Next issue May 23, 2009






Issue 5,  May 15, 2009     —      Page 8


with Robert Cettl www.widerscreenings.com      

From Positive Thinking to End-of-the-World Fantasy
in Contemporary Film



To obtain your copy of motion pictures discussed previously in Wider Screenings visit the store at www.widerscreening.com
While such as Arnold Schwarzenegger epitomize the positive-thinking success story in his determination to master the Hollywood blockbuster and the American Republican political scene, recent films have begun to deconstruct “positive thinking” to examine its underlying ideological components.  First under the microscope in this newfound cultural criticism is the “spirituality” behind so many people’s belief in positive thinking.  Take Tom Cruise’s recent Valkyrie (read more) for instance.  Beginning with the oath that all German soldiers must take to Hitler, allegiance to the Fuhrer the equivalence of divine ordainment, Valkyrie examines the relentlessly positive drive of a Nazi humanist plotting against Hitler in the belief that God will validate the righteousness of his actions.

Cruise’s optimism, backed by his spiritual belief in a benevolent creator whose absolute moral goodwill he is enacting, is tainted by the foreknowledge of history – the plot against Hitler failed, Cruise’s beloved moral “God” apparently siding with Hitler after all.  In the face of history, Cruise’s humanism and relentless positive thinking make him admirable, his only human weakness being his Theist belief: spirituality is not an asset to positive thinking – at best it is irrelevant.  In emphasizing positive thinking, stripping it of any religious component and weighing it against the burden of history (Nazism here being religious totalitarianism) Valkyrie confirms the Cinema of Rationalism’s interest in anti-heroes.

That is not to say that spirituality is absent in contemporary American film: far from it.  But where the cinema of rationalism struggles with issues of mortality, despair and moral relativism, the cinema of faith prefers mundane happy endings, Biblical allegory and disaster – whether it be the Church as the centre of the community of plague survivors in the Will Smith film I am Legend or the self-sacrificial Jesus-like Keanu Reeves saving all humanity from destruction in the remake of the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (read more)  Where the cinema of rationalism finds tragedy in individual human loss, Hollywood’s faith-based cinema seeks a validation of divinity in what can only be described as the cinema of eschatological fantasy.

Eschatology, as that branch of Christian “science” dealing with the Day of Judgment and the end of the World, is apocalyptic fear-mongering at its most absurd.  Nevertheless, it is the spiritual idea of “end of days” judgment which saturates The Day the Earth Stood Still, its Christ-like alien saving the human race from destruction by taking the apocalypse on himself.  In a re-affirmation of Christ’s sacrifice, The Day the Earth Stood Still obfuscates the distinction between alien and divine and posits a supreme intelligence determining Earth’s catastrophes – in accordance with beliefs expressed by such televangelists as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.  Disaster – as punitive judgment – in such faith-based eschatological fantasy is thus evidence of “intelligent design”.

The Nicholas Cage film Knowing (read more) begins with a countdown to potential disaster, paralleling the premise in The Day the Earth Stood Still.  As Cage investigates what may be prophetic apocalyptic disaster in a stream of written numbers, Knowing proceeds with systematic deliberation.  At first the explanation for the numbers veers towards the religious, but this is soon revealed as mere superstition as the scientific basis to the numerical stream and its relationship to disaster is clarified.  In this, Knowing acknowledges the fearful narrative impetus behind eschatological fantasy but locates the reasons for the end of the world in science fact and fiction rather than pseudo-spiritual-religious Biblical analogy – Knowing is eschatological fantasy deconstructed for rationalists/atheists.


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