Friday, November 18, 2011

Immortals & Divine Deeds

"Before I sell you a ticket, I just want to make sure that you know this is a really bloody film," the girl at the ticket stand said. After watching it, I wasn't thinking of the gore, (which, in my estimation, was probably worse in the first thirty minutes of  Saving Private Ryan), but what I was thinking: I can't believe they made this film. It definitely shows the consequences of the loss of virginity, it shows the consequences of not having faith and the importance of our free will in battling evil. It's not the great 300, which I absolutely loved, and there are some failings of the film, however, it doesn't fail the way I expected and I am pleasantly surprised by what they did right.
It didn't occur to me until Immortals racked in 37 million dollars its opening weekend to even bother going to see it: from the trailer, I was sure it was just going to be another Conan the Barbarian, or the re-make of Clash of the Titans and that's from tag lines and the trailers. When there is a line such as, "Even the gods need a hero," it glorifies humanity in a way that we should not be glorified. The trailer for the film is not even the movie that I saw.
Henry Cavill as Theseus, the hero of the film.
The film opens with a quote from ancient Greek philosopher Socrates: "All men's souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine."  I was a little worried that this would be taken that humans are more divine that God, or something like that, but that's not what happened. King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) wants to get the Epirus Bow, the only weapon capable of killing the immortal gods and releasing the titans who were imprisoned beneath a mountain so they couldn't threaten the gods again. Motivated by the loss of his family to disease after praying to the gods to save them, Hyperion intends to kill the gods.
Mickey Rourke as King Hyperion.
Now enters Theseus (Henry Cavill).
His mother is very devout in praying to the gods, but Theseus is not, believing them to be only children's stories, which is a repeated theme in the film, the faithful vs. the doubting. Hyperion searches for the virgin oracle Phaedra (Frieda Pinto) so he can  try to force her to tell him where the gods hid the Bow; if Phaedra loses her virginity, she loses her visions; there are several faithful "religious" who make great sacrifices in devoutly protecting her so she won't be violated, so when she throws away her virginity, it's very disappointing, and the film knows that. In searching for Phaedra, Hyperion burns down Theseus' village, killing his mother. Theseus then vows revenge, but is sentenced to work in the salt mines where he meets Phaedra who is in hiding.
Freida Pinto as the virgin oracle Phaedra.
Theseus is the son of Zeus, the father of all the gods (Zeus is portrayed in his earthly form by the great John Hurt and by Luke Evans when in Zeus' divine form). Phaedra knows this from bumping into him and having a vision. One of her visions is of Theseus embracing Hyperion and giving him the Bow to destroy the world; at their feet lies the wrapped body of a woman, dead. Phaedra interprets the body in the vision to be the dead body of Theseus' mother, but she's wrong. (I tried to find an image of the vision and haven't been able to).
Hyperion has three characteristics: he has a large scar on his face (symbolic of the scar his family's death has left upon his soul), he wears masks and he hates cowards. As Hyperion embraces evil more and more, that's exactly what he becomes, evil. This is part of the striking wisdom of the film, that evil erases our identities from us, and this is why Hyperion wears masks. When we have committed evil acts, evil acts upon our soul to destroy our true identity, as with The Portrait of Dorian Gray, for example. That Hyperion dresses in animal skins only accentuates his devotion to fulfilling his appetites and how that, in turn, as also propelled him into "being an animal."
Phaedra and Theseus after Theseus finds the bow and has poison in his arm.
Phaedra decides to sleep with Theseus because, erroneously, she decides it's a greater good to experience things "with her own eyes and body" instead of living with her visions, as if the gift she has been given has nothing to do with her true self. This is an important point of the film, because it relates to Hyperion's wearing of the mask. Phaedra's true self is as the virgin oracle, and it's her unwise mistake not to know the difference and where her true identity lies.By making this mistake, she "loses" her life as well because she is now, spiritually, dead in sin.
In the center is Hyperion wearing a mask of gold. The irony is: the gold is very valuable, the most precious metal on earth, but "What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?" which the mask covering his features symbolizes, his lost identity and lost destiny, because, when we forgo one, we forgo the other as well.
When Theseus, who doesn't know if he should sleep with Phaedra or not, agrees to what she wants, he is killing her: he not only destroys her identity as the virgin oracle, but destroys her as a woman as well. The point is emphasized by Stavros (a thief traveling with them) and because, as a thief, he signifies that he knows Theseus has "stolen" it, even while it appears that Phaedra gave it to him. Theseus embracing Phaedra is stealing her gift she has been given, and in doing that, Theseus is really embracing Hyperion, and by doing that, he kills the virgin oracle (the body of the dead woman lying at their feet) and this is how he gives the bow to Hyperion, which happens in that very next scene. In a fight, Theseus loses the bow and a large hyena takes it to Hyperion, the hyena a symbol of the appetites because it is a scavenger.
Theseus fighting the Minotaur. The half-beast that the Minotaur symbolizes is the part of Theseus he must overcome in order to use the Bow and fulfill his destiny; that the Minotaur is able to scratch him and poison him, means that he wasn't strong enough to overcome his own animal passions, so when Phaedra wants to sleep with him, he's not strong enough to resist her, hence, he's not strong enough to be the man he was destined to become. This is what "running the race" is all about. If Theseus had been going into this place to pray with his mother, he would have been prepared, but, having neglected this part of his training, he couldn't overcome the Minotaur without a bitter sacrifice, his own self.
Why does Theseus take Phaedra although he has at least an idea of the consequences to them both?
The scene before they sleep together provides the vital clue. As Theseus buries his mother in a labyrinth that is also a holy area and a place for the dead, the tip of the Bow is revealed. Theseus takes some tools and cracks open the large rock, in which the gods had hidden the Bow. Symbolically, Theseus burying his mother is burying his "earthly self," (he's half human and half divine) and his realization that the gods are real when he finds the Bow is his finding of his real identity--he's the only human who can use the power of the Bow for a greater good than selfish greed--but the rock in which the Bow has been buried is Theseus' heart which he hardened against the gods. The tools splitting the rock open symbolizes the tools of both faith and reason to open himself up to--not just believing in the gods--but accepting his destiny and true identity as well. But the poison from the Minotaur is to Theseus what the mark of Original Sin is to humans: it weakens and ultimately destroys us if not treated by the Divine Physician.
Theseus with the Bow Hyperion tries to get.
Stavros is an interesting side character, because he has been condemned as a thief and travels with Theseus. He tells them, when he was a boy, he prayed to the gods to give him a horse, and they didn't so he stole one. Later, when Theseus needs the help of the gods, Athena appears and provides them with super fast horses to take them to the place where Hyperion is. Stavros immediately knows, that's the horse he had prayed for when he was a boy. The scene is important because it shows what happens to us when we lose faith in God to provide for us: we become thieves, stealing what it is we think we need when God really wanted to give us something greater than we could have imagined.
Athena giving Theseus the horses to get them to Hyperion.
The last point I want to make: the gods.
It is as "an old man" that Zeus appears to Theseus as he grows up, teaching him and guiding him, even when Theseus doesn't believe in the gods. Zeus doesn't permit any of the gods to aid Theseus because, he says, "If we expect men to have faith in us, we must have faith in them." Zeus loves and has faith in Theseus, and wants Theseus to prove that Zeus' faith in him is justified; unfortunately, Theseus makes the wrong decisions, but the film does a good job of intentionally showing us what that wrong decision was and the consequences of it for everyone. When the opening quote from Socrates is also used in the ending, "All men's souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine," you know that it's correct: every little sacrifice we make is seen by God and written in the Book of Life, and we will be rewarded for it as if we fought a great battle.
The gods of Olympus showing up to destroy the titans. This is really one of the best fight sequences I have yet seen. Throughout the film, they don't use the stop-motion action sequences used in 300, they reserve the big techniques for towards the end of the film when the immortals are battling it out.
Granted, there are some problems with the film and I think a lot of people are disappointed in it, but that blame should be laid squarely at the feet of the director, Tarsem Singh, who also directed The Cell with Jennifer Lopez (which I didn't see) and the upcoming Mirror, Mirror which I have seen the trailer and it looks like he's done a bad job directing that film, too (to see the trailer please visit A Few More Upcoming Films and it's posted after Snow White and the Huntsman). What's good about the film seems to be in spite of Singh, but what's bad about it is his responsibility alone. If you want to see a film this weekend, go ahead and see it, but you might as well wait until it comes out on DVD.
Luke Evans as Zeus; he was also in The Three Musketeers, and The Raven.  My favorite part regarding Zeus is when he tells the other gods of Olympus that they must have faith in us; my second favorite part with Zeus is when he uses the chains to fight the titans because it symbolizes mankind being "chained" to sin, and Zeus using chains to defeat the titans with illustrates how that which binds us to our appetites is also used against us.
In conclusion, the Immortals really reminds me of the Garden of Eden: Theseus and Phaedra eating the forbidden fruit, losing their identity, Hyperion, like Satan, revolting against the gods, and the eternal battle between good and evil. I am shocked, in a wonderful way, that a film reminding us of the battle of good and evil, and the root cause of evil (the mis-use of our free will) is essential in protecting and realizing our true identities, and that our gifts reveal us more and more, and the God who generously gave us that gift. When we give our deeds to Christ, they become victories, and he, in his generosity, makes them divine.
John Hurt as the human form Zeus takes to visit and guide Theseus.