Our Movie Salon of the (perpetual) Spiritual Quest

Or, could some bit of Faith be learning to live with ambivalence?

I admit it.  It is utterly near impossible to see any way through the faith debate these days.  Let alone keep faith – as in that Sixties phrase, a recognition of shared spirit, “keep the faith, man.”

So of course, in the face of this utter near impossibility, I’ve decided to try to do a little thinking on faith.  This by way of tying up loose ends before shuttering our Salon&Parlor.  I can’t say goodbye without mulling some on our reason for being.  As presumptuous as this must appear, as unable as I am to answer the accusation, “who are you to speak?”  I try to compensate for my lack of authority by staying small, limiting my horizons to what’s right in front of me, my fading flashlight shines dimly…

There’ve been a spate of film stories circling the topic of faith, lately. Small bites, around the edges.  Perhaps that’s the best way to approach such a fortress.  By telling little stories that seem to end up asking more questions.  Such as – do we have any ability, can we grow capacity for living with ambivalence?  Odd that watery word ambivalence comes to mind in connection with faith, up till now framed as such a solid.  Always linked with authority.  The Word (right after the Light.)  The Father telling us how to live.  What to be.  What to do, or not do, with our bodies.

By way of mulling all this I did a good bit of watching films.  Some of these have been added to our Family Tree of Stories:

  • Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt’s difficult, thirsty allegory of desert wandering and how to know who to follow through our arid patches.  How do we go about choosing our guides?  How does a man come to seem worth following?
  • Incendies, A blow by blow account of the generational damage done by warring religious sects rooted at core in, surprise surprise, controlling the reproductive power/capacity of the body of woman.
  • Of Gods and Men,  A tender and lyrical laying out of the workings of traditional faith in men who have given their lives over to the practice of it; a small family of monks in a mountain monastery who are confronted with, Christ like, having to follow through on the consequences of their faith playing out in the “real” world of hate and violence.
  • The End of the Affair, Neil Jordan’s beautifully composed rant on the Judaic/Christian take on faith all confused and bottled up in a passionate, adulterous love affair.  Very Graham Greene and mid 20th Century, which is to say, very tormented male narrative. But oh, what exposition on the opacity of faith as squeezed through finely drawn characters aplenty.

As for our next Discourse Parlor

I’ll be focusing on a modest, little movie, Vera Farmiga’s Higher Ground, 2011.  This story is a straightforward meditation on a woman’s spiritual search.  A woman who would give herself, her life and family to a church in an old fashioned idea of that giving, a dip em in the river being reborn sort, if only she wasn’t plagued by so many questions.  Ms. Farmiga’s Corinne is a seeker who finds she is also a woman who can not submit.

I was perhaps stimulated some in my choice of this movie by the good bit of rumbling that’s come to surface in this Salon expressing a lingering desire for a Heroine’s journey to correspond to that old Campbellian conception.  It seems to me the character of Corinne combines two characteristics, questing and a refusal to submit.  And when these qualities are entwined in a woman they can cause a good deal of spin and wander.  A journey, perhaps, from here to some other there.  And so that’s what we’ll explore in the next Discourse.

A little more thinking on Faith and Questing:

This infant millennium bears the fruit of our centuries old aggregate of human intelligence and knowledge.  A source of pride and joy, you’d think.  But, by some unexpected equation this great inheritance often multiplies rather than eases our insecurities about existence.  Our sum total knowledge, what we’ve come to know about ourselves on this earth, seems to lead not to a firmer footing but to yet more questions in a fount of continuous opening that has set us to swimming hard so as not to drown.

And then there’s that niggling issue of those who choose not to listen, watch, read.  Or who choose their sources and guides in a sort of delirious, stubborn denial.  Lead a horse to water but… .  As if what we are collectively coming to know is too direct a sight.  It is possible we are not, in the main, strong enough to look straight at this transience which is our being; we are not capable of choosing a life lived asserting the present, allowing the divinity to stir within without locking that spirit down into dogma.  Even to begin addressing this weakness we’d have to learn to better recognize and work with our core desire for the comfort of the steady state, an illusion this, the absolute known.  Maybe it is all asking too much.

What is it to live with the come what may?  To allow, lean toward the ever opening?  To walk upright in our traverse of oft irreconcilable truths?  Where do we look for guides to help us over that rocky terrain?  And what about inevitable tragedy?  Who/what will comfort us when it comes?  Sometimes there is no synthesis, no making it better.  Just a living it out to see if another way forward, or out, comes.

I believe we use our narratives for this working out of irreconcilable truths.  And maybe along the way we learn something of the practice of ambivalence.  There’s a divide in us between those willing to allow story to grow from all we must pass through and are coming to know, and those who feel impelled to contain experience within pre literate, desert narratives that hinge, at core, if you trace down, on the sublimation of others.  And if you dig beneath these others far enough there we are, women, the life bearers.  Cause there is nothing that triggers the containment response faster than the energetic fire of the life force.

Or maybe we could just practice allowing that force, feeling the seams of the response triggered, riding on that, and see where that takes us.

Also new to the Family Tree of Stories

  • It’s Complicated, 2009. Writer, director Nancy Meyers. A break from our usual fare in the Parlor, but worth the time on a rainy afternoon if for no other reason than it’s by a woman who’s  survived the Hollywood con-ag industry of production for a good long time.  Ms. Myers is something of a romanticist in the female story line, but I did sense a slight shift to the realistic here.
  • Mildred Pierce, 2011. Directed by Todd Haynes.  HBO mini series.   I should have known Mr. Haynes would be loyal to the gist of the piece of literature that sired it- a James M. Cain novel after all – a manwriter firmly entrenched in his noir twisted view of the human animal, men and women. But it’s the women who are, at end, the seductive, indecipherable miasmata (and from which the men seem outright unable to disentangle.)
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  1. By coincidence, I was logging on to suggest Higher Ground for discussion. It seems historic that an actress of such talent,status and beauty directed herself.

    • Christie: I find this coincidence very encouraging –that you logged on to suggest Higher Ground for a parlor discussion and then found I was thinking right along with you in the latest Salon posting.

      Be confident, I am toiling away on the discourse each and every day but it has, as so often seems the case in the tasks I set for myself on these screenpages, separated into two pieces of mulling. The first, as promised, is on Corinne of Higher Ground as a questing woman who tries and then refuses to submit. But in thinking on her story I was led to writing a bit more about my own quest for meaning and so am trying to define a bit more this notion I term the Narrative Otherways, and of which I think HG is an example.

      Anyway….it’s all coming in the very near. Thanks for your patience and know I am glad you’re out there mulling along with me. A.

      • Annie–I’m working on a paper which is not yet focused but is sort of about the lack of the “I” in traditional (academic) art criticism. My focus is literary criticism, which has tended to be very impersonal (there may be more room for the personal response in film theory ?). I’m working on how critics generalize or subordinate their experience of art in favor of the theoretical or ideas about audience in general. The general abstraction is favored over the personal. I’m very interested in why this has been the norm.

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