Hellboy, and the thoughts it spawned
Just to make good on my recent promise: about Hellboy, I just want to mention one thing. If you want an actual review, do a search or read MadGhoul's for the more descriptive comments of a fellow blogger close to my own focus. What I will say (WARNING: spoilers approaching) is that, while as we all know the movie is a cartooney, inflated Hollywood blockbuster etc. etc. blah blah, I actually quite enjoyed it (for reasons I won't really go into) — except for one thing: The Big Letdown Moment(tm).
The BLM(tm) occurs at the crucial moment in the story when Hellboy, after re-embracing his demonic origins and at the exhortation of a triumphant Rasputin, is about to open the gates of Hell for good. At that point, the otherwise completely vapid, ineffectual and useless "other protagonist" (agent John Myers) tries to dissuade him, informing Hellboy that he has "a choice", the one that "your father gave you". There is a brief moment of utter dialogue autism (Rasputin: "You must do it!" - Myers: "No, you don't!"), then agent Myers whips out the secret weapon: a pendant in the shape of (ladies and gentlemen) a crucifix! He throws the thing at Hellboy, hitting his hand, where the cross leaves a burn mark, suggesting (you guessed it) a stigmata.
Severe teeth-grinding (mine) ensues.
Why? Why do they have to always do this? Why the constant, mind-numbingly repetitive pandering to the lamest feel-good Christian sensibilities? We know that the character just has to be turned at the very last minute from his evil ways, thereby inevitably saving the world. But would it not be better to at least having him do so more subtly? Oh wait, subtlety is obviously too much to hope for. Make that: ...at least without having to attach Christian icons to it?
OK, so I got a little carried away: they don't always, in a "constant, mind-numbingly repetitive" way, attach Christian icons to it. What's really going on is that I'm venting my long-repressed anger at seeing Jack Nicholson's Joker (one of the best villains on film of all times) die an ignominious death in the first Batman. I was 11 at the time, and I took it very personally. Yeah, that's it.
Anyway, The Big Letdown Moment(tm) in Hellboy continues until later in that same scene. Rasputin, finally accepting that he won't realize his long-cherished dream of being responsible for the ultimate devastation of the planet, admonishes Hellboy: "Now you will never come to understand the power within you" (or something along those lines). At this Hellboy shrugs, "I'll just have to learn to live with that". Great! Now, after tantalizing us for two thirds of the movie with the devilish coolness of the main character, they put subliminal, patronizing Right Hand Path propaganda in his mouth. Again, he could have saved the world (assuming that's the right thing to do) and avoided lameness, but no! We have to remind you that those faint, long-forgotten voices inside you calling for will, knowledge and self-actualization are BAD. You know, on the off chance you might actually start listening, some day. Who, I ask, is really responsible for Nietzsche continuing to be misunderstood to this day in the way the Nazis did, and his ideas made synonymous with Nazism? This moralistic bullshit is, that's who — certainly not Nietzsche himself.
This kind of train of thought followed me (or maybe it led me) all the way to an interesting Fortean Times interview with Gary Lachman, author of Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius. In such interview, Lachman makes a point that he has already made in the book. Talking about the widespread thirst for an uncompromising plunge in the Unconscious, for going "beyond Good and Evil", that underlay the '60 occult resurgence, he says: "There's a certain point at which the hunger for [intense experiences] becomes so extreme and so overriding that it easily leads you into danger".
Fine, I thought, that's fair enough — Charlie Manson all by himself would be enough to buttress such an argument. But then, throughout the interview, I noticed that Lachman was sounding more and more like those people by whom — in his own words — "Nietzsche is always misunderstood". He takes Robert DeGrimston (former head of the Process Church of the Final Judgement, ex-Scientologist, all-around Mansonian character) and liquidates him as someone who advocates the destruction of the world because of his inability to handle the fact that "90 percent of our life is lukewarm mediocrity".
First of all, I have read DeGrimston's essays and nowhere did I find that he was saying "let's destroy the world". Rather, it seems to me he's affirming that the world and humanity are doomed to destruction, because humans refuse to make an effort to change their course (perhaps, you know, their lives are too mediocre?). Therefore, says DeGrimston, we (those who see this, who are determined to go beyond) would do well to detach ourselves from humanity, lest we suffer their same fate. A radical point of view, I grant you; extreme, if you wish. But he's not saying "let's destroy the world".
Secondarily, Lachman makes it sound as if it's so pathetic to fail to accept mediocrity in life. To that I just want to say: man, if NINETY PERCENT of your life is "lukewarm mediocrity", you've got a problem. Stop sweeping it under the rug, and acknowledge it — it's the first step to overcoming it. Fortunately, there's a whole world out there (at least as long as it lasts) in which you might find support and even help, if you know how to look. The last thing you need is that kind of resignation, along the lines of: oh well, when I was young I too strove for bigger and better things, but grownups know that "90% of life is lukewarm mediocrity". I mean, just how lame is that? As far as I'm concerned, pushing in any way the idea that life is mostly mediocrity, that we should all resign to that fact, should be considered an unforgivable betrayal of the human race — even if you believe that humans are an evil cancer bound for utter doom, which Lachman evidently does not.
Then there's the thing about how Aleister Crowley shouldn't be considered a hero, but rather a "moral lesson". Lachman "never understood the extent to which Crowley is admired". To him, Crowley is "the Romantic, decadent sensibility taken to an extreme. His life shows us its limits." So you realized that the Romantic, decadent sensibility has its limits! Oh what a big, fucking deal. You know Gary, some of us reject the idea that the failures and limitations of one man's life must be taken as a parable on how his entire way of life is flawed. We find it much more interesting (not to mention less oppressive and boring) to reflect upon the single failures and how they spur us to go beyond the accomplishments, however great or small, of those who came before us — Crowley, in this case. We have no use for "moral lessons", with their tendency to reduce everything to a smart-ass educational story pretending to teach us what life is about, and how to "succeed" in it. We don't believe that life ever succeeds — even the mightiest of strivings must necessarily end in death, along with the most moral, the most spiritual and so on. Yet we don't find this is reason enough neither to hold back nor to "destroy the world"; and we have nothing but contempt for those who point at the failure of one dream and sneer, disgustingly, at our attempts to realize dreams in general.
To be fair, I think Lachman may have been too young during the height of the 60's to really appreciate or connect with what was going on. There is a certain essential quality that's definitely missing from his words, as if he never really was a part of that "dream" he so subtly and rationally dissects. There is in his words — how to say this — the loud absence of even the smallest tribute to the importance of being there, participating in a TAZ of that import; as if it all came down to just this cultural event, all explainable (in retrospect!) in terms of the adolescent hunger for the extreme, and the need to fill the hole in the collective consciousness left by Kennedy, and blah, blah, blah. What about the immediate impact of it, Gary? What comes before all these cool concepts that your mind can juggle around so deftly? Did you get any of that along the way or did you just grow up in a hurry to find a nice, intelligent explaination for it all?
I guess that's what I'm getting at: there's not enough courage in Lachman's chronicle of the Sixties. Not enough attention paid to the positive things, the liberating things, the simply amazing, wondrous and unexplainable things — that is still my largest complaint with his book, which by the way I greatly enjoyed. Yet I can't help but feel like his main objective in writing it was making this sort of very dismissive point, putting a kind of wet blanket over it all; conceptually throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as they say. I find that we need those far out and "dangerous" thinkers — DeGrimston like Manson, or like Cioran or add your favorite iconoclast here, with his/her complete lack of regard for "the light of civilization". Not because I necessarily agree with what they say, but because I think it's important for outrageous points of view to circulate.
These individuals are one thing as thinkers and another as people, who may have done horrible things, or incited others to do them, or simply lived a squallid life while aided and abetted by their own ideas. It's important to remain able to distinguish between the person and the ideas, so that we might catch those views and insights, often quite valid and precious (or if not, at least challenging and thought-provoking), that only dangerous minds can come up with. Otherwise we end up stamping the ideas out because of what their proponents did or were — and frankly I find this to be quite unfair to the ideas, if you get my drift.
Anyway, after I was done mulling over all this, and done reading the interview, I ended up following another link. And thus I ended up reading this post on filmmaker Brian Flemming's weblog, re: movies and drugs. The whole post is quite interesting, but with all of the above roaming free in my mind, I locked onto just one key passage -- the one in which he describes seeing the guy morph into a Grim Reaper beckoning him to come along and die... and he eagerly accepts the invitation!
See, that is a great image of exactly what I miss in Lachman's approach: the willingness to take that plunge, going for it even in the face of possible disaster. Can you imagine that moment in Brian's life? How would you have felt, deciding to let the Grim Reaper take you for a ride, even as your visions "warned" you that death would ensue? That is what I'm talking about. We humans need that ability to take the plunge and crash right through our illusions, risk that extreme gamble and accept that we might lose. We need it to be truly, fully human and alive. We need it at least once in a while, or our life will perhaps be longer, but still... 90 percent lukewarm mediocrity.