Oct 30, 2006

Scary Movie: Jesus Camp

The scariest Halloween movie is not Saw XII or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, but a little documentary called Jesus Camp. If you really want the living daylights scared out of you, I strongly recommend this film. It will give you heart palpitations. Aside from its obvious tendentiousness, (needless menacing music and weird camera angles), it is a very interesting film about an Evangelical camp for kids where they basically brainwash children into reclaiming the United States as a solely Christian nation.
I am not scared of the Christian Right per se. According to the film, they make up about 25% of the population and I strongly believe that the other 75%, even at its most conservative, is not as batshit lunatic as these people. I believe most Americans still hold on to some modicum of common sense and still want their country to be free and pluralistic. And if they don't want that, they want to be left the hell alone to do whatever the hell they want, so I'm not sure that they will welcome public religious frenzies with open arms. However, as the film points out, these fringe maniacs are extremely well funded and organized and they wield considerable political influence and power in this Administration and with this Republican congress. At the beginning of the film I thought that such an obsessive, sick, codependent relationship with Jesus is the last resort of the White Trash Nation. They ask Jesus to bless the powerpoint presentation or the bowling ball, and then of course, he never does. It can make someone crazy.
It soon became clear that these people are not White Trash (though they still favor mullets). They are well to do, middle class suburbanites that seem to have too much money and time in their hands. They live in places without intellectual or cultural stimulation and they isolate themselves in their hysterical love of God and their holier than thou attitude towards the rest of society. They behave more like a cult than a religion. And their tactics are manipulative and extreme and I was wondering if they are not illegal. As far as I'm concerned, these people are abusing their children psychologically, instilling constant fears and morbid thoughts about sin and death and abortion and killing babies in their tender, impressionable minds. So you have scene after scene of kids pretending to be speaking in tongues and having paroxisms of faith that they are not mature enough to understand, let alone muster. There seems to be, like in any group activity, a great deal of peer pressure. Plus some of these kids are home schooled and all they know is the Bible.
The formidable Becky Fisher, the pastor who runs the camp, is a smart, apparently sincere woman, and when she talks about how the Muslims train (that's the word she uses) their children to fast for Ramadan since the age of five, you know that a secret admiration for suicide bombing is not far behind. She stops short of going to this extreme, but she is indoctrinating future Christian soldiers for a cultural if not literal war on the secular values of this country. Christian Fundamentalism does not differ much from Muslim or Jewish fanaticism or any other extreme misinterpretation of religion. In essence, somebody that thinks that they own the absolute truth and theirs is the only way, and the only way to God is through force and coercion, is pretty much the same regardless of their faith. Their strength is that there is no questioning their faith, so rational discourse does not apply.
In contrast to some countries, where it is compulsory for parents to send their children to school, this country allows parents to homeschool their children. There is no supervision or obligatory state curriculum that the parents have to follow, on top of whatever other subjects they may want to teach their kids. I think there should be. Kids should not be used as missionaries or evangelists or proselytizers, like the film shows. There is one completely confused and neurotic, relentless little girl that I hope shows up here in NY and I hope I run into her on the street and I hope she tries to give me a little pamphlet about God's blood so I can knock her teeth out and do her and us a favor.

Oct 1, 2006

Cache: Talk About Denial

As beautifully played by the great Daniel Auteil, Georges is everything the French think of themselves: civilized, sophisticated, cultured, softspoken and refined. He's also a major asshole and is in huge denial about it, just like the French have been about their actions in Algiers (and if you ask me, about pretty much everything) for ages. Georges is a TV talk show host. This being France, instead of "My nephew raped his Grandmaw", they talk about books. They are all in love with their brains and their culture and their perfect little society predicated upon those lofty notions of liberté, egalité and fraternité. Georges starts getting spooky tapes of his home being watched for hours on end, and even spookier childlike drawings that intimate some awful violence. He sets out to unravel who is sending this stuff to him. The audience finds out the truth step by step with him, not twenty minutes ahead, like in Match Point, but not behind either. A lot of this movie is shot from his point of view, which makes it very unsettling. He is in the dark, just as the audience, and you sit for two hours giving your brain a major (and very needed) workout. You also sit there in a state of slowly accumulating tension. The way the tension is sustained in Cache is a marvel of economy, like watering a plant with a dropper. Michael Haneke is a director capable of unsettling you with very little. There is no music to make your heart rate go up and signal that something very bad is about to happen. The way the mysterious tapes start unraveling Georges' seemingly contented existence is just a slow, dense piling up of unknowingness, and dread, and fear. When the violence comes, it comes shockingly and abruptly, with no foreshadowing. But Cache is also a moral tale. So we find out that in Georges' life everybody lies. Little everyday lies, big hidden lies. At the same time, the lies of George's past are the same lies that the French nation has been suppressing forever, pretending that tout va bien. To Michael Haneke, the personal IS political. The choices you make dealing with other human beings, particularly if they are from a marginal minority, if they are not one of you, can have devastating consequences that are intimate and universal at the same time. Of the movies dealing with the aftermath of the European colonial catastrophes, the problems that France, England and Germany face today of hostile, unassimilated, segregated populations living in their midst, Cache so far is the best I've seen. It has none of the preachy, didactic tone of liberal mortification. It is an exercise in wringing out the truth behind the smug French self-satisfaction and, by corollary, that of all of Europe. As expected of Michael Haneke, it is a cold, cerebral movie, sharply written, slightly sadistic, (not as horribly sadistic as The Piano Teacher, or worse, the loathsome Funny Games). I have sometimes found his movies to be as manipulative of the audience as Spielberg's but much more perversely. There is a whiff of that here too, as when we are desperately searching for clues that he then deems irrelevant. For instance: why doesn't anybody bother to look where the hidden camera is coming from? As an audience we are trained by the movies to believe that we require a logical explanation for everything, and if there is no logical explanation then there is movie explanation. But Haneke likes to, excuse my French, fuck around with the audience. Cache looks like a thriller, walks like a thriller and quacks like a thriller, so the audience is frustrated at the end, when we are not rewarded for all our detective work as we expect from thrillers. But for Haneke, it's not important whodunit, but it is important, and perhaps more frightening, that there is someone living next to you, watching your every move with hatred in their heart. Now you must think why.