Thursday, November 27, 2008

A new view

I don't buy many films or DVDs to keep, but if I did one would be "Shallow Hal". Okay, I know it's a comedy, but it still has a message worth getting. If you've seen it, you know what I mean. Hal is just that - as deep as a rain puddle, is the way one character puts it. He wants to strike up relationships with glamorous women, purely because he thinks they look good so that is his definition of 'good' altogether. Then he is hypnotized and programmed to see the real worth of people. Whoever wrote this had a clever idea, and I offer them my compliments. When Hal sees the inner worth or true beauty of people, they appear to be attractive physically. So he meets and chats up a succession of women who look good to him, because they have likeable personalties and good hearts. The significant one is Rosemary, played by Gwyneth Paltrow - the proverbial glamorous blonde. But in real life, unseen to Hal, Rosemary is collossally overweight, which is shown by the way chairs collapse under her and the huge amount she eats. But she has a good heart, and so to the mentally re-geared Hal she looks beautiful. By contrast, a nurse he meets when Rosemary takes him to visit kids in a burns unit is a cold-hearted harridan, and a grasping gold-digger; and to Hal she looks like a grizzly witch, since that is her inner quality. In 'real life' that nurse is physically attractive, but the real her is ugly because she is a selfish unloving user. Hal sees that in her while hypnotized, and sees the beauty of several other women who deserve to be appreciated. For that matter when Rosemary introduces him to two friends who do overseas aid work, kind hearted and noble young men, they look handsome and poised, even though in physical appearance they are not. One is obese, the other has an unfortunate skin condition.
It's a brilliant idea, even though the film is comic. What would people look like if you saw their character in their appearance, instead of the superficial persona they cultivate.
But trouble is ahead. Hal has a pal who is still as shallow as ever. He rejects a girl because she has oddly shaped toes. Can you beat that?
When Hal's pal, who can't handle the new way Hal does things, gets the hypnotic trance lifted everything is confusion. Hal doesn't even recognize Rosemary, or several other people who he remembers as looking good. This leads to terrible hurt for Rosemary, although it comes out happily in the end. He meets up again with several people he does not know when he sees only their physical appearance. Finally he figures it out and takes up with Rosemary because what he saw in her as a person is still there even if her appearance is not what he thought. Lesson learned. So it's a romantic comedy, good for a laugh, but I call it a gem!
It's worth switching for a moment to William Butler Yeats, a literary poet. One of his poems is a prayer for his daughter. He says, let her be not SO beautiful that it goes to her head and she becomes selfish and conceited. Good point!
Obviously physical attraction exists for some purpose. God made it such that we are attracted to some and not others. But it should never be a person's value, whether or not they are glamorous to look at.
I recall a happy moment some years ago. A girl I taught is short and tubby with a bulgy face, and not what many people would call good looking. But she has a warm kind heart. The last time I saw her she had her usual kind smile - and a husband and child, which I know she wanted. Good one! Some days the world looks like an okay place after all!
It would be incredible to see what would happen if you could really undergo what was done to Hal, and see people without being influenced by their appearance. Come to that, I've had a friend who was blind, and he was married. He did not have to see his partner physically to appreciate her.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"All God's Children"

This is the only film review I've done and might be the only one. But it seems a special case.
"All God's Children" seemed to be a little known film in Australia, I don't know if it received more notice in other countries. It is not overtly Christian or religious, as the title might imply. What happens is this.
The film opens with two boys - one white, one black - stealing a school bus. The the alarm is given, and the audience finds out that it is a type of bus in which the brakes do not work until the engine is warmed up. The boys, not knowing that, are at risk of a serious accident.
The next thing we see is the bus crashing!
After that the action goes into flashback, so that we pick up the plot. It is set against the background of the "bussing" experiment in the U.S. when the government intervened in school enrollments. This was to prevent some schools having only students from middle class or wealthy backgrounds, and others only students from poor backgrounds. The plan was to have a racial and socio-economic mix in each school, and to transport students by bus if necessary to get them to schools outside their area.
In the film, these two boys are staging a protest against it. That is why they stole the bus. The government plan would have the effect of sending them to different schools, and as well as being friends they make an excellent combination on the school football team.
Then the action returns to the present. Police have found the bus crash, with ONE badly burnt body in it. Tests will be needed to learn which of the two it is. The other boy has escaped from the crash, and gone missing. That notches up the tension. The characters in the film, and the audience, are waiting to find out which of the boys has died.
There is quite a lot in the film, revealed through the dialogue. It would get away from the point to go into too much detail about that. As the plot develops, the audience is introduced to both sets of parents, black and white. The dialogue reveals the perspectives of each on the issues of race and education.
At the final moment of the film, we hear that scientific testing has revealed which of the boys was the one found dead in the bus.
The last thing the audience hears is ONE of the mothers crying heartbrokenly, having learned that she has lost her child.
But the audience never finds out which of them it is. And that is the point that we are confronted with.
Does it make it any better, which one of them it is? Isn't is just as bad, either way?
I can't remember the names of any cast members except ( I think) Richard Widmark. The film was made back in the 1970s. It seemed to receive little acclaim, but I thought it made an excellent point. We are ALL God's children. Race does not change our value. Neither, it could be added does gender. But that would be another story.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The demon lover.

Along with dragons and fairies, one of the figures in myths and folk-songs is the 'demon-lover'. This is the cruel spirit who entices a woman or man to their destruction by wooing them when in some sort of disguise, so that their unhappy victim is carried away and realizes too late that they are doomed. It's a cruel type of tale, but like other things in folklore it reflects reality. Apart from mourning the sadness of it, those tales serve as a warning. They can be an allegory of real life.
This is just one true-life story I've heard about a 'demon-lover'. It happened in New Zealand some years ago. I should point out, the race of the people involved is irrelevant. It's just that there was a detailed newspaper report about it.
A troupe of musicians was touring New Zealand. They were African, playing some sort of traditional music. At one of the places they performed, a girl in the audience was carried away by the overtures of one of the musicians, and went home with him for the night. The woman was a Maori, which is relevant for this reason: she identified with the African man, seeing him as part of a dark-skinned race that had been mistreated by white people in the past. In her own words, she felt she had found a soul-mate.
The two of them slept together that night. The travelling musicians moved on the next day. Whether or not the girl was hoping to hear from him again I can't recall. What followed was, she found that she had contracted HIV from him.
That was bad enough. More was to follow. There was an inquiry, with a view to prosecuting the man for knowingly endangering others by having unprotected sex. At the inquiry it came out that there were half a dozen women, from parts of New Zealand, also infected by the same man. It seems he was a deceptive charmer. Part of the cruelty of it was that each of the women had felt the same way: they had met a man who they immediately felt close to, and identified with.
It was observed by the journalist that the women were all in some way vulnerable. Either they were lonely, or came from a disadvantaged background, or their appearance was such that not a lot of men would be physically attracted to them. All of them had fallen into this wretched trap - thinking they'd found a man who cared, and finding that he had wrecked their lives.
It's not only men who do the damage and women who suffer it. One case reported from Queensland in Australia, and one from Ireland went the same way. A woman stranger came to a town, proceeded to entice as many men as she could into having sex with her, and it turned out that she was HIV positive. She passed it on to some of the men who fell for her trap.
The demon lover is part of real life. On the one hand, I can feel deep sympathy for the victims. They succumbed to a temptation that many humans find hard to resist: finding love, or at least some momentary affection. On the other, this shows how people can be destroyed by letting themselves be duped. The people who sprung these cruel traps committed what could be called crimes of spite. But the ones who fell for them could be called fools to themselves. Is that too harsh? Don't worry, I'll admit now there was a time when I could have gone down that way. Before I was a Christian, and aware of God's counsel to all humans, I might have been duped by a woman who seemed to like me - especially when I was lonely and unsure of myself. Once I became a Christian, then I was no longer such a sitting duck for the 'honey-trap'.
It's a miserable thing to see that happen to those New Zealand girls, and yet it is avoidable. If they knew that their value comes from God, and not another human flattering them, they need not have been cut down that way. If those Australian and Irish men knew that God valued them, they should have known better than to let themselves be drawn to their own ruination that way. Some people still don't get this. They still try telling us that to get a life, grab everything that's going. Have fun. Live for the moment. Go out for a rage and don't worry about what could happen. And it can end in misery. If my son or daughter was one of the victims of that sort, while I could cry for them I could be incredibly angry with them too. They should have known better.
Pray that people hear and respond to the Word of God. It won't only save the human soul, though that's reason enough. It can stop vile things happening in this life, to the physical body, as well.