Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Great Teachings At The Movies

Saturday night I was with a bunch of friends trying to decide on DVD entertainment, and we settled on True Romance. It's the first movie that Quentin Tarantino wrote, though Resevior Dogs got made first. Thumbs up, if you don't mind extreme violence.

As the plot unfolded, I at first thought the movie's title was a huge blunder. It had me expecting a chick flick, when in fact it's classic Quentin, blood and torture and action and low-down low-lifes. But slowly I realized that the story was a wonderful demonstration of Boddhisattva Mind. From their first scene, Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are 100% dedicated to each other; the hellish chaos that swirls around them leaves no more impression than a bird's footprints in the sky. They just follow their karma while regarding this world as mere jugglery conjured up by some magician.

For pure selflessness, these characters are up there with Ashton Kutcher in the final scenes of Butterfly Effect.

Which got me thinking about my favorite Buddhist teachings from the movies:

#2) From Unforgiven: The young outlaw has just seen his first killing. He's completely rattled, and trying to calm himself, he says to crusty old gunfighter Clint Eastwood, "I guess he had it coming." And Clint drawls, "We all got it comin', kid."

#1) From Blues Brothers, when the train rushes past Elwood's little room, shaking everything like a 6.0 earthquake. Jake is amazed at the commotion and asks, "How often does that happen?" And Elwood replies, "So often, you won't even notice!"


aumeye said...

I prefer not to watch Butterfly Effect because, emotionally, I cannot handle scenes depicting too much animal suffering. I've been told this film contains much of that. However, your observations have me curious. If it's not too difficult, can you explain a little bit about what Ashton Kutcher's character does at the end of the film that you feel were acts of selflessness? As I have no plan to watch it, I don't mind spoilers.

I loved many things about True Romance, by the way. And now I have yet another reason to appreciate it!

Stuart said...

can you explain a little bit about what Ashton Kutcher's character does at the end of the film that you feel were acts of selflessness?


Thanks for your posting, aumeye.

In the movie, Kutcher plays Evan, who has a strange ability to return to key moments in his past and change things. But each time he returns to the present, he sees that his little change had profound, unintended, tragic consequences.

These tragedies hit not just himself, but his friends, and particularly Kayleigh, the girl he's loved since childhood. Evan goes back and forth, again and again, to his past, trying to fix things, but each solution he tries ends up creating a brand new catastrophe.

In the ending I'm referring to, Evan goes back to the first time he met Kayleigh as young kids. He whispers nasty insults in her ear, to insure that she'll always avoid him, so that in this new reality, he won't screw up her life as he did (unintentionally) in all the others.

It's the classic alegory of true compassion; Evan gives up the relationship he longs for, getting nothing for himself, except knowing that he's saved the woman he loves from the suffering he would have brought her.

The Directors Cut of Butterfly Effect is still more Christ-like. The original screenplay had Evan returning to when he was a fetus in the womb, and strangling himself with the umbilical cord. By sacrificing life itself, he's protected his friends from the terrible alternate realities he's seen.

aumeye said...

Thank you for your reply. I have to say, your description was so powerful that it almost compels me to see the film. I know myself, though, and the animal scenes would be too upsetting for me to fully appreciate the rest of the film. That said, your telling of the premise, outcome and, especially, the original screenplay version actually gave me chills. Fantastic.

Not related . . . I love your photo. I told you this on Brad's blog, but I'm not sure if you saw that comment.

Thanks again, stuart.

Anonymous said...


Contra-point to the Director's Cut of Butterfly Effect is It's a Wonderful Life; i.e., we cannot escape conditioning reality, not even by escaping reality.


Stuart said...

aumeye said...
I love your photo.

Glad you like the new image. I'm not sure, but I think I found it on http://www.trippyapps.com/

There's a bunch of cool visuals on that site. The one I use for my blog photo blew my mind; it reminded me of a vision of infinite time, space, and possibility that I've seen a few times on Salvia Divinorum trips.

anony said...
Contra-point to the Director's Cut of Butterfly Effect is It's a Wonderful Life

I hadn't thought about that. Butterfly Effect is kind of like the mirror image: It's a Horrible Life.

Either way, maybe it's a pointer to how whatever we're doing right now is connected to the whole of existence. Maybe that can help inspire 100% attention to this moment.

For some reason, I'm attracted to "Many Worlds" theories... the idea that when we make a decision, the universe splits into multiple realities representing each of the choices. So our consciousness isn't just wandering through time and space, but through the multi-verse of infinite possibility.

yomamma said...

So he does violence to himself and unkindness to her in an attempt to undo what he sees as bad. maybe he should just stop doing things, because either way he creates Karma. Even christ did not escape his fate. You are saying in your multi-dimensional model that maybe all these things happen. So can you just tune into the Jimmy Stewart dimension where solutions are simpler? Cause it seems like ol Ashton is creating more Karma with the post modern method.

Athanor said...

Teachings at the movies can come from the oddest places. I reached quite intense spiritual states in such low-grade fare as Ghost and The Doors.

My own list of 'Grail Films', ones which carry (by design or not) a spiritual message for me runs to cartoons (Batman Mask of the Phantasm, works by Jan Svankmeyer, Iron Giant), old SF classics like 'Altered States' to obscure arthouse fare such as Jodorwosky's 'The Holy Mountain, to 'The Fountain' to 'Cypher' and even moments in dumb action flicks or comedies can have a personal resonance... I tend to look out for these kind of films.

The comic book character Mason Lang in Grant Morrison's graphic novel 'The Invisibles' sees metaphoric tools of enlightenment in pretty much every film he sees... his analysis of the evolutionary subtext of 'Speed' is a masterclass in this!

Ian Vincent

Stuart said...

Thanks, Athenor. And let's not forget TV either. "My Name is Earl" is about the best exposition of Buddhist "cause and effect" teaching that I've seen.