Thursday, November 08, 2007

I'm Brian and So's My Wife!

The Film & Faith blogathon is reminding me what a lazy slob I can be some time. I have plenty of time to plan and prepare and what do I do? Watch the Red Sox, watch the Celtics, load Syd Barrett and Sigur Rus CDs into iTunes - NOT rewatch Naked or O Brother Where Art Thou or After Life or A Touch of Zen (nothing says it has to be Christian) or Pulp Fiction or The Gospel According to Matthew or Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, or Lady Vengeance, or any other promising subject - not work up a decent essay on the subject. Sloth! one of the Deadly Sins!

Still, it's too interesting a topic not to do something. I might work up a post out of an existing piece - in the meantime, let's expand a bit on the clip in that last post... In fact, I think Life of Brian is, not just a great film - which it is - but a darned good religious film. Presents a more appealing vision of christianity than most overt christians do - Passion of the Christ? God, no... Life of Brian takes an interesting approach to religion - it analyzes it a bit, taking it apart into its component parts. Religion, after all, is not, really a single, unified thing: it's a melange of social organizations and institutions, ideologies and belief systems, behaviors, ethical and moral values, rituals, traditions, ethnicities, identities.... Life of Brian offers a fairly savage attack on part of this - religion as social and political phenomenon, as ideology used to support social and political control. It is much more sympathetic to the ideas and behaviors inspired by faith. A big part of the point of the film is, in fact, the way admirable and sensible religious ideas get warped into excuses for forming gangs and attacking other people.

It's interesting, actually, that faith and belief don't figure all that much in the film. Some of this, of course, is due to the fact that it is more about politics than religion anyway. It's also because faith and belief are simplified in the film: collapsed into a couple main ideas. First - the good idea - that religious belief is about values - specific values - getting along, treating people well, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Being yourself and respecting others. Blessed are the peacemakers. The film (being a political satire) puts more energy into the second main idea about religion: the ways beliefs, ideas, etc., are transformed into ideologies, ways of controlling people. It’s done pretty directly: blessed are the cheesemakers; we are all individuals - good ideas are absorbed by society and twisted, put to use as ways to control, as tools for the exercise of power. (The Pythons aren’t quite as Foucauldian as Frank Capra, but they make a good start sometimes.) Good ideas and values are turned into dogmas and ideologies useful for forming gangs: defining who’s with us and who’s against us, who’s in, who’s out, who you can abuse and who you can’t. That’s a pretty universal Monty Python theme - the misuse of language - words, turned into tools for power. (Or resisting and undermining power, sometimes.) The ideology of religion hardens, into taboos and irrational codes, stupid vows of silence, excuses for stoning people, that get twisted and warped all around each other themselves. With pretty serious, seriously awful, consequences - those idiotic revolutionaries convincing themselves that Brian is dying for the cause - and the even more idiotic crack suicide squads...

All of it a perversion of the perfectly sensible things Jesus and Brian say in the film; probably an inevitable perversion, since we are social and political animals and do those things naturally. Though what makes what they say sensible is their insistence on the worth of the individual against the group, or within the group. A kind of calling out from the group - to not forget that social and political organizations are conveniences, ways of living in the world. There’s a sense in which something like the Sermon on the Mount is a call to flexibility of mind - don’t judge lest you be judged; take everyone as they come; see the world as the other fellow sees it. Don’t get tied down to any one group or set of ideas, even if you are part of one group: social organizations are fluid and changeable. We should be fluid and changeable. At least that seems to be something like the conclusion the Pythons draw about it - their work constantly condemns people who treat their particular class or profession or any given role as an Absolute Value. Hell - the boys themselves embody the idea, playing all the roles, working, most of the time, in sketch comedy style, rather than establishing one persona, one universe, to live in, to act in.

Anyway - here's another clip, the sermon on the mount falling on deaf ears....

1 comment:

Squish said...

Kurosaw-a-Thon! 15th to 22nd! Squish's Place! (