Saturday, June 26, 2010

A prayer inspired from spiritual discouragement

Father, Son, and Spirit
There are three things I confess to be true
That you are good
That you are faithful
That you are love
Your ways are high above, they belong to another world
I live on the Silent Planet, where all men are lost
We have been cut off from the life of the trinity
Into that life bring us back
Like sheep we have gone astray
Each of us has chosen his own way
We seek for beauty and find ugliness
We seek for truth and find lies
We seek for warmth and find the cold
We seek for love and find hate
In you our heart’s puzzle is found complete
Our truest and deepest desires are found fulfilled
Our thirst is quenched, our hungry is sated
I bring to your gaze myself as well as my brothers and sisters
Heal the broken hearts and mend the twisted souls
We are lost without your love
We are dead without your life
Your grace is the stream that replenishes our forest
Your mercy is the lifeblood of our hearts
Bring to us that eternal life and glory which has nit you three together for all eternity
I long to be your son united to you through the New Adam
Our savior Christ Jesus, the eternal Son of God who became the Son of Man
He has ended my sorrows and in him all my weakness is wiped away
Blessed are the poor in spirit, not because they are poor in spirit
But because God loves them just as much as the wealthy and powerful
And because their poverty of soul has been alleviated
Your promises are new every morning
Your goodness is uncreated and therefore cannot be stilled or stopped
The immortal power you have bestowed upon your people courses through our whole soul
And if we do nothing in this life except learn to truly worship you
We have done all that is necessary for happiness and wholeness
Father grant us new freedom today
Son grant us renewed life today
Spirit grant us refreshing power today
We thank you Holy Trinity for your inestimable gifts
You have baffled the wise and brought low the arrogant
Your grace is beyond comprehension
And all our fears and darkness disappear into the rays of your sun
Grant us the strength to bear the weight of glory which is the praise of you forevermore
Amen

Friday, June 11, 2010

Inglourious Basterds and the Holy Trinity

I didn't really make a definitive decision on the true value of Inglourious Basterds. I think I presented a good case for how its major artistic contribution is actually a sort of satire or self awareness of cinema. But that doesn't make it a valuable film. There is a current stream of thought, I don't know where it comes from, that says as long as we're joking we can say anything.

But what’s really weird about that is most of the truly great satires aren't really joking. They're telling it like it is but being funny while doing it. I think that’s the main difference between straight comedy and actual satire. The difference can be demonstrated in three adult cartoon shows: The Simpsons, Family Guy, and South Park.

The Simpsons is both satirical and comedic. That is not to separate the two concepts absolutely but to say that it is almost equal parts satiric comedy and straight comedy. Sometimes it’s just funny. Sometimes it’s funny in a meaningful way, commenting on America or family life etc.

Family Guy is just comedy. It is just going for laughs. Pretty dumb laughs most of the time. If you find yourself thinking at any point during a family guy episode something went wrong not right. Family Guy is just random, crude but sometimes clever comedy.

South Park is almost entirely satire. South Park is almost always trying to rip on somebody or something somewhere and make you laugh in the process. It’s usually very clever and many people miss the commentary yet the laughs still get through. It is essentially a social and political commentary.

I'm not making any judgments on these three shows right now. Many Christians have been offended by all three of them and many have not. I'm using them to illustrate a point. Just because it’s funny or satirical doesn't necessarily mean it’s good. Which was basically the conclusion I came to last time.

So while Basterds is clearly executed very well and is very clever it may not be good.

I have to say I think it’s good. Probably great. I can't explain why. This is what makes Art criticism hard. We really must do our best to look at the facts of the situation: influence, technique, originality, etc. But at the same time Art has another quality that is lacking from other sorts of value judgments. In the end it needs to be liked by somebody somewhere. It should be appreciated. Like a sunset. With no observer what is the point? At least of the sunset's beauty. Couldn't the same function have been performed in a less beautiful way? That doesn't take away its objective value. An unseen sunset is still just as objectively beautiful if nobody ever sees it but it’s not fulfilling its telos. It’s not being experienced. And now for a hard left turn.

That’s why God must be personal and must in fact be a trinity. Unless he is not beautiful or good. If he is neither then it doesn't matter and we live in a terrible world. But if the common classical conception of God is true and he is in fact good, true, and beautiful then he must also be a trinity. For beauty without anyone to experience it is wasted. But the tri-unity of The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a constant experience of each other and their own common beauty. If there was just Father it would not be enough. He could not be known and loved for his goodness and beauty. He would have had to create and would therefore have not been free and the cosmos would have been eternally coexistent with the Father. But even if there was just Father and Son it would still not be enough. I could try to explain it philosophically, but I'm going to choose to stand in a greater Philosophical tradition than intellectual explanation. I'm going to do what Plato might do. When something is hard to explain or maybe even impossible to express in something as simple as propositions Plato would use a myth aka a story.

Here is a kind of story. It comes from two great men: Tim Keller and C.S. Lewis. Part of the above reasoning is also inspired by those them.

I was listening to a Tim Keller sermon online the other night and he used a wonderful illustration of the importance of community from C.S. Lewis. The Inklings were a very tight group of friends. Among them of course were Tolkien and Lewis. But at one point one of the friends in this group passed away. While lamenting this loss Lewis had an incredible insight. It is very sad to see a friend pass away. It is sad because you are not able to enjoy their company anymore. They have left you. Their jokes are gone. Their laugh is gone. The weird stuff they do and like that nobody else does is gone. But it’s actually far worse than that.

Let’s say that you have three friends. Three very tight very close friends. There’s the funny one. The profound one. And the kind one. Of course nobody is encapsulated by one characteristic but these are their most distinctive roles in the friendship. So now let’s give them names. The funny one is Jack. The profound one is Socrates. And the kind one is Theresa. If Jack passes away what happens to the group? Will there be no more laughter? No. There will still be laughter. But it won't be because of Jack. The other two will have to pick up the slack. But that’s not what makes it so sad. Jack is gone. They can't experience his humor anymore. They might be able to experience someone else's humor but it won't be his specific jokes. It won't be him that they're experiencing anymore. This is obviously bad as we have already stated. But to make matters worse the other two have distinct personalities as well. The way Socrates laughed at Jack's jokes was different than the way Theresa did. A profound laugh is different than a kind laugh. So by losing Jack Socrates has actually lost part of Theresa. Because he can never again hear Theresa laugh at one of Jack’s jokes. Socrates will probably hear her laugh again but it won’t be the way she laughed at and with Jack. The relationship between Jack and Theresa is gone from Socrates life. Just as the relationship between Socrates and Jack is now gone from Theresa’s life. In other words Socrates has actually lost part of Theresa with Jack’s death. This is why God must be a personal trinity. There are things in people you can only have and experience when they are interacting with a distinct person from you. The Father relates differently to the Son than he does the Spirit. The Spirit would never have seen the begottenness of the Son if it weren’t for the Father. And the Son would have never seen the proceeding of the Spirit if it weren’t for the Father. The Father would have never seen the Spirit descend upon the Son if it weren’t for the incarnation. I’m delving into deep mysteries here and I don’t feel comfortable saying much more than that. But they simply wouldn’t be complete without each other. The Father’s personality is revealed through his relationships to both the Son and the Spirit. God would be incomplete without all three of them. You can’t make a shape without at least three sides. Complete shapes don’t get simpler than triangles.

This is what makes art hard to discuss objectively. Because beauty is supposed to be experienced and experiences are intensely emotional and subjective. My experience of Inglourious Basterds may be very different from someone else’s. And there are things about this film which are not good. Those things are hard for me to see without somebody else to show them to me. So my subjective experience is that it in fact is a great film. But Art cannot be discussed in a basement. It must be done in community. As all things should be. And that is how this film forced me to think about the trinity. I can’t find a specific thing in it that gives it greatness the way I can with The Dark Knight or Schindler’s List. It is not particularly sublime in its portrayal of truth. It isn’t a great tragedy. But it was very enjoyable, suspenseful, and satirical. And many others feel that way as well. We could all be wrong. But at the very least it has the appearance and feel of a great film to me and others. So that’s my decision. It’s a great film. I think the reasons I gave in my official review are strong but even more so is just my brute reaction to the film. I love this movie. It’s one of my favorite films of all time. I can’t say the same thing about Pulp Fiction or many other movies that I enjoyed but ultimately saw were very flawed. But I think there’s enough substance in Basterds to warrant some of the pulp. Enough cleverness to counteract the crude.

But even more importantly for this discussion thinking about this film caused me to also meditate on the Trinity. God works in mysterious ways.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

One of the Best Books I've Ever Read

God's Battalions by Rodney Stark! This was a revelation to me. It’s a popular work so it’s not real heavy history, but the presentation of the crusades and especially controversial things like the sack of Constantinople are presented in a totally different light from the way the American media and education system in general has taught us to perceive them. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Well written and thoroughly researched this is a definite must buy from last year.

Christoph Waltz in Der Humpink

Christoph Waltz is a truly incredible actor. But if you want to see him take an absurb turn watch this clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live. It's really ridiculous but really funny.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUbGcRJUDu0

Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino has always been an odd one. He comes off simultaneously egotistical, incompetent, brilliant, awkward, and visionary in interviews. His films have been highly influential and always talked about. Jackie Brown might be the exception, but mostly his film projects are interesting and high profile. Reservoir Dogs is one of the few true masterpieces of the 90s and is currently and will continue to be regarded as one of the most influential films of all time. Pulp Fiction is often cited as his best film. It is probably his most popular, but I tend to disagree with the idea that it is his best work. I think Dogs is clearly more ground breaking, better written, tighter overall, and much cleaner in terms of content. Both films are highly influential and inexplicably entertaining despite or perhaps because of their highly unconventional nature. But I am not evaluating those films here.
Inglourious Basterds was one of the truly great films released last year. I couldn't wait to see it so I went as soon as I possibly could, which turned out to be the morning after the night it came out. I went to the very first showing that was offered that day all by myself. Watching a movie all by yourself in a large Cineplex seems like a sort of weird thing to do. Going to the theater is supposed to be a cultural and social thing and going when most people are already at work is strange. But I like it. I would rather be in a packed theater than an empty one but every now and then it’s kind of a cool feeling. It feels like the movie and that big screen were made just for you. In fact you can even fantasize that this is part of your huge mansion, until you have to go to the bathroom and you remember I'm actually in downtown Brea. But I'm pretty sure I was completely alone. There may have been another lonely cinephile somewhere in the darkness with me but I can't remember. But the point is my enthusiasm was not in vain.
Basterds is hands down my favorite Tarantino movie. I don't think he has ever been more in control then he is during this film. But when Tarantino is really in control, like a good gridiron football coach, the actors/players are the ones who really shine. He has an incomparable ability to let actors loose in scenes. He sort of points them in the direction he wants and they just run. The two most memorable scenes in Pulp Fiction are essentially monologues, Samuel L.'s quoting of a semi fictional scripture passage and Christopher Walken's Vietnam recounting, focusing primarily on the actors faces Sergio Leone Style. So basically he's just letting Actors be Actors, just better Actors then they usually are anywhere else. His camera is not very intrusive.
One obvious question arises though. On a blog where Faith and Philosophy are supposed to be friends with film why give such high praise to a film that seems to be lacking in both?
This film is essentially styled after Spaghetti westerns using World War II iconography. But unlike any other Film that Tarantino has made it is also intelligently self referential and satirical. The full impact of the self satire which goes on in this film and its importance in and connection with film history didn't hit me till recently though. Which is why I am writing this review now and not a year ago.
I finally sat down and watched Lifeboat the other night with my wife. She is like most people our age in that she doesn't particularly like old movies. She thinks The Breakfast Club is an old movie, as would most people who are about the same age as that film. But she has patiently watched many old films with me and usually she ends up liking them. Lifeboat was one such occasion. For those of you who aren't familiar with Hitchcock outside of his two most famous films, Psycho and The Birds, Lifeboat is one of his earlier movies after coming to the United States. It is set during WWII and came out right at the end of WWII. It is a pretty straight forward survival thriller film originally conceived and written by John Steinbeck though he didn't complete the final screenplay. If anything by modern standards (think Das Boot or Valkyrie) its portrayals of Germans during WWII seem to be crude or propagandaish. But it’s interesting to note that the film was originally controversial because of its positive portrayal of Germans. It’s hinted at that they might be a superior race several times throughout the film and generally they’re portrayed as being real people, not monsters. This turned what were initially good reviews into bad reviews, the opposite of what happened with Bonnie and Clyde upon its initial release. The second look that the critics took led to a negative history associated with Lifeboat. While it is appreciated today it does not carry the weight that many other films he has directed do and there is no distinguishable reason as to why. It is highly entertaining, well acted, and well scripted. It also boasts being filmed entirely "on one set" and has probably the most creative Hitchcock cameo of them all (how is Hitch going to appear in a film that takes place in the middle of the ocean?).
But what I found most striking about the film was its beginning. The film starts in the aftermath of a German u-boat attack. We are treated to none of the typical disaster scenes of people jumping overboard. We're simply in the flotsam. The main character is already sitting alone in a lifeboat. She is a reporter and sees a man swimming towards her. Before doing anything helpful she pulls out an 8m Camera and begins to record his swimming to her. This is very typical of Hitchcock but it’s usually not so blatant. He's trying to tell you that you're doing the same thing she's doing. It seems heartless. She's taking advantage of this man's disadvantage. She's taking photos of a disaster. Well you're watching that disaster too. You're doing something that typically we think is perverse: voyeurism. You're watching other people live their lives and in the case of many of Hitch's films you're watching those people do things that are quite dangerous, tragic, or perverse. The darkest parts of their lives are on display for you, for your entertainment.
Inglourious Basterds is doing something similar. Tarantino is generally an intelligent writer in so far as he usually has unique and original scripts. But Basterds really is his most intellectual film. The climax of the movie is telling us the exact same thing that Hitchcock's little 8m camera in Lifeboat is telling us. It’s really kind of sick. You're being entertained by a film about "killin Natzis." What happens to the Nazi's at the end of the film? Where are they killed? What are they watching while they die? When you answer these questions the satire is obvious. It's like Tarantino is telling us that our destinies are connected to the Theater. What we watch can consume us. Even though he's making a very similar kind of film that the German propaganda machine was making.
But his characters are not one dimensional. They aren't very complicated but they are all still humans. Some of them are very selfish humans. None of them are particularly good people. Even Aldo bucks his orders towards the end. Even the good guys are outsmarted. Its only through coincidence that evil is defeated. But good versus evil is not even the point. The point is: this is drama. This is what we have created in cinema. Tarantino can get away with the same thing that German propaganda films did during WWII even to this very day, as long as he's clever about it. As long as it has a good story. It’s very telling about ourselves and the world of Cinema that he helped to create. And it could ultimately kill us. Not this film but an entire film culture that is uncritical of racial stereotypes, of violence, of sex, etc. could end itself. And yet it’s funny. In many ways it is a very funny film. You will probably laugh out loud at certain points. But we’re sort of laughing with him and at ourselves. It’s just so ridiculous.
I don't think this is Tarantino's Clarion Call for reform in cinema. I think he's just making a point while making a very entertaining, yet violent, movie.
I think this is a great film. Possibly the best film that was made last year. All the performances are top notch. The script feels very different from anything we've seen before as does the entire film. Whole sequences of dialogue are uninterrupted for several minutes; the longest one is about 30 minutes long. 30 minutes of talking in one scene! It feels like thirty seconds have gone by because the scene is so nail biting and entertaining. If you haven't seen it yet you should, but be warned it is very violent and like all Tarantino films theres quite a bit of swearing. The scenes of violence are short but they are disturbing and most of the film is just very entertaining. Maybe in a satirical way but nevertheless it is riveting. Mixing humor with suspense is no easy feat. I agree with Aldo's last line (because I think its really Tarantino talking to us):
"I think this might just be my masterpiece."

Prayer for Friday Fast

This is a new prayer I wrote recently for praying on fridays while fasting. It is about half scripture and half original wording of a totally unoriginal theology. This scripture is mostly from John 6.

Lord God help me to not labor for the food that perishes
But for the food that endures to eternal life
Which the Son of Man has given to me
My Father you have given me the true bread from heaven
For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven
And gives life to the world
Lord Jesus Christ you are the bread of life
Whoever comes to you shall not hunger
And whoever believes in you shall never thirst
Holy Spirit feed me on this Friday with Spiritual Food
As I abstain from ordinary food strengthen me with the Crucifixion
For on its terrible violence Jesus Christ proclaimed it is finished
Help me to truly grieve my sin
And trust in this expiation and propitiation made by my High Priest
And that out of that trust
You would give us the grace
To go to Jesus outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured
For all your works Lord God I humbly thank you

One of the reasons Christians fast and abstain on Fridays is that in order to imitate Christ holistically we must imitate him physically. That’s the reason for the Church year. The Old Covenant feasts, seasons, etc. may still be permissible to observe but the church wanted to structure its life around the life of Christ. By making our year follow Christ we learn to follow Christ better ourselves. And each week also needs to reflect that it is part of an entire year of living for Christ. So on Friday we commemorate, mourn, and imitate his death by abstaining from Meat and Cheese and fasting from food in general. In the West Roman Christians have allowed Fish as a substitute because of the different words in Latin for meat, the primary one carno- referring to hot blooded animals (though some fish, in particular Sharks are hot blooded but the range of carno- excludes fish). In the East Greek Christians abstain from all meat assumedly for the same reason; the Greek word doesn't exclude fish. But whichever path you take you should be abstaining from rich foods, especially ones you find particularly pleasurable. The point is Self Denial. This was a big part of Reformation Piety though it was not generally worked out in this way, John Owen etc. considered these sorts of things Romish. Not drinking soda or alcohol would be another good way to observe Friday fast/abstinence, along with the more traditional means. Maybe even chocolate or candy. But the point is to deny yourself as Christ denied himself in order that you might put to death the flesh and gain mastery over your body just as Christ did for you.
So in the prayer itself we see two steps of theology. The first is meditation on scripture. We bring John 6 to our minds understanding that Christ is our true food and begin to prepare ourselves to receive the Lord's Supper on Sunday. Then we bring Christ's sacrifice and our dependence on the Holy Spirit before our minds. Understanding that our ability to mortify the flesh comes from God and nowhere else. But it’s more than just intellectual. Because this prayer is asking that we would have the strength to imitate Christ's total sacrifice by referencing Hebrews 13 at the very end. That our lives would become like His Life.

For a good Evangelical theology of fasting see Dallas Willard, particularly Spirit of the Disciplines.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Remains of Honor

I finally watched The Remains of the Day. I wasn't very excited about watching this particular film. It hasn't been very popular with anyone in particular since its release, at least I mean it’s not talked about or even considered very important anymore. And I'm not sure why because it's easily one of the best films I've ever seen. It balances deep characterization with a story of unrequited love and political commentary. Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins have never been better, and they are both very good thespians who have done a considerable amount of good work. But I think the reason it’s not popular is because it’s sad. Not in the epic tragic way that The Godfather Part II is, or even Schindler's List. We feel as if there are great lessons to be learned from Michael's downfall and while The List is a very sad film it inspires us with its heroism among other things. The Remains of the Day is just sad. The characters are all entirely unhappy. Not in the teenage angst way that has become so common in films these days. No they're sad because they are constrained to duty and sometimes duty can get in the way of happiness. But not joy.


But I don't really want to talk about this truly excellent and deep film right now. I want to talk about unrequited love. A few years back John Piper wrote a book called Don't Waste Your Life. In some ways just reading the title is enough to get something out of that book. How many titles of books or films or poems are so direct and possibly profoundly helpful? It’s not something you think about every day is it? Don't Waste Your Life! Just don't do it! Reminds me of an SNL sketch involving a psychotherapist screaming "STOP IT" at his patients complaining of damaging habits.

I've been thinking about this idea allot recently. I was recently employed by one of the biggest corporations in the world: Coca Cola. I did inventory work for Coke while being employed as a pseudo security guard. And I hated that job. This is a hard time economically for everybody. Just having a job is a blessing and I tried to thank God for it every day. And it’s not like I don't appreciate working hard. It’s just the grind. Having to clock in and count pallets of coke product for 8 hours a day five days a week. People stop being people and start becoming pieces of a machine, means to an end not ends in themselves. It’s all about dollars and cents. Effort doesn't matter if something goes wrong. Somebody is going to be blamed no matter what. That’s just the way business is. And I hate it. I can't be part of that, at least not for long periods of time. And there were always ways of coping by thinking of how next year I'll be going to grad school or anything really, thinking about anything other than Coke. But the Apostle Paul said he had found the secret of contentment in any situation right here on earth, right now. And that secret wasn't simply looking to the future, placing your faith in something that is always right around the corner.

We all think things like if I could just lose a few more pounds then I'd be really happy. If I could get a better car I'd be happy. A better job. Eat a cheeseburger. Steal a dress. Learn to cook. Buy a house. We think we will be happier if we enhance our lives through some sort of pleasure. And those things aren't wrong to want, but wanting something as part of your natural desire for pleasure and comfort is totally different from placing your contentment, essentially your faith, in something besides God. That is something that almost none of the characters in this film do. They may not be happy, because there are hardships in their lives. But they have the satisfaction of knowing that they put others ahead of themselves, or at the very least duty ahead of themselves. They have something few people in America have today: honor. Not that we aren't capable of that rare esoteric quality but that we simply don't care to have it. Most of us just want to get by. We don't want to be honorable. The sort of person that should be honored even in the lowliest circumstances.

Sense and Sensibility is a great companion film to Remains. There are similar themes but they are worked out much differently by very different characters. But Emma Thompson is great in both of them!

But I think the point is that while we may have hardships and struggles in this life nothing is worse than shirking our responsibilities, our honor for what is expedient. You really have to watch both films in order to understand. Honor isn't really something we can describe in any meaningful way in America, at least currently. We've taken the Father's noble desire that all People would have the right to pursue happiness and completely misunderstood it with concepts like "gaining maximal pleasure." The Founding Fathers probably meant something much more virtuous and simple like being able to own your own land. Or self determination as President Wilson eventually immortalized. Or even more likely than these was the classical definition of happiness: eudemonia. Your completion or meeting of your telos, the goal and meaning of your life. Not simply doing what you want to do, as long as it doesn't hurt anybody else, but doing what you should do. By filling your place in the city. No matter how painful or boring it may seem.

Of course the characters aren't perfect. Many of the problems in the film are caused simply by communication issues and fear. These are not good qualities. But ultimately the restraints of duty or at least of perceived duty and honor are really what drive The Remains of the Day. And that was part of why it spoke to me so thoroughly. Thankfully my Coke days are over. I have a much better job now, praise be to God, but if I must at least I know that I can do my duty for my family. If I learned nothing else from that awful experience that would be enough.

The Remains of the Day is a great film. I think it is one of the greatest films ever made. It is beautiful and tragic, heart wrenching and touching. It is perfectly acted. Very few films can claim that. But it truly was perfectly cast and perfectly acted. Everyone fills their spot precisely as they should and to the best of their ability. But beware it is truly sad. You have been warned. Beautiful but sad. But it’s also a testament to how a hard life isn’t a wasted life. Wisdom is better than expediency. Even when it hurts. Don’t waste your life doesn’t mean find the most exciting career you possibly can. It means don’t waste what you’re doing now. Do it with honor! You bear God’s image! No one can take that away from you. Life can be hard. Maybe you don’t have the courage to say what needs to be said all the time. But that doesn’t mean you are allowed to gossip and complain. Hold your head high and live like you bear God’s image. If you do watch the film you’ll see that I didn’t do a very good job reviewing it. These are mostly thoughts that come to my mind because of watching it. Even so I give this film a very high recommendation.

The Greatest American Films Part 7: Dizzy with Obsession

For the sixth entry in my list of the Ten Greatest American Films I have chosen Vertigo.

Many great films can be boiled down to a moral or a theme. Vertigo maybe the single easiest film to narrow down to its essential: obsession. Considered by many to be not only Hitchcock's greatest film (something which I disagree with) but also Jimmy Stewart's finest performance, but even if it were not for those things Vertigo would still be remembered as one of the truly great films because it is at the very least the ultimate tale of obsession. Not obsession in a fun or satirical way, but in a deeply tragic and very honest portrayal of something bordering on mental illness. For the modern film goer whose memory ends basically at Star Wars or maybe The Godfather Psycho is probably Hitchcock's most recognizable film, other than possibly The Birds. And while Psycho is very deserving of its recognition the way in which psychosis is treated in the film is ultimately quite flippant. Norman Bates is an amazing character given amazing breath by Anthony Perkins. But he really only exists to give us thrills, not to meaningfully explore the human soul. Psycho's buildup should make this very clear. Janet Leigh's character has next to nothing to do with the actual story yet she receives the most screen time. Why? To deceive the viewer. Her death was shocking to the original viewers of this masterpiece of suspense not because the infamous shower scene is so horrifying (though it is) but because she actually died. She was clearly the main character. She was the only star attached to the project. And they killed her. The closest thing I can think of to this in the last decade or so is when Samuel L. Jackson gets eaten in Deep Blue Sea (a film that shouldn't even be mentioned on the same page as Hitchcock let alone the same paragraph). It’s shocking because of pop culture, not because of film making prowess. A similar situation can be seen with Tom Skerrit in Alien, though that death is much less manipulative and more thematically story oriented.

Vertigo is almost the exact opposite in that it provides little of the broad Hitchcockian thrills so many people love and is instead a painfully searing examination of obsession and human inability. Jimmy Stewart had already proven several times that he was a soulful and talented actor. Mostly with Frank Capra, who in many ways is the antithesis of Hitchcock as a filmmaker, in pure Americana films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Stewart's greatest role was of course George Bailey, though not necessarily his greatest performance, in It's a Wonderful Life. Few films speak more to what it is to be American and at the same time what it is to be a Christian than that Masterpiece. But here we have almost the exact opposite. Whereas Capra's work with Stewart was always uplifting Hitchcock pulls a real British darkness out of that boyish American face.

The thing that makes Vertigo still so powerful all these years later really is dual: Stewart's Performance and Hitchcock's craft. The story is told so deftly and so purely one hardly notices entire stretches of the film that have no dialogue. Indeed these are some of the most powerful and haunting scenes. The poetry and multiple layers of meaning in the titular phrase give the story its force. Vertigo. A paralyzing fear of heights. But it’s also Vertigo, the dizziness of obsession. For the characters are swirled into a nightmare. As betrayal and lies are revealed throughout the rest of the film we find ourselves on the bottom rung of Humanity's ladder, where our lostness from God, society, law, and ourselves becomes so painfully obvious.

Michael Corleone "logically" thinks himself into hell by conniving and killing. Scottie Ferguson falls and falls hard. He is used and betrayed by others and then ultimately betrayed by his own greatest fear and weakness: Vertigo.

Much has been said and written about this film. Mostly from an artistic standpoint. Stewart's performance is praised for being cast against type. The cinematography is praised for its greenish hue and use of familiar Northern California landmarks for startlingly effect. But what is truly moving about this film is how Hitchcock's story telling ability and Stewart's performance blend so perfectly as to create almost an Icon of the very theme itself. We are totally dizzy. But we are not victims. At any point in the story Scottie could pull himself out of this trap. He could choose to be a hero. But instead he chooses to follow his impulses which lead to a kind of faux adultery and several deaths in the process. Almost like King David. David walks where he shouldn't be walking one evening and sees Bathsheba. And then from that enormous height he falls, dizzy with obsession, into the greatest sin of his life. How do we get there? By letting ourselves. By walking where we shouldn't walk. By standing right by the tree that God told us not to eat from.

Scottie knows better. He's a smart detective, but apparently he's not wise. He has a bad feeling about this case from the get go but won't follow his instincts and then temptation sets in, temptation through the deception of his client. But he still follows. Like most great Noir heroes he follows the Femme Fatale to his and her doom. But unlike most Noir heroes Scottie really is a nice guy at heart. He becomes hardened through his experience during the course of the film and that hardening is what leads to his obsession.

This is truly a great film, one of the greatest tragedies of all fiction. It makes us look into an ugly mirror, showing us how far we can fall if we allow ourselves to be deceived and give up our free will in the process. And I'll leave you with what maybe the most haunting exchange of the entire film:

Judy: "If I let you change me, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me?"

Scottie: "Yes. Yes."