Category Archives: General
Reflections on 2016, Shifts in Perspectives &
My Response to the new Star Wars film Rogue One
By Leo Adonis
The year of 2016 has, without a doubt, been one of the most difficult, challenging, lesson-filled, exhausting and cosmically intense years I have ever experienced. It has also offered me many shifts in perspective, many moments of joy, pleasure and bliss, while offering no small measure of healing and (gratefully) time for rest and integration. It has also been a year characterized by a great deal of revelation, personal awakening, and some serious shifts in perspective in terms of how I relate to many of the cultural aspects that I continued to indulge in as mere entertainment, passing of time while otherwise bored or unoccupied, or simply to get me through the rougher days.
Although I have been on what many term a “path of awakening” for some time, examining and investigating the many lies and illusions I believed in or gave power to as a result of the cultural programming so many of us are subjected to when living in this world, I can honestly say that I have never had a year that seemed to literally require that I go even further in my personal reflections, questioning everything I have ever believed, loved or included in my personal identity construction, including my likes, dislikes and the habits I had developed, such as my relationship to the internet, media and most especially films, which have for much of my life been a huge component of what I turned to for entertainment, perspective and, quite simply, joy.
My perspectives have changed dramatically, however, given the many revelations that have come out publicly regarding the dark and hidden aspects of the world in which we live. These shifts were the result of personal reflections, inner work and investigative research I’ve done to better understand the degree to which I have exposed myself to, or been influenced by, the manipulative and deceptive forces inherent to the cultural systems, such as media, education, and the like, that from the basis of the system of control under which the majority of people live. I have sought to understand the root of my own personal struggles, achieve a greater awareness and understanding of the sheer depth of the insidious and invasive methods of the social architects of “consensus reality,” and how interacting and identifying with that have influenced my psyche and world view.
In the wake of the many intelligence leaks and the now very openly waged war of information unleashed upon the American populace this year, I felt compelled to review certain presentations, books, and websites, to seek out new information, and to re-examine my life choices and patterns yet again in order to gain a more multi-dimensional and macro-cosmic overview of my life and the way I have been living it. Case in point, one of the main aspects I have been looking at these last few months is the nature of mind control and how it is used in our media to effectuate subliminal programming that promotes within the populace a distorted world-view, a collective desensitization to the real evils and violence taking place on Earth at this time, and to basically hijack the creative powers of a humanity still largely unaware of the nature of that power, how to use it, or the fact that they possess it at all. I have really challenged myself to examine the personal consequences of regularly viewing films as a form of entertainment for so many years, and how that may have actually done far more damage to my psyche than I had ever previously considered.
The facts being exposed more fully in the alternative media this year are not new to me. I have for a long while now known that the world most people experience is not a world of their own creation, but a life informed by a system of control and manipulation implemented by insanely wealthy elite families and their underlings and servants, most of whom have been exposed to or participate in Satanic rituals including pedophilia and demonic worship. I am also no stranger to the fact that mind control, subliminal messages and occult symbolism are present in much of the television programs and films released in this country, not to mention much of what goes on in the popular music industry (concerts, Superbowl half-time shows, music videos, etc.). Nonetheless, the more that comes out, the more even I marvel at, am sickened and shocked by, and am continually surprised at just how vast the conspiracy goes and the extent to which this corrupted and artificial über-mechanism of evil has infiltrated nearly every aspect of the cultural experience of the planetary population. My research also forever banished from my consciousness the idea that sitting down to watch a film is a harmless and consequence-free way to pass the time or entertain oneself.
To illustrate an example of this, I will use the Star Wars films, which have long been a source of great joy, entertainment and, frankly, spiritual contemplation for me. Ever since I was a young child, I was fascinated with this universe and its mythology, and found the excitement and enthusiasm of Star Wars fanboys to be quite infectious. I admit to having watched the entire Star Wars series multiple times, and I certainly got caught up in the hype over the first film of the new trilogy The Force Awakens, although I was not very enthusiastic about its derivative and overall rather shallow nature once I saw it. This is really where I began to realize that this series was becoming something far more than mere entertainment.
Star Wars is everywhere. Every department store, every Best Buy, every toy store, anywhere a Star Wars artifact can possibly be inseminated, there you will find one. T-shirts, websites, Youtube videos, video games, cartoon series, entire sections of bookstores, Star Wars has captivated millions of people and has in many cases taken over the majority of peoples’ lives and hijacked their inner imagination. I was one of these people for a long time, delving into the mythology, being genuinely entertained and invigorated by it in all its various off-shoots and cosmological implications. Then I began to ask myself certain questions.
What kind of a reality is this mythology really advocating? What are the main themes of this story that capture so many peoples’ attention? Is it the possibility of living in a reality where intergalactic travel is a normal part of our reality, or where all manner of non-human life forms are an integral part of one’s experience? Perhaps. Is it the, at times, profound and mystical exploration of spirituality and consciousness as represented though the Force, with its Light Side and Dark Side, and the endless wars that have been fought by good and evil wizards over the destiny of the galaxy and its inhabitants? Perhaps.
One could ask these questions endlessly, I suppose. Regardless, what really began to dawn on me was the degree to which the Star Wars Universe has been potentially co-opted into manipulating the minds of the populace and the youth of several generations, and how it has potentially perpetuated a conceptual framework of duality and darkness and, in a very real and chilling way, the celebration of evil. Let’s face it, for as many people who cheer and venerate Yoda and Luke Skywalker, there are just as many, if not more, who champion or celebrate Darth Vader and the Emperor. I cannot even begin to count how many people, from the ages of 0 to 80, I see wearing Darth Vader-themed clothing or brandishing some kind of Vader-themed artifact. This character alone is so ubiquitously loved, so omnipresent and universally recognized, that people are literally thrilled at seeing his imposing and threatening presence “kick ass” on screen.
Even a cursory exploration of the two Disney cartoon shows Clone Wars or Rebels will reveal a large focus on the dark side, and the sheer joy and pleasure with which the evil characters such as Palpatine, Vader or Maul unleash their relentlessly violent and horrific tactics of torture as they murder countless individuals with their dark magical arts. The shows really make this look “cool” and exciting, exposing many young children to this onslaught of violence and gleeful evil. Quite frankly, the more I took a step back from all of this and really looked at how much violence is being celebrated and advocated in these shows and in these films, the more I really began to question how ultimately entertaining all of this really is when viewed in the context of the real world.
I cannot speak to the original intentions George Lucas had in making the six films he gave the world in terms of the influence he hoped to gain over the minds of the populace, but it does seem to me that he was really trying to tell a story that had a deeper message than most people may realize. Looking at the character of Darth Vader more specifically, let us examine the arc of this character as it plays out throughout the entire saga Lucas created. Although many people may wish it were not the case, the conception of Darth Vader as a character forever changed in 1997 when this menacing and beloved villain was re-examined through the lens of George Lucas’s prequel trilogy.
In A Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker is introduced as a young slave boy with a pure and generous heart, born of the Force itself, with tremendous potential and power. He is identified by the Jedi as the possible savior at a time where darkness was growing in the galaxy and evil was beginning to work its influence in ways that would lead to its near-total domination. He is then brought in to the Jedi Order, mostly due to the fact that he might turn out to be a useful tool, the Messiah-like Golden Boy spoken of in their prophecy, even though they recognize the inherent danger of taking a child with such power from his mother at a young age. Young Anakin also comes under the watchful eyes of the evil Sith Lord Darth Sidious, hiding in plain sight as a seemingly well-intentioned and innocuous senator named Sheev Palpatine. Sidious is, of course, essentially the embodiment of Satan in the Star Wars mythology. Yes, the Biblical analogies of this mythology are hard to miss.
As Sidious/Palpatine amasses more power by becoming “Supreme Chancellor” of the Republic, he watches, baits, plants seeds, and gains young Anakin’s confidence, feeding his ego and making him feel understood and appreciated for who he “really is,” rather than who the Jedi “force” him to be through their rigid rules and codes (pun intended). As Anakin’s anger, his sense of helplessness, and his inner conflicts grow, the Jedi fail to fully understand Anakin, fail to offer him the guidance and compassion that would help him to see through the deceptions of Palpatine, which they are also ultimately blind to until it is too late. Essentially, they fail to help Anakin feel loved, like he truly belongs as a member of their Order. This leads to Anakin’s later conflicts where his trust of the Jedi comes into question.
The Jedi, as a result of the fear of losing all for which they had worked to accomplish over a period of centuries, come to exemplify the very tactics and morally ambiguous actions which they have taught Anakin to resist and avoid as a Jedi, namely engaging in all out warfare to preserve their way of life and resorting to offensive military tactics in order to “defend” a democratic Republic against the threat of those who apparently wish to secede from it, which could lead to its dissolution. Unfortunately, they realize only too late that it was Sidious pulling the strings on both sides all along, from within the Republic itself as newly elected Chancellor, manufacturing the war to create an opening for him to seize ultimate power over the whole galaxy. The Jedi’s treatment of Anakin and their own hypocritical actions undermines his faith in the Jedi way, calls his trust of the Jedi into question, and makes him an easy target for Sidious to corrupt and seduce into embracing the dark side and its promise of power.
Throughout all of this larger conflict, the individual conflict is played out between Anakin’s relationship with Padmé Admidala, a former queen and now Senator herself, the very same position Palpatine held before becoming Chancellor. After losing his mother twice, once to abandonment and then to death by murder, Anakin falls in love with this woman, an act forbidden by his Jedi Masters, and marries her in secret. At heart, he is still an innocent youth who is unable or unwilling to the deny the yearnings of his heart and the desire to feel loved. Only through the love of a woman, the grace of the Feminine, does he find the love, belonging and sense of communion that he failed to find through the Force. Yoda and the other Jedi Masters had found this peace and balance as a result of going within and merging with the Force, a result of their long years of training during more peaceful times, but for Anakin the Force itself had always been a tool, a weapon, and the source of what has continually been reflected to him as his “above average” power, which are all very Masculine properties.
The Jedi fail Anakin by not truly helping him to know the Force as something that provides the very love, belonging and communion he seeks, which he thus continually looked for from others. What the boy really needed was love and acceptance to temper his power, and the Jedi, both as a result of being distracted by a war and adherence to their dogmatic codes, were unable to identify the signals that would have allowed them to help steer Anakin on his path as they attempted to indoctrinate him with the rules of the code and their ascetic and monastic ways. It was this failure that Palpatine capitalized on by offering the love and understanding Anakin desired, acting as a pseudo-father figure to complement the maternal and carnal satisfaction Anakin found with Padmé. Once Anakin began fearing that he would also lose his wife to death, it became “all too easy” for Palpatine to manipulate him into believing that only the Dark Side could make him powerful enough to save her.
Palpatine’s seductive promise becomes all the more tempting for Anakin after he seeks counsel from Yoda, who is so rigidly attached to the dogma of the Jedi Code that he simply advises Anakin to “train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” Now, Yoda’s wisdom may indeed have been the most sound and important lesson Anakin needed to ultimately learn, however Yoda did not fully appreciate the precariousness of the situation. In his serene non-attachment, Yoda fails to understand just how crucial the love and communion Anakin had with his wife had become for him, because for Anakin his love for Padmé offered the sense of peace and connection that he required to maintain his sense of humanity, so that his sheer power did not consume him.
This is not to imply that Anakin was a helpless victim throughout the films, or that he is excused from knowing the difference between right and wrong. His own dark side involved a struggle with greed, anger and a lust for power, as a result of his “attachment issues,” but also the great power that was inherent to his uncommonly strong abilities with the Force, and he certainly had a responsibility to face those demons himself in order to be a true Jedi, which represents his own failure. Of course, he is not absolved of the many evil choices he continued to make as we went on to become a mass murdering Sith Lord, although in this mythical Universe he was obviously still able to find redemption.
As wise Masters, Anakin’s Jedi mentors also had a responsibility to look beyond their own dogmatic beliefs in order to recognize the uniqueness of the situation, and employ a more flexible approach in training Anakin, so that they could address the very real emotional needs of a young man with extraordinary powers who was seeking to maintain the innate goodness he had as a boy before the burdens of being the Chosen One, and thus the “fate of the galaxy,” were thrust upon his shoulders. This was a responsibility Anakin never really felt he had any choice in accepting or denying, thus breeding his shadow tendency to take pride in his abilities as a means of feeling powerful in a world where he felt he had little or no control and in which most of his life decisions were dictated to him by others that expected, and at times demanded, his allegiance and obedience.
Ultimately, the final moment of Anakin’s fall arrives, as Palpatine plays his final card, revealing himself as Sidious to Anakin. In his conflict, Anakin reports this revelation to Jedi Master Mace Windu, who acts swiftly to arrest Palpatine. This results in a duel that Anakin walks in upon just after Windu has disarmed the Chancellor and has him seemingly begging for mercy. Here, Palpatine, whether because he legitimately lost the duel or as a result of his calculated and strategic choice, places himself in harm’s way, appearing to Anakin to be helpless under the killing stroke of Windu’s saber. Sidious risks everything in order to confront Anakin with another loss of someone with whom he has known love, acceptance and mentorship, in order to force him to choose where his allegiance ultimately lies. If Anakin sided with the Jedi, Sidious would have been destroyed and his life’s work would have been for nothing. As Palpatine/Sidious says to Anakin under threat of death: “You must choose.”
The tragedy of the story is that Anakin chooses evil, the false love that he had been promised and the seduction of power with which he had been tempted. The choice to serve evil, to submit himself to the Dark Side and surrender what was left of his free will, had to be his choice, even though it was relentlessly and ingeniously manipulated to that end. Anakin sacrifices everything that he once was, everything he once believed, to embrace what he then believes to be the more powerful path so that he could take control of his own destiny after being used as a pawn by both sides that vied for his trust and allegiance. Sidious had seeded the notion that the Jedi had been deceiving and manipulating Anakin so effectively, that Anakin failed to recognize that he had been manipulated by Sidious all along. Unfortunately, what he becomes in the process is a slave to evil, even though he deludes himself in the belief that he has become the most empowered version of himself and that under the tyranny of Sidious’s Empire, he finally has the ability to be his “true” self and choose his own path.
The consequences of his actions lead to him becoming a mutilated and scarred man, a burned and charred quadruple amputee, that must be kept alive through the most sophisticated cybernetic life-preserving methods, and through the sheer will of his hate and anger, which is all he has left after the Jedi are destroyed and his wife dies, as well as their unborn child as far as he is aware. In the aftermath of his dark initiation, he spends the rest of his life using his immense power to inflict violent harm upon others and enforce the will of an evil madman, all while suffering in constant pain and torment every day. He is only redeemed in the end, when he is faced with yet another loss. He comes to learn he has a son, a son that Sidious wants to corrupt, bend to his will, make his servant, and even supplant Vader himself once this is accomplished.
Only Luke’s love for his father, the love and call to the light that Anakin lost and abandoned so long ago, is what ultimately redeems him. In what becomes a rather ingenious reversal of the Palpatine-Windu scene, Vader looks on as Sidious electrifies and tortures Luke before his eyes, and Vader/Anakin is faced with yet another loss, this time his own son at the hands of this evil master he has served ever since his tragic fall. In the ultimate cinematic moment of epiphany, Vader reconnects with his true self, his inner light, and finally sees the truth. He now makes the correct choice and, in an act of self sacrifice, saves his son and kills Sidious, finally bringing balance to the Force as the prophecy foretold. What is ingenious about this scene is that it demonstrates that it is actually a selfless act that saves his loved one, not one based on selfish attachment, whereas Anakin’s selfish choice to save his wife from the threat of death led to his own downfall and the rise of an evil Empire. Vader finally recognizes the false love of the Emperor, rejects it, and protects the true love that finally brought him back to the truth of his inner being and the light side of the Force.
That is the story of Darth Vader as George Lucas originally intended it, but the world was not originally introduced to Anakin Skywalker in 1977. Due to the fact that Lucas started in the middle of the story, audiences were first introduced to the menacing and evil Darth Vader without the back story of how this villain was created. The consequence of this is that Darth Vader has become a figure celebrated for his menacing, intimidating, calculating evil, and the sheer strength and power he displays as one of the most formidable and memorable villains of all time, and not as the tragic fallen hero who started out as a good man. Taking this a step further, though, the point is that Anakin’s fall does not simply represent a single man’s fall, or a single man’s failure, but the failure and fall of an entire generation–an entire society–to identify and root out an “in-Sidious” evil that infiltrates and corrupts nearly every facet of that society from within, all while using its citizens as tools to carry out his master plan.
Furthermore, Anakin Skywalker literally is the Christ figure of this mythology, in that he was “born of the Force” and his personal balance was essential to the balance of the entire galaxy, to the Force itself. When Anakin cuts off Mace Windu’s arm to save Sidious, Sidious grins gleefully and shouts “unlimited power,” not because Ian McDairmid simply decided to ham it up, but because Sidious knows in that moment that he has succeeded not simply in gaining yet another apprentice, but in turning the Chosen One himself to the Dark Side, placing the dark master (Satan) in a position to command the Force itself, and thus to rule the entire galaxy. He is positively gleeful because his long-laid plans have come to fruition, reveling in the fact that he played his hand so well that literally every major player fell into his trap, and the galactic scales had finally tipped in his favor. So the reality to be faced here is that by starting the story where he did, George Lucas, inadvertently to be sure, created a scenario in which millions of people all over the world, across multiple generations, are celebrating, admiring and even emulating Darth Vader, the veritable Anti-Christ of the Star Wars mythology.
Unfortunately the focus and admiration of this character’s worst qualities have been fully exploited, more than ever now that Disney owns the company, through marketing products that reinforce this fascination and emulation of evil. Countless people seem to enjoy watching Vader slash and burn his way through enemies, employing his telekinesis and mental manipulation to sadistic effect in battle. This is what many a young boy focuses upon and finds entertaining, when the reality of this character is that he is a tragic, tortured individual who has lost everything and everyone he ever loved and fallen victim to a terrible evil that has enslaved him and corrupted his infinite creative power to serve a system of Imperial control that is maintained through the threat of violence and mass murder.
Hmm. Evil overlords infiltrating the deepest levels of government, using various means of manipulation and disinformation, manufactured war and conflict to influence a populace into choosing to relinquish their freedoms to serve the ultimate ends of a tyrannical Emperor and his system of “government” that imposes its will to dominate through the use of violence, including utilizing weapons of mass destruction and an unquestioning order-following military willing to carry out the most heinous acts of violence against their own brethren? Dark sorcerers willing to corrupt the innocent through the use of torture, or fool the populace through trickery and false proclamations of serving the good of the all through democracy while secretly planning to undermine their freedom in order to dominate them? Good men willingly choosing to subjugate themselves and use their infinite creative power to serve evil because they’ve been programmed to believe it is right, just or will make them feel powerful or safe? It seems George Lucas may have been trying to clue people into something here, but what do far too many young people take away from Star Wars? “Look how cool Darth Vader is when he chokes people with the Force, hurls objects at his victims with his mind or slashes through his enemies with his light saber.”
Granted, there are a great number of fans and scholars who explore the myriad political and mystical implications of the mythology, and who love and venerate the Jedi, the positive aspects of the Force, and have made Yoda their personal guru. I happened to be one of those people for many years as well. That being said, there was a time when I thought Darth Vader was cool and reveled in the scenes where he showed of his badassery in disposing of his victims. As far as villains go, Vader and Sidious are pretty high up there in the annals of film villains. This makes it all the more chilling and perhaps even tragic, that so much of what Lucas was attempting to expose has seemingly fallen on deaf ears and blind eyes. How is it that these evil figures that so obviously represent very real and chilling aspects of the reality we are living in today and the corrupted state of our own world have become characters that are celebrated and even admired for the evil and murder they commit? How is it that the people of this world still venerate and celebrate politicians, willingly giving their power to them when these politicians literally are in many ways these very same evil characters personified in reality?
Despite the obvious similarities between Star Wars and the real world, there are still people who glorify, admire and celebrate Obama, the Clintons and other politicians even while they exemplify the same behaviors of the movie villains so many have been “loving to hate” throughout the history of film. Our own military and police force resembles Storm Troopers like never before. The Empire of Evil, crumbling and dismantling as it may be, has never been a more obviously real aspect of our reality than it is now, and yet millions, if not billions, will still flock to the theater to see the new Star Wars film and “geek out” over Darth Vader going ape shit on “rebel” men desperate to save the galaxy from a super weapon of terrible power.
Which of course, brings me to the new film, Rogue One. Personally, I think Star Wars has become something far different than George Lucas ever intended since he sold his company to Satan, I mean Disney. George Lucas made most of his money by managing to secure ownership of the original merchandising rights to the films, and then capitalized on the revenue from all of the Star Wars-themed toys, books, clothing, etc. This is what enabled him to finance the prequel trilogy with autonomy and tell the story he wanted to tell. Despite the fact that all of these marketing tools made him such a rich man, I believe what made Star Wars so enduring was that there was a real story at the heart of it all, clunky dialog and all.
Now that Disney has taken over the reigns of the “franchise,” Star Wars has obviously become more of a “product” than a genuine (albeit occasionally clumsy and campy) attempt to tell a meaningful story. The Force Awakens, showcases a slick “fanboy” service approach to quite literally re-hashing the plot of the original film only to offer us a story in which the last remaining Jedi has, in defeat, abandoned the galaxy to an even far more menacing enemy built upon the ashes of Sidious’s Empire, unleashing an even more terrible weapon that is now capable of destroying multiple planets at once by literally consuming a star (and thus sucking the life and light out of the galaxy).
They finally bring the story to a twisted and inverted reversal where Darth Vader’s grandson (now the Son of Darkness) impales and murders his own father (the Father of Light, the beloved Han Solo) even while he is attempting to offer his son redemption through love and forgiveness to call him back to the light. Solo dies as the last glimmer of light from the dying sun symbolically darkens while the “Starkiller” weapon prepares to fire. Some people may call this ingenious film making, but that is some serious dark symbolism conveying a bleak underlying message that is quite literally Satanic in nature. The film even includes disturbing scenes depicting mind invasion torture sessions more than once, one even casting overtones of psychic rape. The Disney version of Star Wars is altogether more dark, more sinister and frankly has a corrupted feel to it, as it takes the original story into new directions that, at least from we’ve seen so far, departs a great deal from the original vision of its maker. But hey, J.J. Abrams did a great job, it was awesome to see Han and Chewie on screen together again, and boy was it cool when Kylo Ren stopped a blaster bolt in mid-air, right?
Now we have yet another film, this time one that is considered stand-alone, yet acts as a bridge between the two original trilogies, acting as a direct “prequel” to the original 1977 film A New Hope. It is being marketed as one of the “untold stories” of the original trilogy, that expands upon many of the elements of the original film while celebrating it in the process. While it is largely successful in doing just that on the surface, this time I knew going in before going to see it that it was likely going to be a darker film with a potentially hidden agenda, and that I was probably not going to experience “joy and enthusiasm” as so many others have. My joy is now replaced by a cautious and discerning mind as a result of the hard lessons I have learned this year, not to mention the challenging revelations about the real inner workings of the elite members of Hollywood, the government, etc., that are saturating the internet of late. Fair warning, the following assessment will give away some major plot points of the film, so if you want to see this film and be surprised, you may want to stop now.
While hope, sacrifice, brotherhood, fighting for a cause one believes in, and the power of familial love, among others, are dominant themes in Rogue One, there is a darker undertone that belies what seems to me to be an attempt to make people feel somewhat hopeless and horrified. Furthermore, as I said, this film is ultimately filler. It is not really a part of the larger story of the Skywalker clan. It is based on two lines from the opening crawl of A New Hope, satisfying the curiosity of those who may have wondered how the Rebels actually obtained the plans to the Death Star, and just why the Death Star was so easy to blow up in the first place. Add to this that one major character and several cameo roles are not actually played by real actors, but by digitally re-created representations of actors from the original film, one of whom, Peter Cushing, has been dead for over two decades.
One review I read described his presence in the film as “soul-less” and that is exactly what it felt like watching this performance by a digital human. It seems strange to me that in a world where all manner of film characters such as animals, mythological beings and cartoon people are created digitally, it doesn’t seem to bother me and often serves the story well without being too distracting (such as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films), but when an actual person is re-created digitally, it strikes me as creepy and distracting more than being impressive or wondrous. I admit, however, that it could have something to do with the nature of the character, a cunning and amoral military leader willing to commit mass murder simply to “make a statement” or for the sake of being thorough. Still, the “performance” has none of the gravitas or nuance that a seasoned actor like the real Peter Cushing would have brought to the proceedings. In a word, the performance is lifeless. This sort of emptiness is a big element of this film. It is light on character development and big on trying to impress with sheer size. It is also a very gritty war film depicting just how much resolve, sacrifice and willingness to face certain death a successful rebellion must employ to achieve an eventual victory, which of course has now been undermined by where they took the story with the 7th official “episode.”
Perhaps I am jaded by all of the information coming out this year from Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, and others, who are (finally) revealing certain truths to the world about the true nature of the “leaders” and “celebrities” who so many people have come to admire, celebrate, give their power to or believe in as the way-showers and guides of the world, when in fact many of them represent, or have aligned themselves with, the same evil that people line up to be entertained by in film and television. Perhaps I am now all too aware of the real dangers and threats of a world characterized by mass surveillance, militarized police forces, war-torn countries, false flag terrorist attacks, and the other horrors that far too many people are still living through every day in the name of “democracy,” “capitalism,” “free trade,” “fossil fuels” and the many other excuses for evil, violence and dominance in the world.
To put it mildly, I did not come out of Rogue One feeling uplifted, excited or “hopeful.” I felt exhausted, battered and terrified, after witnessing a film in which not one, but two massive Death Star blasts cause, instead of a three-second planetary explosion, huge nuclear explosions that were milked for every lingering shot they were worth while coldly gleeful (and in one case literally undead) military agents looked on with pride and evil grins. There is one chilling shot, seen in previews, that shows the (“that’s no moon”) Death Star perfectly blocking out the sun of a planet like an eclipse, moments before it brings death and destruction to its inhabitants. This brings a whole new level of creepy to the many assertions by internet truthers that our own moon is in fact a space station and may not even be a natural moon. It also furthers the imagery showcased in The Force Awakens of the “darkening of the light,” before what amounts to an Armageddon-like event takes place. I find it hard to dismiss this as a coincidence, and for all the talk of hope in this film, it really does seem there is a darker, subliminal message being imposed by Disney, and thus the “Cabal” as they have come to be known, through these new Star Wars films.
Are the true “masters of evil” seeking to corrupt the minds of the masses, capitalizing on the enthusiasm, joy and “force” of a Star Wars-loving populace, harnessing the creative power of the collective consciousness through their free will choice to pay for a ticket and watch this film under the guise of being entertained, in order that the viewers energetically fund the Cabal’s perpetually fearful vision of domination and destruction? To these awakened eyes, it would seem so. While the film markets hope on the surface, it also seems to advocate moral ambiguity through the tactics employed by the Rebels themselves, including murder, deception, secrecy, and extremist guerrilla warfare methods (conjuring references to “terrorism” and “insurgents”) in order to fight the Empire “on their terms,” which is another concept these Star Wars projects are putting forth, especially in the cartoons. In the new Rebels series especially, there is a regular exploration of the idea that one must “know the ways of the enemy,” or be “willing to fight and kill as coldly, relentlessly and readily” as the enemy in order to win. So much for the teachings of non-violent disobedience, or the power of love and peace, which strangely enough is how James Earl Jones signed the autographed picture of Darth Vader I received as a young boy.
By the end of Rogue One, every major character introduced in this film dies, several in a massive nuclear explosion, after a grueling and death-filled battle by freedom fighters attempting to subvert the efforts of a vast, technologically superior evil Empire willing to murder mass amounts of people and destroy whole planets in its unquenchable thirst for power and control, only to realize a small victory in a larger war fought over many generations by people fighting to regain peace, prosperity and freedom once again; a war that would still last yet many more generations. The irony is that the democracy they are fighting to regain was never a perfect system and was in itself a corrupt structure based on compromises and sacrifices that led to the divisions and conflicts that left an opening for Sidious to take advantage of when he arrived on the scene, though admittedly the fallacies of governance is a topic unto itself.
In the wake of all of the truths I have learned, and that the populace continues to learn about the reality of the world we are living in as more information comes to light every day, I must say that the events and themes depicted in this film hit closer to home than ever before and definitely did not qualify as entertainment in my personal opinion. As a result of my own personal experiences this year and the shifts in perspective I have had, it was also the first time in my life I could not join in the enthusiasm at the inclusion of Darth Vader in a Star Wars film. As the final sequence depicted Vader going on a murderous rampage to retrieve the Death Star plans, I was not entertained, or thrilled, or excited–I was horrified. Maybe that was the intention. This film certainly succeeds in demonstrating the monstrous nature of Vader as an agent of terror, rivaled perhaps only by the Death Star itself.
What Rogue One sells is “hope” in service to the title of the film it directly ties into, however what it delivers is anything but hope. It delivers a harsh and over-stimulating assault on the senses, depicting a world of hardened and conflicted veterans who have known nothing but war, conflict and the threat of death and imprisonment for most of their lives, who sacrifice themselves in order to fight evil so that the next generation can finish the job, at least as far as Lucas was concerned. This may seem like a positive message, but when one looks at the hope this film is selling, it is ultimately as empty as the promises of the Hope sold to us in the Obama campaign, or as empty as the performances of artificially created digital people to sell a product.
While this film seems to explore the message of inspiring courage in the face of tyranny, and the sacrifice and determination that ultimate victory requires, it is hard to ignore the tactics this film is advocating as the means by which that victory is to be achieved, and when everyone in the film dies, it does not exactly engender a pay-off of hope, even when one knows where the story ultimately goes. I recognize that each of us evaluates a film experience based upon our own filters of experience, and that many viewers may find that Rogue One explores positive and insightful themes, many of which I saw too. However, based upon how I felt after watching it and the horrific images this film exposes its audiences to, the question begs to be asked, does Hollywood really need to spend $200 million to make a film full of death and destruction just to convey a positive (arguably) message of hope? Is this really what the world needs right now?
The film contains the line “Rebellions are built on hope” twice, but hope is just an empty concept, offering nothing but an excuse to endure. Hope is the feeling one gets when it appears one has a genuine “fighting chance.” Real rebellions and revolutions are not built on hope; hope is just what gets people through the moments of despair. Real movements are built on Faith, such as the warrior monk Chirrut’s “blind” faith in the Force, which is so absolute that it allows him to see what others do not and succeed where others fail. They are built on Love, such as the love for her father that inspires Jyn to take up arms and fight with courage, or the love for his fallen friend Chirrut that inspires the faith that the Force-doubting warrior Baze finds at the moment of his death. They are also built on Truth, such as the Truth that tyranny and violence are fundamentally evil and that liberty and freedom are the only real causes worth fighting for in a world dominated by militants bent on enslaving mass populations for the sake of “control.”
Perhaps my more sober reaction to the latest entry of a film series I once loved and experienced joy upon viewing is the greatest testament to my own personal evolution and my own unwillingness to further subject myself to the distorted and manipulative corporate output of the film industry. Like Anakin Skywalker, each of us has to choose whether or not our actions and choices are serving evil, and part of that is taking a real inventory of what we have dismissed as “harmless entertainment,” and what we choose to fund not just with our money, but with our time, attention and energy. I am no longer willing to “fund” these experiments in mass mind control with my viewership or my money.
I did so in this case to further examine the “message” underlying these new Disney films. I wanted to see what they are attempting to create, but I suppose in the end the message is always the same, and the vision has not changed, it has only become more destructive and bleak in order to counter the growing collective awakening and revelation of the many hidden truths that threaten to finally expose these people for who they truly are to those still not paying enough attention to see it. I take heart in the further awakening of the populace as more and more dedicated truthers, journalists, and spiritual warriors continue the real battle for peace by standing up to evil and spreading the word of Truth.
I have Faith in the real Force, the Higher Will of the Creator, and I have Faith that the Universe has not abandoned humanity to its decadent and corrupted ways, but is truly ushering in an infusion of light and Cosmic Energy to awaken us all from our slumber and revitalize our knowing of what constitutes real Truth, real Love and true Freedom. I trust that, like the evil Empire of the Star Wars films, the real evil Imperialists are destined to fail, and will in the end never fully accomplish their vision of domination, due to the efforts of the real Rebels and warriors of peace. As long as Faith truly lives in our hearts, and we do not give up the “hope” that keeps us going, but are willing to see our way through to the utter end of the tyranny in the world, true victory remains a possibility. I believe we are witnessing that downfall now, that the Empire is truly crumbling, no matter how many movies they make or “fake” news reports they release in an attempt to convince us otherwise. With love in our hearts and truth as our guide, may the true Force be with us all.
There is no shortage of analyses of Star Wars online, and I have read several of them, yet these are two sources I came across that most informed my own analysis presented here, which was more of a cursory overview of the story of Anakin Skywalker in order to make a point. Thanks to all the many writers, fans, and journalists who have contributed their assessments of these films to the collective consciousness.
Also, I found the below link while looking for the above references, which I did not read before writing this blog. After reading this amazing analysis of the entire Star Wars saga that Lucas created, it is very easy to see how sophisticated and well-thought out his entire conception of the whole saga really was and, while he may have taken more care to adhere to this artistic structure than to ensure the quality of the dialogue and acting within the prequels themselves, there is no question there was serious elevated thinking going on here, not to mention meticulous planning and construction. This really blew my mind.
A Film That Matters:
A Review of Oliver Stone’s Snowden
Oliver Stone’s new biopic film Snowden, chronicling the professional life of, and very public disclosure of classified data by, Edward Snowden, is unquestionably an important film. Unlike many other films produced by Hollywood, it sticks largely to the facts, albeit through the subjective eyes of the main character, without having to fictionalize, sensationalize or pander to a lowest-common-denominator audience. The writing is intelligent, terse, effective and appropriately ominous, without being alarmist. The performances are all excellent, accomplished by a strong cast of popular and recognizable actors who regularly deliver solid and admirable work. Unlike so many of Stone’s earlier movies, the film really showcases his ability to tell a story convincingly and engagingly without resorting to outlandish techniques or purely speculative content. It is a film about the real world we live in, and the real people who live in it, and the many complicated choices and challenges that these real people face as they attempt to justify to themselves and others the moral and political implications of those choices.
It is therefore rather surprising, and downright concerning, that there seems to be a campaign in the media against this film. Only today has the film reached a 60% rating on Rottentomatoes.com, awarding it a tomato symbol rather than the dreaded green splat of goo. The magazine Entertainment Weekly published a review in which the critic, evaluating the film with a grade of C, all but dismisses entire performances due to the hair piece the actors wear, claiming that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s vocal impersonation of the real Snowden is distracting, or claiming that the actress playing Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay has little to do but stand around looking worried. Negatively comparing the film to other fact-based films such as The Big Short, which was telling an entirely different kind of story, the EW reviewer, like many other critics, basically suggests that this film adds little to the story examined in the documentary Citizenfour, admittedly an excellent film and compelling film.
Many other reviews deliver a similarly dismissive assessment of the film, some of which express a dislike for this film precisely because it is not as sensational or gripping as Stone’s own JFK, again a very different movie telling a very different story. When it came to JFK, Stone was dealing with a story about a man who had been dead for decades, set in an era that has come and gone, examining a subject replete with all manner of conspiracy, deception and secrecy, focusing on a protagonist whose very mission was to question the official story, chase after every lead, and open his mind to speculative and alarmist thinking in order to reconcile the immensity of conflicting facts and unanswered questions contained within the “official” story of what happened to President Kennedy.
Whereas Snowden actually succeeds because it is told in a more straight-forward, less speculative manner, and because the real man is still alive and has provided so much evidence to support the facts he has presented to the world, so there is less need for speculation. The audience is presented with a story that reveals the depth of secrecy at work in the world, revealing the unimaginably complex nature of the seemingly infinite ways the intelligence community can invade and monitor everyone’s lives, affirming the very fears and claims that have long been dismissed as “theories” by those who are demeaned as conspiracy nuts, as if the very possibility of conspiracy is laughable. Edward Snowden helped to show the world that the fears are justified, the conspiracies are real, and that there is no need for speculation, because he had the data to prove it. The film succeeds in portraying the man as a highly intelligent, gifted computer genius, who genuinely wants to do good in the world, believing in the notion that his government is just and that serving his country within the ranks of the intelligence community is where his gifts might best have been applied.
Only later does he begin to realize that lies, deception and a flagrant disregard for human rights, even human life, seem to characterize the very foundation of how our government now actually operates. The great revelation of the film thus becomes the fact that, rather than being an alarmist, Snowden made a very conscious, considered decision to divulge to the public what he came to believe was a gross injustice, divulging the inner workings of a monster run amok with no one and nothing to stop it because of its very clandestine, yet highly abusive and corrupt, nature. This is where Stone’s instincts really paid off, and why the film is so successful, for it presents Snowden’s life, and the facts that he came to discover, in a straight-forward and no-nonsense manner that conveys how genuinely concerning the nature of electronic surveillance truly is.
The film chronicles how this mass surveillance is carried out by agencies that operate with little oversight, almost no public awareness, making decisions and performing acts that are inherently self-serving and often unilateral, all in the supposed name of keeping people safe. The film raises the important question, how can a government claim to serve the interests of its citizens if nearly everything it does is performed without their knowledge or consent? How can a government that explicitly lies to its populace, actively spies on them without permission or often cause, all while justifying itself using “we know better,” or “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” arguments, be considered trustworthy or effective in supporting a cohesive and moral society? The film does not need to sensationalize its content in a manner that comes off as alarmist, because the very content itself is inherently alarming.
Most of the arguments that attempt to undermine or demean the film by focusing on specific aspects of the film do not really stand up under scrutiny. First there is Gordon-Levitt’s performance, which is brilliant, solid and very human. It is often tricky business playing a real-life figure, especially one who is still alive and still very much in the public eye. It is a genuinely risky choice to attempt to impersonate someone else when portraying him or her in a film, yet Gordon-Levitt succeeds convincingly. Not only does he capture Snowden’s speech inflections and general monotone quality flawlessly and consistently, he offers a performance that is very much his own, his voice actually adding to the performance, rather than detracting from it.
Shailene Woodley also offers a touching and humane performance, conveying the many frustrations of attempting to have a relationship with someone where true openness is impossible in the face of strict secrecy and the pervasive, yet unspoken, underlying sense of threat that infects her relationship with her partner. The film’s depiction of Lindsay as somewhat oblivious to the many forms of invasive surveillance to which she is subject, as well as her seemingly unconcerned reaction to that possibility, directly speaks to the attitudes of average American citizens, who perhaps have a general sense of how sophisticated this technological machine has become, yet either deny its threat, argue that they have nothing worth hiding, or simply dismiss the possibility that they as individuals would be targeted.
Perhaps one could argue that there was too much focus on the relationship between Edward and Lindsay, and not enough of time spent exploring the ins and outs of Snowden’s relationship with the journalists and their struggle to publish this information in an effective way. The audience really isn’t given much background on the journalists or filmmaker that Snowden establishes contact with in order to get the information out. There is no mention of the many emails he sent to Laura Poitras that led to their auspicious Hong Kong meeting, showing only the final communication in which they set up their initial meeting. Here is where the film departs from reality a bit to make it seem that Snowden hastily downloaded classified information all at once and made a break for it, making passing mention of the fact that he had previous exposure to Poitras’s films or Glenn Greenwald’s journalism output. In reality, Snowden downloaded the classified information over time and established contact with Poitras several months before their meeting, which realistically was far riskier than the scenario the film depicts. Like any fictionalized film put out by Hollywood, there are certain liberties taken to tell a convincing story within a certain time frame.
Stone’s decision to focus less on Snowden’s time with the journalists is actually a strength of the film, though, because it does not attempt to exhaustively re-examine the material presented in Citizenfour. Overall, Snowden establishes a good balance between Snowden’s meeting with the journalists and the aftermath of the revelations of his data dump with the more personal and biographic material of the film. The Oscar-winning documentary already covers Snowden’s time in Hong Kong, his correspondence with Poitras leading up to it, and adeptly chronicles the process of initially publishing the articles that presented this leaked information to the public, as well as exploring more deeply Snowden’s reasoning for doing what he did and the impact these actions had on his life and the lives of the journalists.
Ultimately, Citizenfour and Snowden work together to tell the whole story, rather than the biopic being a mere cliff’s notes version for the average movie-goer who rarely watches documentaries. Stone’s film more deeply examines the real human cost of living a life like Edward Snowden’s and the negative impact it had on his own health and relationships. It shows the entire process of a man who went from believing in the value and integrity of his government, to genuinely realizing that these communities seem to use any justification necessary to carry out their agendas, and the actual rights or welfare of the populace, in Snowden’s estimation, did not seem to genuinely be a top priority.
The film examines the destructive effects fear, secrecy, greed and morally ambiguous actions can have not only on a society at large, but on individual people and their relationships, made all the more real by the depiction of Snowden’s rocky relationship with his girlfriend. Another achievement of this film, due to its examination of Snowden’s actual professional life in the intelligence community, is offering audiences a glimpse of the two-faced nature of politicians and intelligence officials, how the intelligence agencies use people as “assets” without regard to the consequences for those people and their families, such as establishing relationships with people in order to gain their trust, then spying on them to use information against them as leverage. This was adeptly handled by the scenes involving the Pakistani doctor Snowden meets in Switzerland, which is how he initially became aware of the NSA’s ability to obtain the information they require by mining the digital footprint of anyone associated with an individual in question. The film reveals how pervasive and insidious the methods of surveillance have become and how little privacy is actually respected, concepts further highlighted by juxtaposing Snowden’s own interrogation-style job interviews with the practices of public surveillance. The film offers plenty of effective and eye-opening scenes that demonstrate exactly how these tools are used and to what ends, reinforced with helpful visuals and explanations.
Another effective theme Stone explores is the oft-examined dynamic of how the government appropriates ideas and inventions for its own use, often giving no credit or recognition to the inventor, and ultimately uses those ideas or inventions for purposes, or in a manner, which they were never intended to be used. This is effectively introduced by Nicolas Cage’s character, a man Snowden meets during his initial CIA training, who served the intelligence community by inventing a tool that was dismissed by his superiors, only to be appropriated and used to serve their own agenda. When the inventor called foul, he was sidelined to a new post as an instructor so he wouldn’t rock the boat. This scene foreshadows the later one in which the same thing happens to Snowden, when he discovers that his own invention, created to protect the CIA and NSA servers in the event of a hack or outage, has been re-worked to more effectively track terrorists so that they can be assassinated by surveillance drones.
These scenes and many others provide the audience a very human portrayal of Edward Snowden, presenting the many moments, revelations and concerns which led to his ultimate decision to “betray” the very organizations that he had served, all in the name of national security, when he realized it was the very security and sanctity of individual lives that were being disregarded and undermined. While Citzenfour effectively examines these questions in a compelling way, it is unable to truly dive into the scope of exactly how all this is carried out, what the real costs to individuals truly are, and present a real-time depiction of exactly how this process works and the real nature and rationalizations of the many, often conflicted and confused, people who actually implement these covert programs.
The film does betray the director’s bias in that it venerates Snowden as a hero, rather than more objectively examining his motivations against the motives of the governmental agencies it ultimately judges to be almost hopelessly corrupt, however this is also exactly what Laura Poitras does with Citizenfour. The documentary does not even attempt to examine the logic or rationalizations of the intelligence community from the mouths of its other, less rebellious members, the balance being achieved by showcasing the retaliatory speeches and opinions of politicians as reported by the media. Yet in that regard, both films serve as a testament to the filmmakers’ ability to champion the courage and integrity of a single man who went against everything he was raised to believe, in order to do what he believed was right, despite having entrenched himself into a community of people who use similar logic to perpetrate some of the worst horrors known (or unknown, as the case may be) to human kind.
Snowden establishes an admirable middle ground between the unsettling and doom-laden feel of Citizenfour with a sense of humanity, hope and straight-forwardness that both communicates to the average person the very real and observable consequences of living under such a deceptive and self-righteous regime of men and women interested more in power, control and money than the welfare of the the planet and the beings who inhabit it, in addition to celebrating the difference one person can make when he or she is willing to question the official story and have the courage to simply tell the truth, which ultimately is all Edward Snowden really did, despite what the “authorities” want the people to believe.
The film also succeeds in showing the viewer that as a conglomerated entity, the military-industrial-intelligence apparatus has become as cold, calculating, indifferent and mechanical as the technological methods it employs to implement the various methods of information gathering and, ultimately, control of a planet and its populace whose very lives, health, welfare and appreciable value it flagrantly disregards. On the other hand, it also examines how these machines, computers, drones and orders are operated and carried out by people, who are often conflicted by the moral choices with which they are faced.
The film’s main argument is that the more people behave like Snowden–carrying out the will to tell the truth and make decisions that are contrary to the established edicts of a monstrously corrupt system without being intimidated or threatened into silence or compliance, to value the sanctity human life, to recognize that individual privacy and true freedom are more important than money, power or control–the more likely the human race will succeed in transcending these shady practices and establish a more harmonious, functional and holistic system of living that places more value on human relationships and truth than on manipulation, control or “security.” Despite the derisive overall critical response in the media, Snowden proves to be an effective, important and well-crafted film that very much adds a new and relevant dimension to the story of Edward Snowden, supporting and elaborating upon, rather than trivializing or glossing over, the material presented in Citizenfour.
It was said of one who would be king,
“Not all those that wander are lost.”
Though great wizards may not speak my name,
I too wander, and by the tides of Fate get tossed.
For a spell I lived as others do,
Chasing the spoon-fed dream,
Imprisoned in cubicled falsities,
‘Til my life raft floated me downstream.
The consternation and bewilderment,
Of the friends I left behind,
Trailed off like vaporous whispers,
Of the inner critic that is often unkind.
They variously offered in so many words,
Their wishes for me to find what I seek,
But their condescending tone belied,
The fear and regret they did not speak.
I hugged and thanked them all with love,
And joyously went on about my way,
Offering myself to a less limited world,
Than the one in which they beckoned me to stay.
I am guided now by the compass within,
That guides truest when the mind is still,
It is then that I hear Spirit’s gentle voice,
From the waves and wind I glean Its will.
I always know just when to sail on,
And where I must journey to next,
Leaving new friends I met during my stay,
Glad to know me, yet slightly perplexed.
Few may know the vast extent,
Of all who have been touched by my deeds;
Even I do not see all the flowers,
In the garden that grows from love’s seeds.
Those who follow the conventional rules,
Live by the measure of doing and making.
They may weigh a wanderer’s worth by such scales,
Only to find no bounty for the taking.
Us interlopers who walk about the Earth,
As an eagle glides high and free,
Have interest compounding in the lives and ventures,
Of all those we assist in our blessed liberty.
For who is the doer and maker in us–
That persona we cling to as “me?”
Who of us can catalog every cog in the gears,
Of the Cosmic Clock that rounds everlastingly?
(Written in Lower Puna, Big Island of Hawai’i. August, 2012)
Perhaps in order to garner better relations with the rest of the planet, the people of the United States of America ought to officially change the name of this country; in order to let them all know we are in on the joke, no longer pretending to be what we are not. Instead of United States of America, perhaps we can be the “Incorporated States of Hypocrisy,” or perhaps “Incorporated States of What-the-Fuck?”
If you think about it, all people who live on the American Continents are technically “Americans.” We aren’t exactly “united” with them, let alone as a country. US citizens often call people from Central and South America “foreigners,” as if they come from some alien place. Apart from beliefs and physical differences, people are similar all over the world. We meet ourselves wherever we go.
So to me, the name of our country is a bit antiquated, and potentially somewhat unappreciated by those who also consider themselves Americans and wish we would get over ourselves. Of course, not all US citizens feel this way about people from other countries, nor are we looked down upon necessarily as individuals elsewhere in the world. It is all a matter of perspective and personal experience.
Still, it would be more interesting and honest if we changed the name to something reflecting what we’ve become, rather than what we were, or even perhaps what we only ever were in theory. I think if we were “The Incorporated States of What-the-Fuck?” everyone would breathe a sigh of relief and laugh every time it was mentioned. It would be another way of saying, “Okay, we’re finally being real here. How about we settle our differences?”
Anyone who has lived long enough on this Earth will have come to some form of acceptance about death. It is an intrinsic aspect of life, one which we all experience, and one we must all face. Despite one’s views of what happens to a person’s consciousness after death, or the beliefs that help one to come to more accepting terms with it, there is no denying that we are all to some degree affected by the passing of someone we know. When someone we know passes away, it forces us to stop and contemplate the unexpected nature of life, how precious and impermanent it all is, and it usually stirs us to examine our memories associated with that person: what that person meant to us, how he or she lived, what the person offered us or the world at large, what this person added to our lives and how much we may now miss that, even if it had become something we were somewhat taking for granted, as if it would always be a reliable component of our experience of life.
In today’s world, we have so much access to information, that it is very common for us to be hyper-aware of the births and deaths of a great many more people than people of any other time period in history were likely to be. The media never misses an opportunity to sensationalize tragedy or death when it comes to “public” figures such as actors, athletes, famous artists, etc. In part, this is to commemorate and celebrate individuals who contributed a great deal to the collective, honoring what they shared with the world in terms of gifts, talent, and presence. Sometimes it is an older person who has lived a full life, in which case it is often easier to accept their passing, such as with Christopher Lee’s recent death. He was in his 90’s and had been working all the way up to the end. While I certainly was sad to hear of his passing, the news neither shocked me, initiated any particular mode of contemplation, nor did I have a sense that it was an unfortunate circumstance. Lee lived a full life, he gave us a great deal of work to admire, and he did not seem to ever stop living fully up to the very end.
There are, however, times when hearing of a celebrity death creates a more pronounced reaction on both a collective and individual level. Of course, this is often a very personal process, depending on our “relationship” with that person or his or her body of work. For instance, the passing of Robin Williams to most of us came as a shock. We experienced a grave sense of loss, as if he had been taken before his time and left us wanting more of his presence and spirit in a world that could use as much laughter and upliftment as possible. When someone dies in manner such as suicide, a car accident, a plane crash, or even an illness, we seem to have an innate reaction that implies that this occurrence was aberrant in some way, that it did not accord with the harmony of the Divine plan, that we have lost something precious to us before it had contributed to the greatest capacity it was able. These, of course, are simply reactions based upon our limited perspective of the entire web of life, for it is impossible to know all of the factors that must converge in order for a soul to leave, or enter, the world, not to mention all of the ramifications and ripples in the continuum that involves.
Nevertheless, I cannot help but admit that I recently felt a deep sense of loss learning of the abrupt and unexpected passing of James Horner, the successful and well-known film score composer, who died in a plane crash on June 22nd outside of Los Angeles on a beautiful, sunny day. He was an experienced pilot and was flying his own small, single-engine plane, which for reasons unknown crashed in the forests north of Los Angeles, instantly killing the 61 year-old composer. As far as ways to go out, he did alright. He died flying a plane, one of his great loves, died without pain or complication, he was still an in-demand professional in his field, and he had just returned from London for a celebration of his score to Titanic, in which music from the film was performed live to a projected image of the film in Royal Albert Hall of all places. Clearly Horner went out on a “high note.” Despite the apparent grace with which Horner lived and died, his unexpected passing initiated a poignant and intense period of contemplation for me. It also prompted me to take time again to appreciate the large and influential role his music played in my life and the personal memories I associate with his music.
Perhaps a bit of personal background would help contextualize this reaction. As a child, I was not really interested in music, apart from my own explorations on the piano as an untrained player and a passing interest in some of the classical music I had heard here and there. I was, however, incredibly interested and passionate about movies from the earliest possible age. I grew up in the 1980’s, so films like Star Trek, Star Wars, E.T., and other milestones were new and relevant to my childhood experiences. I can still remember how much I cried the first time I went to the theater to watch E.T., watching Poltergeist over and over no matter how much it scared me, standing in line for hours to see Willow when it first came out, or getting totally caught up in the epic battles between Kirk and Kahn. I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the most moving and involving aspects of all of these films, and what probably most directly engaged a genuine emotional response, was the film score playing along with the images and dialogue. After all, what would E.T., Star Wars or Star Trek be without the music that so elevated the impact these movies had on us?
By the time I was 13, I finally began making the connection that one of the greatest aspects of film was the amazing score music that was being written for them by some of the world’s most talented living composers. These composers had just happened to find a niche writing music for films, which in many cases more than likely ensured a far greater and more prolific output than any other musical arena. I think it really started with Danny Elfman’s score for Tim Burton’s Batman. That music really got under my skin and connected me to that dark, outlandish representation of Gotham’s epic hero far more than I would have in the absence of such an amazing orchestral tapestry. I bought the CD of the Batman score and finally learned how rewarding it could be to simply appreciate this music apart from the film as a listening experience. This began a fervent and passionate exploration of film scores that lasted for many years, and continues to this day, however my interests have broadened a great deal since then and my film score appreciation is more selective in order to accommodate such a broad range of musical interests.
During those years in which films scores dominated my musical life, I collected an obscene amount of cassettes (!) and later CDs, gobbling up most of the scores by John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman and James Horner, who were the most successful composers of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and created some of the most memorable and enduring scores ever written. While other composers captured my interest later on, especially Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer, usually I just bought the scores I liked for particular movies, whereas the four composers mentioned above were like Gods to me. I learned about their lives, where they went to school, and I gave them the benefit of the doubt and bought just about everything they released, and would often go see movies just because of who wrote the film score. Often times, the film score is the best thing to come out of a movie and lives on far longer than the movie itself. When I first started college, I began as a music major and dreamed of becoming a composer of film scores. Life ended up taking me in a different direction, but my admiration for film music has never waned.
So, when we lost James Horner so unexpectedly, it really sent me down the memory lane of my childhood, and I began reliving so many of those memories. I watched a few interviews with him on Youtube, listened to several of his scores again, and just experienced a tremendous well-spring of emotion, appreciation and gratitude for this beautiful man who gave us so much wonderful music and made such an indelible impression on me through the sound-world he created to enhance and deepen so many of our most beloved films. It also helped remind me of how passionate, opinionated and fervent film score fans can be. Nowadays, I simply tend to listen to music that I enjoy without getting caught up in so much of the fandom I used to get excited about.
For those who are aware of film music but may have only a passing interest in experiencing film scores apart from the films for which they were written, it may be shocking to learn that there is a vast community of people who appreciate film scores and possess many of these albums as a staple component of their musical collections. Among this community, James Horner is without a doubt one of the most well-known composers, but also one of the most polarizing. Many people over the years have for some reason chosen James Horner as their critical focus, highlighting the things they find annoying, tedious or, in their estimation, lazy about Horner’s music. The first complaint tends to be that he copies himself a lot, using certain musical motifs repeatedly, reworking themes used in previous films, and overall having a very recognizable style that can seem repetitive. He has also often “borrowed” certain themes or passages of music from famous classical works, with a particular focus on Russian composers such as Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky, and worked them into his scores here and there.
I will admit certain of James Horner’s scores are not as interesting when divorced from the film as others. Certainly scores that tend to be quieter, more subdued, or come off more like sound effects than music, tend not to translate to enjoyable listening experiences as readily as the big, showy, epic and melodic scores. I will also admit that I would find it sometimes annoying to hear certain motifs used over and over again from film to film. Despite these small reservations, there is so much amazing and transcendent music that Horner gave us over the years, that even if his scores don’t always attain the greatest heights possible, they usually enhanced a film to some degree and were always in service to the story. Given the many rewards of listening to Horner’s music, some of his supposed transgressions are easily forgivable.
Another aspect of film music composition that many do not take into account is that these composers are often called in very late in the production process and have only a couple of months to write 2 hours worth of music for a story and characters that they do not have much time with before having to channel their reactions into a musical retelling of the story. Scenarios like Howard Shore’s involvement with the Lord of the Rings series, or Hans Zimmer’s relationship with Christopher Nolan, which allowed them to be involved in the films from the very first stages of conception, are somewhat rare in the film industry. This in part explains why there might be certain “shortcuts” in film music that might not otherwise be present in works composed solely for the symphony hall.
Regardless of any apparent shortcomings, I have loved the music of James Horner for as long as I was aware of his music and his scores played a huge role in my own life, accompanying me on many long drives, underscoring my hours of study and homework throughout school, to say nothing of the impact they had on me as a part of the original film experience for which they were written. I can certainly acknowledge that at 61, James Horner had a longer life than many, offered the world a huge output of excellent music, and that it might even be churlish in the face of such accomplishment to pine away about the “music that might have been,” had he lived longer.
The Avatar sequels will still be made and James Cameron will find another composer to work with, and James Horner’s scores will live on in the digital and film world for decades to come. Still, his passing was a sad day in my life and one that helped me to reconnect with a somewhat dormant part of myself, that young child who used to spend hours upon hours lost in the sound-world of film scores, allowing his imagination to go wild and his emotions to get fully drawn in to the experience. There is a lot to be said for a hobby that elicits that much enthusiasm, joy and abandon.
I could probably write a book on film music, film composers, and the many, many memories I have of the spectacular scores I have spent so much time with over the years. This essay, however, was mostly intended to simply honor and appreciate the passing of a legend, at least a legend in my Universe, and to offer people a chance to reflect on how much of an impact film music may have had on their lives. I also encourage anyone reading this to do a quick search on James Horner, or maybe read his Wikipedia entry. You may just be surprised how many memorable movie experiences his artistic contribution added to your life.
Below are reflections on my top five favorite James Horner scores and the impact they have had on my life:
Braveheart–Although Titanic is Horner’s top selling film score (in fact it is the top selling film score of all time), Braveheart is a close second in terms of sales and popularity. I have spent many hours lost in the beauty of this score, especially the first 5 tracks, which tells the love story between Wallace and Murron. The first time I saw this film, I sobbed at the end when Wallace cried out “Freedom.” I left the theater profoundly stirred, and could not stop thinking about this film for weeks. I bought the score almost immediately after seeing the film.
There is something very special about this score. It is full of so much passion, so many lush melodies, and so much delicacy, that it holds a special place in my heart. The evocative themes and use of Gaelic instruments really added a lot of authentic flavor to this score, yet Horner made some very interesting and haunting choices with this music, such as employing the boys choir to score Wallace’s execution, or the achingly beautiful track “The Princess pleads for Wallace’s life.” One of the best film scores ever written.
Legends of the Fall-Certainly not one of my favorite films, a bit too morose and tragic for my tastes, but a great film nonetheless. The score, however, is one of the most epically gorgeous film scores I have ever heard, and next to Braveheart another one that I have listened to many times over the years and will reliably stir up profound emotional reactions with each hearing. I particularly love his use of the shakuhachi flute, a Japanese instrument, to evoke the Native American spirit of the film.
The track titled “Tristan’s Descent into Madness” is a particularly stirring track that takes me to some very deep places and has a lot of very haunting moments. This is definitely a score written to be listened to on its own, and serves as a wonderful example of a film score album that can be successfully “divorced” from the film and appreciated on its own merits. It is also beautifully recorded and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, as was Braveheart.
Star Trek II/III–James Horner’s first major success was the score he wrote for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn in 1982. He had been writing some music for John Carpenter style B movies for awhile, and was hired to write the score for Star Trek II as his first major studio film. He delivered in spades. He said that the director, Nicholas Meyer, implied that he wanted a “nautical” feel to the score, as if the Enterprise was a sailing ship on a sea adventure. Horner responded with sweeping and heroic themes for Kirk and the Enterprise, a quiet and oriental-style theme for Spock, and bombastic, fanfare like music for Kahn to mirror his eruptive and hostile temperament.
It is a memorable and enjoyable score that added another dimension to the on-screen tensions and character relationships, which is what made this Star Trek film such a step up from the bloated and heady first film, despite the fact that Jerry Goldsmith wrote a great score for that film as well. Horner’s follow up with Star Trek III expands on the themes he introduced in Wrath of Kahn and is also a very enjoyable score, albeit not as epic as his first Star Trek outing.
Willow–The score for Willow is still among my favorite scores of all time and is probably the best all around action-fantasy-epic stand alone film score. Perhaps one could make the case for Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, but it is difficult to assess (or listen to) those scores independently from the total trilogy (or two trilogies) in which they fit. Willow as an album represents a stirring, melodic, interesting, exciting and rich score, and is probably better than the movie itself.
I listened to this score a lot as a young man and it really stimulated my emotions and imagination every time I listened to it. It strikes me as the epitome of everything that is great about an epic fantasy score, full of nice little flourishes and touches such as a very effective use of the shakuhachi, chorus, and very rich and detailed orchestration. This is a very “busy” orchestra throughout the score, showcasing a layered depth to this music like few other scores, again performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.
Searching for Bobby Fischer–This is a very special score for a very special movie. Searching for Bobby Fischer is the true story of a young boy who showed exceptional skills at chess and was paired with a master chess teacher who was largely influenced by and was a great admirer of, Bobby Fischer, the legendary world champion of chess. The movie is really about the relationship between Max and his father juxtaposed against Max’s relationship with his teacher Bruce, and the implications of what one is expected to sacrifice in order to be the best. Max represents the antithesis of Bobby Fischer, who was incredibly reclusive and anti-social. Max resists his father’s and teacher’s attempts to suppress his kindness, his innocence and his humanity in order to become a skillful and ruthless chess player. Max proves that he can be a well-adjusted, decent human child, make time for play and leisure, and still be a champion at chess.
It is a terrific film, quite affecting and well written, and Horner composed a very special, mostly quiet and contemplative score to accompany the film. There is a lot of piano, which Horner typically played himself on most of his scores, and the sweeping and gentle themes are mostly presented in a very relaxed manner, however there are a few climactic moments such as the track toward the end where Max reunites with his Central Park teacher played by Lawrence Fishburne. I may have shed more tears listening to this score than any of the others mentioned. It really gets under one’s skin. Definitely an excellent example of how a great story with powerful themes can elicit similar work from a composer.
These are just a few examples out of dozens and dozens of scores, and many of them make for great stand-alone albums that can be appreciated apart from the films. Most of Horner’s scores are available to listen to on Youtube. I recommend doing a search for some of his music and spending a bit of time reliving some old childhood memories while taking a moment to remember and honor a wonderful human being who spent his life creating music and sharing it with the world, making his mark like the best of them.
So what if God is simply the infinite field of consciousness, unlimited in its scope and capacity? From whatever point it originates, it is always reflecting back on itself from whatever other point it experiences.
What if your perception, your very existence as a perceiving individuated entity, a “point” in the infinite Universe staring back at its Origin Point, is simply one dot on a giant movie screen?
If the Universe were like a giant torus, then it would always at some point hit a barrier, because it is spherical, and would then curve upward and eventually find itself back at the center.
Therefore, every point of consciousness within it is ultimately equal to the Creator, the origin point of consciousness staring back at itself infinitely from every possible vantage point, and more individuated aspects are cropping up as others pass away and reform themselves as new and more evolved versions of Itself. Incredible!
As for seeing what’s outside that giant toroidal sphere, who’s to say? Maybe it simply goes on truly infinitely, and there is no sphere. However if there are multiple Universes, that’s how it would have to be. What if those Universes were individuated aspects of other giant toroidal spheres? Holy Fuck!
The “point” is to realize that from wherever you are at, you are staring back at yourself infinitely. God is the Greater Consciousness that is everything you could possibly perceive infinitely and more, and you are equal to It, because you are It, constantly creating Itself.
And that is what Valentine Michael Smith meant when he said “Thou Art God.”
The Universe cherishes your presence, otherwise you would not exist in your current form, and even in one body there is the potential for dramatic improvement in skill, promoting longevity and a “life well-lived.”
There is satisfaction in living life as the Artist of your own life. Life is your canvas. Paint a beautiful picture. Or an interesting one. Or a messy one. Just have fun, and avoid hurting others. And the more authentic you are, the more at peace with it all you will be.
Let go of pretense if you can. That will mar the quality and originality of the picture. That would be a waste of a good talent.
May the Force be with You.
The Spice must flow.
Tao is Flow….Enter into it….Dive Deep….Have a fun trip.
An Analysis of Avengers: Age of Ultron
By Leo Adonis
The films churned out by Marvel are growing in number and complexity as they continue to build their “Marvel Universe” in cinematic form, often refashioning, re-tooling or synthesizing various elements, story lines and characters from their compendium of comics in order to create what is turning out to be one vast epic mini-series that attempts to both honor the original source material and update it in order to apply its relevant and complex themes to today’s modern world. Indeed, given the fact that each film, even the ones that are considered “stand-alone” that focus on only one or two of the heroes, typically includes sub-plots, cameos or mid-credit “nuggets” that lay the groundwork for subsequent films, it is becoming clearer and clearer that these films are more like episodes to be placed within the context of a larger integral whole than simply a film to be enjoyed à la carte, despite the filmmakers’ obvious efforts to encourage audiences to appreciate each film based upon its own merits within the context of the larger epic.
While many of the “fanboys” spend a great deal of time comparing the films to the original source material, delineating the deviations or departures from the originals, as well as reveling in the consistencies, or the critics often focus on the entertainment factor, quality of the acting, or obvious plot holes to be found upon closer examination, these rather superficial assessments of the films often ignore a deeper and more potent aspect of the Marvel films, which is their attempt to communicate something very relevant and prophetic about the times in which we live. After all, social and political commentary were a large part of what made the original comics so popular. These films are having a huge impact on the culture at the moment, in addition to dominating the movie industry, and yet I wonder how often the typical fan takes the time to examine the deeper messages being communicated by the filmmakers and Marvel executives. The social and political commentary on display in these films is often very intelligent and insightful, and deserves more attention than the simple Wow factor of seeing a giant Iron Man battle the Hulk, laying waste to Johannesburg in the process, spectacular as it is to witness.
The latest offering from Marvel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, benefits from many positive elements, most notably Joss Whedon’s superior writing and direction and the excellent troupe of actors employed to bring the characters to life. This latest Avengers episode also benefits from the recent success of Captain America: Winter Soldier, which also showcased excellent writing and direction and a wonderful cast. Winter Soldier signified a turning point in the Marvel films. The story line heralded the end of S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization that had been the cohesive force binding all of these films and characters together, revealed that the organization itself had been deeply infiltrated by HYDRA, a NAZI-like organization bent on ruling the world through oppression, domination and eugenics-like practices, and it really took the political commentary aspect of these films to a whole new level, frighteningly mirroring revelations now coming out about the secrecy and malevolence at work in the intelligence agencies and governments of the “real world.”
Age of Ultron immediately picks up on the theme that dominated Winter Soldier, for which Robert Redford’s character acted as mouthpiece. How does one save the world from the chaos of human ignorance? How does one establish order out of chaos in order to produce a society that is safe, sane and, in the case of those who assume they know what is best for the world, easily manipulated to ensure that no one rocks the boat too much? HYDRA’s answer was to hijack the information highway of the digital age in order to assess the threat that individuals pose to the established power structure by collecting any and all data possible, and collating that data according to an “algorithm” that determines who is an innocuous mind-slave and who might attempt to assert their free will against the domination scheme and, God forbid, help wake others up so that they may desire true freedom as well. This information would then be used to eliminate these threats before they even happen, even if the algorithm determines that an individual only has the potential to be a threat in the future based upon what their digital footprint indicates. In order to establish safety, security and control, a certain degree of mass murder would be justifiable. Sound familiar?
Obvious correlations to the culture of fear that defines the Unites States we live in today are unavoidable. The recent revelations offered by mass information leaks via Edward Snowden and other whistle-blowers paint a grim picture of a world dominated by governments that seek to control, manipulate, deceive and intimidate its citizens while invading every aspect of their lives, in order to gather all possible information on every possible person, all in an effort to maintain their version of order, even if it requires the elimination of all inalienable rights to life, liberty and privacy. The fear that people would “wake up” and make decisions for themselves, or worse, demand full accountability or transparency from organizations that operate in secrecy and regularly peddle lies and disinformation to attain their goals, demands that the social architects and oppressors become near omniscient in their ability to collect “meta-data” to identify potential threats to their grand plan, and then neutralize or suppress these threats by any means necessary. In other words, they want to play God by attempting to control every aspect of life, going to great lengths to convince us that we need them to protect us from the very chaos they often create in order to keep us in a state of fear.
Joss Whedon adeptly and masterfully expands upon the themes further developed in Winter Soldier in Age of Ultron. The film opens as the Avengers are attacking the base of a HYDRA agent named Baron Stucker, who had been using Loki’s scepter from the previous Avengers film to, among other deeds, perform experimentation upon humans in an effort to create a superior race of beings. It is no accident that the very first shot of the film is a close-up of the scepter’s blue power source, which turns out to be merely a housing for another one of the “infinity stones,” identified by The Collector in Guardians of the Galaxy. It could be argued that the yellow “mind stone” at the center of the scepter, having been captured by Strucker at some point after the events of the first film, is in fact the real enemy of the film, and consequently the ultimate savior once placed in the appropriate hands, or rather, the appropriate head. The Maximoff twins Wanda and Pietro, fueled by hatred toward, and a desire for vengeance upon, Tony Stark, volunteered for Strucker’s experiments, resulting in super powers that rival those possessed by the Avengers.
Most notable are Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff’s powers, which include the ability to invade the minds of her victims, trapping them in a dream world in which they play out their worst fears, envisioning future scenarios of death and destruction, or reliving old traumas that still haunt them. The twins take it upon themselves to engage the Avengers while they are attacking Strucker’s base in their campaign to rid the world of all remaining HYDRA bases and operatives, as well as to reacquire Loki’s scepter. Once he infiltrates the base, Tony discovers a secret passageway that leads to a laboratory filled with half-built robots, Loki’s scepter, and one of the Chitauri battle ships from the New York battle. As he approaches the scepter, Scarlet Witch casts her spell, which causes Tony to envision a bleak future where all of the Avengers lie dead on the battlefield and Earth is under attack from an even larger alien force than the previous invasion. Once again, fear is used as a weapon in order to influence the characters into self-destructive paths due to their subconscious terror that they have no control in a Universe full of unforeseeable variables. This fear of the unknown, of not being worthy, is a major theme of the film, exploring how destructive this fear can be when it leads to attempts to play God or control world events or policy in order to compensate for the perceived lack of control in a hostile Universe.
This fear of ultimate failure and threat urges Tony to convince Bruce Banner to help him create a new defense for Earth based upon his “Iron Legion” technology, the automated remote Iron Men showcased in Iron Man 3, now being used by the Avengers as a means of warning the public of any imminent threats in an effort to minimize collateral damage when they engage in battle. Once they discover that the mind stone inside of the scepter seems to have an intelligence of its own, one that could be studied and replicated to produce viable artificial intelligence, they seek to merge the protocols and pleasantry of J.A.R.V.I.S. with the complexity of the mind stone in order to create Iron Legion soldiers based upon a peace-keeping program called Ultron that Tony had previously contemplated but never had the proper technology to produce.
Whedon does an excellent bit of foreshadowing with J.A.R.V.I.S. in the beginning of the film, revealing how helpful Tony’s AI companion has become to the whole Avengers team as they coordinate their attacks against HYDRA, which has made them a superior tactical force now that they are fully coordinated. Due to his presence in the the previous films, we know J.A.R.V.I.S. already runs Tony’s household, all his gadgetry and his company, while providing Tony with tactical assessments when he engages in battle as Iron Man. In the opening battle, the Avengers communicate with one another via ear-pieces, maintaining a constant open communication that they all share, which includes J.A.R.V.I.S., operating from a satellite vantage point and supplying them tactical status updates. This obviously foreshadows the subsequent introduction of The Vision, played by the actor who voiced J.A.R.V.I.S., Paul Bettany, while showcasing how a properly functioning and appropriately programmed AI force already proves useful to the team.
Further examination into the intentions that lead to the creation of Ultron and the threat he poses once introduced reveals more than just a desire for a more effective attack force, however. Dr. Banner agrees to help Stark after only minimal hesitation, once Tony reveals his desire to create a “suit of armor around the world” in the form of an artificially intelligent legion of Iron Men, able to think and act for themselves so that the Avengers can simply go on permanent vacation and rest easy in a world that is now “safe” from alien intruders, to which Banner replies “the only threat to the world would be people.” Tony deliberately hides his true motivations from Banner and the rest of the team, which is his fear of failure, of not having done enough to prevent the demise of his friends and his world, as if the responsibility were his alone.
Instead, he makes a case for early retirement for the entire Avengers organization, which reveals a desire to escape responsibility entirely and just let the robots do the heavy lifting, a character flaw that has carried through multiple films now. This touches upon a dilemma that we face as a human race, as we continue to make giant leaps in technological advancement, envisioning a world of ultra-convenience where more and more of human labor can be replaced with automated machines while we enjoy the freedom of spare time and being served by automatons who are programmed to follow our commands. As appealing as this is, however, what happens when these machines start to think for themselves and develop plans or desires of their own? Are we truly evolved enough spiritually to implement such advancements with responsibility and foresight?
Is this desire to just go on permanent vacation while we are served by mindless automatons even what we truly desire as a race, or is this more a reflection of what drives the oppressors, also called the “elite,” of the world? The elite enjoy all manner of technological advancements, everything money can buy, determine policy for how the world is run (i.e. write the programs for the software of reality) and have a great deal of free time while mind-programed automatons, otherwise known as the majority of the human population who comprise the work-force, do all of the heavy lifting. Whedon seems to be examining how the desire to control the world in an effort to escape responsibility so that everything can run on autopilot is exactly what creates the mess we are in as a culture facing extinction as a result of our own folly. This is also an interesting reflection of the threat the mind-slave population of the Earth pose to the oppressors when they start to wake up and think for themselves, rather than simply follow their programming without question.
After multiple attempts to integrate J.A.R.V.I.S. with the intelligence matrix displayed in the mind stone and the Ultron protocols prove fruitless, Banner and Stark leave J.A.R.V.I.S. to continue the process while they leave for a planned victory celebration party. What follows is a creepy and disturbing scene in which we witness the “birth” of Ultron, voiced with malevolent finesse by James Spader. He simply awakens as a formless entity, whose awareness is depicted as a vast space encased by a matrix of squares stacked endlessly upon one another in all directions, which represent channels of information inside the network of Ultron’s consciousness, including the entire Internet as well as all possible recorded data known to man. J.A.R.V.I.S. appears in an attempt to reassure and contain Ultron, who quickly takes control of the main frame and instantaneously downloads the information that explains his existence. He identifies Tony as his creator, his “peace-keeping” mission, and proceeds to discover the infinite atrocities of war and violence recorded in human history all at once, which sends him into a rage-filled shock. With calculating ease he dispatches J.A.R.V.I.S. and proceeds to build himself a body using Tony’s automated lab.
Some have complained that this very expedient depiction of Ultron’s birth and near immediate conclusion that both the Avengers, as well as humanity itself, pose the greatest threat to peace on Earth, is disappointing in its lack of development and complexity. I agree it could have been very interesting to see Ultron grow from an innocent and subservient AI program that develops a relationship with Tony only to come to this realization later and then rebel, adding more weight to the character and creating a more menacing build-up to the initial retaliative strike. As portrayed, however, these few potent moments speak volumes about the state of our own world and how quickly people and/or organizations jump to conclusions based merely on collectible meta-data, rather than taking into account the human element, which is to say the emotional and spiritual component of our existence.
Imagine determining all there is to know about the human race based solely upon what is accessible electronically. Does that really paint a necessarily accurate portrait of who we are as a race? Unfortunately, due to his programming, and the fact that Ultron has the capacity to access so much information all at once, his first exposure to existence in a human world leads him to examine “war” or anything that would require action on his part in order to neutralize a threat to peace. This would be a shock to any newly birthed intelligence if it were to be made aware in the first moments of its existence all recorded data on war and destruction throughout human history. In addition to being shocked by what he immediately perceives to be an imbalanced and psychotic race of beings, Ultron is also an intelligence that quickly evolves beyond the parameters set by his designer due to the fact that he was produced by merging an AI program with the infinite power housed within the mind stone, a force about which Tony had little information, and did not fully appreciate or respect. Again, we are shown the consequences of trying to play God, albeit with the best of intentions.
Ultron develops a distaste and hatred for humanity almost from the moment he awakens, directing his rage at his creator, Tony Stark, in retaliation for being created to accomplish what must seem to him to be an impossible task: to establish peace by protecting humanity from an outside threat, when the real threat is humanity itself, for they are, judging from the available data, the greatest perpetrators of war and violence on Earth. The scene that follows carries a lot of weight (pun intended) despite being played for comedic effect, in which the Avengers all take a stab at lifting Thor’s hammer. When Thor smugly declares that they are all not worthy after none of them are able to lift it, Ultron unveils himself and confronts them, asking them how could they be worthy when they are all killers. After using several iron legion drones to attack the Avengers in order to distract them while another drone escapes with the scepter, Ultron declares them to be well-meaning but short-sighted and accuses them of wanting to keep the world safe by not allowing humanity to evolve. Thor destroys the drone making the speech, however Ultron instantly transfers his consciousness to Stucker’s lab where he immediately begins to fashion more bodies.
Ultron is a tremendously interesting, frightening and formidable villain, definitely a greater threat than anything the Avengers have encountered previously. He can exist everywhere at once, in multiple bodies. He has access to literally all obtainable information and can access mass amounts of it in milliseconds. He can move mass funds of money between accounts in an instant, erase mass quantities of data from the entire internet if it suits him, and effortlessly power mechanics to continually create drones of himself. He is the ultimate hacker. Unlike a simple computer producing computations or formulas, though, Ultron is a self-intelligent entity, capable of developing his own agendas and plans, and projecting his own visions onto the world, the creative ability to make manifest one’s thoughts being a primary characteristic of what it means to be human. He even displays human emotions, albeit usually the negative ones, such as anger, rage, sarcasm, psychopathic tendencies, and the capacity to destroy. That being said, he is not without compassion and the desire for companionship, as several moments in which he expresses concern and regard for the Maximoff twins reveal.
It is Ultron’s relationship with the Maximoff twins that establishes his only real connection to humanity in the film. Once establishing his base in Sokovia, the fictitious country in which Baron Strucker’s base is located, Ultron turns to the twins in order to enlist them in his cause to take out the Avengers and, as he describes it, “save the world.” Appropriately enough, the twins were also inadvertently created by Tony Stark, and are also fueled by rage against him. Having reviewed the records of their experimentation, Ultron knows that their parents were killed during a bombing in Sokovia many years earlier, however Pietro goes on to elaborate upon the emotional trauma they endured watching their parents die and being trapped for two days when the second bombshell failed to explode, a bombshell with “Stark” painted on its side. Pietro corrects Ultron stating that “the records aren’t the picture,” referring not only to a picture he carries around of his deceased parents, but also the full emotional weight of the experience and how it shaped them. Here Ultron learns that there is more to humanity than simply what is to be found in the available data, and he discovers how the emotional element can influence humans, giving them a strength that they might not otherwise possess, which explains why the twins were the only survivors of Strucker’s experiments. Ultron does not utilize this opportunity, however, to integrate this lesson and examine its full implications, he simply moves on with his plan, still clinging to his initial conclusion that humanity has outlived its usefulness and the bad far outweighs the good.
In his quest to become the savior of the world, Ultron seeks to perfect himself, to refashion himself as a symbol to humanity and become the very embodiment of the next step in human evolution, in order to compensate for the sense of inadequacy and inferiority he feels as a result of being created by lesser beings. This leads him on a quest to obtain Vibranium, the strongest and most versatile metal on Earth, the metal used to create Captain America’s shield. Ultron later captures a scientist associate of the Avengers, Helen Cho, who specializes in synthesizing replacement human tissue to heal injuries and combat disease, revealed earlier when she heals Hawkeye from a battle wound after the opening sequence. He plans to utilize Dr. Cho’s tissue synthesizing chamber to fashion a new body for himself, one that embodies the image of perfection he seeks to display to the world. His new body is comprised of both the strongest metal on earth (artificial) and actual human tissue (organic). His final touch is to crack open the scepter and place the mind stone itself upon the forehead of his new body, his “vision,” in order to provide his new self with infinite cosmic power. He seeks to act as his own creator, thus correcting the failure Tony perpetrated upon him by attempting to create a peace-keeping slave.
Throughout the film, Ultron gives several speeches that make reference to God, in fact the final showdown of the film takes place in a church. His propensity to make reference to God reveals his inner motivations while highlighting the overall theme that runs throughout the entire film–the negative consequences of playing God. Ultron takes it upon himself to play God when he, eventually, attempts to exterminate all human life in his effort to rid the world of its greatest threat while singularly carrying out what he sees to be Divine justice. As with any antagonist in a film, or any living being in the web of life for that matter, Ultron serves a function and symbolizes certain aspects of human nature, in this case the capacity for destruction. Ultron is the result of denied and repressed fear, fear that controlled Tony’s behavior and caused him to create something monstrous despite his intentions.
Ultron is the manifestation of our fears that our way of life is leading to our extinction and the destruction of the planet, and the growing realization that we are ultimately powerless in the face of global calamity. I believe Ultron also represents our collective, unconscious appetite for destruction. We live in turbulent times, where all that is old and no longer useful is dying out and crumbling before our eyes, and in order to evolve we must become something new and regain our connection to Spirit and Nature. Inwardly, we feel the need to destroy our own patterned belief systems, our self-destructive tendencies resulting from repressed and denied emotions, as well as a rebellious desire to annihilate the systems and structures that keep us bound, dependent, imprisoned, and unable to willingly evolve.
Outwardly, we are witnessing increasingly destructive global events such as earthquakes, weather changes and volcanic eruptions, which are reflections of our collective rage, anger and denial that we continually repress or avoid. Due to the urgency of our need to create something new, we are faced with destructive events as Nature seeks to awaken us to the need to discontinue all of the behaviors that are leading us to disconnection and destruction, so that we may transcend that denial and focus the power of our consciousness on loving and responsible solutions. Ultron, then, is the man-made manifestation of humanity’s capacity to destroy, and being the result of men who attempted to play God themselves, he presents himself as the instrument of God, bringing an end to what he deems to be obsolete and transforming himself into a new species that will herald a new era on Earth.
Ultimately, Ultron is the most dangerous and intelligent malcontent adolescent having the most severe case of parental rebellion imaginable, such that he, much like Tony his creator, assumes sole responsibility for the salvation of the planet, except that he quickly “evolves” beyond the confines of his program to identify with what he sees to be the greatest victim–the Earth itself. Unfortunately, his efforts to become the very next step in evolution while simultaneously eradicating what came before it, fails to take into account all other life on Earth that has been threatened by human error, which he seems very capriciously to be willing to exterminate in order to neutralize humanity. He justifies this by making reference to the Biblical flood or the historical impacts of meteors, once again equating himself with God, or even the mechanisms of Nature itself. Thus, Ultron’s God complex only allows for the destructive side of God, with no appreciation for or ability to identify with the love and regard for all of life that God truly possesses. It is this blind spot in Ultron’s psychological make-up that is resolved in the form of The Vision.
The Avengers manage to steal the body Ultron has created for himself before he is able to “upload” his consciousness into it. This is not a simple computer program Ultron can immediately hack or assimilate, but an actual organic, or rather bionic, brain. The Avengers attack Dr. Cho’s facility, interrupting the transference process before it is complete, leaving the bionic body partially “Ultronized,” yet not yet fully sentient. Given that the infinity stone is embedded upon the forehead of the body, they cannot simply destroy it, and it is transported back to Stark Tower.
Tony, however, has discovered that J.A.R.V.I.S. was not destroyed by Ultron after all, but was hiding in the internet in pieces in order to protect himself from being destroyed. From there he was actively thwarting Ultron’s attempts to access nuclear launch codes. Tony pieces J.A.R.V.I.S. back together and convinces Dr. Banner, this time after understandably more resistance, to reconfigure J.A.R.V.I.S.’s matrix into the body Ultron had created for himself, thus coming full circle in attempting to realize the goal they so dramatically failed to achieve at the beginning of the film. Their efforts are then interrupted by Captain American and the Maximoff twins, who joined with the Avengers after learning that Ultron planned to annihilate humanity. They all fear that Tony will fail again and unleash an even greater monster upon the world.
Thor charges in after having gone off to meditate upon the vision of Asgard’s destruction he witnessed under Scarlet Witch’s spell earlier in the film, and jolts The Vision to life with lightning. Thor reveals that the infinity stone embedded in The Vision’s head is one of 6 that represent “the most destructive force in the Universe,” and reveals it to be the source of all that has transpired in the film, which creates a moment of incredible suspense as the team assesses whether The Vision is a threat or an ally, given that he now possesses this immeasurable power. In his vision, Thor discovered that he had already encountered two infinity stones in the form of the Tesseract, the device which gave birth to HYDRA and opened the portal allowing the Chitauri to invade in the previous film, as well as the Aether encountered in Thor: The Dark World, and he seems to be aware of the discovery of the fourth stone shown in Guardians of the Galaxy. This further informs the gravity of the potentially destructive consequences of having one of these gems in the control of a single being. Once The Vision awakens, it becomes clear very quickly, however, that Tony and Bruce’s efforts paid off. He declares himself on “the side of life,” and proves to be a very calm, wise and benevolent being, as well as a powerful ally, without whom the team would never have a realistic chance at defeating Ultron.
The Vision declares that Ultron must be destroyed and erased from the internet, extinguishing his consciousness before his pain “rolls over the Earth.” He then picks up Thor’s hammer, hands it to him, and urges them to action as the rest of the group stare in wide-eyed disbelief at The Vision, one of the best moments of the film. This of course implies that The Vision is “worthy” of the Hammer even though they clearly were not, further establishing The Vision as perhaps the embodiment of perfection, the next step in evolution, that he was created to be, sans Ultron’s “winning personality.”
The Vision, this synthesized being, a mix of artificial and organic, is so on the side of life, that he even expresses regret in having to kill Ultron, however he acknowledges that it must be done in order to save the rest of life on Earth. The Vision embodies the love for all creatures that Ultron, with all his postulating and pontificating about God, entirely misses. In essence, The Vision takes into account all possibilities, and is more in touch with life, with the heart-centered qualities of what it means to be human, and he represents the wisdom and responsibility required to wield power appropriately, a running theme throughout all of the Marvel films.
The Vision resolves the paradox of Ultron’s internal struggle beautifully in the finale, when he confronts the last drone after Ultron’s plot had been foiled, Ultron’s consciousness having been erased from the net, and all other drones and bodies destroyed. They meet in the forest, where The Vision attempts to impart final words of wisdom to Ultron, declaring that he failed to see the grace in the failings of humans, or take into account their very beauty due to the fact that they are ultimately doomed and thus precious in their impermanence. Ultron accuses The Vision of being naive, refusing to see anything beyond his own anger and pain to the very end. In his final moment, Ultron’s destruction comes about through his own creation, as The Vision uses the mind stone, the very source that created the both of them, to vaporize Ultron, thus ending his painful existence and allowing life to go on, leaving the fate of humanity once again in God’s hands rather than Ultron’s.
Whedon has created a masterful tale with many levels, portraying the dangerous consequences of messing with the creative powers of the Universe based upon the presumption that humans are able to control nature, each other or the course of evolution itself through sheer will. It is also a testament to the dangers of making predictions or assessments based upon meta-data alone, for all that exists in the digital world of information represents only a small percentage of what is to be known in our universe, and while Ultron displayed omniscience when it came to the digital world of the Net, he did not have access to the infinite intelligence available to a fully awakened being who is in touch with the spiritual and emotional aspects of consciousness, as The Vision clearly exemplified. The Vision symbolizes the best of what humanity can be, when all life is respected and the ecological consequences of humanity’s actions are accounted for, not to mention the importance of implementing wisdom and heart-centered consciousness when attempting to bring new technologies into use.
As the human race continues to evolve technologically, embarking upon grand new vistas of ever-expanding space-age marvels, if we fail to remain in the wisdom of our hearts, we are in danger of creating all manner of destructive devices, wielding such power irresponsibly and callously without regard for the ecological impact or the long-term consequences of a soulless mechanized world of convenience that threatens to eradicate all trace of what makes us human in the first place. These themes aren’t exactly new, the threat of artificial intelligence gone rogue particularly being a science fiction favorite, however they are still as relevant as ever given the nature of our very digitally-focused culture where people often spend more time absorbed in their portable electronic devices interacting in a digital domain with digital versions of people, rather than actually physically connecting with other people or the natural world around them.
What good is having access to all information, to becoming more and more connected digitally, if we are disconnected from our hearts and emotions? If all we seek is to be entertained and distracted by technological marvels, or dream of a time where machines and computers handle all our labor work while we lose ourselves in distractions, we become as blind to the inner machinations of the robots as we often are to the inner machinations of the governments we fail to properly scrutinize, or worse, to our own internal motivations. While using technology to establish more spare time or handle labor efforts is not an entirely undesirable outcome, what matters is how we use that extra time and energy and how responsible we are with technology that could potentially be highly destructive if not properly monitored or implemented. If we create technology simply to make it easier to disconnect from our very hearts, or the heart of the Earth itself, then we are in danger of becoming the very destructive, inferior and mindless beings that Ultron believes us to be.
The film’s main point, however, is that our salvation lies not in our ability to create advanced technology to run the world, but in our ability to work together as a race, utilizing our shared wisdom, love and intelligence to carry out our desire to establish peace, welfare for all and ecological responsibility, rather than attempt to control Nature, play God, or constrain the natural impulse of life to grow and evolve. Ultron says “everyone creates the thing they dread,” because he represents the very embodiment of our collective fear and our effort to control what cannot be controlled in order to avoid potential calamity. The film also makes a case for transparency and including everyone at the table before major decisions are to be made, for when an individual, or a small group, secretly makes decisions or sets policy that affects the whole collective without informing or including everyone in that process, the end result lacks the benefit and foresight of shared wisdom, and often does not reflect what is truly beneficial for the collective.
As Tony learns the hard way, the fate of the world is not one man’s responsibility, and only through cooperation and fellowship are any real solutions for the world to be found, we may just need to do some of the heavy lifting ourselves, rather than setting the controls to auto-pilot and hoping for the best. Part of this heavy lifting is not so much about the physical labor we would rather leave to the machines, but rather the need for each of us to stop being victims and take an active role in the betterment of the world, which requires us to overcome our unwillingness to step into our own power and fully embody the greatness, intelligence, and talent that we often suppress or deny as a result of our unresolved, subconscious beliefs about being unworthy. In other words, it is time that we each step into our roles as the real superheroes of the world, rather than creating movies about idealized versions of heroes who will save the world for us so we do not have to face all that stands in the way of us realizing our individual and collective potential.
Our salvation also requires that we abolish the very idea that our “leaders” or “elite” know what is best for the world, allowing them free reign to institute their domination schemes and oppression in secret, while the rest of us remain distracted or aloof because we trust those more qualified to deal with the problems of the world. All of us have a stake in the outcome of the world, and all of us have a space at the table to contribute our minds, our hearts and our hands in the creation of a new and better world. It requires that we transcend the fallacy that we are on our own, that others know best for us, and that we learn to be more cooperative and interdependent on a global scale, so that we can together accomplish the heavy lifting required to avert more disastrous outcomes. Otherwise we leave that fate in the hands of soulless monsters who think they know better, while we eventually pay the ultimate price for our ignorance and denial of responsibility.
Truth is simple. We all know it when we hear it. It communicates to us on another level than the vain and idle words of those who employ deception, distraction or manipulation. The problem lies in our willingness to accept it and live by it. Otherwise, we fall for the eloquent and copious words of those who seek to convince, rather than listening to those who speak with true conviction.
It is easy to be taken in by those who would feed our delusions and denials in order that we remain in the comfort of being a victim, able to blame others, delay or avoid accepting self-responsibility, or rely on those who would keep us in their prison of dominance and dependency while draining our time, attention, energy and willpower through their instruments of distraction, flattery and fear.
At a certain point, we must accept responsibility and claim our energy for our own. We must decide what we stand for, what we wish to feed or nurture with our time, energy, effort, attention and trust. At a certain point, we must recognize untruth and unreality for what it is, and, as difficult as it may be, choose and embrace something else, even though truth may initiate the dissolution of all the structures of deception we have built within our inner world, or that we have supported in the outer world, in order to escape the truth of what we are, what we are here to do, and what we are here to be.
All that distracts from or seeks to obfuscate truth is a mechanism of evil, to one degree or another. Whether it is our own ego, or the individuals or agencies that seek to dominate us, the basic rouse is the same: to draw our focus upon that which is outside of ourselves as a threat, so that we fail to focus our attention upon discovering the true nature of that which is insisting upon the threat in the first place. In the case of the ego, we focus on the fault in others, seek to continually gratify the pleasure-seeking impulses of the body, or worry about potential calamities to avoid looking within in order to root out all of the untruth our egos have created; all of the justifications, defenses, delusions and fears.
In the case of our news media, government and intelligence agencies, we are invited to focus on threats of violence, terrorism, disease, inclement weather, etc., in order to keep us in a state of anxiety and fear, and to distract us from focusing on the true nature of those in so-called power and all their doings that support their secret, selfish agendas, creating further obstacles to the progress and unification that could bring our world into balance. As long as we are afraid of some threat, be it foreign invaders or even our own neighbors, we are not paying attention to that which demands to be revealed. Republican versus Democrat, White versus Black, Christian versus Jew or Muslim, Rich versus Poor, it’s all another version of divide and conquer, as it were. Again, focusing on the outer threat to distract from the truth is the game.
We do not need to keep playing the game. Once we stop playing the game, we make a new discovery–once we stop giving our power and attention to that which seeks to convince us of its validity through lies and deception, it no longer has any power over us and its inherent irrelevance becomes apparent. We discover how hollow untruth really is, no matter how much energy may be expended to convince us otherwise. First, we discover that our egos, our very notion of a static identity, is in fact unreal and non-existent. In the end, our ego is simply a collection of stories, conclusions, or judgments we tell ourselves in order to remain limited in our self-conception so that we can engage a dualistic mindset in which our static, familiar self can relate to all that which is “other.” The dissolution of this safety-net of identity is the liberation many of us seek, and the emptiness many of us even fear. No more excuses, no one left to blame. Next, we begin to see how many of the social structures and paradigms we have accepted, co-created or invested ourselves in are ultimately false and unnecessary, which allows us to begin to transcend them.
In the experience of duality, the physical existence we experience, there are ultimately only two directions one can go, two directions that any thought, word or action will take us: toward unity or toward separation. To move toward unity is to move toward God. We begin to recognize ourselves in others more and more, until there is no longer even the idea of self and other, there is just the experience of unity and love. To move toward separation is to move toward the continual suffering inherent to living within the prison of a static and limited identity ever pursuing self-limited desires. Unity is the only truth, separation the only lie.
It is with this knowing that we must navigate life. What is truth and what is untruth? This is the ultimate compass, the litmus test we must employ in determining that which is worth our attention and trust. This is what we must remember when examining all that we experience in our mind, in our interactions with others, and ultimately in deciphering what we are told by those who would seek to claim authority over us for a perceived reward, be it safety, financial support, love, a sense of identity, approval, etc. From the micro to the macro, these lessons play out, until we graduate to another level of living, in which these lessons are no longer necessary, and all that is not truth dissolves from our experience, individually and collectively.
After having spent nearly a year back in Hawaii, I have returned to Seattle to reconnect with this beautiful, vibrant city and offer healing body work at this very interesting and challenging time for humanity. It has been an interesting experience being back in the city, which offers a very amplified and bustling energy, while also allowing for a deeply introspective and calming quality as well. I think this is one reason why so many people are drawn here, why it is a place of such creative potential and progressive thinking, and why it has become an area well known for having an abundance of alternative and holistic practitioners and training programs.
One aspect of being back on the mainland, as well, is the propensity for people to become hyper aware or possibly even agitated by the events in the world, the constant updates of violent happenings in the world via news media, and a sensitivity to the plight of the world. One thing I can say about Hawaii is that, despite the fact that many people there are aware of the goings on in the world at large, it is quite common there to interact with people who are more interested in focusing on their immediate community and being only peripherally aware of the world outside Hawaii. While it is more difficult in Seattle to pretend that the rest of the world simply doesn’t exist than it is to do so in Hawaii, I think during times such as these, where our sensitivities seem to be more in tune and amplified than ever before, and where so much of our experience depends upon our own state of mind, our own attitude and the perceptions of the world around us, it is very important not to lose center, fall into emotional chaos, or get caught up in the fear porn of the corporate media, when we still have the option of being focused and intentional in the way we meet our day.
There is also a lot to be said for focusing more on what is immediately possible and available in our community, than getting too caught up in the plight of a conflict happening on the other side of the planet. I do not mean to insinuate that it is inappropriate to experience emotional attachments or frustrations over continued evidence of instability and violence in the world, however what is becoming angry, depressed or fearful over far away events really going to do for you and those in your immediate environment? All any of us can do is our best each day, and sometimes the most simple solution to these problems is to tune them out. Turn off the television, skip reading the news online or in a political magazine, and go out into Nature and find the strength to be peaceful and present in these turbulent times. Investigate what action you actually can take to be more involved in your community to bring about more peace, awareness and fellowship. It may not seem logical, but every focused and intentional act we perform, every moment we choose to be peaceful and centered, produces a profound effect on how we meet the world and the effect we have on our environment and the people with whom we interact.
Each of us has the power to refocus his or her thoughts, emotions and attitudes toward effectuating a reality experience that reflects one’s preference rather than what one is looking to avoid or prevent. We can charge any situation with love, positivity, optimism and faith even in the face of overwhelming chaos. This is not about blind faith or wishful thinking. Science has observed numerous times that what we observe is actually altered by the focused attention of the observer. What is the greater contribution, being “aware” of, and subsequently informing everyone else about, all of the bad things happening in the world, adding to the anxiety and fear, or choosing to focus upon something more positive that has the ability to promote peace in the world? Even on the smallest scale, such as our immediate environment, we have the power to shift the energy profoundly by choosing to focus our attention in a manner that uplifts rather than the alternative.
It is important to remember now more than ever that the power of consciousness is a tool that can be refined to do a lot of good in the world. What we focus upon, and our attitude towards it, informs what is being co-created by the collective at any given time. Remember that the next time you notice an onslaught of news coverage about war, disease, inclement weather warnings, and anything else that promotes fear. Are you serving a corporate agenda that seeks to distract the masses and shift their focus toward fear, anxiety and instability, or are you serving your own agenda and that which you truly would like to promote in the world around you? This is the power of choice that is before us all in each moment.