Saturday, February 09, 2013

"PRIEST": Reviewing the Sci-Fi Version

Every time I try to pull up lists of movies about priests, I get this horror film called “Priest,” so I buckled and watched it.  I have three pages of legal tablet notes, but first a quote from Wikipedia.  No way to tell who wrote it.  The movie is PG-13, which surprised me, but I would not be surprised if this entry were written by a high school person.

“Priest (Hangul: 프리스트) is a manhwa (Korean comic) series created by Hyung Min-woo. It fuses the Western genre with supernatural horror and dark fantasy themes and is notable for its unusual, angular art style. An interview with Hyung in Priest: Volume 3 states that the comic was inspired by the computer game Blood which featured a similar horror-Western aesthetic and undead protagonist.”
In case you’re under thirteen the rating mostly means that there’s a lot of violence and CGI ghastly stuff, but no sex -- which the film thinks is characteristic of priests. The word is that girl priests must be virgins but boy priests can have experience before going celibate, which is described as a “greater sacrifice.”   I’ll see if I can bundle up these scraps of signifiers into a theory, which is the same one I’ve been pushing for a while:  that religion is about survival, that there are two kinds of survival (group and individual) and that having to make a choice between the two generates stories.  So in this story -- the plot line is basically that of “The Searchers” except that the girl (fertile and desirable, therefore representing the survival of the group’s genome) does NOT enjoy her captivity and does not want to convert to being a vampire.  (Little echo of the Persephone story when she refuses to eat.)

Good thing, because “uncle” intends to kill her if she has converted, "been infected."  There are two nasty little subtexts in this movie.  Instead of the sexual one that’s in the Searchers  there are hints of homophobia and HIV.  Unenlightened fathers in our times in real life will threaten to kill any of their children who are gay (male or female) and/or HIV+.  Someone needs to rewrite this movie.  

The other unseemly factor is that the vampires, their “familiars”, etc. are too close to being American Indians crossed with the Vietcong (those tunnels) who force the people to live in forts (cities) where there is no sun.  When the story enters a small town, the style turns to steampunk.  The technology throughout is either industrial or supernatural as in the Asian “Westerns” (which is the source of the woman warrior priest).  Also featured are American road Westerns with motorcycles for horses, or the British empire conquering of, say, Australia.  There are strands of “Star Wars” and clever combinations like a crucifix that doubles as a ninja throwing star (shuriken throwing blade).

We have a sort of cultural agreement about what vampires look like, except that these don’t seem to have leather wings.  Those who are “infected” have white eyes, pointy ears, no hair, bad teeth, and albino skin.  (They strongly echo Holocaust victims just as the "muscle men" echo Nazi officers.) The cave monsters (ironically too big to get into the smaller caves) are saber-toothed, eyeless (a product of evolution in caves), move by springing and scuttling like vampires, drip KY jelly, and sound like grizzlies.  The heroes wear dusters. The victims hang off slaughterhouse hooks.  None of this is new.

In the meantime, a jigsaw of culture-bits go through the predictable agonies of conflict.  They are medieval:  breakaway clergy as a dedicated powerful group that serves the church until it becomes corrupt; the Pope-like/Brit high class monster who is always acted by a major British actor. (This time it’s Christopher Plummer, who played the Devil in “J.B.”, an all-time classic.  I saw the play in Chicago in the late Fifties with John Carradine as the Devil.  Someone needs to make the play into a movie -- much more wonderful dialogue.)  

There is a moment of eloquence from the vampire convert who has become a leader of the evil side.  He says “If you’re not committed to sin, you’re not living.”  And he says, “The eyes are the windows of the soul, but vampires have no eyes.”  They live in darkness.  But then this Lucifer figure says, “I have seen the souls of vampires.”  Now there’s an idea worth pursuing.

For one thing this landscape of wind, skulls and erosion seems to describe the “Wastelands” as in the T.S. Eliot poem.  Alienation (separation) and even dissociation (detachment) seem characteristic of too many people in our times.  We call it depression or PTSD or autism.  This film romanticizes it with setting and rising suns, great crashing symphonic and choral music, a crucifixion, a mother crouched in the corner with her baby.  The only humor is a wry remark a la Clint Eastwood now and then.   All familiar.  How many fistfights on top of a moving train have we seen by now?  And, of course, the whole thing ends up in a train wreck.

These bits and pieces of various tales in different places through time recur because they describe something real that needs to be addressed.  For the most part our theologies at present are not doing that, because religious institutions must be funded and funding means being literally appealing.  People aren’t likely to tithe to reflect on vampire souls.  But they will tax themselves to fund war if it’s supposed to be against vampires.  Sand vampires.  Afghanistan looks a lot like the American West.  Fear, fear, fear.  That’s what sucks the blood out of your brain.

The point of these individuals who breakaway from the main group in the name of saving it -- like renegade priests in Ireland trying to restore the church to its original Christianity even though they themselves will be condemned and attacked -- are acting out in the real world what these fantasy media try to describe.  The old post of mine called “adult oppositional defiance disorder” gets more hits than any other post on my prairiemary blog.  The common thread among the various priest movies is always the individual who stands against the group for the group’s own salvation -- as opposed to his own selfish ends, which is the pattern of Satan.  Then the plot often points out that the "legitimate" leaders of the group are working for their own corrupt ends, Satanic.

If we insist on making life agonistic, always one element against another, then someone is always going to be crucified.  The struggle needs to be reframed so there isn’t this constant wasteful opposition.  I read an interesting piece recently that contrasted two nonChristian views of life.  One was the Buddhist, which suggests that all desires can lead to conflicts that in essence are so tiny in the galaxy that they count for nothing, so the best thing to do is to withdraw, to understand that life is a dream.  The other was the Existentialist, which says that if our lives are short and painful, we should make them count for something.  Make it matter.  Why else are you here?  Surely there are ways to reconcile the two:  “don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,” or “never waste your bullets on a ghost,” or laughter.  When to use strategy, when to use force, and when to embrace -- there’s a time for everything.  Don’t get locked into obsession.

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