|Postmodern Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Relative, Part I|
|by Brian Godawa|
|SCP Newsletter, SPRING 1999, Volume 23:3|
We live in a strange time. Western civilization is bearing the fruit of the philosophy of Relativism that has been brewing for centuries. At this end of the 20th Century no authority is respected, all rules are considered oppressive, individual autonomy is ultimate and society itself is degenerating into a tribal warfare of special interests. And all of culture is impacted by these ideas. From the state controlled educational establishment that rejects the standards of grades and scores in favor of self-esteem to the courtrooms of the land where celebrity status and charisma overrides the rule of law. It has come to the point where a person who believes in absolute truth or right and wrong is considered in need of civilizing.
How many of you "absolutists" have found yourself in discussions where you were afraid of speaking out because you knew you would be laughed at? How many of you teens are not only proud of your virtue, but are vocal about it to your peers?
As C.S. Lewis pointed out, the most dangerous ideas in a society are not the ones that are being argued, but the ones that are assumed. Ideas debated in the public square are shaped by argument, but ideas that are assumed by the public shape us.
When it comes to movies, these assumptions are no less relevant because behind the veil of every entertaining movie is a worldview or value system being communicated through story. And the power of story is the power to catch a viewer up into that worldview through intriguing characters, interesting plot and emotional connection.
The worldview of a movie is the set of beliefs about how the world is, the way things work and how it ought to be. Story is a powerful means of conveying a worldview because it doesn't preach or debate it's values, it embodies them in the drama of the characters, choices and consequences. How many of us have been turned off by a movie when it got "preachy?" That's because it became more didactic and less dramatic, less emotional. And yet how many of us have gotten carried away by a movie, only to reconsider later that the values presented in it were really not after all coincident with ours?
A Necessarily Over-Simplified Introduction to Philosophy
Many people consider philosophy to be irrelevant to our everyday lives. Something that happens in remote ivory towers by academic eggheads, certainly not something that results in practical living, in "real life." The late Francis Schaeffer was fond of pointing out that what most people considered irrelevant in philosophy just happened to be a pertinent driving force of culture. The ideas generated by academic thinkers actually filter down through the high arts into the popular arts and are thus consumed by the masses, often without self-conscious recognition of their philosophical nature. When a teen jams to "Synchronicity" by The Police, he may not realize that he is consuming a Jungian philosophical concept that is rooted in an Eastern Monistic philosophy, but he is. When the local garage mechanic says that bad things just sort of happen in life without any real purpose and some people are just luckier than others, he may not realize that he is espousing a naturalistic philosophy of random eventuation, but he is.
The fact is, everyone operates upon a philosophy in life, a worldview that defines for them the way the world works, how they know things and how they ought to behave. They may not call their philosophical beliefs by their academic names of metaphysics, epistemology and ethics, but they operate upon them nonetheless. When a person says that someone ought not butt in line at a concert (ethics) because everyone knows (epistemology) that first come first serve is the way the world works and what goes around, comes around (metaphysics), he is expressing his philosophy. So philosophy is ultimately a very practical reality for all of us. In this sense, everyone is a philosopher. Some are just more aware of it than others.
Another Over Simplified Introduction to Postmodernism
Knowing that all our practical actions in this world are motivated by our philosophy, our worldview, it behooves us to understand the basic beliefs that feed our culture. In so doing, we can understand those around us more clearly in order to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ more effectively. We may even discover things about ourselves that we were not previously aware of.
It has been pointed out by many cultural analysts that we are currently in a "Postmodern" society. Originally coined by the famous historian Arnold Toynbee in the 1940s, "Postmodernism" is a term that indicates, among other things, a basic worldview that rejects absolutes -- all absolutes, of any kind whatsoever. This is its simplest expression. In its more complex form it conjures up deconstructionism, historical revisionism, metanarratives and the negation of totalizing discourses. But ultimately it is the belief that there is no underlying objective reality. And there is no absolute reference point to judge true and false, right and wrong. Chance and indeterminacy rule. No ultimate order in the universe, no foundational reality, only individuals constructing reality through our own interpretations and imposing them on others.
An excellent primer on Postmodernism from a Christian perspective is Postmodern Times by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. [See SCP catalog] (Crossway Books, 1994). In this balanced treatment, Veith gives a brief outline to historical stages of thought in our western civilization in order to show us how we got to where we are now.
He explains that the "Premodern" phase which included the Greek, Roman and early Christian Empires was marked by a recognition that reality was created and sustained by a supernatural realm beyond the senses. Whether pagan gods or the true and living Christian God, people believed in the supernatural and considered themselves subservient to it.
By the 1700s, with the rise of the Renaissance culminating in the Enlightenment, man became "Modern." That is he began to see religion as ignorant magical interpretations of a universe that is actually created and sustained by naturalistic machine-like laws, understood without necessary relation to deity. This so-called "Age of Reason" was marked by empirical science and autonomous reason as man's absolute tool of truth. Man was "the measure of all things," reason became his new god.
Voices of dissent against this juggernaut of Enlightenment tradition were made in the Romanticism of the early 1900s that were the seeds of our current Postmodern worldview. The most relevant to our discussion of these reactions is Existentialism. It is Existentialism that is the forerunner of the Postmodern world within which we now live. And it is Existentialism that is a dominant influence on the values and worldviews portrayed in our postmodern cinema.
An Over-Simplified Introduction to Existentialism
Existentialism is a worldview that, like a Hydra, has many heads. There are so many varieties of it that it would take a book to define them all. There are even religious forms of Existentialism that some Christians lay claim to. In the interest of brevity, we will simply lay out general trends found in this philosophy and show how certain movies express those dominant ideas, good and bad, along with a comparison to Scripture.
Though some of the most well-known modern thinkers that have espoused Existentialism are Jean Paul Sarte (1905-1980), Albert Camus (1913-1960), and Karl Jaspers (1883-1969), the roots can be traced back to two men: Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), a Christian, and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), an atheist. We will address some of the specific beliefs of these men later in relation to specific films. For now let us simply point out basic trends in Existentialism.
We will focus on three major emphases Existentialists make when they look at the world. These emphases are: 1) chance over destiny 2) freedom over determinism and 3) experience over reason.
1) Chance Over Destiny
Existentialism begins with the notion of a universe with no underlying pre-existing order, meaning or purpose. A universe without God. This is where "the death of God" concept comes from. It is not so much that God "dies" in the traditional sense as that he is no longer relevant if we make the assumption that the universe is ultimately run by chance. We will only run into a brick wall if we try to make sense out of all the pain and suffering that we go through, because there is no ultimate meaning to evil. The universe is absurd. This leads to the second point.
2) Freedom Over Determinism
If there was an underlying order (Logos) to the universe then we would all, by virtue of being part of that order or design, be automatons of fatalism. Law, be it "nature" or logic is universal and unchanging by definition. So true freedom necessitates man be not bound by any external or internal laws or rules of nature. This is what Sarte meant when he coined the phrase, existence precedes essence. What this means is that there is no underlying pre-existing order to the universe (essence). There is simply raw existence without ultimate explanation or origin. Then we as human beings create our own essence or meaning within that void. Sarte said we are condemned to be free.
Whether we like it or not, if the universe is absurd, we cannot comfort ourselves by conformity to some external order like religion or philosophy. We must create our own meaning, create ourselves, create our own essence. Another way of saying this is that Individual choice is our "self-creation." All external absolutes, all systems of order be they moral, political, religious, are simply systems of slavery created by others that deny the individual's ultimate autonomous freedom in a chance universe.
If we vie for the safety of conformity to other's standards, we have exerted what Sarte called, "Bad Faith." Since we are left to our own devices in order to define ourselves and create our essence, then we must look within ourselves to our personal intuition, our personal experience to make "good faith" choices. And that is what the last emphasis is about.
3) Experience Over Reason
Reason, as the ultimate ordering system in a godless universe, is the most overused, overvalued tool at man's disposal. The Modern Man thought that through science, logic and careful rational reflection we would discover the underlying order to all things in order to discover the meaning of it all. But we cannot find such order or meaning in a chance universe. Reasoning only leads to despair (angst). We cannot find meaning through reason, we must create meaning through our own choices and experience.
This rejection of reason as a means of discovering truth in favor of "experience," results in an inward-looking "heart over head" outlook. Intuition (feelings) over logic. And this is what Kierkegaard meant when he said truth is subjectivity. It means that truth is not something that is objectively outside of us that we discover through cold impersonal propositions, but rather it is something we experience subjectively, inwardly in a personal way. This inwardness is also referred to as "encountering" or "appropriating" a personal relationship with truth as opposed to mere mental assent, and it is marked by the raw commitment of the will.
The Existential emphasis on volitional choice as what defines us is the belief that we are what we do. We are not so much "beings" as we are "becomings." Our acts define us, not our thoughts, doctrines or ideas. We are the sum total of our choices and experiences. This is more than a philosophical translation of the common proverb, "Actions speak louder than words." It is an outright rejection of man's identity as having any essence outside of our choices or commitments. Because existence preceeds essence we create meaning to our lives (essence) through our individual choices and experiences.
Now let's take a look at how these Existential ideas find their way into the movies by which we are entertained.
Deterministic Movies About Chance
Forrest Gump and its predecessor Being There are both popular movies that communicate the idea of a chance world in which events occur without purpose. The use of mentally challenged men in both films is a metaphor for chance itself. They have no "intelligent design" to their lives and yet both of them become very important figures in history without even realizing it. Chance the gardner (not a chance was that name a coincidence) influences the President of the United States because his simple-minded regurgitations of television wisdom are misinterpreted by accident as profound mysteries of genius.
Forrest Gump, through a multitude of chance occurrences ends up influencing American history and culture without even realizing his impact. From the first shot of a feather floating randomly in the wind to the last shot of that same feather floating randomly in the wind, Forrest Gump is a virtual exploration of the dual opposites of chance and destiny. Lieutenant Dan, Forrest's foil, is driven to despair because he firmly believes that he has a destiny, but he never finds it because his world dissolves into a series of chance occurrences that block his quest. Not until he gives up this quest for destiny does he find rest in his soul.
At his beloved Jenny's graveside Forrest concludes that maybe it's both chance and destiny that operate in this world. A rational impossibility, but not if one rejects reason as a means of knowing truth (sound familiar?). The ramifications of this denial of the law of contradiction leads to the absurdity of a worldview where murder is both evil and good, lies are both true and false and man knows both everything and nothing at the same time. (see my article Forrest Gump: Existentialism for the Common Man for further detail). I have since met the screenwriter of Forrest Gump, Eric Roth, who affirmed that he was intending Existentialist ideas through the story.
The title for the movie Being There is an English translation of the German word dasein, used by German Existentialist Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) to define man as a field of probability, as opposed to the rational Cartesian view of man as a distinct entity. At the last shot of Being There, just when we think there is some rational explanation for why this simple man has attained such status and impact on the world, he walks away from us -- on the surface of a lake. An allusion that mindless chance does in fact mysteriously guide the universe, the illusion of order from the god of chaos.
Grand Canyon, a drama from the pen of Lawrence Kasdan, who brought us the angst-ridden ensemble piece The Big Chill, is another strong picture of a chance-ruled universe. In the first half of the movie, its characters struggle with the random nature of good and evil in the world. Steve Martin plays a hollywood director of mindless violent action movies who gets randomly mugged and shot himself, then reconsiders making movies of substance and meaning because of his crisis "encounter" with death. In the very first scene he tells Kevin Kline's character, Mack, "Nothing can be controlled. We live in chaos, the central issue in everyone's life." This sets the stage for the rest of the movie, which is filled with the random "evils" of life from cut fingers and earthquakes, to neighbor's heart attacks and drive by shootings. And police search helicopters and ambulances are ubiquitously in the background.
Danny Glover's character, Simon, explains to Mack that man lives by habit, he doesn't change. Or as Sarte would say, man is eternally the same. Hoping that he can change things is self-delusion. The conclusion of the film is found in Simon's personal vision of standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon where "we realize what a big joke we all are. Our big heads thinking what we do is going to matter all that much." His conclusion is that we are all like gnats that land on the rump of a cow chewing its cud next to a road you ride by at 70 miles an hour. A pretty concise summary of the Existential dilemma.
Like Heidegger's "being unto death," Sartre's "nausea," and Kierkegaard's crisis of dread, these characters through their near-death experiences face the anxiety of their meaningless existence. And this is what the Existentialist term, "dread" (angst) means. It is not merely fear itself, or a specific fear, say of death, but rather the general overwhelming revelation of the meaninglessness of our existence. A specific encounter with death merely triggers this universal revelation.
The characters at moments wonder if all the chance happenings are miracles or "messages" from somewhere, maybe even sent by angels. But no answer is forthcoming from the supernatural. They struggle with trying to make sense out of the pain and suffering in their lives, but can ultimately find no rational answer. Fate and luck are ultimately what they believe in.
Condemned to freedom in a random universe. Only by making individual choices to love other human beings can we connect with any personal redemption in the midst of chaos. Well, a certain Rabbi once said this was certainly the second most important commandment. But somehow that first and most important one got ignored in the shuffle of Grand Canyon.
Another film about the issue of design and randomness is the arthouse independent film Pi that won the Best Director's Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998. This movie is a literal hallucinogenic nightmare of a modernist main character, Max, who considers the universe to be scientifically reducible to mathematics equations. Using computer number crunching, he seeks to discover the ultimate mathematical pattern behind the stock market in order to make the big score. Both his body and soul are fought over by two opposing forces, a materialist stock market company wanting to control the money world and a mystical Jewish Kabbala sect that believes he has found the long-lost never-spoken name of God expressed in numbers (Hebrew words have numerical equivalents). If they could retrieve this name, they would be the new high priests of the ultimate Bible Code expressing the underlying Logos of the universe, the very nature of God. The Holy of holies.
Max has an encounter with the number-name of God, but loses it. He refuses to give in to either side. The irreconcilable stress between mystical and rational forces in his own consciousness push him to a breaking point and the movie ends with a blissful Max embracing both order and chaos as ultimate. A postmodern surrender to irrationality. As the double-meaning tagline for the movie says, Faith in chaos.
This notion that truth "transcends" the law of contradiction is really just another way of saying I can believe whatever I want to believe, no matter how illogical, contradictory or absurd my belief may be. Of course, this also leads to the more nefarious act of redefining "lying." If contradictory statements can both be true, then a lie is not really a lie. The real world ramifications of such a philosophy, are readily apparent in postmodern America where a U.S. President can believe that he both had an affair and did not have an affair and say that both were true. To the postmodern mind, "is" does not always mean "is."
To be fair, there is some measure of truth to the claim that we cannot control the world around us and we all need to see that our own self-inflated sense of significance and power is a delusion. The search for meaning behind the pain and suffering in the world is a noble pursuit. The seemingly random nature of evil is an honest problem for the human mind that merits the kind of consideration these films give it. But the ironic thing about such films expressing the notion of a chance universe is that they are written by writers who follow very specific rules of storytelling for movies.
"Rules" means underlying order and one of the rules in filmmaking is: Everything that happens in a movie has to have a purpose. From what a person eats to what is going on in the background are all precisely ordained by writer and director to communicate character and plot. There can be no arbitrary events. Anything that does not advance the story must be thrown out.
In this way, the actual act of storytelling itself denies the notion of a chance universe without purpose. In order to communicate an idea about mindless indeterminacy, a writer would have to intelligently determine all the instances of "chance" occurrence in his story. He would be assuming as true what he is trying to prove false. So a determined universe is inescapable. Yet a determined universe makes freedom, history and change philosophically impossible. Proposing that both chance and destiny are ultimately true is contradictory and self-refuting. So where's the balance? What kind of determination is true? The answer is in the storytelling.
The biblical view of determination is that the universe is ultimately personal in origin (God) and that God Himself sovereignly controls and providentially destines all things that come to pass without forcing man against his will or negating man's responsibility (Romans 9). Remote and proximate causality. A theological mystery of dual intentionality to be sure (Isaiah 10:5-15; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28, but not the contradiction of the diametrically opposite ultimates of chance and destiny.
Storytelling reflects the Christian God and his providential determination of man's free acts. A screenwriter (or for that matter, any author) providentially determines every single act of all his characters, down to every word and nuance. Yet when we watch the movie, we see them as characters freely acting and morally accountable for those actions. Art as apologetic.
A brilliant film that addresses the freedom/determination debate is Amadeus. In this period drama about the life of child prodigy Amadeus Mozart, through the eyes of famous court composer Salieri, we see a man who fights with God and loses. Salieri simply cannot understand why God gives him the desire to glorify the holy and then taunts him by not giving him the musical talent to do so, while at the same time, putting the world's most glorious music into the talents of Mozart, a childish pagan with nothing but selfish conceit.
The stress of this unresolvable dilemma becomes too great for Salieri, the "patron saint of mediocrity", and he chooses to fight against God by destroying Mozart. But it's all too much for him and after taking the blame for Mozart's death, he goes insane, a fitting end for a mind that refuses to accept God's control of the universe in place of one's own.
Another movie that expresses the goodness and authority of God's sovereign will is Commandments. In this modern retelling of the story of Job, Aidan Quinn plays a young man who suffers just about every loss in life that one can experience. He loses his job, his house, his health, and most precious of all, his wife. He demands an answer from God and doesn't get one so he embarks upon a quest to break every single one of the Ten Commandments, one by one, until God gives him his answer. He finally gets to the point of suicide, but through miraculous intervention, he is rescued and resigns himself to the fact that God is in control, not him, and he finds his peace and happiness in a twist of events ordained by his loving Creator.
Thoroughly Determined Movies About Freedom
Closely related to this dichotomy between chance and destiny is the Existential emphasis on man's freedom over any kind of determination or conformity to absolutes. The Existentialist says that all forms of control, internal or external, violate man's right to autonomous self-definition. Besides the common bogeymen of morality and social norms, the ultimate controller of all things is of course, God. So it is no surprise that atheistic Existentialism stresses "the death of God" and religious Existentialism stresses the "wholly otherness" of God, a God who exists on a plane entirely unrelated to our rational scientific world. A God who can only be encountered by an irrational "leap of faith." but more on that later.
One of the most blatant negations of determinism in recent years is the blockbuster The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey as a simple guy who discovers his entire life has been orchestrated as a television show for entertainment. This brilliantly conceived film combines humor, romance and pathos with high concept and results in a powerful emotional argument about the right of individuals to self determination and the arrogance of man in thinking he can "capture" real life through the artificial means of media. Real life is lived, not amused over, and we are fooling ourselves if we think that our media obsession is a substitute for that real life.
But The Truman Show goes beyond mere mortal control. It is ultimately a manifesto of man's presumed autonomy from God, the ultimate controller. In the final "obligatory scene" Truman confronts the Producer of his show Christoff, played by Ed Harris. It should be obvious to the now-informed reader that this name, Christoff, is not a coincidence, but a deliberate act on the part of the writer to express the god-like symbolism of the producer. The discussion between Christoff and Truman even takes on the analogy of a man speaking with the ethereal voice of God as Christoff talks "from the sky" though his intercom speakers.
Christoff's argument to Truman is that all the events in Truman's life, from his love life to the storm on the sea may have been controlled by another, but it has all been from benevolence and care for Truman that he has done it. All of it with Truman's good in mind. There could be no better description of God's own benevolence and care for our lives as He sovereignly causes all things to work for good to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
As Truman climbs the "stairway to heaven" in the sky and is about to walk out into the real world, he turns and says to Christ(off), "If I don't see you, good morning, good afternoon and good night." It is better for man to be autonomously free without God in a world of real pain and suffering, than it is to exist in a universe controlled by a deity, even if he is a benevolent one. "Freedom at all costs" is the motto of Existentialism and it draws the enthusiastic affirmation of postmodern man.
Another diabolically clever film from the past year was Pleasantville, the story of two 90s GenXers (brother and sister) who find themselves magically transported into the world of an old black and white TV show called Pleasantville. The obvious intent of the filmmakers here is a vitriolic attack on traditional morality as embodied in the 50s Ozzie and Harriet mentality. A redundant cliché of "liberal enlightenment." Traditional morality is portrayed as oppressive to the individual's freedom and the "black and white" people start discovering joy and begin turning into color when they start having pre-marital and adulterous sex. Freedom through immorality.
There is even a shot where a girl takes a "colored" apple off a tree to eat, a symbolic pointer to the Garden of Eden as a positive "growth" for man. By choosing to eat the fruit, Adam and Eve were actually taking an enlightened step of maturity, making their own moral choices instead of rigidly adhering to that inflexible and imposing "traditional morality" of that - you know - Creator of all things Guy. You can almost hear the soft hiss in the ears of those enthusiastic moviegoers crying and laughing their way through this "immorality fable."
And that's what this story is really about, not merely the attack on morals, but the proposition that any external norms are arbitrarily oppressive and redemption is found in people making their own internal individual choices. The promiscuous sister finds her redemption, after turning half the schoolgirls into happy whores, by choosing to hunker down and put her head in the books and get a real education. See? Even liberals can find freedom in "choosing" to be conservative. Just so long as we are the captains of our own fates, the masters of our own destinies.
This same kind of "personal choice" theme is broached in the Indy film Citizen Ruth, where Laura Dern is Ruth, a pregnant unwed mother who is fought over by both Pro-Lifers to keep the baby and Pro-"Choicers" to kill it and unite with the sister hood of blood. The conclusion of the story is that both camps are wrong because they both violate Ruth's ultimate autonomy to direct her own life. All external value systems are wrong to impose obligation to any code of behavior, liberal or conservative. Pretended "thinking for one's self." Existentialism to the core.
Two other Independent films that attempt to show the absurdity of a determined universe without man's autonomous freedom are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and The Music of Chance. They both have characters that are controlled by outside forces, making their lives meaningless vapors of labor leading to an equally meaningless death. Life becomes "sound and fury, signifying nothing. " As Camus liked to express, this existence of man is the myth of Sisyphus, the legendary character whose life was reduced to endlessly rolling a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down again.
An Auteur of Existentialism
And now we turn to Woody Allen, the quintessential postmodern filmmaker. An entire article could be written about his films alone. Let's look at the themes that dominate this Nietzschean evangelist of nihilism.
Deconstructing Harry (does that word, "deconstructing" ring any postmodern bells?) embodies the perspectivalism that often marks his movies. Everyone's viewpoint of the same events are a different reality and we see those differing interpretations through a non-linear storytelling. Many of his films, like Bullets Over Broadway, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and Stardust Memories are chock full of angst-filled searches for significance and "final experiences" resolved in characters accepting their insignificant place in the universe or self-destructing.
Zelig is a comedy about a little guy with a bizarre psychological dysfunction who takes on the physical traits of those he is around. He ends up meeting historical figures like Stalin, Hitler, Churchill and others and we see him looking like each one of them. This is a fable about a guy who has to realize he has a problem of being others-directed and he only finds redemption when he becomes self-directed. Another Nietzschean theme.
In Shadows and Fog, Allen wrestles with the notion of random evil, embodied in a serial killer around a traveling circus. The killer is in effect, the ubermensch ("Overman") of Nietzsche who transcends rationality in a world that is equally irrational.
But Crimes and Misdemeanors marks the high point of Allen's crusade of Existentialism. In it, Martin Landau plays an upstanding doctor in the community who struggles with guilt over his adultery and consequent hired murder cover-up of his adulteress. His Rabbi who counsels him in spiritual matters is going blind, symbolizing the blind faith and inadequacy of religion. Allen himself plays a filmmaker doing a documentary on what amounts to a Jewish Existentialist theologian, the likes of Martin Buber, wrestling with the evil in the world.
Landau remembers his dinner table family discussions as a child where his religious and atheist relatives argued over the Holocaust. The conclusion: There is no God. There is only the will to power. The reason why Hitler lost was not because he was wrong, but because the Allies were stronger. Might makes right. Oh, the ghost of Nietzsche forever haunting celluloid.
At the end of the film, Landau relieves his conscience by recognizing that "in the absence of a god, man assumes responsibility for his own actions." By freeing himself from the external oppression of religious guilt, in a "tragic" freedom, he carves his own future and the past guilt fades away. Condemned to be free, because all guilt is, after all, the product of an artificial pressure by an external code of conduct that violates our ultimate autonomy. Unwittingly, the picture of a hardened heart.
To give Allen the benefit of the doubt, this is not to accuse him of deliberately promoting evil, but rather philosophically attempting to destroy all absolutes of morality based on God and then finding himself in the awkward place of having no justification for condemnation of anything as evil whatsoever. Allen is simply in the predicament that Dostoevsky so insightfully spelled out in The Brothers Karamazov, when the priest Alyosha says that if there is no God, then all is permissible. A statement echoed positively by Nietzsche himself in his writings.
But there is a powerful lesson to be learned in an examination of this self-conscious postmodern filmmaker. It should come as no surprise to us that a man who preaches the non-existence of absolutes and the oppression of morals should be caught breaking sexual boundaries with his own stepchild who was the age of what would amount to a grandchild. No surprise at all. After all, ideas have consequences.
And speaking of consequences, a movie that addresses the negative results of postmodern relativity is the thriller, Seven, starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. Despite the fact that this dark and dreary film has a religious serial killer, a common hate-bating cliché against Christians, it makes a powerful moral point and hammers it home with profundity.
The killer, after being caught for his murders based on the seven deadly sins from Dante's Inferno, explains to the two detectives that society, by ignoring moral absolutes has actually bred the worst of evils. A world that no longer believes in sin, no longer has authority to distinguish moral differences or condemn the worst of villainy. This movie where the killer is actually philosophically correct makes us look at ourselves to see the monsters we have become. A world that assumes the death of God results in the death of man.
Another movie that echoes this same scathing indictment of postmodern morality is Rope by Alfred Hitchcock. Jimmy Stewart plays a professor of Nietzschean philosophy who has his own ideas turned against him when a couple of student uses those ideas to justify murdering another student. Stewart comes to terms with the fact that ideas have consequences and morality is true and necessary.
END OF PART I
Brian Godawa--apart from being SCP's design director--is a screenwriter living in Southern California. He has a degree in the fine arts with a background in advertising and marketing. His web page is at: http://www.godawa.com
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