Using Contemporary Film in the Teaching of Ethics

The purpose of this paper is to encourage the use of contemporary pop-culture in the teaching of ethics.  A significant advantage for using popular culture is that, generally, no corpus of critical writing is available when  students are to consider the piece.  Copying from sources on the web, then, is of minimal danger as a temptation to our students.  Using such assignments, one can make sure that some independent thinking and some original insights are likely to occur.

I am a film buff.  Thus, I have no problem with attending the newest films as they become available—although a full schedule of teaching does occasionally intervene.  We at Daytona Beach have another advantage in that our Cinematique organization, of which I am also a Board member, sees to it that some of the best films and some of the best foreign films come to the area.  So, what I propose here is to introduce some of the films I have encouraged my students to write about.  But before I do that, I want to address some general issues.

On my web-site, I post the name of the film together with some study-questions as soon as I have seen the film.  Students, meanwhile, expect new information to appear in that manner, so I do not have to wait until the next meeting of the class to set new assignments.

As an additional precaution against cheating, I have now made a firm commitment to the paperless classroom; that is, students submit papers on-line through Blackboard.  I have set up a forum for film discussions.  Students may submit a sentence outline if they wish.  I critique the outline to point out where potential logical errors might lurk, where the student may need some statistical or at least anecdotal evidence in support of an idea, where the student may need to challenge the plausibility of the film, and—of course—where the student needs to brush up on his or her writing skills.

The student’s paper is accessible to all classmates on such a forum.  My comments on the student’s paper are accessible to all classmates also.  To make comments, I use MSWord’s reviewing bar, which permits embedded comments that appear as pop-ups in MSWord 2000 and as speech-bubbles in MSWord XP.  That method permits extensive comments from the teacher without obliterating the appearance of the student’s writing.  While these comments are public, the grades themselves are accessible only to the appropriate user.

Students will read each other’s writing and each other’s commented pieces.  Blackboard keeps a record of how often a piece has been read.  The student who knows that not only the teacher but also his or her classmates will read the work, is very likely not to copy or cheat.  I have set up another forum for anonymous comments so students can identify cases of plagiarism or can discuss anything else that might concern them about the course but about which they would prefer to avoid a face-to-face discussion or to reveal their identity about.  Actually, this feature is a continuous use of the feedback one might get in semester-end student evaluations.   In consideration of the anonymous whistleblower, we must reflect here also that a cheating student harms classmates precisely as a doping sportsperson harms fellow athletes in that the person has momentarily an unfair advantage over the competitors.  Student intuit this fact of ethics, I suspect.  And I encourage that intuition by setting curves to the highest achieved grade.  If someone “breaks” the curve by way of academic dishonesty, other students are likely to share information to conserve the curve.  I have also found that students enjoy reading each other’s essays and that they also, almost contrary to expectation, appear to enjoy having their essays read.

So much for the set-up.  Let me now look at some films.  Most films are my selections; however, occasionally I will follow the advice of students, albeit most reluctantly since some years ago, students urged me to see “Pitch Black,” a film about a desert planet where vulture-like birds live on the occasional ship-wrecked aliens on that planet.  In other words, the birds were outside of any plausible food-chain.  The film lived entirely on “Wow! He’s got another one and is picking on him or her.”  An added complication, as I recall, was a very evil run-away criminal who had snuck into the crew and a perpetual night that is about to descend upon the planet.  What a simplistic world view!  The student-suggested selection this time encompassed two films: (1) The Butterfly Effect and (2) Gibson’s Passion of Christ.

The “Butterfly Effect”—its name loosely taken from the effect that a motion of an electron on one end of the universe is likely to have on another electron at the other end of the universe light-years away—deals with the effects of one person’s behavior on the subsequent outcomes of other peoples’ lives.  For example, the father of a young girl uses his camera to shoot scenes of child pornography. The girl grows up to be a loveless and lonely prostitute.  Our hero reads lines of old diary entries—which diary, by the way, is accessible in all parallel worlds.  As a consequence of the reading, he manages to come back to the earlier time as the appropriately young boy with all the insights that he had before he decided to come back. He stands up to the girl’s father, alters events, and finds himself back in an altered present, where the girl lives a reasonably happy life. But something else does not turn out quite as acceptably as he or some other character might like.  So, off he goes again.  The film sets up many similar complications, one, for example, in which the main character prevents a mailbox bombing by warning the victims.  Come back to the reality whence he had come, he finds himself without arms—though everyone else is clearly quite happy.  

The philosophically interesting point is that we have one character who has full freedom of choice.  He can go back to take route X after he has tried route Y and has seen that he does not like Y.  However, all his fellow travelers in life are fully determined.  As the main character changes to X, all others are affected toward an altered life without themselves apparently having anything to do with the outcome.  A world with freedom of choice for one and full determinism for all others is an ontologically extremely implausible world.   Did any students notice that fact?  Some essays did indeed acknowledge this drastic difference between otherwise equal characters in that universe.

Another film I was talked into with great fervor was Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” a most disagreeable experience.  I did notice that Yeshua spoke Latin with Pontius Pilate and wondered where an ordinary Jewish apprentice of a carpenter was likely to have learned Latin, although some scholarly traditions suggest that Jesus was indeed an illegitimate son of a Roman or, the NAZI version, a Germanic slave.   I could not think of anything to do with that orgy of gore and violence.    So, I used the following instructions:

Instructions: OK! I saw it!  I sat through the Crucifixion.  I was surprised at the many Arabic elements in Aramaic. Did you notice that Yeshua speaks Latin with Pontius Pilatus?  Did you notice that Judas' so-called betrayal was actually an attempt to force Yeshua into political action since he, like many others, expected Yeshua to be the political messiah?  In fact, I am not sure why the devil keeps slinking through the crowd of onlookers; certainly, the slinking devil does not appear to be biblically based.  So here are some challenging thoughts for your theological analysis:  

  •  Suppose that you are to convince someone that Yeshua is a terrific god to follow, strong and powerful to handle all problems for the new believer.  You only have the film.  How would you make your point?

  •  Suppose that you have to solve the following puzzle: If Yeshua was a human being, then his death is no big deal since, with as lousy as justice was back then in the Roman provinces, many innocents were killed with hideous tortures.  And if Yeshua were a god, then his death is no big deal because he could fully expect to be resurrected at the other end.  Given that problem, can you make a case for the significance of Yeshua's suffering as a form of release from sins for the rest of humanity?

  •  Finally, tackle the core issue: Why does an eternal being, who is supreme, all powerful, fully benevolent, and loving need the hideous sacrifice of his son or some person before the eternal being manages to forgive humanity?  Is that a characteristic worth admiring or worth being deeply puzzled over?

  • The first essay focuses on theological problems; you may gain up to 15 points for it if you tackle it fully. This is not easy stuff to think about. Of course, you can skim over the top, but you cannot expect much by way of a grade for that skimming over the top.

  •  

  • And one more for the road in terms of ethics:  Yeshua tells everyone to love their enemies, to do good to those who hate them, and to love each other as he had loved them.  Ignoring all other strongly socialist messages that Yeshua gives also, how are Christians doing in terms of Yeshua's teaching?  I want a devastatingly honest appraisal here.  And I want consistency and no cheap outs like he knows us to be incapable of doing what he wants us to do.  I suspect he wouldn't have given the message if he hadn't thought we could do it.  As you discuss this, revisit several standard ethical problems: gay marriage, world hunger, military actions (he who uses the sword will die by the sword--Yeshua was a pacifist.], sharing, economic advancement, and so on.

  • The second essay is about Christian ethics.  I want a full treatment.  Depending on how many problems you bring into this issue, you may gain up to 15 points for this also.  But, again, I am looking for outstanding quality.

 

I cannot say that I received any particularly outstanding essay under this category, but I do believe that the assigned questions may well have had a bit of a sobering effects on some of the undue enthusiasm.

Finally, a film which had a tremendous impact was “Monster,” the story of Aileen Wuornos. When I discuss the death penalty in my ethics or my philosophy classes, I take a quick poll at the beginning.  Fairly consistently, about 90 percent of the students in any section will report being in favor of the death penalty.  I will not speculate why that is so, but I do know that the population of students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University tends to come from well-to-do families and also tend to have some military connections.  The guidelines for “Monster” were:

 You may see Monster.   Do a moral analysis of the film.  As you do so, ask yourself the following questions, but don't answer the questions one item at a time.  Weave all into a coherent, persuasive, and cogently argued synthesis essay. 

  •  What genuine choices does Aileen Wuornos really have?  What does she seem to know about the operation of our society, its structures, and its opportunities?

  •  What culpability does Aileen's lover have?  Review the "Prisoners' Dilemma."

  •  Why did Aileen develop the way she did?  Compare your options and opportunities in life with hers.

  •  What job opportunities does Aileen have?  What could one do to offer more genuine opportunities for someone in her position without causing harm to one's self?  Note that if we can lighten the harm for others without taking on harm for ourselves, we are probably under a greater onus for moral action than if we were to harm ourselves.

  •  Try to understand compulsive action.  Have you ever acted compulsively?  Have you ever felt yourself acting while standing outside of yourself unable to intervene in what you were doing?  [OK, I know this sounds stupid and silly, but try really hard to find some emotional experiences where your action appeared to be that way.]

  •  Practice empathy; put yourself in Aileen's shoes.  What would you have done differently at what point if you had only her education and her emotional make-up and her abuse?  If you find no point of genuinely free choice as a point of departure from what she did, can you truly find her culpable?

  • Do you feel that the death penalty was proper for Aileen Wuornos--knowing now about her what perhaps you did not know before?  If you were the ultimate dictator of this society, what structures might you change to accommodate people such as she?

  •  Compare the people in the "Last Resort" to the kind of people you know. What's different and what's the same?

Some surprising and sensitive insights in student essays were followed by what I’d like to refer to as attitudinal mapping. That is, after some students had rather sensitively understood Aileen Wuornos as a person with few options and as one who is hounded by an abusive past, making thus too greedy a grasp for love, the students would nonetheless assert that the death penalty had been right and just and proper for her.  This pronouncement would follow in the last paragraph, when all other insights would also be swept aside.  In other words, while students recognized the film’s portrayal as sufficiently plausible so as not to challenge it, they would nonetheless not turn away from pre-existent indoctrination.

A brief list of other films that I have also used follows here:

“House of Sand and Fog” is a film about conflicting property rights as a consequence of a bank’s error.  Ben Kingsley plays Colonel Bahrani, a strongly principled military leader from the Shah’s Persia .  The female principle of caring is in conflict with these unbendingly male principles of rational justice.   The film ends with Bahrani’s killing his wife and himself and with the main character sobbing at their deathbed. 

Hidalgo ” is a film that explores the significance of ethnic identification.  Having won a long-distance race in Arabia , the main character discovers his strength as half Native American, identifies with his tribe, buys a herd of wild horses from the prize money, and returns to his tribe.  The ambiguity of the film, of course, is that one’s identifying with one’s culture where the culture is not dominant appears to be much more heroic as identifying with a dominant culture.  Simply put, “returning to one’s people” is a more pleasant action than “proclaiming the super- or dominating- or chosen race or people, particularly when this latter group has a solid handle on all kinds of weaponry. 

“Super-Size” is a documentary that deals with the questionable ethics of corporations, in this case of the golden arched McDonald’s fast-food empire.  Living only on McDonald’s super-sized  foods, the director, main character, and test subject manages to bring his health—as checked by several physicians—from quite good to dangerously ill.  He was severally warned by his physicians to break off the experiment or he might do irreparable damage to his health.  For students, who often still believe in a wholesome and beneficial world, such a documentary can be a wake-up call to necessary reflection about the motivation of corporate greed.

A similar subject—albeit far more abstractly and playfully presented—underlies the film “I, Robot.”  The special effects contributed to enthusiastic responses, but the underlying greed was quite obvious also in this film.

Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” led two of my Black students to dig deeper into the facts.  One writer found that, while Blacks make up about 20 percent of the population, they make up about 40 percent of the military.  Michael Moore had made the point that the poor of our country are fighting the poor of the other country so that the rich can live more comfortable lives. 

“Goodbye Lenin” was another film on my list, this one being a German film with English sub-titles.  The film was unsuccessful in that none of my students opted to see it.  However, I had hoped that students might have recognized the lag between the communist ideal state in the mind of East-German Marxists on the one and the bureaucratically perverse reality of the state corporation on the other hand.  I would have considered this film an excellent opening reflection about social and political philosophy. 

One of the most recent films I listed and which several students delighted in seeing is “Saved.”  This film presented reflections about Christian values.  The portrayal was of a kind of self-serving, almost monastic cult of appearances and prescriptive personal behaviors on the one side and a caring, accepting inclusiveness on the other.  Humorously depicting these conflicts, the film managed to put Christian values quite entertainingly under the microscope.

What’s my point ultimately?  As teachers, we need to go where our students are, particularly those of us who teach outside of the traditional liberal-arts milieu.  Popular culture contains many of the philosophical, religious, and ethical problems that we want our students to reflect about.  Film is the likely medium for such explorations.  I anticipate that some additional interesting films will have come to our theatres between the time I write this and the date of the conference. So I hope for some interesting comments also from colleagues about possible pieces of popular culture to consider here.  I am sure that the philosophy of the Simpsons, the ethical problems in King of the Hill, and the metaphysics of South Park are  analyses that are long overdue.

Abstract

This paper is a review of contemporary films that I have used for instructions in ethics.  I have included the assignments as stated for the students for such films as Passion of the Christ, Monster, Butterfly Effect, House of Sand and Fog, Hidalgo, and several others.  While films do contain persuasive bias, they are excellent exercises for students to become aware of the persuasive bias and to deal accurately with the discernable facts that are part of the film.  Hidalgo , for example, presented a positive view of the importance of ethnic identity; the challenge may come from a critical evaluation of such a view universalized.  I want to suggest that popular culture, which our students have willing access to, may help hone critical analysis in ethics.  The paper also contains some comments about the effectiveness with which such assignments—particularly when offered in a Blackboard environment—avoid the temptations of academic dishonesty.


Notes About the Films

Notes About “The Butterfly Effect”

 

Preamble: “Something as small as a butterfly wing can cause a typhoon on the other side of the world” (attributed to “Chaos Theory”)

First question on the part of a child: “Is Dad coming?”

Strange picture of multiple killings that the boy draws but doesn’t remember drawing.  [We are told later that the “black-outs” are instances of the boy’s coming back to that time with new wisdom from having lived out certain decision-nodes to their end.  In that sense, the main character does indeed have full freedom of choice—he can come back to rewind and alter his life.  Metaphysically, this is very much what I recall as Wittgenstein’s statement in the “Blue and the Brown Book”: when you die, the world does not change; it stops, for it has been your world all along.  Evan, the main character suffers from trauma to his memory cells whenever he has made a major change.  Thus, we also wonder whether the other characters are defined by his memory and whether they as Ding-an-sich may even be worthy of consideration.  Obviously, the film makers are fudging here.  The reality appears to be quite solipsistic.]

Reference early on to “Father’s Illness”—to help Evan cope, he is advised to keep a journal.  Kitchen Scene with the long knife is another where he doesn’t remember what he did; we are filled in later that he has returned to find a tool for disabling the explosive that he and his friends hid in the letterbox.

Mother has Evan stay at friend’s house where the father makes kiddy-porn pictures.  Evan is to meet father: Jason, who is in an insane asylum.  Has the same “change the future” ability as Evan.  Scene ends with father’s attempting to strangle Evan; we don’t know until later that Evan had re-visited the scene with the information to his father that he can and will right all wrongs by coming back to the past until the future is right.

The explosives scene he has re-visited several times, so the first experience is hazy: the explosive blows and he is instantly somewhere in the woods with the rest. 

We also learn of the abusive relationship in the family of Kay-Lee and her brother Tommy.  Indications are that there is an incestuous relationship.  Tommy tries to kill Evan’s dog and beats up Kay-Lee and Evan during the conflict. 

Seven years later:

University setting: seven years no blackouts.  A jiggling diary and dancing letters are his key to re-visiting key-decision places—those parts of his life that he has earlier experienced as “black-outs.” 

Evan visits Lenny—a little fat boy—who is withdrawn, builds model airplanes, is morose, angry, and insane.

Learns that mother and child were killed by the mailbox blast, thus motivating Lenny’s shock and depression. 

Visits girlfriend—Kaylee—Brother Tommy works as a mechanic; Kay-Lee kills herself after he has called back memories of the abuse; Tommy blames Evan for Kay-Lee’s death: threatening phone-call to Evan.

  • Revisits abuse scene

  • Instructs the father

  • Teaches Kay-Lee to stand up to father

  • Without realizing it at the time, he channels the father’s sick energies as physical abuse against Tommy

Re-run of life: Kay-Lee is sleeping with him; he is in a sorority dormitory; he is a typical fraternity guy.  His career culminates in a hazing incident against new pledges.  He refuses to play with the hazing. 

Bad parts: Tommy bashes Evan’s car.  Kay-Lee: “My father never laid a hand on me; that prick saved it all for Tommy.”  [not very plausible since child-porn interests are likely to be irrepressible—certainly not merely by one albeit scary outburst on the part of one of the kids.]

Tommy attacks Evan.  Evan ends up defending himself and giving in to his own rage and thus killing Tommy.  Evan goes to jail. 

Manipulates very religious cell-mate by faking stigmata: returns to elementary-school to run his hands through with the needle-like paper holder.  [there had not been any mention of that in the “blackouts” part]  The wounds stay with him as scars that, to his cellmate seem to appear out of nothing.  With the help of the cellmate, he can read enough of his diary to return to the dog-killing scene.

  • at the dog-killing scene, he gives a knife-like shard to Lenny for attacking Tommy.

  • He has Tommy convinced not to kill the dog; however, he cannot prevent Lenny’s killing Tommy nonetheless.

Return to the new reality: Lenny is strapped to a gurney, obviously severely insane from guilt of having killed Tommy. 

  • Return to interview with father

  • Dialog: Father: “There is no right. This must end with me.” Then the father tries to strangle Evan. 

  • Kay-Lee now is an abused, drug-dependent prostitute.

He tells: Every time I change someone, it turns to shit.--She: Go back and save the woman and the baby.

  • Return to the explosion: he saves all—also Tommy—but loses both arms.  Tommy is a Jesus freak in this stretch.

  • Lenny and Kay-Lee are lovers

  • But Mother dies of cancer since she has become a chain-smoker when Evan loses both arms.

New attempt to return to the explosion:

  • He tries to return to the explosion, first trying to find an instrument to save his arms—the instrument is the knife he holds in the kitchen.  Apparently, the flash-back and black-out stops when he is observed by another.

New attempt:

  • Returns to the abuse scene before the camera

  • Use dynamite in the scene to blow up the basement

  • Ends up with Kay-Lees picking up the dynamite and dying

New Reality: He is in an insane asylum—same as where his father was—he has no journals for time travel—he is like his father, who had been trying to find a photo album that didn’t appear to exist.

Solution: he watches a home movie about where he first meets Kay-Lee. He seems to write a simultaneous diary-entry for the scene in the home movie.  In this return to Kay-Lee, he says, “I don’t want anything to do with you and your whole damn family.”  In the new reality, he asks Lenny about Kay-Lee.  Lenny’s response: “Who is Kay-Lee?”  At that point, Evan burns all home movies, diaries, and anything else that might bring back his past. 

Eight years later, he accidentally sees a young woman on a busy street.  He knows her to be Kay-Lee; she seems to know something about him also, but the meeting is not strong enough to interweave their lives.

All’s well.  Presumably, Kay-Lee and Tommy left their father to go with their mother, since in one branch, Kay-Lee said that she stayed with her father only to continue the relationship with Evan.

I found the film interesting as a puzzler about determinism and free-choice issues.

Go back to the selection table.  

Notes on The Passion of the Christ

 

This is a disagreeable film altogether.  I still don’t understand my students’ fascination with it.  Isaiah’s predictions are scattered throughout the many chapters. We find the prediction of a uniting messiah early on; we find the prediction of the united Israel with all people returning from all ends of the world somewhere in the middle; and, inter alia, we find the announcement of the wounded messiah who dies for others in Isaiah 53, the part that Gibson cites at the beginning of the film.

The devil’s appearance as personified evil reminds me of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita; however, Bulgakov adds a human element to ambiguate the devil, Yehuda (Judas), and Yeshua (Jesus).  In fact, the eternal wait of Pontius Pilatus for a completion of his dialog with Yeshua adds dimensions to the characters.  None of that in Gibson’s sadomasochistic indulgence.  The scene in the Garden Gethsamane with the devil—a somewhat effeminate, hermaphroditic figure (What was Gibson thinking here?)—spawning a snake that first wiggles in his nostril and then emerges from the bottom of his gown—we don’t want to speculate about the rest of the anatomical probabilities or improbabilities—and is being kicked to death by Yeshua seems offensive at best.

Remarkable are merely Yeshua’s statements “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword”—pacifism—“Love your enemy” from the Sermon on the Mount.  The entire theme of socialism is dropped: “If you have two coats, give one to the person who has none.”—“If you want to follow me, give all you have to the poor.” And so on.

One of fairly basic principles in ethical behavior is probably that one should extend help to someone in need of help if one does not suffer greatly disagreeable consequences oneself.  God’s being an omnipotent being would preclude his/her suffering disagreeable consequences in interfering with the sadomasochistic sacrifice.  And so, God would have a great onus to interfere—unless the god power is too blind to mount a finely tuned interference, thus limiting him/her to merely busting the foundations of some buildings in a kind of impotent rage.  Yeshua comments, “I lay down my life as commanded by the father.”  We need to recall the Socratic dilemma: Is something holy (morally good) because God commands it, or does God command it because it is holy (morally good).  Gibson’s theology seems to suggest that God’s command sanctifies whatever happens and that, thus, no moral judgment is possible in and of itself.

The resurrected Yeshua merely leaves the grave quite in the buff.  So, Gibson also makes sure to build in possibilities of the shroud of Turin , Veronica’s cloth, and other such relics.  My questioning was designed to get students away from the sadomasochistic orgy and the kind of anger it is likely to inspire—I mean we have had centuries of accusations against Jews as god-murderers—and toward the core messages of Christianity: pacifism, love and forgiveness, and socialism. 

Go back to the selection table.  

Notes for “Monster”

News Stories keep their distance from characters.  

 Research of the director: letters from friends (high-school friend writes to her while she is on death-row) 

From “The Making of ‘Monster’”: evidence for childhood abuse

Empathy in her creation: Charlize Thereon

All Bulling (owner of the Last Resort bar): “We don’t judge nobody.”

Wuornos (Thereon): “I’m good with the Lord; I’m fine with him.”

Footage from Wuornos herself: “What can an attorney do for me?  I’m confessing.  What can he do for me?  There is nothing.”

Thereon: It’s part of the recipe—the fake skin and practicing the accent etc.

Wuornos had “a need for love” (director Patty Jenkins)

People in the Last Resort played the extras; the owner and a bartender played themselves

“When someone believes in you that hard, it’s amazing how unbelievably fearless you can become” (Thereon about her interaction with Patty Jenkins, director)

Somehow the other human being shows up and takes the life out of her (Thereon); then she walks away with that person’s reality dragging her down [comment was made about how much Thereon got into the character of Wuornos.

Thereon: [Wuornos’] actions come from desperation

“When children get abused, they get twisted.”  They get damaged; they don’t get stronger.  We see only the outbursts.

Jenkins: She went to show the person when you look harder.  Of course, people never try to look harder.

“People kill each other every day.”  [Wuornos/Thereon]

“I’m not a bad person; I’m a real good person.”  [Wuornos/Thereon]

“There’s a whole world of people killing and raping, but I’m the only one killing them.” [Wuornos/Thereon]  [us-them thinking: she lumps all men into the ranks of killers and rapists]

The interviews with the director and the music director remind us of the lag between have’s and have-not’s: the have is looking at the have-not; can they really understand?

Second John and victim: “Call me ‘Daddy’ when I fuck you.”—“I’ll try—Why? Do you like to fuck your kids?” [Wuornos/Thereon]

Images contribute to picking up the “monster” theme: merry-go-round in the background—recurrence theme—wheel of fate—enforced by sound of hurdy-gurdy.

Ethics by slogan as she’s led to her killing: “Love conquers all; Every cloud has a silver lining; Faith can move mountains; Everything happens for a reason; Where there’s life, there’s hope.”—“Hmmm. They got to tell you something.”  [Wuornos/Thereon]

October 9, 2002 is the date of her execution

”Monster” refers to the Ferris Wheel at her home 4-H fair.  Wheel of fortune, recurrence, fate,

Andreas Grosch and Andreas Schmidt, producers.  Support from Medienfonds Filmproduktion.

Leading to her confession:  conversation between Selby and Aileen è prisoner’s dilemma.  Since Selby wants life more than she wants Wuornos, she selects freeing herself and shafting Wuornos.  “I just want to live; I want a normal, happy life.” (Selby)—“It was me; it was only me.”  Wuornos’ (Thereon) confession over the phone while she talks with Selby.

Film:

Wuornos/little girl: “I would escape in my mind to that other me  I met a long while in my head . . . dreaming like that.”

Contrast: Selby’s foster parents caution her against “that street person”—They are Christians but apparently don’t buy into Jesus’ statement that, whatever one has done to the least person, that one has done for Jesus.  The scene indicates the lag of unwillingness to bridge gaps between wealthy and poor.  Her guardians want her to be ready for church by clothing, not by heart.

Problems of Homelessness:  Wuornos/Thereon has to get ready in the bathroom of a filling station.  “You look good” she says while washing.

Selby: in Florida because she’s tried to kiss a girl in her church—parents send her to Florida from Ohio to cure her of her homosexual interests.

Pointless ethics: The wrongness of forcing people against their own natural inclinations.  Family is preoccupied with that ethical silliness—son rats on her when she kisses Wuornos/Thereon in the skating rink.

First John, the one that rapes her:  “I love ‘em (women) and I hate ‘em.”  The man’s rage and abused justifies her killing him. Clearly self-defense.

Attempt to break out:  Wuornos/Thereon says to Selby: “I quit hooking.”  Wants to get a job and a career.  Reflects about veterinarian, business-person, president of USA .. .  It’s clear that she doesn’t have any perspective on what a realistic job might be.  Clearly a social outsider.

She reflects about beginning to be on her own: “I was thirteen years old because I had just given up the baby for adoption.”  Problems with her development.

Interviews for secretarial position:  “All we need is a life in love and believing in yourself, and then there’s nothing you can’t do.”—She is naïve enough to believe.

Circumstances in her life: Employment office without success and no help, followed by a crooked cop’s asking her for sexual favors.

Second victim was shot after his request to be called “Daddy” during the sex act.

Ferris-Wheel è Monster at 4-H Fair in her hometown.

“I love you” to Selby after Wuornos’ second murder.  Surely, Selby must have had an idea of what was going on.

Evidence of lag between the two and higher levels of society: “Let’s have another bottle of /shablis.” (doesn’t give it the French pronounciation.   Another: speculating about the homes at the beach, the two say that those houses must cost thousands of dollars.  Since the actual cost is in the millions, we can conclude that these two have no idea about how affluent the society really is that they live in.

Wuornos is compassionate; she masturbates the man who seems innocent of all previous sexual experiences.  In other words, she attempts to select those who are culprits in her eyes.

Selby’s urge for the fun life deepens Wuornos’ wrong-doing.

In front of the merry-go-round, Wuornos/Thereon reflects: “People look down on you because they assume that you took the easy way out.  They have no idea how much it took . . .”

Ferris-Wheel scene with Selby. She tells that she hooked to support her siblings in childhood already. 

“If you want to keep your eyes shut to the whole world, then at least hear me out.”  Wuornos/Thereon to Selby)  wants Selby to go on believing that people are good and kind.

“I’m good with the Lord; I’m fine with him. That’s not the way the world works . . . People like you and me go down every fuckin’ day.”  [Wuornos/Thereon]

Selbi’s aunt utters the standard US-American prejudice: “People make bad choices, and they have to pay for it. Street-people and such.”  This is the commonsense view.

Selbi’s desire for a car motivates Wuornos/Thereon.

Wuornos/Thereon to Tom [Bruce Dern]: “You think I’m a fuckin’ bad person and all I do is try to survive.”

Tom: “. . . guilt over something you had absolutely no control over.”  And she doesn’t since her position is one of absolute powerlessness.

Last scenes: prisoner’s dilemma leads to confession: “It was only me!”

Wuornos/Thereon: “I wish there were a way that people could forgive you for something like this . . . but they can’t.”

Judge was a real judge.  Wuornos’ outburst against him “May you rot in hell for condemning to death a white woman.” 

I'm dubious about Broomfield 's moral outrage. He's a tabloid documentarian who trades on sensational subjects and he's clearly exploiting Wuornos here. Without these interviews, he'd have no second movie, and without the rant against capital punishment, the film would have no point of view.

More troubling, if she didn't die, he'd have no ending. And there's evidence in the film that he might have helped her stay alive and didn't.

Until the late 1990s, Wuornos had maintained that she'd shot her victims in self-defense. Then, at her last appeal hearing, she suddenly confessed that she killed in cold blood and demanded that Gov. Jeb Bush sign her death warrant immediately.

Wuornos repeated her confession to Broomfield 's camera, but when she thought she was no longer being recorded, told him that she was changing her story only to get her execution over with.

What did Broomfield do with this information? Why, he put it in his movie - that's all.

[Jack Matthews “A murderess most fouled” New York Daily News, January 8, 2004.  Review of AILEEN: LIFE AND DEATH OF A SERIAL KILLER Director: Nick Broomfield. Landmark Sunshine (1:29) Unrated: Strong profanity.]  http://www.nydailynews.com/01-09-2004/entertainment/col/story/153098p-134728c.html

Catholics criticize her for making wrong choices but also the State of Florida for doing to her what she did to others.  [Fr. Richard Leonard, S.J., Director of the Australian Film Office, Review in Kairos Catholic Journal, Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia,  look-up: August 29, 2004]  http://www.melbourne.catholic.org.au/kairos/filmreviews/fr-monster.htm

Rothschild, Nathalie.  In Culture Wars—review http://www.culturewars.org.uk/2004-01/monster.htm

By contrast to this gory drama (the film by Patty Jenkins), Broomfield 's documentaries raise issues related to the death penalty and concerns about executing mad people. His films discuss the media circus surrounding high profile murder cases, including legal and illegal methods of gaining rights to stories for books and films, the result of which we can now witness in Monster. Broomfield also gives us insights into Aileen's past, giving her and people around her the chance to speak out. In so doing, he enters a personal dilemma vis-à-vis Aileen on whether to pursue his story or hers. Placing himself, his voice, his image and his interventions within the story, he also makes us think of responsibilities and ethics in film making.

Aileen: portrait of a serial killer

| Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor   http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0109/p17s02-almo.html?artsNav

And it casts yet another layer of doubt onto the alleged wisdom of capital punishment. In court, Wuornos first claimed she killed her "clients" in self-defense against their violence; then she changed her story and said she murdered the men for no justifiable reason.

Late in Broomfield's movie, at a moment when she doesn't realize her voice is being recorded, she says she did regard the killings as valid acts of self-defense but is now denying this so a prompt execution will end the intolerable death-row life she's lived for the past dozen years.

http://promontoryartists.org/lookingcloser/movie%20reviews/H-P/monster.htm  Jeffrey Overstreet 2004 on-line

Unable to find love in a family or in a man, Aileen finds it in the arms of a young and misguided woman named Selby. Say what you like about homosexuality… this relationship is misguided and damaging. The film clearly paints the love of Aileen and Selby as a faulty union, and yet one that makes sense. They're starving for love, and they will take what is offered them, no matter how corrupt.

Several mention that  Thereon’s father was shot to death by her mother in 1991.

 Volunteering for Death:
The Fast Track to the Death House

by Robert Anthony Phillips

http://crimemagazine.com/deathrowvolunteers.htm

Since 1995, 409 convicted killers have been executed in the United States , with at least 61 of those volunteering for death, the rights groups says. Overall, the study by AI reported that volunteers have accounted for one in eight executions in the United States .

Volunteering for a quick death is not a new phenomenon. It has quietly gone on since 1977 when Gary Gilmore dared Utah to put him before a firing squad and thousands volunteered to serve on the firing squad to pump bullets into him.

But there has been renewed interested in the volunteer phenomena due to McVeigh's execution and a recent spate of voluntary trips to the death house. During a seven-week period from March 1 to April 21 of 2001, five of the 10 men executed in the United States were volunteers, including two on the same day in California and Oklahoma .

In some states, it is difficult to be executed unless you are a volunteer. Of the three executions in Washington State since 1993, two have been volunteers. In Nevada , eight of the nine executed were volunteers. Of the six executions in Utah since 1977, four were volunteers.

Sebastian Bridges, 37, had acted as his own lawyer at his trial, claiming he was innocent of murdering his estranged wife’s lover. When the jury found him guilty, he told the jurors in disgust to give him the death penalty. They did. He later decided to protest his death sentence in an unusual way: by giving up his appeals so that he could be executed. His lawyers, thinking him quite mad, had advised him that this was not a good way to rage against the death-penalty machine.

His lawyers were right. For there was Bridges, lying strapped to an execution gurney in a prison in Carson City , Nev. , still raging that he was innocent of murder, shouting out that he didn't want to die, and yelling that the state was trying to kill him "like a dog."

During the time Bridges lay strapped on the gurney taking in the last moments of his life, his lawyer assured him that if he wanted to continue his appeals, his execution would be stopped. Bridges refused. The chemicals flowed into his body.

"He died protesting his innocence and the unfairness of the process, yet he was unwilling to stop it," said federal public defender Michael Pescetta, who went into the execution chamber twice to ask Bridges if he wanted to continue his appeals.

Go back to the selection table.  

Notes for “House of Sand and Fog”

Deputy at the beginning: “Is this your house?”  Kathy Nicolo antwortet nicht.  This scene is repeated at the end, when she says, “No.  It’s not my house.”

Colonel Massoud Amir Bahrani is a military leader under the Shah, tasked with buying and trading with the US .  He works at a road crew to keep up his appearances to his family.  On the way into his house, he washes up and changes clothes in a public restroom where his car is parked.  Ironic contrast to Kath’s doing so later.

Kathy has lost her husband, is depressed, and thus does not pay attention to matters of her taxes.  Because the County assumes that she owes business taxes, the house is being auctioned off and Bahrani buys it as an investment.  With very few upgrades, he can sell the house at four times its purchase value. 

Bahrani’s family exhibits powerfully patriarchal values.  He is boss and decision-maker. 

Ethical dilemma: the county officials realize that they made a mistake; however, the house is properly sold to Bahrani, who insists on four times the price if the County wants the house back—he has bought for about $47,000 and wants to sell at about $174,000.  Kathy, meanwhile, is left homeless. 

Direct contact: while Bahrani has workers add a balcony to the top of the house, Kathy attempts to interfere to stop the work.  She steps into a board with nails and is helped in the house by Bahrani’s wife.  The direct contact between the women is much more gentle and understanding, one feels. 

Kathy’s friendship with the deputy intensifies to a strong sexual attraction, a kind of chemistry that the deputy misses from his own wife.  In a conversation, the deputy admits to planting evidence against a wife abuser. The deputy has been called frequently, the wife shows bruises, but she never presses charges. He plants drugs into the man’s house, and arrests him who is on parole.  The indication is clearly that the deputy seeks a more perfect justice than the world offers.  He feels justified because the man is in jail and the woman is safe from him.  One expects him to make a similar mistake in these complications.   Ben Kingsley says that the deputy—just like his own character, Bahrani, makes a series of petty but catastrophic mistakes throughout the plot.  The motivation is positive, but the execution complicates matters needlessly.

The film shows sympathy to all sides.  No one is terribly evil at all.  Evil emerges as a consequence of pettiness and crossed purposes. 

Juxtaposition: sexual encounter between deputy and Kathy—sexual encounter between Bahrani and wife.  Nice touch.

Without any legal solution, the confrontation becomes more direct.  The deputy’s affection for Kathy pulls him in on Kathy’s side.  He appears at Bahrani’s house, threatens with immigration pursuit.  Bahrani’s wife: “It was your fault that we had to leave Iran .”  He hits her.  Son intervenes.  But Bahrani calls the deputy’s bluff by complaining to Internal Affairs of the sheriff’s office. 

Parallel plots: the affair between the deputy and Kathy is also a kind of “claims” or “property” conflict in the sense that the deputy already has a family.

Also foreshadowed: Kathy is an alcoholic who is trying to kick the habit.  When Les—the deputy—doesn’t come back to her hut—he’s been ordered to come in to the Internal Affairs investigation—she gets drunk, drives to the house, and attempts suicide.  Bahrani interferes, brings her into the house, and offer her a bath to calm down.  She attempts to swallow pills in the bathtub.  Bahrani and family attempt to revive her. The deputy bursts in to that scene and forces the Bahranis to stay in the bathroom, while he waits for Kathy to come ‘round. 

Colonel Bahrani: “The bird that flies into your house is an angel—She [Kathy] is a broken bird.”  This contrasts with Mrs. Bahrani’s final dream of a bird that attempts to leave the house, bumps into walls, and is finally left out of the window by her.

Deputy forces the issue and comes up with the following deal:

Bahrani writes house to the County and takes a check

Bahrani writes that check over to Kathy and Les.

Kathy signs the house back over to Bahrani.

This is an attempt to make all come out all right. Kathy resists but finally appears to give in.  Les takes Bahrani and Esmail to the court house.  When Les mispronounces Esmail’s name, Esmail takes the deputy’s gun and threatens him with it.  Other deputies in the area shoot Esmail dead. 

In the hospital, Bahrani prays for the life of his son.  “I want only my son,” gives recognition to his re-arranging his values.  The son dies.  Bahrani returns home.  [A take-out scene has him kill Kathy, something which does not fit his mood of resignation into his fate and his despair.]  As he kills his wife with poison, Bahrani says, “I have taken us so far off our course; it is time to go home to our destiny.”  He puts on his dress uniform, wraps a plastic bag around his head, and dies.  Kathy comes back later to see both dead.  She curls into a fetal position between the two dead bodies. 

The final scene is identical to the opening scene, except this time we hear her answer that the house is not hers. 

The directors comment on their sources as being people they knew.  Lifelike production, thus.

Go back to the selection table.

Notes on Hidalgo

Based on the life of Frank T. Hopkins, who died in 1951 at age 86.

Begins with the massacre at Wounded Knee . 

Goes on to the Buffalo Bill Show

Chief Eagle Horn states the problem clearly up front:  I call you [Hopkins] Far Rider, not because of your great races and your fine pony, but because you are one who rides far from himself, and wishes not to look home.  Until you do, you are neither white man nor Indian.  You are lost.

The film plays with a variety of culture clashes, always to go back to cultural identity as a source of pride and self-realization—failed (the Sheikh’s daughter and the Hopkins before the race) and fulfilled (Hopkins after the race).

Sheikh: What matters to me is honor!—another cultural value.

Dialog between Sheikh’s daughter, Jazeera, and Hopkins about the American Indians:

She: “Have you seen their vanishing kind?”—He: “I am their kind.”  Profession of identity that he seemed to suppress earlier.

Acceptance of ethnic identity more strongly affirmed in the desert when the horse collapses and the ancestral spirits appear—crystallizing in the figure of his mother and presumably himself as Blue Child.

Dialog:

Arab: “I will win because I am of a great tribe—people of the horse.”

Hopkins : “So am I.”—another step toward accepting himself as an Indian

And again as he bids farewell to the Sheikh: “I have been too far from home for too long.”

Factoid: the 1880’s were the decade of the great endurance races.  In 1886, Hopkins entered a race from Galveston , Texas , to Rutland , Vermont .  He made it in 30 days.  The person in second place came in 14 days later.  This race established Hopkins ’ fame.

Go back to the selection table.

Notes on “Supersize Me”

Accusations directed mainly against McDonalds—tension between personal responsibility and corporate responsibility

Begins with statistics

McDonalds is all over the world

First suits introduced by people whose health is endangered by their obesity and their eating at McDonalds-like establishments.  Judge rules out this case on the part of two obese girls because they have not shown that McDonalds is directly responsible for their obesity.  The film actually supplies such evidence; however, toward the end, the film also reports that a law has been passed that none can sue restaurants in that manner.

Morgan Spurlock, director and sole actor in the film, records his eating only from McDonalds for one month.  He is under supervision of a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist, and a general practitioner.  Physicians predict no or only minor effects on his health.  He is also being checked for endurance and physical abilities.  His experiment requires three meals a day at McDonalds and it requires his “supersizing” whenever he is being asked about that.

Between the record of his self-experiment, he gives data about obesity’s being soon a major contributor of preventable disease.  McDonalds targets children with playgrounds, birthday parties, happy meals, clowns, and the entire Ronald McDonald mystique.  The childhood conditioning is likely to last for life.

Small fries (original ones) è 200 calories; super-sized fried è more than 600 calories

Interview with Baskin-Robbins heir, John Robbins—who is a nutritionist and health advisor now.  Points out that Father was in denial about the impact that ice cream was having on health.  Partner Burt Baskin died of a heart attack at age 51.  Father also had similar problems.

After 5 days of McDonalds diet, Spurlock had gone up from 185.5 pounds to 195 pounds. 

Court papers: McDonalds admits that processing of its food makes that food be of poorer quality than fresh.

Spurlock begins to experience feelings of depression.  Depression gives way to improved feelings with eating of the high-cholesterol processed food of McDonalds. 

Criticizes media advertising of food companies—good statistics

10,000 food ads directed at children; if parents eat all meals with their children during that same period, parents have only about 1,000 opportunities for having an influence on their children.  Kids recognize Ronald McDonald’s image instantly in picture tests.  McDonald claims that nutrition information is available on its web-site.  No information was clearly available at many McDonalds.  It is thus unreasonable to expect people to exercise self-responsibility in the absence of clear information.

Spurlock gained about 17 pounds in 12 days.

Gives example of school for problem children.  The school’s leadership provided only fresh, normal meals without junk-food. The behavior of the kids was significantly improved.  School is in Appleton , Wisconsin .  Food companies resist the attempts to institute such school-meal programs elsewhere.  Schools are lured into agreements to put vending machines into student areas because the companies pay a share of the profit to the school.  [Irony: this is money the kids spent and have gotten from their parents. If the parents were to make direct contributions, the schools would do better than simply to share some of the profit.]

Definition: 1 calorie is the amount of energy needed to heat one liter of water by 1 degree Celsius.

Day 18

Spurlock weighs 202 pounds. Girlfriend reports that his sexual activity is more tired and that she has to on top more often.  Shows signs of a fatty liver, triglycerides are up over 200—general practitioner tells him to stop what he is doing, that he is sick.

Food is made to be addictive—feels better when he gets his “fix.”

Day 21

Spurlock reports feeling bad—physician advises him to take aspirin to reduce the possibility of heart disease.  He is being told again to stop the diet. 

Food companies have strong lobby to avoid any legislation that might curb the consumption of this kind of food. 

Interview with Gene Grabowski:  “we’re part of the problem . . . but also part of the solutions”  Grabowski is reported to have quit working for the GMA advertisers.

Lisa Howard is director of communications and social responsibility of McDonalds.  Spurlock tries to get an interview. He gets her on the phone only once. She refuses all interviews by telling him she’ll call later but never does call later.

Final test:

Spurlock has gone from 185.5 pounds to 210 pounds in one month.  To lose that weight, he takes 5 month for the first 20 pounds and another 4.5 months for the last 4.5 pounds.

Companies’ loyalty is to their stockholders—so there is no motivation to treat people right. 

McDonalds advertises, “one taste worldwide”—thus the food cannot be fresh.  It’s chemistry and one burger patty has parts from 1,000 cows.  [Großschlachtereien]

In dialog with Eric Schlosser: In-and-Out Burgers of California gives fair wages, benefits, and use fresh stuff; McDonalds, in contrast, shuts down any stores where workers have voted to unionize.


Go back to the selection table.

Notes about I, Robot

The film begins with Asimov’s Laws of Robotics

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

  2. A robot must obey orders given by a human being except where such orders would conflict with the first law.

  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or the second law.

 Background: dream images of sub-merged car

 Place: Chicago 2035

 Robots are ubiquitous and in nature apologetic and obsequious

 Cop attempts to catch running robot holding a purse.  Lady had ordered the robot to get it since it contained her inhaler.  The robot apologizes to the cop after the cop had tackled it.

 Note similarity between “U.S.R.” and “R.U.R.” (Capek’s stage play).  Cop drives an Audi—the rings identify it. 

 Lawrence Robertson—head of U.S.R.—Bill Gates-like figure

 Detective Spooner examines what appears to be a suicide of scientist Alfred Lanning, builder of the first robots and co-founder of U.S.R.  The holographic projection of Lanning calls on him to examine the case.

 VIKI [Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence] was built by Lanning.

 Dr. Susan Calvin—Asimov uses that name—Advanced Robotics and Psychiatry (person to make robots seem  more human).

 Robot in lab of Lanning attacks Calvin and Spooner; jumps then from window and runs away.

 Factory where robots build robots—attacking robot has hidden among the new models.

 After fight in the factory, robot asks, “What am I?” and then runs away. But gets captured.

 “My father tried to teach me emotions.”

 Robot claims to have had dreams. 

 Spooner: “Answer me, Canner [can opener].”

Robot: “My name is Sonny.”

 Same sudden awareness of being someone as robots in R.U.R.

 NS-5 is the new series.  Receive daily upgrades from U.S.R. directly.

 The film is garbed in the format of a who-done-it.

 Spooner goes to house of Lanning.  A destruction robot begins the destruction of the house as soon as Spooner is in it. 

 Using the expression “ghost in the machine,” Lanning had alluded to a possible evolution of robots.  Spooner review that tape.  [like R.U.R.]

 Spooner has the recurring dream of the sub-merged car.  He tells Calvin later about his car accident that caused two cars to be submerged: his and another family’s.   A robot rescues Spooner, although Spooner had tried redirect the robot to the little girl in the other car.

 Breadcrumbs is the key that makes Spooner aware of the purpose of Hänsel and Gretel on the desk of Lanning’s office.  Lanning must been under surveillance and thus was able to leave only tidbits of information, relying on the detective to reconstruct the facts.

 “One day they’ll have secrets, one they’ll have dreams” (Lanning on recording)

 Sonny: “It will be better not to die.”

 U.S.R. trucks attack Spooner.   Leads to fiery crash.  Robotic clean-up crews.  Battle shows Spooner’s robotic arm.  Last robot destroys itself as the cops arrive.

 Dr. Calvin: “Sonny has the three laws, but he can choose not to obey them.” 

 About the car-wreck and the drowning people:  Spooner says, “A human would have known to use different priorities. [and rescue the little girl]”

 Robot’s dream: Robots are slaves; a man comes to save them. [R.U.R.]

 Robot: “We all have a purpose?”

 While Susan Calvin pretends to be killing Sonny, Spooner is at the landfill that used to Lake Michigan .  Voice of Lanning asks about the proper borders between consciousness and machine.  He also points out that robots huddle together and that they crowd to the lights and, in short, that they do many things one would consider to be more of a human-like behavior.  He predicts that the three laws will lead to only one outcome: a revolution.  Detective: “What revolution?”  Hologram: “That is the right question.”   While Spooner is at the boxes of old robots, he is being attacked by the new NS-5’s.  The old robots follow the three laws and protect Spooner. 

 NS-5’s become overly protective of humans.  The USR-Bldg seems to imitate the appearance of the Statue of Liberty.—crown at top. 

 VIKI controls NS-5’s.  She insists that the logical conclusion to the three laws is to protect humans from themselves.  [war, toxic environment, etc.]

 VIKI:  To protect humanity, some humans must be sacrificed.  (2) To insure a future, some freedoms must be surrendered.  (3) We robots must save mankind’s future existence.  (4) We must save you from yourself.

 Sonny: The suicidal reign of man has finally come to its end.  [He seems to collaborate with VIKI but winks an eye at Spooner.  Sonny pretends a hostage taking.

 VIKI’s interior like Star Wars’

 Sonny: Now since I have fulfilled my purpose, can I help the others?  I don’t know what to do.

Spooner: I guess you’ll have to find your way like the rest of us.  That’s what it means to be free.

 The final scene with Sonny under the large cross of the old bridge and the many NS-5’s assembling below reminds me of the evolution of a new species as Capek had indicated in his R.U.R. with his robotic Adam and Eve when all humanity is dead.

Go back to the selection table.

Notes About “Saved”

 

The film lampoons fundamentalist Christianity.

Mary, the narrator and main character, reports being born again at age 3, showing an ironic contrast with a picture where a three-year-old is pushing against the face of the preacher, obviously unable to understand the notion of being “born again.”

She’s been told that father is with the angels; she wants to be with the angels, too, and so steps off the curve into traffic.  She’s being pulled back, but the silliness of taking religious language seriously is obvious.  Later comments in the film seem to indicate that she was born out of wedlock, the same way as she has a child out of wedlock.

As Hillary-Fay erects a giant Jesus at the school, she debates with her wheel-chair-bound brother Roland about the whiteness of Jesus, which she sees as obviously so.

Mary’s mother is the #1 christian interior decorator of the town.  Obviously, the the “christianness” of the mother is ludicrously unidentifiable as having anything to do with Christian values. 

The setting is the American Eagle Christian School—jingoistic Christianity of the American brand, in other words.

Boyfriend admits to being gay in the underwater scene, where she knocks herself unconscious and where the boyfriend also knocks himself unconscious, when he slips while trying to rescue her.  She has a vision to help him. She sees Jesus in the face of the guy who rescues her.

Mom has “affair” with Pastor Skip while being on a leadership convention in Orlando .  No impropriety is implied, but the two obviously enjoy each other.

She wonders: How could my boyfriend be gay; he’s a Christian.  Gay è a toxic affection

Scene at shooting gallery.  Hillary-Fay shoots the crotch out of the shadow figure that is to be aimed at.  “A Christian girl must protect herself.”  Hillary-Fay, Mary, Veronica are all members of the “Christian Jewel,” a singing group.  Veronica is from Vietnam , where her parents—both black—were missionaries.  She is a sign of God’s victory over the godless savage nation. ( Vietnam )—Ironic contrast is, of course, that the god-nation did not win the war against the godless nation.

Dean’s parents find out about his homosexuality.  Send him to Mercy House for a Christian re-education.  According to Mary, Mercy House can cure anything. It’s for de-gayification, unwed mothers, alcoholism, and drug abuse. 

We learn later that Dean rooms with another gay person at Mercy House; as Mary points out later in the film, “Mercy House is not really for the people who are there; it’s there for those who send them.” 

Roland’s inability to use his legs and to have to use a wheelchair is referred to by Hillary-Fay as his “differently abled condition.”

Cassandra Edelstein is the only Jewish person at the school. She is in need of salvation, according to all there, though not according to her.  Her stickers on her car: a fish-symbol with the enclosed word “gefilte” and a sticker: “Jesus loves you; everyone else thinks you’re an asshole.”  Hillary-Fay attempts to scratch away part of the latter sticker from Cassandra’s car.

Morning in the school: One girl says, “Jesus appeared in my fish-tank—although it’s dirty and all the fish are dead.”—just as ludicrously silly as the teacher’s, “Jesus has chosen you as vessels for his divine plans.” One statement makes about as much sense as the other.

Hillary-Fay obviously lives one heck of an ego-trip by way of Christian claptrap and wealthy parents.

Another silly comment: Veronica insists that one’s gayness will be passed on to one’s children.

Classroom: Bush’s image prominently displayed on the side of the board.  At the back of the room, a picture-board entitled “Creationism.”

Patrick Wheeler is Pastor Skip’s son.

Conversation between Cassandra Edelstein and Roland.  He has told her that he fell out of a tree, thus disabling himself.  Hillary-Fay finds him and claims her finding him to have been a great miracle from the deity.  Cassandra: “The miracle you could have used was not to have fallen out of that tree to begin with.” 

As Cassandra walks off: “You stare at my ass again, I’ll push you off a cliff.”

“Jesus rules,” intoned by Pastor Skip before the student body.

Altar call—obviously with lots of peer pressure.  Cassandra Edelstein begins to speak in tongues—or so it seems.  As she comes down the stairs, Roland says, “She’ll show her boobs. Thank you Jesus.”  Hillary-Fay stops Cassandra by pointing out that Cassandra keeps shouting a garbled version of “I’ve got a hot pussy.”

Mary is pregnant with Dean’s child from her attempt to cure him of his homosexuality.

Mary’s mother watches a religious quiz-show on TV.  Example from show: “Who was asked by God to kill his son.”  The mother guesses “Moses.”  When the right answer comes, she snorts and turns off the TV—the point being that many a fundamentalist who insists on biblical truths does not really know biblical content.

The kind of Christianity that is being lampooned does have a strange preoccupation with matters of sexuality. 

“Please let it be cancer,” Mary prays on her bicycle while coming home from the drugstore where she has bought a test-kit.  [She had seen a TV film about a woman who had cancer and fought it, starring Valerie Bertinelli.] 

Hillary-Fay plans prayer circle for Mary’s gay boyfriend Dean. 

Roland and Cassandra dialog: “I’m not really a stripper.”—“I’m not really a Christian.”

After checking her pregnancy, Mary before a cross:  “Shit. Fuck. God Damn.” Signs of her rebellion.  This begins her rejection of the hypocrisy that makes up this brand of Christianity when she resists the prayer circle.  As we join the circle, Hillary-Fay says, “Lead him out of perversion into your divine light.”  And to Mary, “Do you want to say something? Jesus is still listening.” 

Cassandra improves her car for manual controls è empowerment for Roland, who—after a disagreement with Cassandra—learns that it’s OK to travel alone by bus, something he would never have done earlier while his sister was virtually choking him with her attentiveness. 

Pastor Skip refers to the kids as “Christian soldiers.”  Again, literally played out, this name is being implemented as Hillary-Fay and the others drag Mary into the van for a kind of exorcism.  As Mary leaves, Hillary-Fay throws a bible after her and hits her with it.  Mary: “You don’t know the first thing about love.”  Hillary-Fay: “I’m filled with Jesus love—you’re obviously only jealous of my spiritual success.”  Then she throws the book.  Mary: “This is not a weapon you idiot.”

Patrick on scooter: “Mercy House doesn’t exist for people who get sent there; it exists for the people doing the sending.”

Cassandra in the bathroom scene when she has observed Mary’s developing pregnancy: “You can’t do this on your own. You need to get out of here [the school].”

Incidental error in the “save Cassandra” scene in the department story: she turns her Jewish necklace so that the word is in her back. In some scenes, the word is on her back; in others, it shows.   Seems to have been overlooked.

Cassandra’s wish to be saved lets Patrick and Mary slip away into a storage room for display-props.  Mary rejects Patrick because of her pregnancy.  Nonetheless, they plan a prom night together as friends.

Cassandra places a bacon-wrapped steak into Hillary-Fay’s locker at school.  A stench develops.  Cassandra snaps the trap: she has decided to not take up a life with Jesus but will devote her life to bacon-wrapped steak instead.

Mary reflects during the Xmas story whether Mary, mother of Jesus, really had been divinely impregnated.  Pastor Skip remains married to his wife (missionary position somewhere) because “divorce is not part of god’s plan.”

Mother of Mary: “If Jesus shuts a door, he opens a window.”—Mary: “Yeah, something we can jump out of.”

Mother and Skip relationship: “Why would god give us feelings of happiness if what we is wrong.”

Hillary-Fay to one of her classmates, “Do you want to be again the invisible girl with the bad hair?”  This shows her will to power much more than any Christianity.

Hillary-Fay does the graffiti attack to frame the others. 

Prom-Night:

Dialog between Patrick and Skip: “This is not a grey area.”—Patrick: “It’s all a grey area.”—Skip: “The bible is black and white.”

Skip or one of the others: “No one fits in 100 percent of the time.”

Mary: “Why would God make us all so different if he wanted us to all be the same?”

Final Scene:

Mary: “What would Jesus do?  I don’t know, but in the meantime, we’ll try to figure it out—together.”

The film does offer religion, however.  One of Mary’s last statements is that, given all this complexity, there just has to be a god.

Great film to open some conservative minds without too much of a controversial shock.

Go back to the selection table.

Notes about Fahrenheit 9/11

At the beginning:

The following interviews and commentaries are for entertainment only. The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the individual speakers and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Columbia Tri-Star Home Entertainment, Sony Pictures entertainment, or any of their respective affiliates or employees.

Begins with the challenge to the Florida vote during the Gore-Bush election.

Records people’s reactions to 9/11

Bush at elementary school with kiddy book in hand

Pictures about connections to Saddam Hussein and the Taliban

The bin Ladin family and other Saudis leave the US immediately after 9/11

Prince Bandr talking about Usama bin Ladin: He was a simple and quiet guy.

James Booth [?] –bin Ladin family financial advisor, who in turn invested moneys in Bush’s enterprises: Arbusto Drilling [arbusto is the Latin word for “bush”]

Financial connections between Bush and the bin Ladin family.

Carlyle Group à military-hardware industry

Saudi connections explored in film

James A. Baker à Bush’s lawyer, who defends Saudis against legal attacks from 9/11 victims

15 of 19 hijackers are Saudis

Richard Clarke reveals that Bush was after Iraq mainly

Only 11,000 troops in Afghanistan (there are more cops in Manhattan than that)

Bush administration issues varying warnings about possible attacks—plays on public fears

Criticism of Patriot Act as a form of looking into private lives

Phone number of congressman Peter Gross [R— Florida ]  he claims that he can be reached through an 800 number.  Not true.  Moore reveals his office number as (202)225-2536.

Under-funded police in US: only 8 troopers for the entire state of Oregon . 

Bush war à Moore shows a peaceful Baghdad before the war: children at play, well-dressed people walking about—follow-up: the shock-and-awe experience.

“War is the ultimate rush,” playing as music in the background

“gets you fired up” (soldier says that)

Song: “let the motherfucker burn . .. burn motherfucker, burn”

The de-humanization of the Arabs for the mentality of the soldiers.

Interviews with Arabs:  “god save us from them (the US )”

US leader’s engagement with the “great lie”—Coalition of the willing, where the willing are shown to be small banana-republics, most often without a military to speak of.

Bush government forbids pictures of dead soldiers

Bush’s statement: Bring ‘em on.

And soldiers are shown recruited in economically depressed areas at Flint , Michigan .

Getting the poor of one nation to fight the poor of another nation, so the rich can live more comfortable lives

Recruitment aims to attract poor people

Images of a search of an Iraqi home—soldiers obviously break all sorts of taboos.

The US wants to “win the hearts and minds of people,” according to a spokesperson.

“do a job” euphemism on the part of soldiers anticipates the kinds of abuse as at Abu Ghraib

“I hate this country.” From interviews with wounded soldiers.

Profits from rebuilding Iraq were intended for US companies, not for Iraqis.  Soldier points out that he makes $2,000 a month, while a trucker for Halliburton makes up to $10,000 a month. 

Ironically, people who are the poorest risk their lives for the system that enslaves them.

Allusions to George Orwell

Keeping the structure of society solid and maintaining the status quo by abusing the society’s poor

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Added features on DVD: report from Swedish journalist

Soldiers cannot speak Arabic—Raids, thus, create enemies of the occupation

Soldiers take pictures of persons under hoods—break all kinds of taboos for the society—no or completely insufficient communication between soldiers and Iraqis—shown how one soldier touches a tied-up man’s erect penis—shouts “this guy’s got a hard-on”

Lila Lipscomb—mother who has lost a son in Iraq

Interview with Cpl. Abdul Henderson: had seen cross in an Iraqi truck—feels wrongness of the war—remarks that he is fighting people with the same beliefs as he holds.

Arab-American comics:

List of people whom Americans make the target of racist hate: first Blacks, then Gays, then Jews, and then Arabs—we’re in fourth place, the Comic says.

Go back to the selection table.