Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Recommended. This is a great historical action story. It is not quite as rich or deep as say Braveheart, but there is a lot about courage and leadership and friendship that makes this story worthwhile. The central dramatic premise is the hunt for a French war ship, the Acheron, by the British naval Commander, Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe). But the meat of the story is in Jack’s leadership with his men, and in his friendship with the ship’s doctor and naturalist, Stephen Maturin. The naturalist is a man of science and Jack is a man of war. In the film, science always seems to take a back seat or supporting role to war rather than the pursuit of knowledge itself being primary. There is a sequence where they pass by the Galapagos Islands, the famous site of Darwin’s finches, but about 50 years before Darwin would go there and write his book, On the Origin of the Species, that would change the world. The doctor wants to stop for some research, but Jack pushes on because the imperatives of war outweight the “useless” examination of species. An obvious irony in light of the impact of Evolutionary theory to come. This is intended to show the blind-sided nature of military hegemony. The centrality of war may win battles but may also keep us from “great achievements” that will change the world far more than war. Stephen also challenges Jack’s leadership as proud at times and power-driven rather than by compassion or understanding for his men. This tension is brought into focus when Jack places his men in needless peril in order to achieve his objective. The men become expendable and so his leadership becomes heartless. But when the doctor is injured and needs to get to dry land for surgery, Jack decides to forestall a possible capture of a vessel to help heal his friend and express the value of his men. He takes him back to the Galapagos Islands to heal, which allows some scientific exploration to be done as well. It is a powerful moral choice of humaness and shows the effect that the naturalist has on bringing balance to Jack’s military leadership. In other words, science becomes the balancing power of compassion and reason for the overarching power of the military. Well, this is a rather pretentious claim to make since the morality of compassion and understanding is not really a scientific issue, it is a spiritual one. Science is really not a tool of morality, it is a tool of power. In the hands of moral people, science has helped extend life and help people more effectively, but in the hands of immoral people, it has been used to kill and destroy more effectively. Witness the fact that the 20th century, the century of science and modernism, has increased the life span of the average human being by many years, but it has also killed more people through genocide than all the rest of history. Both medicine and genocide have science in common. The difference between the two is not science, but morality. It is not men of science that bring compassion or humanity, but men of spirituality or character. And a man of science may have character, but he did not get it from science, but from appropriate spiritual understanding. One moment in the movie has Stephen telling a young kid that God made all the animals with their strange and interesting characteristics but that they change on their own too. This ambiguous nod to theistic evolution keeps the science from itself being a monstrosity of oppression as atheistic materialistic evolution has indeed become in our lives.

Matrix Revolutions

Not recommended. Not much to say here. Although I do have an article coming out soon on the philosophy/theology of The Matrix trilogy. But anyway, this movie had even less scenes of the actual Matrix in it and more of Zion battles, and almost no philosophy compared to the second one. After watching this one, I actually was thinking how much better Reloaded was, which is a surprise cause I didn’t like Reloaded that much. Oh well, I find it interesting that a trilogy that espouses freedom of man as superior to slavery actually makes the slavery side more interesting. I found myself, as in Reloaded, wishing they would get back into the Matrix because those were cooler scenes and more interesting stories. And Zion, which is supposed to be the last city of freedom for man, was the most boring aspect of the whole series. Who knows? Maybe they wanted it that way. Maybe, the postmodern Wachowski brothers actually do prefer fantasy to reality, or delusion to truth, after all, like Baudrillard, they do believe that man creates his own reality through language because the signs of the real are substituted for the real.

It was pretty much just a battle movie with the machines battling to destroy Zion and a couple of “in the Matrix” fight scenes. Nothing really unique here except a different take on the original scene in The Matrix where they shoot up the marble pillars. This time, the guards fight back and they too are Matrix players who can flip up to the ceiling. Also, the ultimate battle between Neo and Agent Smith is a boring Superman fight that I suppose was necessary to the buildup of power that both were getting. But it was still boring. There is also a finale scene where Neo gives his life for the freedom of the Matrix and those who choose to be free. The big godlike face of the Source says, “IT is done,” an obvious reference to Christ’s “It is finished.” I find it amusing how those who would detest Christianity seem so reliant upon it’s atonement concept to give their stories depth. I write about this in my article that the Wachowskis are Nietzschean nihilists who fancy themselves “revaluators” of the myths of our culture, using religion as metaphors for their ubermensch who overcomes man by overcoming traditional thought forms and saves himself by “creating his reality.”

It is an excerpt of my upcoming article in CRI Journal to whet your appetite:
“Everyone knows that The Matrix trilogy contains a religious philosophical worldview. But just which one is a matter of debate. Some have written essays proclaiming it Christian; some, Platonic (after Plato the philosopher); others, Gnostic (a Christian heresy); and still others, Buddhist. My own view is that this series uses a combination of all of the above, and then some, as subversive metaphors for a postmodern worldview that deconstructs universal mythology into a Nietzschean “overman” philosophy of creating one’s own truth in a universe without God. In Nietzsche’s anti-philosophy philosophy, our perceptions of reality are illusory (The Matrix) because they are part of the mechanistic determinism of nature (The Matrix Reloaded) and we must therefore create our own truth through our human choices (The Matrix Revolutions).

Mythologist Joseph Campbell, the literary hero with a thousand faces, sought to bring to light what he considered the “monomyth,” the universal heroic journey common to all religions residing in a Jungian collective unconscious of humanity. Religions have so many ideas and images in common because they are ultimately diverse symbolic projections of the same physical and mental processes within all of us. In his interview with Bill Moyers in The Power of Myth, Campbell states that, “All the gods, all the heavens, all the worlds, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other.” In this sense, Campbell was a demythologizer. He deconstructed religious traditions and transcendent beliefs into their so-called respective origins in natural causes. Similar to Campbell’s eclecticism, the nature of Postmodern religion is a hodge podge synthesis of diverse sources without regard for logical or organic consistency. There are just enough parallels between religions to ignore the disparities. To force square similarities into round differences. And I suggest this is what the Wachowski brothers, creators of The Matrix, are doing with their cinematic trilogy. “

Kill Bill

NOT RECOMMENDED. This vile piece of trash has pretty much convinced me to stop watching Tarantino films. Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece of cinema, which I’ll explain why in a second. But with his last two films, Jackie Brown and now Kill Bill, we now see that Tarantino, rather than being a profound revealer of postmodern reality, turns out to be merely the tragic incarnation of the worst that postmodernism has to offer us. Tarantino turns out to be merely an ex-video store clerk obsessed with bad 70s TV, bad Hong Kong karate films, bad exploitation films, and pastiche culture, who struck a single good chord with Pulp Fiction. He seems more an incarnation of bad art than an original artist who has “rediscovered” the past. To be truly postmodern is to be truly imitation style without substance or context, without purpose or meaning. That is why Pulp Fiction works and his last two movies do not. Because the pomo bricolage that is Pulp Fiction is subordinated and contextualized by the Christian redemption of the character Jules. The vanity and meaninglessness of the kitsche of the other stories takes on meaning and becomes profound when contrasted by the transcendance of God’s sovereignty. And that is really what saves Jules, isn’t it? His redemption lies in his recognition of the transcendent God of the Bible as bringing purpose and meaning to his existence. I believe that this Christian redemption is what gives the depth and profundity to Pulp Fiction that people respond to with their souls, and that what makes it a classic masterpiece. No doubt, Tarantino is not a Christian but was merely playing with what was to him, another bizarre quirky viewpoint, a leftover of the “Jesus Freak” movement from the same 70s era he so lovingly embraces, thus making Pulp Fiction an unintended masterpiece. This lack of spiritual transcendence in his other films reveal them to be what they really are, just empty imitation of style without substance, without meaning or purpose. Oh, vanity of vanities…

I must admit the camerawork in Bill is fantastic and magical. Everything else is terrible. It’s WAYYY TOOO LOOOONG, and it’s only the first half!! No story at all, just a string of revenge fight sequences, punctuated by a confusing cacophany of title cards “Two days later,” “six months earlier,” “13 hours later” and on and on. And terrible dialogue. I have never seen the “F” word used more poorly than in this movie. I think the “F” word is entirely appropriate if used right, but here, the characters sound like teenagers TRYING to swear than really swearing. It’s all too forced and overwrought. Even the fight sequences were grotesque with limbs cutting off and blood spewing out like a Monty Python gag. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know he’s trying to be comic book and give his “homage” to Oriental kung fu movies yada yada yada. But this is just a gore fest that is repugnant and in my big mouthed opinion, inappropriate. And you know, I’m not merely speaking from a “moralistic” perspective. I mean this from a storytelling one, too. These long bloodbath sequences get very boring very quickly because there is nothing left to imagination and it’s very repetitious. I mean, I wanted to leave after 10 minutes from total disinterest, but I came with a friend and didn’t want to place him in a dilemma. Plus, I wanted to be able to justify my comments to those who would throw the nasty accusation that “you can’t criticize the movie if you haven’t seen it.” Okay, I seen it. And it stunk. Satisfied? Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was great with its sword fight scenes all looking like operatic ballets, Gladiator was brilliant in capturing the vicious ancient Roman Empire and culture, Braveheart is one of the best movies of all time, so I am not against a good sword fight movie, just do it with class or something, will you? Good grief. I am sorry, but I don’t buy the “Grand Guignol” rationalization of exploitative violence as artistic catharthis. Poppycock. Bunk. Balderdash and bullpuckey. Let’s call it what it really is, shall we?: naked adolescent fixation on cruelty. Now, should I tell you what I REALLY think? ☺