Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Fury": Not Quite "Platoon," But Not Far From It

Overall: 3.25/4 Stars

Wow. Simply, Wow. As impressive a WWII movie as I have ever experienced, right up there with Saving Private Ryan. Dare I say it, Brad Pitt plays the hard-bitten, war-scarred sergeant who leads a tank crew of men who would be best described as one step down from freaks extremely well, with the fresh faced newbie put the ultimate baptism of fire, the horrors of war on full display. It's over the top gore, blood, explosions, and heavy machinery. It's the tank movie I've longed for.

And yet...from barely five minutes in, I become more and more horrified at the portrait David Ayer paints, not at the war itself (if there is anything I have learned from studying history, it is that Wardaddy's (Pitt) assertion that "ideals are peaceful, history is violent") but rather at how men, even ostensibly "good" men, are twisted, beaten down, corrupted, and scarred to the point that what stands before us is not a complete human being, but rather a fragment thereof. Ayer rips apart the idea of the noble soldier and instead shows us a monster, and it's all the more terrifying that the monster is us. Even the best of them is dehumanized to the point that, despite my almost sick pleasure at watching SS soldiers die by the dozens, mowed down by machine gun fire and blasted to pieces by tank shells, I have no pleasure watching the untainted soldier of the group, Norman, dragged into the abyss and back out. To be honest, it sickened me to watch as the other crew members around him show little to no real signs of humanity, save for "Bible" (Shia LeBoeuf) and Wardaddy, and those only sparingly.

I realize that this was not a movie meant to glorify war or America's place in it. No, this war is carnage. This WWII is not noble, not the "good fight;" no, this is HELL. But be that as it may, it was a human war, and with that comes every possible human emotion and every conceivable kind of human act of compassion and mercy as well as cruelty and hate. It would have been nice to see more than the quaint and fleeting moments of true humanity in the film, and even those were blown to pieces in form or another (watch the film to see what I mean). It's as if Ayer is saying that civilization, anything remotely civilized, has no place in war. War, it seems, is off the map, the domain of monsters and demons. He is, in my opinion, both right and wrong: right because it is the domain of monsters and demons, but wrong in that humanity and civilization have no place in it. Without those restraining qualities, what would remain after a total war like the one Ayer shows us? T.S. Eliot knew: a wasteland. Tacitus tells us the same: "They make a desert, and call it peace." I personally would be no more at home in the world after the kind of war that Ayer seems to entreat that we fight than I would be in a world where Germany was victorious (thank God it was not so).

What I take away from the movie is a more complete hatred of modern industrial warfare and of modern political ideology, a hatred and contempt that I share with my philosophical mentor, Russell Kirk. It churns out death on a scale that is unfathomable and is the ruin of nations and cultures and communities, of morality, ethics, and true religion and faith. I hate it with every fiber of my being. But more than war, I hate ideology. War must sometimes be fought-that's flat. But ideology kills just as easily as war-perhaps easier. After all, ideology could (and did) kill 10 or 20 or 50 million people at a time on an industrial scale without the loss of a single life among those doing the killing. And those that it does not kill outright it will maim mind and soul.

 Modern political ideologies exacerbate our inhumanity and harness it for their own ends, ends that often require a blood sacrifice of millions to achieve. That is on full display in Fury, with American soldiers and German civilians serve as the sacrifice by the truckload on the altar of modernity and ideology and "progress." May God spare us such a future.

Concluding remarks: Fury is a movie that grabs you by the neck, beats the ever-loving crap out of you, kicks you with steel-toed boots, shoves your face in the blood-choked mud, then picks you up, dusts you off, gives you a drink, and then does it all over again. The battle sequences are superb, the acting hit and miss (exceptions: Pitt and Logan Lerman, who play the two main characters), the atmosphere greasy, iron-hulled, and psychotic. The perfect movie for war junkies, not recommended for those with sensitive souls (or stomachs). What humanity is shown is not enough to fill the shell-sized hole that Ayer's portrait of WWII takes out of us, and we are left hollow and fighting nightmares at the end.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

"We Never Really Die": A Review of "Lucy"

Sigh. Where to start on Lucy? (WARNING: SPOILERS)

The film starts out well enough: a young lady studying abroad in Taiwan gets caught up in a drug smuggling ring that nearly kills her. But instead of killing her, the triad running the ring decides to use her as a carrying case for their latest drug, guaranteed to be the stuff "European kids will go crazy for." This new stuff, however, proves to be something far more potent than even the triad boss and his cronies could have imagined: synthetic CPH4, which after it leaks into Lucy's (played by Scarlett Johanssen) bloodstream gives her superpowers by unlocking the potential of her neurons and brain, allowing her inhuman amounts of access to her cerebral cortex and other parts of the brain. With those powers she ultimately defeats the bad-guys and is able to stop the drugs from going mainstream.

If only it ended at that, I would have enjoyed the movie more. Unfortunately, it goes far beyond that into the realm of quantum physics, of philosophy, and the nature of the universe, with Lucy coming to the conclusion that it is time, not God, not experience, not love, not mere existence, that gives life meaning. Time becomes god, and by transcending time via the drug and achieving 100% use of the brain's capacity, Lucy somehow unlocks the deepest secrets of the universe by becoming one with time, diffusing her existence across time and space and even into the time before Time to the point of her dissolving into matter and sending a text message to her French partner at the end, saying "I am everywhere."

While the graphic and cinematic artistry is great, the entire message of Time being the giver of meaning made me sick. So...that's it? Nothing more? It's this kind of pseudo-scientific rubbish, worthy of Richard Dawkins, that makes me question theoretical science and all the power that Scientism claims to have. Lucy should become Scientism's commercial face, for all the good it will do. It's essentially Transcendence with a much better looking lead (Sorry Johnny Depp: you're a great actor, but you're not my type or gender preference). It is one of the most blatant modernist messages I have witnessed in years: if only man could harness the power of science and unlock the power of the brain, we may become as gods ourselves. That's the claim that the modernists and progressivists propagated for most of the XX Century, and the history shows that humanity is all the worse for having bought into the mantras of charlatans spouting false science and scientific ideology. The body count is all the evidence one needs to come to that conclusion.

Beyond the naked propaganda for bad science, what really sickened me was how Lucy becomes less and less human the more and more CPH4 she ingests. The more powerful she becomes, the more and more she resembles a monster; no, worse, a machine: cold, calculating, utterly ruthless, unburdened by morality and ethics, and murderous. In effect, she becomes a beast-machine, burdened only by natural needs such as food and...entertainment. The message of the ascension of the beast-machine with control over all things is terrifying but more to the point outrageous and disgusting to those of us who believe in something More than mere existence.

It is true that we exist in Time and Space, but that fact is not the sum total of our existence. Our choices, our beliefs, our loves, our hates, our being, means more than that. Further, I would like to point out that everything that Lucy experiences is sensate: derived from the senses. And that, she seems to say, is all one needs. But human nature and history reject this notion: from the paleolithic age to this day, man has been aware of a higher existence, something that transcends, in the truest sense of the word, the sorrows and shocks of mortal life. Man, endowed with a soul, has not been satisfied with his mere material existence. And he has come into contact with that Higher Form, in one way or another, that Christians and Jews and Muslims call "God." So did the Greeks, Sumerians, Egyptians, Harrapans, and ancient Chinese. The Romans drew upon the Greek understanding and applied the laws of heaven to nature, noting that life adheres to orders that had to have a beginning, that could not have existed or come into being on their own. Thomas Aquinas makes the same observation.

If Time the Devourer was the sum of everything, then why do we exist? We are just some cosmic joke or anomaly, according to that logic. Yet no civilization has ever believed that. Something had to have changed their minds or have given them the initial impression. We Christians call that Divine Revelation; call it what you want, it has existed in every civilization, and since I don't believe in coincidences, that each action and idea has a distinct consequence, something is there, beyond time and beyond space and yet also of them. For me, that is God. And do we really slip into time, forgotten? What about memory? What of the soul? Lucy seems to reject the notion of the soul. Can we really be so callous and cynical about the truest essence of our Self? One of my favorite authors makes the observation that yes, man might just be a bundle of atoms and cells. That energy, though, never is destroyed, but is converted. What is to say that the only energy we are converted into is the dirt beneath our feet? What if the energy of our soul continues to exist beyond the mortal realm?

I also take issue with Lucy's final act: the conversion of the sum of all knowledge into a computer chip and then saying "Now you know what to do with it (all the information in the universe)." To quote Eliot, "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" Here's my question to Lucy: You never told us what to do with it. We have it, but we have no way to apply it. And guess what? Humans being what they are, will soon abuse the information you have given us and use it to destroy themselves, if not in physical existence than in spiritual being. Conceivably, the knowledge would destroy our planet. You're a false prophet: in Christianity, Jesus explains to us what our purpose is and how to apply God's grace and gifts to better ourselves and those around us and our planet. You would reduce us to beasts, something less than human, not more.

The fact that humans only use 10-12% of their brain's capacity is not a handicap. Look at what we've been able to accomplish with it at just an average 11%! We've built great civilizations and systems and works and machines. We are pushing the boundaries in everything. We are greater when we are human, capable of so much. Yes, we might be so much more if we had more brainpower, but then again we might be so much less, as well, as Lucy's beast-machine goes to show. I firmly believe that there are some things that we humans are better off not knowing, and that to try and make ourselves into something we are not would destroy our identity and uniqueness as creations made in the image of God. So thanks but no thanks for the claims to godhood.

Pros: Great cinematography, graphics, interesting premise initially
Cons: forgettable characters, half-baked science, unrealistic finale
Final Grade: 4/10

Friday, April 11, 2014

Did I Botch It? Contemplating Experiences (with Rhythms)

As I sit here, caught in the thoughtful daydream that remains ever-present in the back of my mind, I wander into my subconscious and beg the question to the gentleman seated at the desk in my mind-study: did I botch my life already?

The man glances up, then returns to his writing, but does ask me back, "What do you think?" He dips his quill into an ink-bottle, and the scritch-scratch of letters continues.

Me: "Well, you are me, so what do you say?" I flop myself down into the large chair opposite the Second-Empire desk and dejectedly scan the volumes of the surrounding bookcases. Every book an experience and the lessons gleaned from it.

He doesn't look up. "I am merely a figment of your subconscious, a small part of you developed to manage your mind. See here, I don't really have time to go too deep into the realm of the metaphysical today, so stop beating about the bush and just spit it out: what's on your mind?"

I look at him and look away. "I feel like I have wasted a good portion of my life."

He finishes his record-sheet, puts it in a drawer, and draws out his pipe. "How so?"

"Mind you, it could just be my insecurities, but I can't help but feel like I'm going nowhere and have gone nowhere."

He puffs on his pipe a little. "Nonsense." He gets up and spins the large globe next to his desk. "You've had experiences some people would kill for, and no I'm not exaggerating too much when I say that." He looks me dead in the eye. "What's this about?"

I sink further in the chair, 'cause I know he's right. "Well...I just don't know where I am going, and that bothers me."

A small smile of sympathy crosses his face and he puffs on his pipe some more. "That's nothing unusual, old boy. I'd say that's pretty par for the course for everyone."

"Yes, it is," I say, "but I'm not just anyone. I need a plan, I NEED to know where it is I'm going. I feel like the wonder of the world, the so many varied experiences of life are passing me by because I'm too cowardly to seize it."

"Enough of that coward talk. You aren't and shant be, if I and the Good Lord have anything to say about it." He leans against the desk and we both settle into a brooding silence.

At length, he responds: "I certainly understand how you feel. I've been there every step of the way, so I understand better than anyone, save One. You want to be important, you want to be remembered, you want to leave a legacy for others to remember you by. You want to be a moral man, an upright man, and you are correctly prudent with your life." At this the small smile returns. "But you are a man, and men are made for action. You long to break the chains of modernity and go and experience the world. And I can't blame you." He looks at the globe again. "The world is a big place, and there is so much to see and do in it."

I look at him and say "I'm sensing a 'but..' somewhere..."

"The 'but' is this: you are young, and indeed your life has barely begun. You stand on the cusp of adult independence, which is a mighty precipice to be sure, but every man, every woman, comes to it at one point or another in their life. Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything, and just so: your time will come yet, my boy, as will the adventures. Others have said that Fate and God have big plans for you, and of that I am sure. But you must be patient, and in the meantime not lose your sense of self, your sense of who you want to be, of who you are meant to be." He leans forward and puts a hand on my shoulder. "Until that day when Fate calls upon thee, seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. By what choices you make each day, you will be a good man...or not."

He returns to his chair and pulls out his quill and a clean sheet of paper. "Now off with you! You keep adding new articles to this collection and I can barely keep up! I've got much work to do and not enough time to do it."

I get up to go, but he does add "...though I should say do come by more often. You and I share an affinity for good scotch, and as Chesterton says about burgundy and beer, though we shouldn't have too much of it, we should thank God for them with a proper appreciation."

I smile as I open the door and respond. "Will do. Ступай с Богом."


(This article best read while listening to

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Plea to both Ukraine and Russia

Friends, brothers, sisters,

The latest news out of the Ukraine is nothing short of disturbing: a floundering government in Kiev and armed incursion in the Crimea by mercenaries are just the latest signs that Europe is once again standing on a precipice. I understand from my studies and own experience that feeling and tension on both sides is high and exacerbated by long-standing grievances and crimes by anyone's estimation. And yet I feel that I must write this post, overlooked and ignored though it may be, to plead for peace.

Why must both sides continually bicker over territory and the blood that flows in one's veins? Are these the sole factors that determine one's fate and identity? Are you both so deeply entrenched that the only way to settle the issues is to end up fighting one another? Because from where I sit it very well looks like you both seem to feel this way. WHY???

The questions that nobody seems to be asking are twofold: one, why must it be Europe or Russia? Why can't Ukraine decide her own destiny without being bullied or badgered by one side or another? The other is the one that is most crucial, so I ask, here and now, to both Ukraine and Russia, as a fellow Christian:


Face it, those you might see as your adversaries are not only your fellow man, who Christ calls to love and forgive and show grace to, but they are also mainly your Brothers in Christ. You both worship the same God, you both pray to the same kinds of saints and angels, you both follow more or less the same rituals, you both read the same Holy Scripture...I could go on and on. So why are you so ready to shed your brother's blood? Will you be a modern Cain, slaying your brother or neighbor Abel? Is land and blood more important than salvation and shared faith? Can there be no recourse but to war over things that matter nothing when one stands before God?

If blood runs thicker than the current of your faith, then you both deserve what happens. But if faith is stronger than blood, if love and grace are stronger than hate and bitterness, then perhaps we as a world can avoid a conflagration which would do little than to set brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, destroy what so many have endeavored to build, to tear sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, apart and to destroy the lives of children and the helpless. You would do nothing more than to scar your own souls and cause Christ to weep. If you truly love your countries, your families, your neighbors, your faith and your God, then by all that is Holy, do not let the Night take hold and the unholy fire ignite. Go with God, друзья.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Like I Roll: A Short Meditation on Temporal Happiness

It's been a while since I've last written a blog post, and now I return with a new post. In the meantime I've experienced many things, visited many places, met many people. I've done things I'm proud of, and some I'm not so proud of. And yet, through it all, in the end, I'm happy. You really don't appreciate life's experiences until, at the end of one of life's many marathons, you look back and reminisce. No small part of happiness, I think, is looking back on the obstacles and roadblocks and realizing just how far you've come. I feel like I've come so very far these past few months.

And yet, the realization hits that I am not truly happy. For some folks, this is a crushing revelation, but for me, it's an opportunity to pause and ponder why I'm not truly happy. The obvious answer, for me, is that I have not fully achieved what Aquinas calls the "Beatific Vision," that perfect union with the Almighty that transcends mortal reason and imperfect faith. Consolation comes when I smile and remember that such sublimity is not mine to have in this life, for it is something that only exists when my frail and fallen mortality is shed for the cloak of Eternity.

But, besides the determination to at least in a small way earn my Redemption (though such a race is futile on my own merits), what keeps me going, congenial and merry (mostly) in this insane world? What comes to mind to answer that query is a quote from Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper, and the other is a realization from just leisurely listening to a slice of life song by the Southern rock band Black Stone Cherry.

Pieper's quote runs thus: "Happiness,... even the smallest happiness, is like a step out of Time, and the greatest happiness is sharing in Eternity." Even the smallest happiness shakes us out of our reverie of life's monotony and opens us to the symphony of being, that even when the night seems at its darkest, all it takes is a small light to turn night into flickering shadows cowering before the Light.

As for Black Stone Cherry, their song Like I Roll gave me a small epiphany: that life is meant to be lived, not just for your's or my sake, but for its own sake. It's a gift, really the most precious of gifts, and as Seneca admonishes, it should not be wasted but rather fulfilled with noble pursuits that seek the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Life's temporal happiness is found in cherishing the things
that matter beyond the here and now, and experiencing life is in and of itself a small happiness.

"I roll like the hills under the California sun
Burn through the desert like a devil on the run
I'll be flying high until the day that I die
No matter what they say
At the end of the day
I will roll like I roll"

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Little Wonder

In this post, I'm going to try something new. Before I've described what comes into my mind, the visions I see, when I listen to music. I stop trying to hold back my imagination and let it go and follow where it takes me. Now, I'm asking you, dear reader, to do the same.

Find a quiet, darker spot. It could be later in the evening, looking up at the stars, or in your room, or by a fireplace. I leave it to your discretion.

Now, hit Play on the attached Youtube clip and close your eyes. Let your imagination take you where it will.

Experience a little wonder.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Art of Resignation

Sitting as I am here in Croatia, and being a contemplative sort, I couldn't help but let my mind wander to things that I have heard and things that I have learned.

Today, in my Political Theory class, we discussed two of the major "ideologies" of the modern world: Liberalism and Conservatism. Now, as most of you might guess, I am somewhat annoyed by some peoples' assertion that conservatism is an ideology for I believe, as Russell Kirk did, that conservatism is not an ideology at all, but rather the negation thereof, it being rather a collection of sentiments and an outlook on life rather than a body of abstract principles. One of the features of conservatism that the professor outlined is the idea of human imperfection. Indeed, as he explained it, I couldn't help but agree with him, as I did with Kirk, that we humans are fallen beings, corrupt, greedy, and often violent. Any look at history and the current state of world affairs will vindicate this belief. However, I couldn't help but feel that many, perhaps most, people would still like to think that through our own efforts, through the application of our reason and our good intentions, we might rise above this imperfection. Pondering this, and listening a trance/chillstep song, I could not help but be reminded of the opinion of a far wiser man than I on what I will call "the art of resignation."

Epictetus was one of the preeminent Stoic philosophers of antiquity, standing on equal footing with his fellow Stoics Zeno, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius as well as the proto-Stoic Cicero in his wisdom and prescience. It was Epictetus who, advising his students on how to find a source of happiness in this fallen world,

"There is only one road to happiness and that is to cease worrying about those things that are beyond the power of our will to control."

Now, this is a restating of elements of two of his quotes into one, but the meaning and the underlying principle are the same: if man is to find a semblance of happiness in this world, he must first gain an understanding of what aspects of his existence he can control through the application of his will and understand what aspects of life he cannot control, whether they be elements of himself or stark reality.

I am sure that many will take issue with this sentiment: in no uncertain terms, it means, for many, a kind of capitulation to whatever Fate throws at you. There is no escaping it entirely (whatever "it" might be). In my case and for the purposes of this post the case presented in class is that man cannot escape his imperfection, as it is something more than genetic and less than metaphysical. I would assert, however, that it is not really a "capitulation" to Fate, but rather a kind of resignation, a sentiment based on realism and necessary reflection on the state of the world we view.

To be resigned to something is, I believe, not something that is inherently negative. Often, when we find ourselves resigned to whatever situation we find ourselves in, we find a release, a burden lifted. The situation thus becomes what we make of it, granting us more freedom than we would have otherwise if we simple rejected the reality and turned our face from it. When we reject reality, it often becomes a consuming aspect in that we are forced to constantly run into it. But if we accept it for what it is, then we are "within," and thus have the ability to adapt and adjust. Taking a Christian perspective, when we acknowledge our fallen state and seek repentance, we resign ourselves to the truth that we are less than we like to think we are and that we are, by our very nature, less than we ought to be (and were at one point). When this happens, when we accept the reality of that which we cannot control (our sin and our need for redemption), we are, in effect, granted a measure of control over the remainder of our Self. This stems from the freedom found in Christ's mercy and the control over the state of our souls that He grants us. We thus have the freedom in Knowing: we are fallen, but have the freedom to choose redemption and a life truly Good. But all this hinges on the resignation to the Reality of our Self and, by extension, the Reality of the world we inhabit and have dominion over.

Going further, Kirk asserts in his "Ten Conservative Principles" that only when the inner order of the Soul is given harmony and structure will the outer order, the Commonwealth or the World, be ordered. This order will not be perfect, as that would require the perfect order found only in perfect humans. Seeing as humans are far from perfect, in fact fallen, we can only resign ourselves to making a tolerable order of the world and to making our inner Self, our Souls, as ordered as possible in our state. In this we are granted far more freedom than we realize, as our eyes are opened to the reality. Yes, much of what we see will make us shudder. But also we will see things with new clarity, and open our imaginations and self to the wonder and beautiful mystery of Creation, not to mention the myriad of ways that we can attempt to improve not only our own lot in this temporal existence but also be awakened to the needs and care of our fellow man. This is part of why I pity men who think they know everything and proclaim themselves to be "experts:" In doing so, they shut themselves off from this new world, unable and unwilling to see the greater picture of existence that is wider than they could have imagined. Again, to have new eyes is to first resign ourselves to the fact that we only see a small picture of the eternal tapestry of Creation. This is not to say that there are not aspects of life that we should not strive to change (Lord knows there is much of those in life) but these are granted fuller vision when we strive to accept what we can't change and discern them from those we can.

And thus, in the words of Blackmill's "Let It Be," I resign myself to the Reality of Existence, and that I will "Let it come and let it be," as I cannot change the sad facts, but I can control my destiny in the freedom I find in resignation to the need for salvation. I end with this thought that stems from the resignation:

"There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind." -C.S. Lewis