No, The Revenant is not “Revenge Porn”!

The Revenant

“Let us ask, therefore: What can the value or meaning be of a mythological notion which, in the light of modern science, must be said to be erroneous, philosophically false, absurd, or even formally insane? The first answer suggested will no doubt be the one that, in the course of the past century, has been offered many times by our leading thinkers. The value, namely, is to be studied rather as a function of psychology and sociology than as a refuted system of positivistic science, rather in terms of certain effects worked by the symbols on the character of the individual and the structure of society than in terms of their obvious incongruity as an image of the cosmos. Their value, in other words, is not that of science but of art: and just as art may be studied psychologically, as symbolic or symptomatic of the strains and structures of the psyche, so may the archetypes of myth, fairy tale, archaic philosophy, cosmology, and metaphysics.”

Joseph Campbell, “The Symbol without Meaning,” Flight of the Wild Gander, p.98-99

What worries me most about today’s audiences is that they don’t have the skills or their political worldviews and beliefs are so rigid they cannot properly interpret great cinematic storytelling when they see it.

To read, as one critic wrote, The Revenant is “… basically (a) circle jerks for white boys who think it’s significant to watch a “hero” suffer sadistically via dastardly betrayal, emerge battered yet triumphant against all odds and get that sweet, sweet revenge against an adversary who is 100% evil” is to fall short of the exquisite array of themes, symbols, dramatis personae, and archetypal struggles embodied and achieved in collaboration by some of our finest actors, director and cinematographer working today.

Indeed, The Revenant begins its thematic journey from the title (one who is raised from the dead) and then proceeds through the raw abject world of survival where its protagonist, the decent trail guide and loving father, Hugh Glass, is ravaged by the embodiment of nature itself only to be betrayed, buried and left to die by a loquacious and manipulative sociopath.

Here we have a protagonist/antagonist mano y mano duel worthy of and reminiscent of some of the greatest personal battles in cinema going back to Von Stroheim’s Greed and following through to Bladerunner’s Roy Batty v Rick Deckard.

Thematically, the filmmakers construct an ingenious metaphor for modern society so much more intelligent and pure than simple revenge porn. In the end Glass realizes that while revenge enabled him to survive against all odds, it comes at the cost of his own humanity.

In the end, he’s gone too far and can never go back. And he reveals this through his harrowing gaze into the camera in the film’s final moments.

Virgil’s The Eclogues: The Poem That Inspired Christmas

VirgilAeneid3Here it is folks: Virgil’s The Eclogues, the poem (37 BCE) that set the entire Greco Roman empire a fire with a messianic dream and implanted the mythopoeic beau idéal that a god child would be born and bring about a golden era of peace on earth:

“Now the last age by Cumae’s Sibyl sung
Has come and gone, and the majestic roll
Of circling centuries begins anew:
Justice returns, returns old Saturn’s reign,
With a new breed of men sent down from heaven.
Only do thou, at the boy’s birth in whom
The iron shall cease, the golden race arise,
Befriend him, chaste Lucina; ’tis thine own
Apollo reigns. And in thy consulate,
This glorious age, O Pollio, shall begin,
And the months enter on their mighty march.
Under thy guidance, whatso tracks remain
Of our old wickedness, once done away,
Shall free the earth from never-ceasing fear.
He shall receive the life of gods, and see
Heroes with gods commingling, and himself
Be seen of them, and with his father’s worth
Reign o’er a world at peace.

A Return to History?

“ Sueño de medianoche ”, 1936  Obras maestras de la miniatura persa; Artista Profesor Mahmud Farshchian, IránThe Return of History by AATISH TASEER  (NYT Opinion Page)

This excellent article brings into focus an idea I’ve been harping on for some time now i.e. the observation that when a belief system dies, it does so from within the collective imagination of its followers. Gone are the great monument builders, masterpieces, soaring symphonies, and transcendent poems, and in their place comes the hysterical hordes, the hateful rhetoric, the anti-intellectual looters hyped up on demagogic fear-mongering and race-baiting.

The once’ ‘mysterium tremendum et fascinans’ (Rudolf Otto, Aldous Huxley) no longer inspires awe, but collapses into a violent distopic nightmare of cruel judgment, punishment, hyper morality, and a maniacal obsession with women’s minds, hearts and reproductive organs.

In his NYT Opinion page, AATISH TASEER cites William McCants’ The ISIS Apocalypse,” where McCants explains ISIS’s obsession with the great Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, whose court reportedly inspired “One Thousand and One Nights.” This particular story may be one of the oldest ever preserved of the ancient oral storytelling traditions dating back to The Legend Far-li-mas — the ancient male precursor to Scherezade. (Parkinson: Tales that Transform, Campbell: Primitive Mythology). Taseer laughingly reminds us that the idolized Caliph, al-Rashid, was not just a powerful leader, but an extravagant hedonist and “lover of wine and men”.

I wonder how much of this regressive religious revisionism around the world is driven by information technology accelerating at such an alarming extent (Toffler’s Future Shock) it cannot help but render the unprepared mind helpless and irrelevant.

Rather than adapting and devising (or waiting for new models to be handed down) most people are doomed to repeat the old formulas over and over again expecting the same result, and ultimately find them powerless. In such frustrating circumstances what else is there to do but turn on your neighbor, your president, your country, and your founding principles, and become the actual fear itself?

The proverbial monsters long overdue on Maple Street.

A Voight-Kampff Navigator for the Pre-Replicant Age


If we’re serious about stopping the epidemic of religious fanaticism, we have to stop looking at it in obsolete conventions of enemy warfare, clash of civilizations, or even religious/scriptural ideological differences, and start approaching the solution epidemiologically, psychologically and neuroscientifically.

The terrifying reality is that ideas (good and bad) spread through the human community like viruses ( See Gladwell’s The Tipping Point). Obsessive beliefs (religious, political, sexual) act on the brain like a parasitic fungus, sapping normal cognitive functions, distorting and assigning an encoded behavioral pattern in lieu of traditional social imprints.

The infected individual no longer cogitates, reasons, emotes, or relates in the way they use to, but as the viral belief system dictates. As Larry Gelbart said about George W. Bush, “he doesn’t think, he believes”, or, as yet another great screenwriter, Robert Bolt, said so poignantly, ” A belief is not an idea the mind possesses, but an idea that possesses the mind.”

That’s why I’ve devised my handy Posterior Medial Frontal Cortex Navigator. By measuring fluxes within the Limbic Amygdalae it can determine whether the original human being has been completely infected with the religious fanatic virus, or, if they can still be restored to normalcy through transcranial magnetic stimulation. (Any resemblance to the Voight-Kampff machine of Bladerunner is purely coincidental)

No, Quentin Tarantino is Not a Cop Hater!


I’m more interested in his personal psychology than his politics. Especially to the extent that Tarantino identifies so genuinely with Black culture, people, and issues.You can tell it’s authentic and explored in so many of his films from Pulp Fiction to Django. While I thought the latter was deeply offensive and demeaning to Blacks ( what to speak of serious filmmakers), I was chastened that so many artists rushed to his defense while only a few called him out for it. If anything, to create so many rich compelling characters, villains, and plotlines so intrinsic or even extreme within a specific ethnic group, you have to be pretty damn confident in where you’re coming from. In that light, I understand his sentiments in lending his celebrity and voice against police brutality and ‘the gunning down of unarmed citizens’. I am sure he is being completely true to himself and his art by doing so. I take him at his word that he is not the “cop hater” that others would make him out to be.

Save the World/Get Laid: The Vanishing Playboy Persona

Sean Connery Poster

In the early Sixties, especially in New York City, it was clear that Playboy was an enormous cultural force for a new type of emerging male. Hef took the war soldier’s experience and ethos ( Save the world and get laid) many of whom were boys from small town Americana exposed to French, Dutch, Belgian, British and German women for the first time, and fashioned an urbane, globe-trotting, sophisticated, literate, educated, well-dressed gentleman, very much like the one Ian Fleming portrayed with James Bond in his books, Sean Connery in the movies, and JFK in the White House.

In many ways Hef took the returning vet disinterested in settling back home and marrying the girl next door (How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm?) polished him up, and created a persona where he could be reintroduced to society again. He did much the same with young men going off to college (Tim Matheson as Eric “Otter” Stratton in Animal House) as well as many, many young men, like myself, just coming of age. It was an incredibly intoxicating and seminal moment in time.

Obviously, Playboy impacted society for generations, but with ever diminishing influence over the decades. The Playboy today is but a pale, if not, stale imitation of what it once was, or, perhaps little more than a nostalgic curiosity, an ideal of a dream, out of time, like Don Draper of Mad Men, with little of the mesmerizing power over the male psyche it once held.

Caves of Death: Earliest Glimpses into the Origins of Religion and Misbelief


Very deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless? The deeper we sound. The further down into the lower world of the past we probe and press, the more do we find that the earliest foundations of humanity, its history and culture, reveal themselves unfathomable.”

Thomas Mann: Joseph and His Brothers

Caves of death: Caverns littered with corpses & childrens’ heads found in remote Scotland

From these discoveries (and the many thousands of others) we are given a profound glimpse into the earliest psychological misbeliefs and musings of early humans.

Certainly, one of the first “god ideals” dating back to the Neanderthals ( 250,000 – 50,000 BCE) is this superstitious teleological notion that “Life Comes from Death”, and we can actually follow it anthropologically and archaeologically through the Paleolithic to the Neolithic, Bronze, Iron Ages, to present day Christianity, where the sacrificed ‘king” is slaughtered and resurrected at Easter to renew and bring about eternal life.

With all that we are gleaning from the latest in neuroscientific study is that these autochthonous or archetypal “ideals” are imprinted into our nervous systems and evolutionary psychology only to be revivified by certain neurotic, traumatic, ritualistic, or symbolic events where they are experienced anew as personal revelation and religious faith.


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