I just wanted to make a quick post to reassure everyone that I’m still alive and still plan to add to theCarbonFreeze going forward. (I have a dozen unfinished essays in numerous stages of development.) The reasons for the 2.5 month delay in content are many. First of all, I got married, so that was a whole thing. I’ve also had personal stuff going on that’s taken a lot out of me, and recently my best friend has been struggling with a case of COVID. So, I haven’t had the time nor the emotional energy to focus on my blog these past few weeks. That said, I have been drafting a new project behind the scenes as a follow-up to the earlier “Gospel of Cassandra,” and the outline is finally completed, so look for that (hopefully) by the end of the weekend.
Bible of Gnostic Films
In a previous entry, I discussed making a canon of religious films. I stuck with traditional fare–stories about or directly based on Biblical characters. But what if we expanded that thought experiment and created a list of films that not only demonstrate superior craftsmanship but impart some kind of insight into the human condition as well? I feel as though the Gnostics, who blended elements of multiple cultures and valued the pursuit of knowledge, would appreciate a thought-provoking mish mash of different films as opposed to straightforward, homogenized depictions of religious dogma. This was my attempt to pick ten movies to fulfill such criteria.
The left side is comprised of feminine sexuality, the right side is for movies about men who’ve been corrupted by the world around them, yet try to keep their women shielded from it as much as possible. (Michael Corleone may be a terrible person, but in his mind he was being strong for Kay and supposedly trying to go legitimate.) The bottom row contains films about people who’ve been broken by society and try to cope with it–successfully or not. (Mimi by sexism, Lawrence by war, Travis by the isolating modern paradigm, Michael by a family legacy he never wanted to be a part of.) Then It’s a Wonderful Life is in the center because it has elements of all three. If I had to pick ten films that are not only my favorites to watch, but form a coherent statement of how I saw the world, this would be it. What are yours?
The Moonchild & Demiurge in Culture
One of my favorite archetypes in media is that of the tragic Greek hero. Someone like Oedipus Rex, Othello or Michael Corleone–a proud man in a position of power who is brought low by a character flaw. In gnostic terms, these characters might be thought of as the demiurge, men who try to play “craftsman” and mold others according to their will, but who act without wisdom to their ultimate downfall.
It’s somewhat harder to find such a perfect 1:1 representation of the moonchild, despite the loss of innocence remaining a common theme in our culture. So far, the best depiction I’ve ever found is Francesca from I Dolci Inganni. She’s a person who is constantly being used by others (schoolmates try to make her the butt of a joke, Maria Grazia abandons her because she’s too cynical for Francesca’s upbeat romance, Renato uses her to try to feel like a bigshot for once before it blows up in his face, Enrico takes her virginity for a thrill). Francesca endures so much indifference (if not outright injustice) from society at large, when all she wants to do is spread happiness and explore love for the first time. Francesca’s only tragic character flaw is naivety, and while that’s not worthy of a ruinous ending the same as arrogance, jealousy or ruthlessness…unfortunately it leads to one nonetheless. That’s a failure of the world we live in, not Francesca herself, though she pays the ultimate price.
There are two films I know of that end in a haunting shot of the main character looking into the fourth wall with a broken expression on their face. The first is The Godfather: Part II and the second is I Dolci Inganni. The former feels like justice for an evil man, the latter feels like a condemnation against the community that let it happen. These two endings side by side perfectly represent the dichotomous figures of Aquarian Gnosticism.
As it happens, I found a really beautiful song from Piero Piccioni (composer of Dolci Inganni among many others) that is the best depiction of the qualities I associate with the moonchild in music.
The Epistle of Cassandra to the Apostates
There are honestly days when I don’t even believe in my own religion. It’s too cerebral, too forgiving, too inclined to wrap everything up in a neat little bow when the world is unpredictable. Is it possible to reconcile a belief of man’s strive for knowledge in a post-truth world? Is it preferable to accept that the people who maliciously hurt us will eventually occupy the same place of honor in the singularity with God? On the other hand, if it’s God’s place to punish people for how they acted on Earth, is it fair to damn those who’ve hurt us without explicitly meaning to? (Like, for example, the vast majority of parents in the US who circumcise their kids, violating bodily autonomy and robbing us of the ability to feel a full orgasm for our entire lives?) Does the supposed Kingdom of Heaven condemn negligence in addition to malicious aforethought? I’m not sure, and while I may write speculative theologies to parse the issue, at the end of the day I’m just projecting my beliefs onto God same as anyone else who claims to know the divine plan.
It’s easy enough to separate people into tidy categories like “demiurges” or “moonchildren” and say “these people are bad and will be forcibly reformed, while those people are good and will be rewarded,” but real life is not so clear cut. There are certainly “Anthrophiles,” out there, the reliable friends and supportive family, the people who show us the warmth of humanity at its best. There are also “Anthrophobes,” the unapologetic tormentors and nefarious authority figures, who expose man’s darker side. But where does one place the people who are guilty of the worst quality of all: disingenuousness? In what moral absolute would God sort the flaky “friends” who string people along for months, or the two-faced politicians who walk back every popular campaign promise with millions of lives on the line? These “Anthrophages” often do the most damage in my experience, because they gain our admiration before completely destroying the faith we once had in the good of mankind. They alone have the power to kill a person’s desire to connect with others ever again. They have the unique ability to sow a seed of doubt in every triumph their victims will ever experience in the future.
The Anthrophages’ misdeeds may be rooted in some misguidedness or miscommunication, but do they not owe a duty of care to their fellow man regardless of intent? I would argue it matters little to the broken hearts they leave behind that the Anthrophage “didn’t know how badly it would hurt,” assuming their excuses are even valid in the first place. Just as I have trouble reconciling that beautiful, bright-eyed intellectual curiosity with the casual infliction of emotional distress, so too does my creed have trouble reconciling such unpredictable people into a dichotomous morality. If God is the Architect, the Anthrophage is the Neo–an aberration in the matrix that cannot be solved no matter how many times the code is rewritten. It may be within God’s power to forgive rogue AI, but can that really be expected of those they’ve ravaged in life? If God is perfectly empathetic to all of us, how can that lead to any outcome but a disjointed, discordant afterlife? Is it possible for an all-loving God to create a being so repulsive that even They cannot love it? This paradox, perhaps even moreso than the outdated Bronze Age “ethics” or the occassional contradictions with science, represents the biggest failure of all monotheistic religions.
The single best demonstration of this concept in media is Vertigo (which is partly why it’s my favorite movie to this day). With Madeleine’s suicide, the woman Scottie lived for becomes a permanent reminder of his physical inadequacy. Every time he tries to relive the good times they shared, there is a nagging reminder that it was his own failure which brought them to an end. With Judy’s reveal of the deception, the woman whom Scottie thought the world of becomes a living monument to his gullibility and emotional vulnerability which she cruelly exploited. These experiences will force Scottie to put up a defensive wall going forward, and without a willingness to be vulnerable there can be no trust nor meaningful communication between people. In essence, Judy as the Anthrophage has robbed him of his ability to fully experience positive interactions with anyone else for years if not forever. As a result, Scottie’s thoughts will be eternally stranded somewhere between romance and revenge whenever he recalls the most significant person in his life, which is a turmoil I would not wish on my worst enemy. Every endearing quality she may have possessed is now tainted by lies, yet all evidence against her is irrationally blunted by the desire to protect that idealized conception which brought him so much joy. The Anthrophage, alone, is able to break the barrier between black and white, leaving their victims in an eternal state of “gray” malaise.
I imagine there are days where Scottie might forgive Judy if he were somehow confronted by her again, and there are days when he rehearses every nasty thing he can say to hurt her even a fraction as badly as she did him. In this way, the Anthrophage monopolizes a person’s mental and emotional energies long after the initial betrayal. The victim is left struggling for a course of action with which they can regain their dignity after a traumatic blow to their self esteem. (“Do I tell her off? Or does that give her power over me to know I want to tell her off? Is it ‘stronger’ to ignore her altogether…or does she not deserve to feel burdened with the full extent of the injury she caused? Should I honestly try to reconcile as a way to let go of the pain, even if she doesn’t deserve forgiveness? But why should I be the only one who gets mistreated when I did nothing wrong?” etc.) The best answer I could come up with for this conundrum is to simply tell the Anthrophage the truth, even if it has to be done in absentia. Without insult or hyperbole, say: “you hurt me more deeply than anyone else ever has–I’ve been disowned, sexually assaulted, physically assaulted, bullied and abandoned by most of my friends–but somehow, what you did cut deeper than any of that.” How the Anthrophage responds to such information, whether they receive it in this life or the next, makes it easier to ascertain if they deserve forgiveness or not.
These are the complex, unsolvable emotional cocktails that can consume a person and destroy faith in a higher righteousness. Anthrophages leave those caught in their wake with a psychological paralysis, a diminished emotional affect and permanent inability to believe in others again. Those inflicted might spend an embarrassingly long time ruminating over what they must have done to bring about such treatment, and how best to carry on with dignity after the humiliation of trusting the wrong people. How does one get closure from a person who inspired both the greatest joy and the deepest sadness they’ve ever known, yet who remains perfectly indifferent to them in return? Even in the next life, the bereaved in this scenario will always know the true extent of man’s inhumanity to man–apathetic callousness in the veil of kindness–and they will be wary of companionship even with God. No matter how wonderful the next person in their life may be, they will always be acutely aware of how it can all be taken away in an instant, without warning or clear provocation.
Ultimately, cruelty is a weapon and selfishness is an abrasion, but disingenuousness is a poison that comes in the form of a favorite meal prepared by someone we adore. Its perpetrators inspire love and loathing in equal measures, a feat beyond even the capacities of God Themselves, if I may be so bold to say. Disingenuous Anthrophages take the problem of evil, which all monotheistic religions struggle to answer to some extent, and magnify it. As a result of this unfortunate phenomena, I empathize with anyone who does not find comfort in the metaphor of God(s), Their moral absolutes, nor the promise of unmitigated forgiveness in all circumstances. I do not claim to know exactly what fate befits the Anthrophages, but I strongly believe the Apostates left in their wake deserve love, patience and understanding in how they choose to carry on with their grief.