I want to set the tone of this piece. Aaargghh. There, that should do it. Now you know where I’m coming from.
As background, I sometimes find myself listening to Sunday Nights with John Cleary on ABC radio. Yes, it’s a religious program, but I generally enjoy it because the host, although clearly strongly religious, present issues of the day with a strong secular brand of analysis, and is not afraid to confront the contradictions of religion, and also to question apologists accordingly. It is on that program I first learned of Bishop John Shelby Spong, and his progressive call for ‘a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief away from theism and traditional doctrines’. A casual glance of the titles of his publications on the Wikipedia page illustrates his struggle to find any consistency between his spiritual life and reality.
In stark contrast, however, a couple of weeks ago we had one Richard Leonard as a film reviewer, and who is also a Jesuit priest. Hilarity ensued.
In conversation with John Cleary, he proceeds to review Gravity, but in a manner somewhat differently to my approach, here.
To cut to the chase, apparently the film was choc-full of religious references. And apparently (I’m going use that word a lot – so strap in) it’s not really a story of survival in space, with a sub-theme of Bullock’s grief at the loss of a child. No, it’s more a gospel highlights piece, set in space.
To be fair, it sounded like John Cleary wasn’t buying it all that much. He wanted to talk about how the visual style drove the film, and the allusions to Kubrick’s 2001. He was impressed by the minimalist story line, and the use of CGI to make aesthetic points, like the tear drifting off in zero G, describing it as a deeply emotional moment. Good points John.
But Leonard. Oh my. All I can say is, pareidolia anyone? This is definitely a ‘face on Mars’ moment.
To begin with, he obviously liked the movie, but sets up his forthcoming analysis by identifying the major theme of survival in terms of ‘choosing life’. Well, yes, that’s what happens when people try not to die. They choose life. But then he starts in on ‘inter-textuality’, harking back to his film appreciation classes in priest school, claiming that religion is a sub-plot.
Here is a selection of Mr. Leonard’s ‘faces on Mars’ views (and the odd bit of counter-apologetics):
- Apparently Deuteronomy 30:19 is ‘there loud and clear’: choose life. Again, if you don’t want to die, yes, you are choosing life. Do we really need a bible reference to explain this? In fact, without getting too deep here, Mr. Leonard should go back to bible school on this. From my reading as a layman, this was not the intention of the quote (see here). Apparently in Deuteronomy 11:26, of the Israelites it is taught that “God did not administer justice to them according t the strict letter of the law, but allowed them mercy so that they might ‘choose life'”. So far, so good. But an interpretation by latter scholars deduced from the the words ‘choose life‘ that ‘one can learn a trade to earn a livelihood‘. Somehow I don’t think this is a key theme of the film. Just sayin’.
- In one of the longest bows he draws, Clooney’s obsession with Mardi Gras stories is significant apparently because “it’s the night where you have your last big blowout before the sacrifice of Lent. The sacrifice of Lent can be in contrast to Fat Tuesday. The contrast was stark.” WTF?
- On returning to Earth, the capsule plunging into the sea is a baptismal move. Yeah, right. Here are two more interpretations: It could be a child returning to the mother’s womb, or, it could be a safe way to retrieve a metal box from orbit. Take your pick.
- When Bullock clambers onto shore, she ‘literally comes out of the mud’, which apparently is a reference to Adam who comes out of mud. Wow.
- He gets a free-kick because of the St.Christopher medallion in the Russian craft, and the Buddha in the Chinese one. The latter is meant to indicate that Bullock is embracing pain and not running from it.
- When Bullock tries to raise the Russians on the radio but can’t communicate, she asks them to pray for her because ‘no one taught her to’. This he takes to mean a deathbed conversion. I hate that. People take comfort in all sorts of fantasies – religion is just another.
- And finally, Clooney’s return to the capsule means he’s an ‘angel of life’ (and to emphasise his scholarly reading, Leonard refers to him as ‘angelos’. Yes this means angel in Greek. Impressive.) Apparently (last one, I promise) he comes back as the angel of life to help her remember the instructions because she’s given up on life. Or it could be a hallucination brought on by the depleted oxygen environment. Maybe he’s not an angel, but an inspiration. Mystifyingly, Leonard also thinks that Clooney coming back into her subconscious is also ‘deeply Freudian’. Really? Don’t see it myself.
Well, that’s it.You see what you want to see I guess.
Leonard has found extensive religious symbology in what is essential a story of survival in a hostile environment, with the focus on human ingenuity and drive to survive, which is a strong evolutionary trait.
I don’t mind Leonard being reminded of his religious symbols by the movie – that’s fine. But to subordinate human values of courage, ingenuity, mutual support, not to mention science and technology, to religious clap-trap, it’s just intellectually dishonest.
This is just a mis-guided, or desperate attempt to leverage the achievements of man to prop up an area which has in essence had no achievements for 2000 years, unless you count creative writing, cathedrals and genocide.
When the shoe was on the other foot – when Erik Von Daniken in Chariots of Fire ascribed the events in the Book of Ezekiel to alien technology, the religiati squealed like stuck pigs, refusing to have a bar of it.
Well, that’s just how I feel about this movie review.