Mad Max Fury Road: Political Manifesto or Religious Metaphor

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Through its surrealistic landscapes, bizarre archetypal characters, and edge of your seat, non-stop action and stunts, it is possible to completely miss the more central and salient theme to Mad Max Fury Road, and that is, religion.

George Miller, as with his cinematic counterpart, George Lucas, has been one of the more profoundly creative interpreters of the principles of mythology as established by Joseph Campbell in his many scholarly books on the subject.

Miller, a self-proclaimed enthusiast of Campbell, has often acknowledged his deep creative debt to the late cultural anthropologist, and has proven this time and again in his entire corpus of work. Perhaps, it is this deeper understanding of myth, religion, and evolutionary psychology that distinguishes Miller (a former physician) from his contemporaries, and more specifically, the Marvel pantheon.

Fury Road is not so much dystopian science fiction, political rhetoric, or anti-Marvel, as it is metaphorical for another kind of revolution: the mythical journey through the underworld to achieve emancipation, not from world-dominating tyranny, but from our personal prisons of belief.

The Screenwriter’s Jesus: A Roadmap to the Future of Myth and Movies

Jesus and Scribes

“Even if there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn’t one any more. All attempts to recover him turn out to be just modern remythologizings of Jesus. Every “historical Jesus” is a Christ of faith, of somebody’s faith. So the “historical Jesus” of modern scholarship is no less a fiction. Dr. Robert M. Price Jesus: Fact or Fiction

Unless you’ve been tucked away in a confessional these pasts few years, it is impossible to have missed the Jesus historicity debate raging through Western academia and the Internet. For all the handwringing and vitriol, it could lead to one of the most impactful upheavals of the information age. [1]

While there are those who wonder why it matters: biblical scholars, historians, mythologists, and theologians have jumped into the fray for a full on Manichaean donnybrook.

Leading the charge against a conservative consensus of historists who, “claim the prestige of the university while following the rules of the seminary”, is a growing guild of academic upstarts, including: Dr. Peter Boghossian, Dr. Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, Sam Harris, Raphael Lataster, Dr. John W. Loftus, Dr. Matthew S. McCormick, Mark Paulkovich, Dr. Robert Price, and Dr. Valerie Tarico.[2]

To the lay audience, much of the exegesis will sound like Tolkien geeks parsing over passages of The Lord of the Rings, arguing for, or against, the existence of Hobbits. Upon further investigation, one will find a stimulating debate that is likely to knock the nimbus off the two thousand year old body and church of Jesus Christ.

No longer content to argue messiahhood or divinity, these scholarly skeptics are waging unholy war on whether the person Jesus ever walked the earth; let alone on water.

Applying Bayes’ Theorem of historical probability, Dr. Richard Carrier, the author of On The Historicity of Jesus, rates the chance of a blood and flesh Jesus as low as six percent. [3] So, if you’re betting on the risen Christ vouchsafing your voyage to Valhalla you may want to rethink your odds.

As legions of horrified Christians rise to forefend their beloved savior from the graveyard of the gods, and understandably so, the evidence is so compelling, we have to consider whether this is a belief system in its death throes. [4]

Ironically, from the storyteller’s point of view, Jesus is much more valuable to us as myth than as the messiah of faith, or star-crossed rabbi of dubious history.

Once recognized as a marvelous creation of humankind’s irrepressible imagination, Jesus may be better poised to save humankind — not from temptation, or the “original sin” of an errant ancestry, but from fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism, and the mesmerizing thrall of magical thinking.[5] [6]

 “For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie– deliberate, contrived and dishonest– but the myth– persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forbearers. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy Yale Commencement Address 1962

 Indeed, we may yet learn the ‘truth that will set us free’. Not from some expiating act of human sacrifice, but from Jesus’s forensic journey from myth to historicity, and back again.

“It is one of the great lessons of our study [of religions] that for the vulgar, ill- or uninstructed mind, myths tend to become history.” 

Joseph Campbell Myths to Live By.

[1] Did Jesus Exist? The Trouble with Certainty in Historical Jesus Scholarship | Thomas Verenna -Academia.edu

https://www.academia.edu/1825948/Did_Jesus_Exist_The_Trouble_with_Certainty_in_Historical_Jesus_Scholarship

[2] Jack Tsonis’ interview with Professor Dale Martin cited in “Is There a Christian Agenda Behind Religious Studies Departments?” By Raphael Lataster, University of Sydney Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 23 January 2013

[3] Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus– April 24, 2012 by Richard Carrier Prometheus Books

[4] From the Internet: Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss: Religion could be largely gone in a generationhttp://www.salon.com/2014/11/04/cosmologist_lawrence_krauss_religion_could_be_largely_gone_in_a_generation/

Why the Internet is slowly strangling religionhttp://www.salon.com/2014/11/14/why_the_internet_is_slowly_strangling_religion_partner/via @Salon

The Internet: Where religions come to die http://youtu.be/0Rqw4krMOug

The End of Christianity John W. Loftus Prometheus Books; July 26, 2011

[5] The Bible: So Misunderstood it’s a sin Kurt Eichenwald Newsweek”

“When the illiteracy of self-proclaimed Biblical literalists leads parents to banish children from their homes, when it sets neighbor against neighbor, when it engenders hate and condemnation, when it impedes science and undermines intellectual advancement, the topic has become too important for Americans to ignore, whether they are deeply devout or tepidly faithful, believers or atheists.

http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html

[6] Hence it was Suetonius* speaking in the language of his party, who calls the Christians Genus hominum superstionis maleficae, ‘the men of the magical superstition.

Excerpted from The Screenwriter’s Jesus: A Roadmap to Mass Storytelling and Future Myth

© Copyright Michael Chase Walker Mentor Press 2015

Letter To The Frustrated Screenwriter

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I wrote this in reply to a fellow scribe going through a particularly rough time. I publish it here for what it might be worth so that others facing their own dark night of the writerly soul will not despair.

Dear Fellow Screenwriter

I’m sorry to hear of of your heartbreak and disillusionment, although I can certainly understand it. When it comes to Intellectual property rights, copyrights and ideas, Hollywood has always had a freewheeling proprietary attitude, but it does seem to be more prevalent and brazen these days. Personally, I take great interest in the legal issues on both sides and I’m amazed by some of the more glaring examples of late ( Elizabeth Bank’s Walk of Shame and Tess Gerrtisen’s Gravity lawsuit in particular.) I suppose in some perverted way there is some small solace in knowing your ideas are good enough to rip off. Most screenwriters are not so fortunate. Still, I would encourage you not to lose heart. The business is in turmoil and it is always prudent to cultivate other directions for your writing in such times. There are some terrific movies being made, and even more so in television, so I would caution you to not withdraw entirely. I guess I would just advise you to step back from it, as it sounds like you have, and consider other options until such a time as your spirits and creativity are renewed. In my career I’ve always found there were those who were overly protective and suspicious and never got anything made, and there were those who were probably too cavalier about it. (Myself included) Finding the right balance is the key.

As a producer, I sold a project to ABC television written by a truly great screenwriter — with very few credits. The execs at ABC “didn’t know him” and demanded immediately to replace him with their own in-house fave whom, in my estimation, was not nearly as talented. As I fought to keep him attached to the project, they grew ever more insistent they wouldn’t work with an unknown writer. I remember challenging them, “What’s to know? You just have to read his script to know he’s one of the best screenwriters out there.” In the end, they won, but instead of removing him from the project I made him a Co-Executive producer with me. The movie turned out to be a god awful mess, and he went on to reexamine and retool his career, vowing to stop writing scripts for everyone else, and write the movie he always wanted to see on screen. A few years later, he did just that, and not only wrote one of the greatest films ever made, he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Good luck to you all. Don’t despair, and carry on! I’m sure the muse that brought you this far will return and inspire you forward.

Best

MCW

From Hysterical to Hysteria: Bill Cosby, Lena Dunham and Woody Allen

Witch TrialAnyone read or remember Hollywood Babylon? The reality is those were different times with very askewed values. What would we do to JFK or Bobby if they were alive today? Certainly, no one can condone Cosby’s alleged offenses, but there is such a thing as perspective.

As head of 20th Century Fox, Zanuck shut the entire studio down every day at 4PM when he would order a young starlet up to his plush boudoir neatly tucked behind his studio office. Today, we have glimpse of the dark side of Hollywood through the Bryan SInger Tigerheat scandals ( the subject of Amy Berg’s new documentary “Open Secret”. ) While I don’t think we should further victimize Barbara Bowman or Janice Dickinson for coming forward, we should not so readily expunge and excoriate Cosby’s entire career either. Knowing full well the excesses and licenses of the 80’s in Hollywood, as in other eras, it’s important to keep them in perspective. It’s very easy to judge him by contemporary standards without at least taking some consideration for what was socially prevalent, and in some circles even “acceptable” at that time.

Rape is always reprehensible, but there were times in our not too distant past when the lines between aggressive seduction and what we now understand as rape were not so clear. We can be grateful for the progress, but we should be equally reticent about fanning the flames of hysteria as well.

Notice the terminology: Dickinson states, “he gave me a pill.” She doesn’t admit to taking the pill, thus shifting all responsibility to Cosby alone. There was a time, thankfully long gone, when taking a pill was considered tacit consent. Boomers (and Cosby is of that era) grew up in the age of James Bond, Jack Kennedy and Hugh Hefner when men were given license to be aggressive and to seduce women. With today’s changing mores, what college man out there today hasn’t had pause to consider if they ever went too far, or never seductively enticed a girl with alcohol or drugs?

In the current hysterical climate though we risk completely going over the edge. Lena Dunham is being excoriated in the press for having confessed to exploring her sister’s private parts. She is being called a rapist and a child molester — by fellow feminists! Likewise with Woody Allen, there are many who would throw him into jail just on Dylan Farrow’s charges alone. There is a hysteria out there and one that is far more virulent and dangerous than the perceived monsters and bogeymen we are so willing to burn at the stake.

Imagination, Storytelling and Belief: Delusion or Reality?

Kumb Mela play

It strikes me that the words “delusion” and “delusional”, while appropriate and certainly well-founded in many cases, do not entirely describe the religious faith experience. To dismiss the phenomenon of religion and faith as mere hallucinatory or illusionary undercuts something much deeper in the human psyche and universal, if not, evolutionary experience i.e., the innate propensity to tell stories, celebrate, play, create art, music, theater and dance.  And while most religions end up doing the exact opposite (especially to those who don’t share their parochial worldview) to discount and exclude their myriad other expressions and cultural contributions as delusional is a little too dismissive and short-sighted. Konrad Lorenz hinted at this in his brilliant observations of human nature.

“Every study undertaken by Man was the genuine outcome of curiosity, a kind of game. All the data of natural science, which are responsible for Man’s domination of the world, originated in activities that were indulged in exclusively for the sake of amusement.

One can just as easily assign this basic human capacity to religion, ritual, mythology and faith. In essence, and what is almost certainly irrefutable, humans make shit up. And in that marvelous world of the imagination they find inspiration to dance, experience awe, play music, paint on walls and canvasses, build magnificent structures and cathedrals, come together, as well as unleash unspeakable atrocities upon the world. While the latter behaviors should never be forgotten, diminished or revised, neither should the former.

So, where does that leave us? Once we expose the cruelties and excesses of a particular belief system, we are still left with the essential human attribute to imagine, create and manifest those marvelous, terrible, and wondrous things into our beings, families, community and life experience. Why do so many religions have a dress code, tell you how much hair you should grow on your face, dictate the foods you should eat, and build mini fairy tale kingdoms: churches, synagogues, temples,  mosques and festivals that concretize those beliefs through community, hymn, ritual, liturgy and prayer? Because we want to believe they’re not just imagination, but real!

If we are to more accurately deal with the excesses and extremes of archaic beliefs, we might stop describing them as delusional, but rather, mass-manufactured “realities” instead.

The Disney Version in the Soccer Mom Age

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The other day in a heated thread someone who should know better referred to Joseph Campbell as a “fiction writer”. I immediately sunk into despair about the state of our cultural amnesia ( see Clive Barnes) when the wikification of our reference base degrades to ever new lows. I had to draw on considerable time and energy to correct this, if for no other reason than to salvage some semblance of dignity for a man I regard as one of the greatest pioneers of the 20th Century and the intrepid founder and trailblazer for what he called: “the lineaments of a new science” ie. the scientific investigation of mythology, cultural anthropology and evolutionary psychology.

As a storyteller myself this particular field has been a lifelong area of dedication, research and study. In poring through the volumes of Campbell’s corpus I became intrigued by his regard for the Grimm Brothers not as writers of children’s books, but along with the ilk of Fraser, Edwardes, Frobenius, Levi-Strauss as great contributors to this burgeoning science. They were not writing children’s books, they were collecting oral traditions and folkloric memes passed down through generations of ethnic, regional and developing peoples. It is yet another deep disappointment that they too, like Campbell, have been relegated to pseudo history as “authors of books for children” with stories too barbaric for the gentle, if not, ever coddled minds of the soccer mom age.

While this is a whole other discussion, and as IIdy suggests, “a topic of heated debated” I would say we first have to establish solid ground for who the Grimm Brothers were, what they intended to do, and place in perspective the time in which they were excavating, archiving and recording these ancient folk traditions. The next thing I would suggest is a quick read of Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment for another perspective on the “paideumatic” and psychological values of these tales — they are not mere relics of the past, not simply cautionary old wives tales, but powerful doors into the human psyche, past and present, child and adult alike. To homogenize, abridge and sanitize them out of some misguided need to shelter the poor defenseless children is to discredit the Grimm Brothers, our children, our own psychology, and thusly cheat society of voices and memes deep within our human past.

As Thomas Mann wrote in Joseph and his Brothers: “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 future history and culture reveal themselves unfathomable.”

I suspect the ingenious raconteur, ‘Uncle Walt’ , as opposed to Corporate Disney, knew this intrinsically to be so.

“And So It Is Revealed…”

  •  Paul-conversion-by-Rubens_thumb

    Let’s face it, the whole concept of divine revelation is a fanciful religious construct to begin with. Having just read My Failed Atheism by Mark Bauerlein in First Things — he relates how he began his bout with atheism through revelation, only to leave it years later when, through yet another spontaneous realization, he finds bliss in a renewed examination of Christianity. ( At a megachurch no less.) So what’s the common denominator here?

    Religion fosters this primitive old meme of miracles, wonders and instantaneous conversions — and we humans, atheists and theists alike, cleave to it as a real thing — even sometimes subconsciously seeking it out during our more ontologically vulnerable moments. The reality is atheism and theism require vigorous intellectual investigation and study. There is as much nonsense out there for the faithful to wade through as there is for the atheist. How often do we see these miraculous Saul-like conversions lapse into backsliding nostalgia or hardened cynicism in our waning years?

    Humans are revelation junkies. We exalt in lottery stories and miraculous interventions, when it is more likely how Thomas Edison describes genius “… one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

    Atheism and theism require hard work. The former by sifting through the mountains of mythological mindset to understand the psychology of humankind, and the latter, to break through the fairy tale promise that Superman, miracles and wonders provide an actual model for living in the modern world.

    If your faith, or lack thereof, is based on spontaneous revelation it would be best to remain extremely skeptical and pay due diligence. There is no doubt it will one day swing around the other way, and if you’re blindsided by it once more, you should not blame nihilism, disillusionment, or god, for this recent up or down turn on the epiphanic see-saw.