Friday, July 29, 2011

Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago


Abe Froman the Sausage King of Chicago here
(Please click on link above to view the youtube clip of the "Abe Froman" sequence).

John Hughes' 1986 cult classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off became a manifesto of attitude and destiny for Generation X and the stolen identity of "Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago," is still lovingly hailed by fans to be a great prank against authority. But I think there is far more going on in this scene than we initially recognize: the official tagline, "One man's struggle to take it easy," applied to the entire United States.
Original poster reading, "Leisure Rules" at the top.
First name first:  "Abe," is short for Abraham, who was the father of the multitude in the Old Testament. His last name of "Froman" comes from the German "fro" which means "happy" and "man" meaning person.
So far, we have, "the father of a happy multitude."
13th Century Russian Icon of Moses, the Law and the Burning Bush.
The name "Abraham" suggests a Jewish heritage; if Abraham is a "Sausage King," there is a serious conflict with the Mosaic Law, because pork is forbidden as pigs are unclean animals to the Jewish people. That Abe is the King of sausage in Chicago, means he is a mass producer of sausage, which, in reality, is a bunch of animal by-products stuffed into intestinal casings with herbs and seasonings.
So, now, Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago, is the father of a happy multitude who are being led astray to enjoy a food that is forbidden to them. And there is only one man who can fit that description in 1986: Ronald Reagan.

Americans in the 1980’s were experiencing one of the greatest periods of economic growth during peace time in U.S. history:  personal income taxes were slashed from 70% to around 28%. Now we can understand how Mrs. Bueller’s clients, “the Vermont people,” were able to move to a suburb of Chicago and buy a house expensive enough to earn Mrs. Bueller a sizable commission to buy Ferris a car.
This is the whole purpose of the film and the culture it represents: appearances are deceiving, and impersonations are fakes.  It's not just Abe Froman who is impersonated: Ferris sings the Beatles, Wayne Newton, Cameron impersonates Sloane's father, Sergeant Peterson of the police, Ferris impersonates Sloane's father, etc., they are all impersonating someone and that translates to being a fake. While the economy looked healthy, it really wasn’t, and while people were spending money, they really shouldn’t have.
Like the economy, the closer you look at it, the more it breaks down.
Before President Reagan took office, America was the world’s largest creditor; when he left office, the United States was the world’s biggest debtor:  "[T]he public debt rose from 26.1% GDP in 1980 to 41.0% GDP by 1988. In dollar terms, the public debt rose from $712 billion in 1980 to $2,052 billion in 1988, a roughly three-fold increase" (Wikipedia, Reaganomics).
If Ferris had been in school that day, he would have learned about the debt piling up, which we are still struggling to pay off, and if Americans had been more attentive to what was going on, instead of "taking a day off" like Ferris and enjoying the extra cash in our pockets, we would have understood what was going to happen, we would have foreseen the disaster we are in, literally, today.
Hail to the chief! Ronald Regan, 40th President of the United States.
An intricate part of Reagan’s growth policy was "Trickle Down Economics," which roughly translates into money spent at the top will "trickle down" to the middle and lower classes and increase the living standard and spending power of the whole society. In the clip link below (which is filled with other scenes, too) Simone’s monologue at the start of economics class displays how information “trickled down” to Simone to discover that Ferris had passed out at 31 Flavors the night before:
Knowing that Ferris didn’t pass out the night before, offers a demonstration that just as information doesn’t trickle down accurately, neither does wealth trickle down. Ultimately, the entire film is a metaphor for Reaganomics.
1961 Ferrari 250GT California Spyder, it's so choice.
“My father loves his car more than life itself,” Cameron tells Ferris, and it’s for that the Ferrari symbolizes the American economy and it’s fast-paced economic growth: remember Black Friday 1929, and all the stories of people jumping to their death when the stock market crashed? Those people—and Americans still today—are symbolized by Cameron’s father, who love their wallets more than life itselfFerris Bueller’s Day Off is a doomsday prophecy of what was going to happen to the U.S. economy by showing what happened to the Ferrari.
So if people had so much money, what happened to the economy?
When taxes are slashed, it does stimulate growth, but the government tends to still spend more money than the revenue it takes in to pay for that spending! What was the government spending money on?

Garage attendants driving the Ferrari

If you noticed, the theme song to Star Wars was playing in the background, and it’s a well-directed scene: just as the garage attendants are “flying high” in the car and running up the miles, the American government was spending more than it was taking in on the Strategic Defense Initiative better known as STAR WARS, and that was the cause of the astronomical debt we were heaping up.

From a 1984 artist's concept drawing of the Strategic Defense Initiative.
I said Americans were experiencing one of the largest periods of economic growth during a time of peace, however, the 80’s weren’t a time of peace: it was a critical juncture of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the fastest leg of the Arms Race. This important note may--at least, slightly--adjust the way Economists view the Reagan administration.
Because of this, we shouldn’t think that the money spent on Star Wars was wasted. Would the Communist Party have been able to keep power without Ronald Reagan having the power of American forces backing him up and pushing them out? He won a war, a cold, silent, expensive war that was invading people’s lives every moment all over the world (and if you don’t believe me, watch another Matthew Broderick flick WarGames of 1983 [which was the role that got him Ferris Bueller] or Red Dawn of 1984 ).
But is the Cold War represented in the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) doesn’t care about Ferris’ future, about Ferris’ well-being or his education: Ed Rooney cares only about Ed Rooney and “not being shown up by a snot-nosed kid,” and that’s pretty similar to the Communists' agenda for taking over the world.
President Reagan speaking at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
"Tear down this wall!"
But Ed Rooney isn't the only person trying to catch Ferris "taking a day off" instead of working; Ferris' sister Jeanie (Jennifer Gray) is "sick" that Ferris gets to ditch school while everyone else has to go. There is a difference though: Jeanie is after justice, whereas Rooney is after power.

Jeanie Bueller and Charlie Sheen at the Police Station

Another big item on the Reagan agenda was, "Just say no!" to drugs, and now we know why.
Jeanie must be saved from becoming like Ed Rooney: Jeanie's ditching school throughout the entire film trying to catch Ferris ditching school. The viewer knows that the struggle of "Jeanie becoming like Rooney" is a potential threat because Jeanie and Rooney (in the Bueller household) are "in the same house together at the same time," which translates to them being roughly on the same page in their thinking. Jeanie dials 911 and "makes a call for help," and even though it's not the answer she thinks she needs, going to the police station saves her so she can be the one who "Saves Ferris" from Rooney.
1981, President Reagan outlines his economic strategy to Americans.
When Ferris gets home and Rooney "catches" him at the back door, Jeanie tosses Rooney’s wallet to the dog. This is an interesting bit, because where on earth did that dog come from? Has that dog been seen before anywhere in the movie? No, it's "an invisible home defense security mechanism," rather like Star Wars. And not only is Ferris saved, but it's a symbol that Reagan wasn’t throwing money away (Rooney's wallet), it was going to our home defense security, Star Wars (the dog), so we would be saved from the Communists.
The symbol of the Soviet Union, turned into a gummi bear.
As I said, Rooney was after power, so that’s why, in the end, all his dignity is taken from him: his car being towed off (like the Soviet economy), he has to ride on the school bus, a sign that he has to “be schooled” all over again, just like the Communists being schooled in capitalism. What was the symbol of the Soviet Union? The grizzly bear, and what is offered to Rooney on the bus by one of the students? A gummi bear, because that would be the fate of the Soviet Union, something "warm and squishy."
President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, Geneva, 1985.
Screenwriter and director of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off John Hughes was definitely a skeptic about Reagan’s “Supply Side Economics,” and his scathing critique of the system was thinly covered by Ben Stein’s brilliant performance as the economics teacher; using a teenager trying to get out of school as a parable for the United States' economy was a brilliant stroke, and it had to be done, because we wouldn't--just like the bored students in the class--listen to what was good for us, we wanted to be out and taking it easy like Ferris. Just like in the story, everything worked out all right, but we are certainly in a pickle now, and the more we get "schooled," the better off Americans and the whole world will be.
"Voodoo economics," and "Star Wars," were both derogatory names given to projects in the Reagan administration; perhaps, Hughes wanted "Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago" to be another joke on Reagan, punning off of "pork barrel politics" but I truly think that, given the endearing success of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, all of us are grateful that "we won the struggle to take it easy."

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Kiss and the Soul: Gustav Klimt

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, 1907-8, Vienna.
It was a highly unusual artistic convention for a time period known as "The Decadence," but The Kiss remarkably resurrects a rather ancient means of depicting the immortal soul, the Garden of Eden and humanity's destiny.
Ognissanti Madonna, Giotto, about 1310, Florence.
Giotto excelled at religious art and The Ognissanti Madonna perfectly illustrates the icon style using Gold leafing which Klimt utilized for The Kiss. Because gold is the most valuable material known to man, it perfectly translates to the immaterial value and wealth of the soul, because the soul is immortal, and gives us the very image of God Himself within us.
The Crucifixtion scene is not of the actual place of Cavalry,
rather, the spiritual place where it happens inside each of us.
The wood of the Cross is not "real wood," the rock
is not a "real mountain," and even the bodies of the angels,
Mary, John and Jesus are not real human bodies, rather, bodies
in a "other worldly" state, that spiritual state.
Because Medieval art was primarily concerned with depictions of the soul and of heaven, not of people, nature or earthly matters, artists employed gold and "abstract" designs of mountains and streams to communicate to the audience that the subject they were viewing was from "another world." In the above example of Giotto's Ognissanti Madonna the pure "gold background" communicates an other worldliness, a world not inhabited by sorrow, darkness, or sin, rather, the triumphs of heaven and the glory of God. For example, the bodies of the angels are a physical abstraction, they are "blocks" and the garments hide any individual traits they may have. 
The background on the left side appears like a shimmering of gold,
whereas on the right side, the paint brush's strokes can be seen,
it appears "blocky," mirroring the "blocks" on the man's robe.
For The Kiss, let's begin with the background. Behind the head of the man and woman is a blank space of gold leaf, not as bright as the bodies of the couple, but still abstract. Next, the small "pasture" or "meadow" area they are on. The flowers supposedly denote growth and health, but there is also a cliff, and the woman is precariously close to it.  Off of the woman's body--and not the man's--specifically from her legs down, are golden ribbons, or necklaces, bracelets perhaps, but golden ornaments, "like a bride bedecked with jewels."  The woman's "gown" is ornamental, that is, she doesn't have a "real" body, rather like the figures in Giotto's work or earlier Medieval icnography, it's abstracted. Her gown, however, describes more about her state of soul than a realistic portrait could: with bright flowers scattered over the gold, she is a virtuous maiden.
Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, Neue Gallerie, New York. In 2006, it was purchased
for $135 million making it up to that point, the most expensive painting ever sold.
The man, on the other hand, has darkened skin, and over his golden robe are large dark spots, denoting sin. Compare the material--symbolically representing their souls--covering the man and the woman: his is of a purer gold, but it's marred by the large "blocks" of darkness; her's is not as brilliant, but it's filled "with the flowers of virtue," not the wounds of sin. A good comparison is another work by Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Whereas The Kiss represents "man" and "woman," in this portrait we have an actual person. The pattern on her dress represents eyes, and implies that Adele was always looking to see what others were doing, in other words, a high society gossip. Her gown fans out like the tail of a peacock, suggesting her connections to high society, but the lack of the bright primary colors we see on the woman's gown in The Kiss suggests that Klimt was not particularly fond of Adele and didn't consider her virtuous.
Judith With the Head of Holofernes.
Likewise, examining Klimt's earliest work in this style, Judith with the Head of Holofernes of 1901, really underlines the use of dark colors by the artist to literally comunicate "something dark." In the final examination of the man and the woman in The Kiss, it seems that she is about to "fall" off that cliff because of his dark desires for her. The faint blocks painted within the background behind the woman is literally in the background that if she is not careful, the man will bring his sin onto her; conversely, the woman's purity is within the background behind the man, suggesting that the exercising of her virtue can bring the parts of his soul dead in sin back to life. But the most important thing about the work is the title: The Kiss, because there is no kiss, he's biting her, or feeding on her, like a vampire, and this is what's so important about their dynamic, and the entire point of the painting.
The Kiss of Judas, the Arena Chapel, circa 1305.
When God created Adam, He breathed life into him; in effect, God kissed Adam. In the divine economy of salvation, when Judas kissed Christ to betray Him, Judas symbolically took life away from Christ. When Christ appeared to the Apostles, he breathed on them, to return that Holy Spirit to them, and when, at Pentecost, the Apostles heard the great wind and then there were tongues as if of fire, that was the Holy Spirit kissing them, the Mouth that gives Life.
These historical occurences within the History of Salvation makes the kiss important (think also of Sts. Anne and Joachim at the Golden Gate). When a man and woman kiss, they impart their own life to each other, and for that reason, the convenant of a marriage is sealed with a kiss, the breath of life they each give to the other.
The Kiss, then, is a breath of life that isn't happening. When, in the Garden of Eden, God gave Eve to be Adam's help mate, and then the serpent tempted her, women have gotten a bad rap ever since. But if the help mate is ruined, that means the one she was supposed to help is ruined, too, and it seems that it's this state of ruin and not being able to get out of it which Klimt depicts, and realized because of his own life. Although he was still living with his parents and two unmarried sisters when he was 45, he had already fathered 3 children out of wedlock: The Kiss seems to be his great warning to every woman, not just about his own "dark desires," but about those of every man. The poor girl seems to be so trusting, and she shouldn't be. The woman is seen in her idealized state, and within moments, if the man has his way with her, she will fall over that (spiritual) cliff into ruin. Klimt seems to be sending out a signal for help, that woman must be chaste and very aware of how unchaste men are by nature of their desires.
Although men want women to give into their sexual appetites, women must resist them to save themselves and men.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini and the Vietnam War

Size is important.
In this instance, it's a bikini that's too small for a woman that is too big, and I would like to suggest that this is symbolic of America's new found power and prestige at the end of World War II and our struggle to understand what was going to be expected of us,... and what we could get away with.
Now this probably sounds like I'm slicing the bologna pretty thin, but Brian Hyland's 1960 Bubblegum pop hit Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini is ultimately about the American government in a "stop and go" scenario of trying to win the Vietnam War or just "policing" the situation (lyrics to the song are below).
U.S. infantrymen in Vietnam on a search and destroy mission.
The important part of this song is the color "yellow" because it is double-sided: on the positive side, it's associated with the color of gold and hence royalty; on the negative side, it's also the color used to denote a coward, and that is exactly the situation that America found itself in during the Cold War era, that either we had to rise to the occasion and put a stop to the Soviet Union's spread of Communism or we were going to have to run away, we were either going to prove we were a superpower, or we would be proved to be yellow-bellied cowards.
So here is how the lyrics go:
She was afraid to come out of the locker, refers to America's isolationism: we didn't want to get involved in World War II, then we didn't want to get involved in the Korean War and then we didn't want to be in Vietnam; we literally wanted to lock ourselves and our vast resources in a locker and forget about the rest of the world.
She was as nervous as she could be, "nervous" aptly describes how nervous the American government was about the spread of Communism, and what would happen if something wasn't done, and what would happen to America if the Soviets were stronger than what we expected them to be. By the time we were in Vietnam, there had already been plenty of "Red Scares," and anti-Communist sentiment throughout the country.
American President Eisenhower and President Diem in Washington.
She was afraid someone would see, refers to the elaborate spy games and battles between the CIA and KGB that gave so much fodder to the imagination of a generation of writers and movie makers, including Billy Wilder's 1961 film One, Two, Three (the film was released just one year after Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie etc. was released). In the film a character named Otto is being interrogated by the East Berlin Communists and is suspected of being an American spy, and guess what annoying bubblegum pop song plays in the background? Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie, etc.
The official policy of the Eisenhower Administration: the domino effect theory.
Two, three, four, might be the count down in what was called Domino Effect Theory: as soon as one country fell to Communism, such as China and Vietnam, other countries would have to give into the force of that movement and would fall themselves, countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, which were all in real danger of being taken over by the aggressive Soviets.
Stick around we'll tell you more, and this is really the entire point, not just of this song, but of all art in general: we can only tell you in parables, in veiled terms, in symbols and disguises. The power of seeing America as a shy girl in a bikini too small is a caricature worth a thousand words, and that's why, as a coded reference to a situation greater than itself, this song is incredibly successful.
James Dean did the Cold War first in Rebel Without a Cause.
Wrapped herself in a blanket very easily refers to the beginning of the Cold War, which historians consider to have generally begun in 1946 when relations between the United States and the Soviet Union broke down and a race for domination of world influence between democracy and communism began. The symbol of a "blanket" and "being cold" referring to the Cold War was used earlier in the 1955 film Rebel Without A Cause when Plato (Sal Mineo) is always getting cold and Jim Stark (James Dean) gives Plato his own jacket to wear.
President John F. Kennedy.
For the first time today, doesn't refer to America's first attempt at participating in a foreign war, rather, the inevitable transference of power in the 1960 Presidential election; as the incumbent, Eisenhower was not eligible to run again, so the nation knew that in November, it would either go to then California Governor Richard Nixon or Senator John F. Kennedy, and neither of them had any war experience, especially compared to the great World War II general, Dwight Eisenhower. So things were going to change as one of these new presidents ventured into "the water of a foreign war" for the first time.
American Graffiti and the drag race scene in 1962.
Afraid to come out in the open, really refers to an "open" agenda to fight the Communists, and this idea of limited war was as constricting to American forces trying to contain Communism as a little bikini was to a girl wanting to wade into the water. Another wonderful symbol used during this time was "The Arms Race" and the actual drag racing which symbolized America and the Soviet Union trying to out-do the other in nuclear arms. Again, we can look to Rebel Without A Cause when James Dean's Jim Stark is in a car race to take the cars over the edge of a cliff and the thug he races against ends up dying. This explicitly refers to the massive proliferation of weapons building up between the U.S. and Soviets and the inevitable outcome of death, for one or more participants. The 1973 hit American Graffiti really explores how the arms race and Cold War effected an entire generation of young Americans as they headed towards their future.
It wasn't just America: an Australian troop in North Vietnam.
So she sat bundled up on shore, could easily translate to "America sat on the fence and tried to use the South Vietnam government to do all the fighting so we wouldn't have to." We openly supported South Vietnamese President Diem while realizing there simply wasn't a better alternative, unless we were going to go ourselves.
Now she's afraid to come out of the water, and I wonder what she's gunna do, now she's afraid to come out of the water, and the poor little girls turning blue:  once in the fight, with the committing of the troops, weapons, government offices, alliances and the all-important public relations battle waging, America had gotten itself into the war completely (the girl getting into the water) but because of the tactics of guerrilla  warfare, America realized that it's own size and military greatness was too big to operate within the limitations of the Vietnamese jungles (the little bikini). American generals outlined this plan:
  • Phase 1. Commitment of U.S. (and other free world) forces necessary to halt the losing trend by the end of 1965.
  • Phase 2. U.S. and allied forces mount major offensive actions to seize the initiative to destroy guerrilla and organized enemy forces. This phase would end when the enemy had been worn down, thrown on the defensive, and driven back from major populated areas.
  • Phase 3. If the enemy persisted, a period of twelve to eighteen months following Phase 2 would be required for the final destruction of enemy forces remaining in remote base areas.

So this is the part about the girl being in the water and turning blue, because her circulation is being cut-off, that is, the plan isn't working, and literally, she doesn't know what she is going to do just as the U.S.'s ideas weren't working and not knowing what else to do. Afraid of leaving, lest Communist forces would win, America was stuck in the water.
The 1967 Vietnam war protests at the Pentagon in Washington.
So in the water she wanted to stay, From the locker to the blanket, From the blanket to the shore, From the shore to the water, we have a summary:  from the condemnation of Communism, comes the fighting of Communism; from the fighting of Communism, comes the committal of weapons and troops; from the committal of troops comes the loss of lives, the maiming of men, the wiping out of a generation and the revolt of those at home not fighting.
And that's really all there is to say about it.
If America hadn't stood up to Communist forces then, if those sacrifices hadn't been made, regardless of what some term the "loss" of the Vietnam War (which I strongly disagree with), it would have been the loss of democracy and liberty throughout the world: in the words of President John F. Kennedy, the United States would pledge to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty."

She was afraid to come out of the locker
she was as nervous as she could be
she was afraid to come out of the locker
she was afraid that somebody would see
Two three four
tell the people what she wore
It was an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
that she wore for the first time today
an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
so in the locker she wanted to stay
Two three four
stick around well tell you more
She was afraid to come out in the open
so a blanket around her she wore
she was afraid to come out in the open
and so she sat bundled up on the shore
Two three four
tell the people what she wore
It was an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
that she wore for the first time today
an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
so in the blanket she wanted to stay
Two three four
stick around well tell you more
Now she's afraid to come out of the water
and i wonder what she's gunna do
now she's afraid to come out of the water
and the poor little girls turning blue
Two three four
tell the people what she wore
It was an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
that she wore for the first time today
an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
so in the water she wanted to stay
From the locker to the blanket
from the blanket to the shore
from the shore to the water
yes there isn't any more

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pulp Fiction: A Study in Plato and Aristotle

Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and John Travolta’s Vincent Vega (short for “Vegas,” Sin City, just like the red-light district of Amsterdam he’s so fond of visiting) are opposites: Jules is a man of contemplation, whereas Vincent, being a man of appetites, really likes food and drugs. Because Vincent's appetites control him, Vincent necessarily interprets the “miracle” of them not having been riveted with bullets earlier in the day with a freak accident; whereas Jules is a “jewel” because he sees the value in what happened and interprets it—not only as a miracle that they weren’t hurt—but also as a sign. 
Vincent and Jules present the classic split in philosophy between Aristotle and his teacher, Plato, and forever depicted by Raphael in The School of Athens, where Aristotle points to the earth (upon which his philosophy was based) while Plato points towards the heavens where he believed reality to be. Like Aristotle, Vincent tries to explain the world by the world, whereas Jules explains the world by the heavens. 
The full view of the School of Athens by Raphael.
It’s not that Aristotle advocated living according to one’s appetites, rather, Tarantino ties Vincent to his appetites in exploration of the world of drugs and amorality so prevalent today; please excuse me but there is really no delicate way of putting it, Vincent is “full of shit,” and that’s why we always see him on the toilet, and whenever we hear anything that Vincent says, Tarantino wants us to think about how everything Vincent "consumes" goes "straight through him" because it's not worth holding onto.
Vincent's way of thinking leads to death, literally and spiritually.  
Detail: Plato on the left, Aristotle on the right.
When Jules and Vincent talk in the Hawthorne Grill, we have already seen Butch (Bruce Willis) shoot Vincent with his own gun, so that we know Tarantino has put these words into the mouth of a dead man and what Vincent does and how he lives his life leads to death: Vincent's gun is not only a symbol of his supposed power (because he can take life away with it) but also his way of life because, unlike Jules who is retiring, Vincent refuses to give up his way of life, and that's why Butch shoots him with it, after, of course, Vincent steps out of the bathroom. Those who live by the sword die by the sword, and those who live by their gun, die by their gun.
When Mia (Uma Thurman) overdoses on drugs, it requires a shot of adrenaline straight into her heart to pull her out of it; this symbolically relays that Mia was willing to cheat on her husband Marsellus (Ving Rhames) because she dances with Vincent (anyone who has ever read a Jane Austen novel knows that dancing is the quintessential courtship for mating, and whoever the characters dance with during the novel is who they will mate with, to put it bluntly).  The shot of adrenaline is what Mia needs to know not to cheat on her husband, as the bullets passing through Vincent and Jules and hitting the wall is the “shot of adrenaline” Jules needs to leave his life of crime and pursue a life of contemplation.
Vincent and Mia "doing the twist," but Jane Austen knows better.
When Jules and Vincent enter the guys' apartment in the beginning of the film, Jules takes a huge bite of a hamburger and sips loudly on the Sprite: this means that Jules has entertained his appetites and "drunk deeply" of life, but when his life is unexpectedly preserved, he knows he must now follow God. Vincent has seen two signs:  the bullets passing through him and Mia being brought back to life from her overdose and it’s still not enough to save Vincent from death. This is the meaning of Mia’s bad tomato joke:  Jules and Mia are the mother and father tomato, and Vincent is the baby tomato (immature) and since he lags behind in understanding what “is happening around him” he’s told to “catch up” but in doing so, he’s killed.  Ironically, this refers to the discussion Vincent and Jules have about “little things” that people in different countries do, like slathering their French fries in mayonnaise and not ketchup; instead of talking about something important, Vincent wastes his time even though he only has another day to live.
Vincent stares into the case wherein he faces that which is most important.
As Jules and Vincent leave the diner after the robbery, they both hide their guns in their pants, but the simultaneous gesture means two radically different things:  Vincent won’t be firing his gun again because it will be fired on him and Jules won’t be firing again because he’s giving it up for good. Like their names suggest, Jules “wins the field,” and Vincent lives Vegas style and dies Vegas style. Jules doesn’t give into Vincent mocking him for the choice he is making; it’s easy for him to give up his “loaded wallet,” i.e., his earthly possessions to hold onto something more precious; lastly, when Jules turns over the briefcase to Marsellus, he goes to the bathroom to “cleanse out his system” so he can progress and go on with the plans that he has made.  Jules going to the bathroom contrasts with Vincent because Vincent has done nothing but “wasted his time” but Jules, having led a life of crime, humbly realizes he needs to be cleansed before going on.
Jules and Vincent with guns, but with different guns.
In making Pulp Fiction about the schools of thought of two of the greatest thinkers who ever lived, Tarantino delivers an ultimatum to the viewer:  are you going to go down the path of Jules, or Vincent?
It's a decision every person has to make.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Se7en and the Eighth Deadly Sin

There are a number of movies that have been suggested to be a dream sequence of one of the characters, the most famous being The Wizard of Oz:  when we see Dorothy (Judy Garland) waking up in her bedroom in Kansas, it clearly suggests that she imagined the trip over the rainbow.  David Fincher's 1995 Se7ven follows a similar path.
When Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) sets a metronome in the beginning of the film, he falls into bed and goes to sleep, and we don’t see him wake up:  everything that takes place after that, I would like to suggest, is a dream.  Freud tells us, “All dreams are fulfillments of wishes,” so the question is, what is the wish being fulfilled?
A way of maintaining balance.
Put quite simply, Detective Somerset doesn’t want to leave the police force, and his unconscious constructs a circumstance (a dream) that fulfills his wish of being necessary to the force so he doesn’t have to leave and his replacement, Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt), has to leave instead. As God created the universe in six days, so with the six days he has left until he is officially off the force, Somerset creates a situation condemning his enemy--Detective Mills--and glorifying himself.
Whenever we see a character asleep, that opens the door to dream interpretation and psychoanalysis. You can argue that, because we see Somerset awaken in this scene, that destroys my thesis about the narrative being largely his dream; I would argue, however, that we don't see him wake up from when he sets the metronome, and it's very possible to dream about dreaming when you are in a dream, as Christopher Nolan's Inception taught us. Another famous cinematic example of a entire film being largely a dream sequence is Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Rear Window, when Jimmy Stewart's character spends the entire film in a wheelchair and he slips in and out of sleep; we see him wake up at times, but we don't know when he is actually asleep or awake because he is looking out the window, windows being symbols of our state of self-reflection and meditation, and nothing provides material for that as well as our dreams do. 
In our dreams, we “hide” things behind symbols: conflicts, desires, fear and anxiety, that we can’t cope with in our waking life, but our unconscious has to release the energy created by these conflicts because of the inner tension it’s causing, and a dream is a means of taking action that we cannot take in reality (think about the film Minority Report). Kevin Spacey (John Doe) is as physically different from Morgan Freeman as can be and this difference helps disguise Somerset as the killer because Somerset is hiding behind John Doe just as John Doe hides the hand prints behind the painting in the lawyer’s office and gluttony is written behind the fridge in the obese man’s house.
My sister brought up an excellent point to me that, I think, supports the dream interpretation theory. If John Doe is a real man (i.e., not a psychoanalytic double for Somerset in Somerset's dream) then how did Doe know Mills would be moving to the city when Doe had been planning the crimes for a year? If this is a typical, linear narrative, then there's a  plot hole, unless we just want to deduce that Doe hadn't finalized who the last victim(s) would be and since Mills got in Doe's way Doe decided to make Mills pay the price. If, however, we want to follow the line of analysis that this IS all a dream Somerset is having, then  Somerset would have known at least a year in advance of his approaching retirement and would have a year of building up resentment about having to leave the force and no longer being needed, so when Somerset couldn't bear the resentment any longer, he goes to sleep and his psyche erupts in this violent dream about how righteous Somerset has been all these years, solving murders and stopping crime, with little or no reward, and now he's being "let go" because, to a workaholic, retirement is a condemnation, it's not a reward. In his heart (following the dream analysis line of thought), Somerset, not Mills, is the one going to jail, because it's Somerset who has lost both his wife (his job) and his child (passing on his legacy and line of work to a new detective of his choosing that he has groomed and prepared, the way a father would leave the family business to a child).
It also helps that The Usual Suspects had been released earlier that same year when Spacey played Verbal Kint, a role that easily provides “doubles” for the character.  “Verbal” refers to his talking all the time, while “Kint" refers to Clark Kent, Superman who had a double identity; but it is his real persona as Keyser Soothsay—which roughly translates to “Father of Lies,”—that Fincher was drawing upon when using Spacey as John Doe so that viewers who had seen the earlier film would already know what was going on by referencing Spacey’s earlier work.
The name “William Somerset” combines two famous writers—William Shakespeare and Somerset Maugham—and provides the vital clue of who the real criminal of the film is, because those writers’ books are among those checked out from the library to “understand” the seven deadly sins.
In perhaps the most famous scene from the film, Det. Mills makes what looks like a shady deal in buying something he shouldn’t, but that he’s buying Cliff Notes to learn about the seven deadly sins, clears him of any wrong doing! He can’t commit a crime that he doesn’t know about, whereas, Somerset is well educated in the ways of sin, evil and darkness so it is this knowledge upon which his unconscious draws to construct the circumstances for Det. Mills’ “fall.”
But there is a second part to dreams:  they show us a side within ourselves that we don’t want to see, and it’s this characteristic of dreams that shows us Somerset’s sins and how they all contribute to the wish fulfillment of not leaving the force.

What is the Eighth Deadly Sin?  
Being a workaholic.
Somerset failed to foster relationships that would give him the satisfaction he needed to become a well rounded individual so that, when his retirement came, he would have those relationships to give him fulfillment, and not have just the fulfillment that comes from one’s work; instead, he is emotionally being cut off from the force just as Tracy’s (Gwyneth Paltrow) head is cut off from her body.  Each one of the sins “atoned” for in the film demonstrates this failure of Somerset.
The Seven Deadly Sins by Bosch who is referenced in the film.
Gluttony:  it’s not the quantity of spaghetti eaten that relates this sin to Somerset, it’s the sameness:  because he never did anything other than his work, there is nothing else that he wants, and so he is a glutton for his work.  It wasn’t the food that killed the obese man, it was the kick in the stomach from John Doe that exploded it open, and for Somerset having to leave his work, that’s a kick in the stomach.
Greed:  he is unwilling to share the police force with anyone else, it is a part of him (hence the lawyer removing a pound of his flesh, which is from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice).
Sloth:  Somerset’s conscious has turned to mush just like the sloth victim’s brain. Somerset tells Mills that sometimes you just have to put on "blinders" to get through the day, but if we put on blinders to get through the film, we won't see what Somerset has really done. The sloth reflects his not “working” on what is truly important, our relationships, and instead working on work. That the sloth victim had been a child molester is very important:  children symbolize the future, and Mills has violated Somerset’s future on the police force. It’s the very next day that Somerset meets with Tracy and discovers she’s pregnant, and the unconscious “writes this in as a part of the dream” so that Somerset can do unto Mills as Somerset dreams Mills is doing to him:  take away the future.
Lust:  all of Somerset’s creative energies and passion have been put into his work, that which is an unnatural relationship, just like the razor blade dildo:  he has failed to nurture a relationship with a natural wife and beget a natural child, other than his accomplishments on the police force.
Pride:  Somerset imagines that Mills isn’t as talented and intelligent as he himself is, and Mills needs Somerset more than Somerset needs Mills.  The model’s nose is cut off because Somerset prides himself on being able to “sniff out” the clues to what is going on, clues that escape Det. Mills like John Doe taking pictures of Mills and then escaping after the chase out of his apartment.
"All is vanity," by C. Allan Gilbert.
Envy: When Somerset is opening the box which contains Tracy’s head, we have to imagine that it is not John Doe speaking to Mills, rather, Somerset, talking about how he envies Mills' relationship with his wife and tried to play the husband:  Tracy called Somerset to talk to Somerset and told him she was pregnant, something that she should have done with her husband, Det. Mills, and this is how Somerset comes between them.  We can “trace” the crime of envy and the other sins through what happens to Tracy because Tracy is the sign of Mills’ stability and healthy development, whereas the absence of Somerset’s wife shows that he himself is not balanced.
Envy was said to rot the flesh because it caused the eye to first sin
Perhaps the biggest puzzle of the film, and the greatest challenge to my thesis that Somerset wants to get Mills off the force, is when Mills chases John Doe out of the apartment and down an alley and John Doe has Mills on the ground and Doe can easily kill him; Mills says, “No,” and Doe runs off.  If Somerset wants Mills “out of commission,” why doesn’t Doe kill him then?
If you have read Shakespeare’s Hamlet, you know the answer.
In a film about the seven deadly sins, Mills is in a state of grace, he humbly asks for mercy and that’s not what Somerset/Doe want, they want him to deserve to die.  Likewise, Hamlet doesn’t want to kill his incestuous uncle/step-father when he is in a state of grace, rather, when he is in a state of sin so he will be divinely punished; Doe/Somerset wait to do Mills in when they have “caught him in the act.”
But remember, as John Doe is approaching Mills, we see his reflection in a puddle of water on the road.  A "reflection," in this instance means seeing something backwards as in a mirror and the dirty water suggests that it's the opposite of grace and the sacramental waters of baptism. This brief moment reinforces John Doe as a manifestation of Somerset's imagination and "double."
But there is a problem:  there are only six deadly sins carried out in the film, not seven:  wrath is not fulfilled by Det. Mills. 
Dante and Virgil are being attacked by the Wrathful.
In Dante's epic poem, The Divine Comedy,  Dante and Virgil are going down the River Styx when they are attacked by the Wrathful and Dante gets angry at them:

"With weeping and with wailing,
Thou spirit maledict, do thou remain;
For thee I know, though thou art all defiled."
Virgil praises Dante:
"Thereafter with his arms he clasped my neck;
He kissed my face, and said: "Disdainful soul,
Blessed be she who bore thee in her bosom
That was an arrogant person in the world;
Goodness is none, that decks his memory;
So likewise here his shade is furious." (Emphasis added)

Far from being an instigator of sin, Det. Mills is being righteous! As earlier when Mills was in a state of grace, before shooting John Doe in the head, Mills says, "God! God!" which many would probably suggest is a taking of the Lord's name in vain, but it's also likely that it is--in it's own way--a prayer.  Being wrathful means not shedding innocent blood, and there is nothing innocent about John Doe/William Somerset.  There are things in this world that should make us angry; “wrath” is when someone is angry for something they have no right to be angry about, like Mills taking Somerset’s place on the police force; if Somerset had not been a workaholic, he would be looking forward to his retirement instead of deeply resenting it. 
The validation of Mills’ righteous anger comes in the car when Mills and Somerset drive John Doe to the destination as John Doe explains his plan of punishing the wicked and Mills gets angry, as he should. The important part of this scene is that it is Somerset who is doing the driving, and that symbol translates to Somerset taking us where he wants us to go; John Doe is literally in the back seat, and nothing else but a back seat driver.
Detail of the Seven Deadly Sins by Bosch; this is gluttony.
But lastly, there is a second side to wrath, sullenness is wrath turned in on itself:

Like the fourth circle of hell, the fifth circle--presented in Inferno 7 and 8--contains two related groups of sinners. But whereas avarice and prodigality are two distinct sins based on the same principle (an immoderate attitude toward material wealth), wrath and sullenness are basically two forms of a single sin: anger that is expressed (wrath) and anger that is repressed (sullenness). This idea that anger takes various forms is common in ancient and medieval thought. Note how the two groups suffer different punishments appropriate to their type of anger--the wrathful ruthlessly attacking one another and the sullen stewing below the surface of the muddy swamp (Inf. 7.109-26)--even though they are all confined to Styx.

In short, Somerset, in being sullen about having to retire, commits the act of wrath. The act of his turning his anger on himself is what gives birth to this dream that brings down Det. Mills. Unless we are informed about what sins are and what virtues are, we are bound by our ignorance to make the wrong choices and become guilty of them ourselves.
John Doe is Somerset’s alter ego, nothing but a figment of the imagination, and he carries out on Mills what is forbidden for Somerset to do (put Mills away from the force or kill him) and do unto Mills what Mills is doing to Somerset: severing him from what he loves.  In short, you can’t kill something that doesn’t exist. The proof of this is John Doe not having any fingerprints: it keeps Somerset from being identified.
So what is the moral of the story? The world is worth fighting for, but if you are Det. Somerset, that means fighting anyone who will come to take your place in the world.
And the world is worth fighting for us, too, but whom do we fight?
“John Doe” is everyman, he is us and within us and our sins activate him into being.  From within our own being comes the violence, the perverse wishes, the distorted realities and they are all caused by sin. By overcoming our own sins, we fight the evil in the world. For Detective David Mills, “David” represents the one who fought the Goliath of the evil world and “Mills” the miller who works with wood, or the wood of the Cross.  David Mills, then, is bearing the guilt of Somerset’s sins as Somerset goes back to the city, the urban decay and “hell on earth” that his imagination has created and longs for while Mills, like Christ, goes to bear the guilt of sin.

Harry Potter vs. The Potter

There has been a regrettable lack of articulated refutation regarding the relationship of Christians and the Harry Potter stories, and how generally accepted stories involving similar elements, i.e., The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, support Christian principles whereas Harry Potter does not. There are four reasons why Harry Potter should be boycotted by Christians
There has been a regrettable lack of articulated refutation regarding the relationship of Christians and the Harry Potter stories, and how generally accepted stories involving similar elements, i.e., The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, support Christian principles whereas Harry Potter does not. There are four reasons why Harry Potter should be boycotted by Christians. First, his habitual disobedience is rewarded: in Harry Potter and Sorcerer's Stone, one of his teachers blatantly tells them not to mount their broomsticks until she returns; less than five seconds pass and Harry has already mounted his broom and takes off; after doing whatever he was going to do, the teacher returns and instead of getting upset that Harry disobeyed her, she rewards him by putting him on the Quidditch team! The examples continue throughout the film: the Dark Forest is forbidden; Harry goes in; the third floor is forbidden, Harry goes up to the third floor.
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, even though Harry has broken the rules of not using magic outside of the school, he's not penalized in anyway. Harry exhibits arrogance and pride in these actions, by placing himself above all the other things that should--in the natural order of things--be above him. By emphasizing what he wants to do, and doing it, it demonstrates that gratifying his own whims is what is important. Yet it doesn't stop there: not only is Harry a poor example to children, but the "authority" figures in the film are poor examples for parents; that the author and film makers don't care about showing  irresponsible "authority" figures, also shows they don't care about the example they are sitting for their main audience, children.
Secondly, Harry Potter is famous. Everyone "knows" who he is and he is known for being important . . . but why?  This is the Kim Karadshin complex of "famous for being famous" and the author never shows how this adversely effects Harry's growth and maturity. This falsely puts emphasis on our lower emotions and the need to feel important; further, it makes being important important. How many of us are important? We are terribly important to our family, to our friends, to the groups which we belong, but that's not where the emphasis is put for this character and it mis-prioritizes what a healthy child should grow up believing. In short, there is a difference between "fame" and "respect" and Harry, not having done anything to earn the awe of so many characters he encounters--by hard work, sacrifice, friendship, etc.--creates a false understanding of destiny and greatness. Harry's reputation at Hogwarts sets a pace for children to crave fame.
Fans waiting in line for the midnight release of the newest Harry Potter novel.
Thirdly: Harry seems to believe, "Do unto others as they do unto you," because at the start of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, his aunt makes terrible comments to him and he retaliates against her by blowing her up into a balloon... Is this an example of acceptable social behavior, and especially Christian behavior? Seeing "retaliation" for someone treating you badly completely defies the foundation of Christ's teaching: "Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart." Harry using his magic to get revenge against his aunt demonstrates a lack of maturity that all the other bad habits (disobedience, "fame," and counting on magic as a solution to life's problems) contribute to. Harry, seeing the problems with his aunt and "correcting" her, provides a perfect example of what Christ warned us against: seeing the speck in our neighbor's eye and not seeing the plank within our own.
Quidditch balls from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
Lastly, the magic. To be fair, there are "magical" events and characters in both the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings series; so what is the difference? Because of Harry's disobedience, his fame and his lack of respect for the Golden Rule of "Love your neighbor as yourself," Harry's wooden magic wand is a very poor substitute for the Cross of Christ, and just as power for the believer comes from the Cross, Harry's magic comes from his stick, which offers no comparison to the height, depth and breadth of the Cross: the Cross is a source of Wisdom that begets power of the virtues of patience, humility, meekness; magic gives instant gratification.
Map of the mythical world of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
Contrariwise, in the Chronicles of Narnia, Edmond and the other children have to grow and overcome their sins, their lack of faith and, for Edmond, literally his appetites because he betrayed his brother and sisters for Turkish delight. Aslan's sacrifice for Edmond shows the power of love and putting others before yourself and everyone's need to be redeemed. Likewise, in The Lord of the Rings, while Gandalf is a wizard, he is a gray wizard, "gray" representing the color of the pilgrim or the novice; it is when he "falls" into the fire at Moriah that he gains power and becomes Gandalf the White: this struggle clearly invokes the spiritual life and the Fire of Purgation to which the Holy Spirit calls each of us every moment of every day.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
 The Power that Gandalf gains is over the Power of Evil because he has Power over himself: the creature/monster he wrestles with that throws him over the side of the pit is his very self, the worst part of himself. By destroying this part of himself, Gandalf is then free to live for others and serve others; everything Gandalf does is for the greater good of the greater community and it is power, not magic.  That this is meant to invoke the spiritual life is supported by the name of the Mountain being Moriah where Abraham was called by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac and God the Father revealed what He Himself would do to save mankind from sin by this prophecy foreshadowing Christ's sacrifice.
"Precious" symbolizes our need to overcome ourselves, not give into ourselves.
 Magic clearly summons up the devil, and the "spells" require nothing of the individual other than them knowing how to say magic words and wave a little stick; "power," on the other hand, has been earned in the fire at great personal cost. God used the parable of being the Potter to illustrate to us how He uses our struggles and sacrifices to fashion us into the perfect being He destined us to become; the "hairy" potter suggests our animal instincts, cravings, desires and goals, and never shows us the pain and suffering, the reliance upon Jesus Christ that was a conscious decision on the part of the writers and producers (parables work really well, but there are not even "veiled" references to Christianity in the Harry Potter series).
Each member of the fellowship must overcome the temptation of "precious."
The question is: which potter will we choose to form us? Given that the latest Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 trailer says, "He was born to live and now has come to die," is a clear invocation of Jesus and His Mission, but while Frodo in his sacrifice and difficult journey that he makes to destroy "Precious" could be compared to Christ's Passion, because Harry Potter shows us only the animal and "base" emotions and motivations that counter what Christ taught us and commissioned us to become, this "plagiarism" of what Christ said of Himself is making Harry Potter replace Jesus, not identify himself with Him.
Imitation of the fictional Platform 9¾ at the real King's Cross railway station.
Christians identify themselves by what they do because it reflects what we believe and in Whom we believe; each person who has taken the sacred vows of Baptism needs to ask themselves if watching the films or reading the books is an acceptance of a manifestation of evil, then act accordingly.