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Posts Tagged ‘Totalitarianism’

Catching-Fire_poster

Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ “Catching Fire” is clearly dominating the box office — and with good reason.  It’s a great film, filled with emotion, depth, artistry, and impressive visuals.

I want to begin my reflections by noting a coincidence.  This post happens to coincide with some interesting and relevant liturgical readings from the Catholic Calendar.  I’ll just share today’s first reading, in which the prophet Daniel interprets the Babylonian king’s dream of a statue with a golden head, silver chest and arms, bronze stomach and thighs, and iron legs being struck and destroyed by “a stone which was hewn from a mountain without a hand,” which stone then grew to become a mountain that would fill the whole world:

Another kingdom (silver) shall take your place, inferior to yours (gold), then a third kingdom, of bronze, which shall rule over the whole earth. There shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron; it shall break in pieces and subdue all these others (…) In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever. That is the meaning of the stone you saw hewn from the mountain without a hand being put to it, which broke in pieces the tile, iron, bronze, silver, and gold. The great God has revealed to the king what shall be in the future; this is exactly what you dreamed, and its meaning is sure.

(Daniel 2: 39-45) (parentheses mine)

President SnowThe reality of the transitory nature of human governments  and their total dependence on God’s permissive will accounts for both the brutality and the urgent sense of self-preservation we see in totalitarian regimes, which seek to transgress their bounds and “play God.”

Panem, the oppressive government in the post-apocalyptic “Hunger Games” series, is no exception here.  As President Snow (Donal Sutherland) basically admits in “Catching Fire,” it is a fragile system that must assert itself desperately through the use of force.

How do such governments manage to hide their vulnerability and keep people in check?  Well, an excellent tool — one used very effectively in the “Hunger Games” series — is to keep the masses trapped within a superficially tiny world, one small enough that a dictatorship could exercise complete authority in it.  What they must do, in other words, is keep people blind to the transcendent, to the larger world and/or larger reality.

catching fire arenaThe Hunger Games are wonderfully symbolic of this whole situation.  Think about it: The Panem Capital takes a group of people — “tributes” — puts them into an artificial and controlled environment, deprives them of necessities, makes them have to fight for survival every minute, and has them compete against one another for this survival.

What then happens is that they get so busy fighting each other that they lose sight of who the real enemy is.

But, of course, you have the hero figures Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) who strive to stand against the status quo.  I’ll get more into this in part two.

“Catching Fire” poster from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search.

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Here’s post #2 in the lead-up to my commentary on “Man of Steel.”  Fr. Barron just posted his today.  I must admit that I came away from the film with a slightly different take, which I do intend to share.  But Fr. Barron’s reflections are always worthwhile.

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Dark_knight_rises_poster
I finally got around to seeing Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie over the weekend.  This final installment takes place eight years after the events of the previous film, “The Dark Knight.”  Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become somewhat of a recluse, but is inspired to take up the cape, mask, and suit once more when Gotham is threatened by the masked villain Bane (Tom Hardy).

And that’s the point from which I want to take off.  Having seen all three movies, I am struck by the many faces of villainy in the Batman trilogy.

Ra's al GhulRa’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), head of the League of Shadows and the antagonist of “Batman Begins,” represents a sort of right-wing totalitarianism that seeks to impose order and justice using force.

JokerThe Joker (Heath Ledger) represents evil in the form of nihilistic anarchy in “The Dark Knight.”

BaneFinally, Bane is the incarnation of a left-wing totalitarianism that “hooks” people through false promises of establishing an earthly utopia by toppling corrupt power structures and returning all power to “the People.”

In due course, we learn that Bane was once part of the League of Shadows, but was eventually exiled for differences with Ra’s al Ghul.  Bane’s relationship to the League struck a chord in my mind.  It seems to suggest, in its own way, that two supposedly polar realities — namely, right-wing and left-wing tyrannies — are much more closely connected than one might think.

Hitlermusso2_editThe middle part of the twentieth century saw the rise of various forms of totalitarianism from both the right (most notably, Fascism) and the left (most notably, Communism).  Although I am an expert neither in history nor in politics, I think we can safely say that both styles of dictatorship proved to have the goal of reducing society — perceived to be all wrong and unredeemable — to ashes so as to build something new and better from scratch.

But herein lies the problem: We live in an imperfect world, and any “system” of society or government is going to have its problems and, sadly, evils.

Bane2Turning from any attempt at political commentary back to the Batman films themselves, I would have to say that Bane strikes me as the most dangerous of Nolan’s villains.  Although he is not blatantly oppressive (at least not to the masses) like Ra’s al Ghul, nor unprincipled and totally unpredictable like the Joker, Bane is dangerous precisely because he plays off of one of the strongest, deepest, and most innate elements of the human psyche — hope.

Hope is a powerful and dear thing.  If you can get a hold of people’s hope, there isn’t much you won’t be able to do with them and to them.

I will return with reflections on hope in “The Dark Knight Rises” by the end of the week.  Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

Image of the Joker and second image of Bane obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia.

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