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Matthew Vines, a Christian homosexual, presents arguments reconciling these two defining characteristics after dedicating two years to researching the Bible and using it to present his case.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine has wonderful insights into this film. I recommend reading his review here and I recommend watching the film as well.
Certain moments in the film made me feel awkward. Not because of their tastelessness or taboo effect, but because I had trouble figuring them out. Many in the audience must have felt the same way as I heard various knee-jerk reactions and remarks to significant others expressing their confusion with a smirk. Yet something about this film reached a pitch of apparent brilliance. I just couldn’t label it.
As the film proceeded, my proverbial grasp of themes and ideas reshaped themselves. Due to monumental performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, the film itself seemed like a sort of living thing – always in motion, always changing, never dwelling on an idea without delving deeper into its meaning and morphing from seed to forest. As soon as I trusted Dodd as a savior of sorts, he proved to need saving himself. I watched Quell, the man necessary to comparatively exemplify Dodd’s mastery, become the key holder.
Quell wallows in sexual baseness and violent tendencies, his crude style of wondering through a lonely life. Dodd introduces a sort of mysticism shrouded in scientific rhetoric which allegedly unleashes the perfect state of mankind. Phoenix’s perverse behavior and shocking actions reach an uncomfortable extremity, artistically and unreservedly displaying elemental reflexes of human tendencies unchecked by any allegiance to systems of morals or beliefs, while Hoffman’s character builds a desperate method of conquering isolation with equally extreme and shocking methods though he dresses them in civility, selflessness and wisdom – designed, yes, to “free” Quell from his slavery to base human urges but neglecting to recognize the humanity within Quell. Both paths reach shocking extremes and as Anderson eases the viewer into the minds of each man, first one then the other, the similarities and equal footing of each becomes increasingly obvious even though we hope Dodd can reach down and help Quell and Quell illustrate the farce of Dodd’s processing.
Peter Travers discusses humanity’s insatiable driving force toward belonging, our tendency to burrow into institutions, no matter how extreme, in order to feel kinship with our fellow man. Of course, this theme permeates the entire film and Anderson explores every good and evil nook present and resulting from this force. However, the film not only explores Phoenix’ void, but Hoffman’s as the master. Where Freddie Quell stumbled upon the institution and burrowed in, Dodd created it – yet assuredly for the same reasons. Both men felt a loneliness, an isolation from their fellow man. One found reprieve while the other created it. In this same sense, the two men become congruous to each other, different shades of the same man, entirely dependent on the other’s successes in seeking out the demise of loneliness and isolation. The master and follower become one in their search for the same reprieve.
The film not only explores humanities moth-like attraction to institutions, but the micrchosm of that same concept between two individual people. Perhaps our sense of purpose, meaning, existing as part of something greater than ourselves, lures us to grandiose institutions and distracts us from personal connection, which, in all likelihood, could cure our ailments. We focus on the seduction of the institution while neglecting the benefit of kinship with one other. The film evolves to one final conversation, one last interaction – not between a man and an institution, a man and a set of ideas and beliefs – but between one man and another. During this conversation, Dodd and Quell alone in an office, away from community and institution, Dodd illustrates to Quell how he might have to live without a master, and in so doing, be the first in human history to accomplish such a feat. However, the master, inadvertently, has created a world around himself in which he has no master either. We yearn for group belonging, to be governed by belief systems which align us with entire societies, but perhaps a single relationship, finding one person to share in our longing and add what we miss, would be sufficient. No masters, just connection.
While in college, I attended a book reading for Alice Walker’s then new release “Now Is The Time To Open Your Heart”. I wrote about the experience and have rediscovered that piece today.
I felt helpless when I saw her walk in, unprepared. A short, stout, sweet woman who crossed her arms across her chest and bowed humbly before the huge crowd gathered at the tables amidst the bookshelves in the coffee shop. She was introduced and approached the podium warmed by a standing ovation. Her voice was soft and slow. Her hands, at her shoulders, were larger than I had imagined. Her graying dreads hung thin and stringy from her head. When she laughed, it was guttural. In every movement, word, and look was sincerity. I watched her constantly. The stuffy heat of the store didn’t bother me. I hadn’t even noticed it until someone complained afterwards.
When she did finish reading, she opened the floor to questions. My sister nagged me to ask a question but I didn’t have one. I watched her engage in individual conversations with people and yearned to have that undivided attention lavished on me for the duration of a thought-provoking retort. Yet how could I be so selfish? How could I present myself to this woman, like a man consuming the glory of being acknowledged by such a big name? She is not only a big name to me. This clairvoyant woman would have seen the motivation in me for asking a generic question.
I stepped outside to wait for the green group to be called to the signing line. In order to get in line, one had to buy her new book, which I already owned, from their store at bombastic prices. My sister bought me my opportunity.
Those who attended the event with me expected me to burst with excitement like a teenage girl seeing Elvis for the first time. I couldn’t express anything. I was content to be quiet, let her voice and persona stick by me, to settle my mind on her. Speaking would further me from this contentment.
Soon my group was called to the signing line to which I approached from the back. I took my expensive new release, my second new release and two other books out of my backpack. An employee checked my group tag and opened each book to the title page for signing. The line sped along and I found myself standing at her table, nearly losing my composure. My chest was heaving and my eyes burned. She began signing my books, swiftly from monotony, but stopped to look at me. Her eyes were dark through her small glasses and her grin was calming like a contented grandmother. All I could purge from my chest was “Hi” as I held out my shaking right hand. We embraced. She said “hello” with her mouth and “Be strong, it’s okay” with her eyes. The store keepers kept the books coming and she signed my last one. I held out my letter, one I’d written to her months ago, and asked if I could give it to her. She extended both of her hands, took it from mine, and said, “Of course”.
I left the table and the store, in the warm, summer evening air, and stood at the curb holding back my tears. Tears. Why tears? How did I feel? I was in the presence of a woman who knows how to love, fully, individually. Her attitude towards life is archetypal for any functioning society. She demands towering respect, and as my reader-relationship with her developed, I found that we see the world similarly. We think similarly. She has found words to define and convey thoughts, simple sensations, that I can’t articulate; though they seem to be the answer to so many problems. Her spirit comes through in her books but now I am overwhelmed to think that I’ve been in it’s presence, which seemed to permeate and humble my own self to the point of tears.