Who Are the Victims Here?

I feel very humbled by the bombing that happened in Boston, my hometown, this Monday on a day and event that is usually equated with fun, camaraderie and celebration.

In my last post I said that I am thankful that I am safe. But the deeper truth is that whether I am safe or in danger, whatever gifts I am given or wish for, I remain aware of incredible luck.

 LUCK:

I recognize a loving connection to the universe.

I was born with mental health.

I was born into a life where I’ve been cared for and cherished.

I want to offer the perspective, as unpopular as it may be, that the people who perpetrate these awful crimes, anywhere, do not see a loving god. Their god is a mirror for the chaos and torture their minds experience.

 I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

Yet, some people, these tormented people, live with it…and become our worst enemies.

These nutters and madmen, these crazies and bastards, these shits, fuckers and lowest of the low certainly don’t hear a loving god’s voice. They don’t understand a compassionate god’s language nor a forgiving god’s embrace. They comprehend neither the sweetness that comes from a sense of belonging to a unified web of existence nor a sense of belonging to anyone.

 How grim is that?

 How awful to not belong.

I don’t know what I would do if my world wasn’t  a place where I expect to be treated fairly, where I am secure that I own my body, where I can turn to someone in dark moments. I don’t know what state I’d be in if I my world lacked family and friends who held and gentled and told me my misfortunes would be alright.

These people whose lives are not worth the air they breathe nor the space they inhabit can’t understand such being. They are barred from knowing the joy of living that is bestowed upon most of us. They are barred, by their own derangement, from comfort and joy.

These bombers and suiciders possess minds twisted into gruesome violence, either by a gruesome violent childhood or by the tragedy of being born without mental health.  Their cries were not answered. Their battered, broken, invaded, bloodied and dented bodies or minds were not saved from misery.

In the aftermath of such torment, it’s a grave battle for such a person to trust or even comprehend kindness.

I feel a wild grief and fury for the innocent people harmed by such ghastly acts as experienced Patriots Day in Boston. Yet, I also hold compassion for the perpetrators’ miserable and wasted lives.

I often think of that challenge Jesus said: Who will cast the first stone?

Because who knows where the line lies that causes a person to perpetrate violence? Am I better than these madmen? Are you exempt from madness and violence? If we’d lived their lives, would we follow the same twisted course? I believe that’s too possible for me to judge myself better than anyone.

I can only say that I’m very grateful for the balance of my mind that doesn’t fight demons, and for a childhood free from destroyed innocence. I don’t know what it would be to suffer neglect and cruelty. But I do know that fury easily begets fury, anger begets more anger and violence begets more violence that heals no one.

We can run in circles believing there are answers. But there is no bandaid and no undoing pain. The shit happened and it was wretched. There is nothing worse than seeing innocent people wounded. But we are all born innocent and there is a lot of wounding that goes on unseen, fashioning tender children into heartbroken souls. They grow up to look ugly and useless, gross and sick and virulent, and full of disgusting poison. But how’d that happen?

At some point their innocence was lost and we should also grieve for that.

Let’s grieve and hold our loved ones close and reach out to those who we know are hurting. Every connection counts, every helping hand, every caring gesture and extra minute of time make a difference to someone who strains to hear a god who loves and to know themselves in world that gives a damn.

 I will try to give a damn. I want to give a damn.

Because one person saved from alienation and derangement can truly equal 5 or 50 or 500 other lives saved the violence detonated by such a desolate being.

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Film Review: Django Unchained

There is no excuse for the degradation, drawn-out violence and torture depicted here.

Django Unchained follows the trail of an unlikely pair: a European wanderer cum Western bounty hunter Dr. Schultz, and freed slave Django, whom he takes under his wing. The film travels a long series of Three Acts and for the First Act we primarily follow the pair as they mete out vengeance, kill, pick up bounty, and generally court the edges of what is deemed acceptable and right.

This course highlights two major themes: slavery just before the Civil War, and killing for bounty, creating a gripping tension between right and wrong, ethical and criminal. We watch Schultz free Django—then kill a man in front of his son. These conflicts could serve as very fascinating subject matter.

However, Quentin Tarantino decides to take us in another direction for Acts Two and Three, where slavery takes center stage with smutty, shocking violence. This is a film that not only depicts violence but worships it with loving, doting shots of whippings, lashings, torture, hangings, and constant degradation.  The major actors each show their range and ability to embody characters with reality and depth. Yet, the wrapping of great acting and cinematography cannot and should not deter viewers from seeing this film for what it is: violence pornography.

With Django Unchained, the lure of the shallow, infantile and tacky proved too much for Tarantino and sadly, no one stopped him. He had fertile subject matter; incredible talent; complex characters. He missed a magnificent chance to create a meaningful exploration of his subject matter. Instead, he has merely added to his stockpile of guts and gore that is important more for its sensationalism than brilliance.

The actors gave stellar performances that are worthy of a far superior film.

Jamie Foxx plays Django, whose ignorance belies a fierce genius. He’s a man whose woeful life fuels a burning desire to brandish his talents. We find him as he is freed, then follow his path as he is slowly, turbulently unchained.

Christoph Waltz plays Dr. King Schultz, a most enigmatic foreigner. His passions and reasons are elusive. He is helpful, cold, and above all, inexplicable. His final act in the film is a case in point.

With unerring skill, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Calvin Candie, a decaying Southerner, beautifully made but beneath the skin a vile and vicious bog. He shares this charming distinction with Big Daddy, played with nuanced wit by Don Johnson in a smaller part. During the Big Daddy passage of scenes, the KKK is skewered with skill. These scenes are small treats that point to Tarantino’s talent with dark comedy. Yet they are tiny, easily suffocated beneath a brutal blanket.

Samuel L. Jackson is his nastiest as Stephen, the Slave who ‘takes care of’ Candie, just like men before him took care of Candie men for generations. A superb study of the application of power, Stephen is a fawning, malicious and formidable force.

Then there is Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, the slave of a Southern family whose roots are German. Broomhilda, maid to the family daughter, was brought up with refinement and kindness. …And here we come to the “Monsters Ball” paradox again. The black woman as an object. Washington plays the ladies maid as well as the enslaved, degraded woman with dignity and grace. But there she is for us to peruse, in the hot box, having her dress torn from her, living in perpetual terror of being sold, used, pimped, found-out. She could be an empathetic character, but the physical manifestation of her plight is depicted with sickening glee.

Enthusiasts of Tarantino indulgently point to the silliness, the crazy over the top manner of his oeuvre that they find hilarious. Yet this is no “Monty Python’s Holy Grail,” nor even “Pulp Fiction.” Indeed, the lash, the screams, the blood and the pain are vivid. What exactly is there to admire? To laugh at? While there are plenty of ridiculous scenes of bloodshed, most scenes are obscenely realistic. What is so artistic about being great at depicting the most brutal violence? Great technique does not forgive the subject matter’s hyperbolic, admiring view of pain being delivered.

Django can be used, at best, as a portrait in startling colors of a deranged society that cries over gunned-down 6 year olds and then pays to view scenes of morbid, constant cruelty, where the epithet nigger is flung like rounds of verbal machine gunning, as if that were a stab at being realistic on a set where realism is obliterated from Scene One. There is no reality here. This is pure fantasy, a dark and sad fantasy of blatant and open cruelty.

Yes, the history of the slave trade is full of cruelty. This is my point: this film takes that appalling violence and manipulates it to cater to a sickness that sits and pervades many of us, a need and desire for savagery that cannot wait for that next horror or thriller or sci-fi flick—as long as it has guns, knives and blood. That promise that we seem to be begging for: There Will Be Blood.

Can we say of ourselves that as long as an offering into our public consciousness is made with craft, with skill, with talent, that we call it art? Can we say of ourselves that we will continue to push the boundary of what is viewable as long as it has been draped in artistic folds? That is what Django Unchained means to me: another dismal, chilling lowering of inhibitions about what is viewable and what should be watched.