Thursday, March 5, 2009

Male Energy: Two Movies

I was quite surprised to receive just a single comment on my last entry, even though I had no fewer than usual readers. Hmmm. I had imagined this topic would arouse more interest. And here I am, back with it today.

I have recently played two movies, both from Netflix. Hancock, starring Will Smith and Charlize Theron, is one of those superhero movies with a twist: this one, that the hero in question starts out as a drunken lout, a lost soul whose superpowers spill out in spectacularly inappropriate results: to halt a single car chase involves shattered buildings, crumbled freeways, several dozen car wrecks, crowds of infuriated passers-by. He is, in a word used even by those he saves, an "asshole." Read it, perhaps as the myth of male energy gone awry, as it does so often in the world, wildly excessive, unfocused, poorly targeted and ineffective, even if well-intentioned. Hancock is living the nightmare of his own shadow, addicted, in denial, unaccountable, unavailable to those close to him, and disconnected from the results of his actions.

To satisfy the mythic necessity, Hancock finds salvation in being brought to recognize his vulnerability and acknowledge the power of the feminine principle... Don't ask. Be it readily admitted that this is a pretty silly movie, one that appealed to the little boy in me, as I presume it appealed to little boys everywhere--including the grown-up ones. It will certainly not appeal to anyone who finds the spectacle of car crashes, gunfire and explosions distasteful. If I were a better Buddhist, I might be more disapproving, but the truth of the matter is that I see all this as pure visual fantasy whose effect is much like that of a comic book, so far from the real world as to be (to me personally) innocuous in its absurdity. My wife, I hasten to add, disagrees.

Peaceful Warrior errs, for me, in precisely the opposite direction. Based on The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, the acclaimed book by Dan Millman, it is certainly well-intentioned, and Millman's story is compelling and inspirational. In "real life" a near Olympic-level gymnast, he suffered severe leg injuries in a self-inflicted motorcycle accident and was predicted never to be able to return to his beloved sport. That he did, the story goes, was thanks to the intervention of a (perhaps) mythical guide and spiritual teacher whose wisdom transformed his life from arrogant, self-involved youth to a new maturity and spirit of service.

The problem with the movie is not the story so much as its script, full of the kind of sententious wisdom that sounds trite, sometimes even laughable, when delivered with such a pitiless aura of importance. Nick Nolte, the sage, comes off as a blend between Mr. Miyage (in "The Karate Kid") and Yoda--though admittedly a slightly taller version than either of those two worthies. I have no quarrel at all with the fundamental truth of the movie's (and Millman's) message: "throw out the trash" that clutters the head, as the Nick Nolte character all too frequently insists, and allow yourself to be guided by the inner truth of the heart. How is it that this wisdom, when given verbal expression in the vernacular of today's brash world, can sound so very hackneyed and inauthentic? Perhaps, I have to remind myself, it's just my intellectually critical self raising its own insistent "head." I found myself resistant to what felt more like lecture than good story.

Two visions of masculine energy, then, embodied in two very different characters--and yet both attempting to show how that energy, even if once badly misdirected, can be transformed when channelled into a creative sense of mission and purpose. I did not regret the time I spent with either movie, and found it ineresting that they came to me--no accidents--to coincide with my weekend in the mountains.


Mark said...

I'm always fascinated with the way superheroes evolve in our culture. We make superheroes to embody what our culture idolizes. We've got a current infatuation with characters like Hancock, I think. I'm not really ever sure how to interpret it all, I just find it interesting.

carly said...

i don't think our culture idolizes superheroes, inherently. I think it is rammed down our throats for business purposes, just as they were in earlier times for the purpose of religious fantasy, and the undirected and weak-minded internalize it, for lack of sense, to their further demise ( judging by how they drive in heavy traffic ).

Off subject as usual, I happened on this old quote which sums up my view. Exactly how much different it is from Buddhism, I don't know, but have always thought, quite different.

"The Universe is perfectly balanced by natural and moral laws, which are regulatory vibrations to maintain order. When you work within the laws, you can be assured of an eventual positive outcome. When the laws are transgressed, you can be assured of suffering, the only purpose of which is to teach you a better way."

Dick Sutphen

Real heroes are the ones who work well within the harmonies of natural laws. We may have one in Obama.

PeterAtLarge said...

Mark, good to hear from Greece! Hope things continue well for you there--I need to check up on your progress soon.

Carly, you bring up an excellent point. I see it as a chicken/egg conundrum, though. Hard to know which comes first, the idea or its exploitation for commercial purposes. Your quote is marvelously appropriate to our global economic fiasco! Thanks for checking in.

naftali camiel said...

Hi Peter. Good to be back and get back to the routine of reading your blog. Hope to see you very soon. Be well. Naftali.

Robin said...

sometimes, i feel like life is a movie, and we are all too involved in a screenplay..


PeterAtLarge said...

Hello, Naftali, welcome back! I've checked in on your blog once in a while, but to no avail. Yes, let's get together soon.

Robin, it does sometimes feel like that, yes. All an illusion!