I got really sick yesterday. I’m still damn sick today. It’s just a cold, but it hit me so hard toward the mid-morning yesterday that I couldn’t do much other than lay about and watch movies. So I watched:
Bride and Prejudice: An Indian musical version of Pride and Prejudice. It was a very fun production, but I’m sure the story would have been terribly confusing to someone unfamiliar with some version of the original. Lalita Bakshi (i.e. Lizzie Bennett) was far too political. Her relationship with Mr. Darcy wasn’t adequately developed. The dialogue suffered at times from being written by someone obviously less brilliant than Jane Austen. However, Mr. Kohli (i.e. Mr. Collins) was super-fantastic. Also, watching the uber-intense Sayid from Lost sing and dance as happy-go-lucky Balraj Bingley (i.e. Mr. Bingley) was priceless.
Oddly, and I’m not sure if this is a general feature of Bollywood movies, the movie was highly sexualized in its dances and dress, but the main characters did not so much as kiss. (They leaned and hugged instead.) Can anyone explain that?
- Sense and Sensibility: This three-hour BBC miniseries had terrible production values, particularly in contrast to the lush Ang Lee movie (with Emma Thompson). Marrianne was well-played, but Elinor was stony rather than restrained. Plus, Elinor was terribly ugly. Mostly though, this version was boring beyond belief: it lacked the gripping drama of the novel and the movie.
War of the Worlds: This movie was not as bad as I thought it would be. The incompetent divorced father alienated from his children was sooooo cliche — and sooooo annoying. The daughter (well-played by the delightful Dakota Fanning) was disturbingly neurotic for a girl under ten. The appearance of the son at the end was bizarrely out-out-place, since he seemed to have been wholly engulfed in a large fireball earlier due to his altruistic determination to bravely sacrifice himself in a futile battle with the aliens. I particularly disliked the way in which the aliens perished: deux ex machina — or rather bacterium ex machina. (Paul tells me that’s the fault of H.G. Wells, not the movie-makers.) Really, shouldn’t the aliens have considered the possibility of germs?!? To my great frustration, that sudden ending foreclosed the much-hinted-at possibility of the humans discovering some ingenious method of destroying the aliens. That would have been lovely: existing human weapons might be too primitive to defeat the invaders, but clever humans can find some weakness to exploit if they choose to think rather than run screaming in fear.
In general, this movie confirmed by general view of Stephen Spielberg’s action movies: he masterfully places his audience in a thoroughly alien world, but doesn’t do anything significant in the course of returning them to normality other than place a bunch of random obstacles in the way.
Kingdom of Heaven: I’m ready to adopt Orlando Bloom. (He’s real man in this movie, not some blonde gay elf with a bow!) The plot isn’t terribly original: it’s too much like Ridley Scott’s other recent ancient epic, Gladiator. And it’s not even remotely historically accurate, not even to the customs of the time. (In other words, it whitewashes left and right.) Still, I greatly enjoyed the integrity of Balian, as well as the portrayal of the inhumanity and power-lust of the most outwardly devout Christians.
Interestingly, one strong theme of the movie is the independence of morality from God’s commands. In other words, it’s opposed to Divine Command Theory. (BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD!) The hero Balian is motivated to go to Jerusalem to redeem the soul of his wife, unjustly consigned to hell by Christian doctrine for suicide while in the depths of grief over a dead child. Once Balian arrives in Jerusalem, he laments that he hears no call from God: he fears that he has been forsaken.
Thanks to some sound advice from his father and the leprous King of Jerusalem, Balian does not languish in despair or pursue the divine further. Instead, he lives a secular life guided by his own moral principles. Most notably, he digs wells and irrigates his bone-dry land–thereby allowing for the creation of substantial wealth by the Muslims, Christians, and Jews working it. Similarly, when he fights to protect Jerusalem, he does not do so because God commands him or even because the city is holy, but because he knows the inhabitants will be slaughtered by the invading Muslims if it falls. (Of course, I wouldn’t endorse all that Balian does as moral, but the point is that the movie portrays his path as consistently moral–and moral in an basically secular way.) More generally, the uneasy peace in Jerusalem is made possible by the firm denials by the leprous King of any and all calls to do God’s will by slaughtering the infidel Muslims. Like Balian, he pursues a basically secular path, even punishing the Christian fanatics for killing Muslims as far as he is able.
In contrast, all the trouble in the movie is caused by Muslims and Christians claiming to be executing the will of God by executing Christians and Muslims, respectively. The Christian fanatics create unnecessary conflicts with the Muslims by attacking their caravans. Since the King lacks the power to restrain these fanatics, the Muslims are forced to respond. The Muslim political leader clearly prefers the old peace made with the now-dead King: he’s shown sharply resisting pressure from his religious cleric to retake Jerusalem. Still, Saladin is forced into war. Even after the slaughter of the fanatical Christians, the two sides are committed to fighting–and the result is mass death and destruction for both sides.
So the basic message from all that is that morality based upon adherence to God’s divine commands results in conflict, suffering, and death, whereas moralities based upon some kind of conscience or reasoning yield peace, prosperity, and life. Notably, the movie clearly portrays the necessity of all sides renouncing the authority of God’s commands, in that even a minority of one side pursuing divine commands will result in bloody conflict.
The most clear statement of the relationship between God and morality comes toward the end of the movie. During the siege of Jerusalem, Balian declares that they must burn the bodies of the dead, lest the living be infected with disease. While he knows that such is contrary to Christian burial practices, he openly declares that God will understand–and that if He doesn’t, then He’s not God. In other words, God’s moral demands can and ought to be ignored when they fail to conform to the facts.
Pretty good, no?