conveys truth about God’s nature – without being a literal communication from God.

If anyone wishes to imbibe of enlightened, critical, non-literalist Christianity, s/he might (enjoyably) explore Marcus J. Borg’s The God We Never KnewJesus: A New Vision, and Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.  Non-believers who make blanket statements about Christianity’s purported irrationality will find their assumptions challenged by Borg’s work and the work of many other emerging-paradigm authors. The aim is not to make converts but rather to factually set out what a renewing, educated, critically-enlightened Christianity really has to say – as opposed to the frequently mistaken claims of fundamentalists and unbelievers alike.

Gibson’s Crippled Film

The main problem with Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ is simply that it has no “passion.” It doesn’t explain why Jesus died, or its own assumption that he “had to” die, nor does it explore the factors that led him to the ignominious gibbet.

In this failure, the film deletes any presentation of Jesus’ own passion:

his passion that the hungry be filled, the poor sheltered, orphans and widows cared for, the Torah interpreted intensely but “internally” and mercifully as well;

his passion for the Kingdom of God’s arrival here and now, his passion for offering a means of living centered in Spirit rather than in culture, his passion for social justice, his condemnation of oppressive domination systems;

his role as a transformative sage, a charismatic mediator, a social prophet, a renewal movement founder, and his function as a Jewish mystic in the stream of Jewish mysticism…

…and everything else he was – or at least everything that the Christian Testament says he was – all great themes that the film’s narrow focus sadly ignores.

Gibson’s brief glimpses from Jesus’ pre-Passion life (the last supper, the sermon on the mount) only serve to confuse the many issues necessarily raised by the film’s silence on his pre-crucifixion career.

In fact, Gibson’s tale, which mainly concerns Jesus’ arrest and execution, distorts and falsifies the whole Christian “sense” of his life.

Unfortunately for mainstream Christians and general audiences alike, its strongest appeal is only to Christian fundamentalists who don’t  follow Christianity so much as they do (sometimes unconsciously) “Crossianity;”  and who rather insanely think that Jesus “came”… “to earth”… “to die.” Surely this film is for them, and them only. The truly great “Life of Christ” has yet to be filmed, and Gibson’s gore fest is not even in the running.