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.

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