About DBreitenbeck

David Breitenbeck is a professional freelance writer currently living in Southeast Michigan.

The Five Stages of Election Fraud

Denial: “They’re not really doing this, right? No, surely even they wouldn’t dare…”

Anger: “YOU CORRUPT, ARROGANT SONS-OF-*****! WHEN I GET A HOLD OF YOU…”

Realism: “Yeah, what’d you expect? These are the great ones of this world; the people who sell their souls for the power to impose their brain-dead views on everyone else. They aren’t tolerating any kind of serious opposition for long. Welcome to the modern world.”

Despair: “Nothing matters: I’m done with this whole system. I mean, not as if any of us can do anything about it anyway it seems.”

Jewish: “I am never going to stop making mean, sarcastic comments about this…”

The Bad Season Makes the Poet Sad

Dull to myself, and almost dead to these
My many fresh and fragrant mistresses:
Lost to all music now; since every thing
Puts on the semblance here of sorrowing.
Sick is the land to’ th’ heart; and doth endure
More dangerous faintings by her desp’rate cure.
But if that golden age would come again,
And Charles here rule, as he before did reign;
If smooth and unperplex’d the seasons were,
As when the sweet Maria lived here:
I should delight to have my curls half drown’d
In Tyrian dews, and head with roses crown’d.
And once more yet (ere I am laid out dead)
Knock at a star with my exalted head.

-Robert Herrick

Tolkien’s Answer Summarized

There is a famous story about what happened when Professor Tolkien was approached about the possibility of a German version of The Hobbit in 1938. Of course, this was when the criminal Nazi government was in charge of the nation, so before the German publisher would undertake a printing they, of course, had to inquire whether he was sufficiently diverse racially pure.

Professor Tolkien found the whole notion disgusting and drafted two possible replies, both of which conveyed his intention to ‘let the German edition go hang’ if it meant playing along with this nonsense. Part of the unused (and more acid) letter ran as follows:

“I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.”

The full letter and an account of the story can be found here. Or it could be summarized as follows:

Locksley Hall

I’m not writing on the election. What would be the point? There are enough people talking about it to satiate anyone’s appetite for politics and predictions of victory by this side or the other. Right now, I just don’t want to bother thinking about it.

So today is a poetry day. Alfred Lord Tennyson

Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet ’tis early morn:
Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle horn.

’Tis the place, and all around it, as of old, the curlews call,
Dreary gleams about the moorland flying over Locksley Hall;

Locksley Hall, that in the distance overlooks the sandy tracts,
And the hollow ocean-ridges roaring into cataracts.

Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest,
Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the West.

Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.⁠

Here about the beach I wander’d, nourishing a youth sublime
With the fairy tales of science, and the long result of Time;

When the centuries behind me like a fruitful land reposed;
When I clung to all the present for the promise that it closed:

When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.—

In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast;
In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;

In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish’d dove;
In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.⁠

Then her cheek was pale and thinner than should be for one so young,
And her eyes on all my motions with a mute observance hung.

And I said, ‘My cousin Amy, speak, and speak the truth to me,
Trust me, cousin, all the current of my being sets to thee.’

On her pallid cheek and forehead came a colour and a light,
As I have seen the rosy red flushing in the northern night.

And she turn’d—her bosom shaken with a sudden storm of sighs—
All the spirit deeply dawning in the dark of hazel eyes—

Saying, ‘I have hid my feelings, fearing they should do me wrong’;
Saying, ‘Dost thou love me, cousin?’ weeping, ‘I have loved thee long’.⁠

Love took up the glass of Time, and turn’d it in his glowing hands;
Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands.

Love took up the harp of Life, and smote on all the chords with might;
Smote the chord of Self, that, trembling, pass’d in music out of sight.

Many a morning on the moorland did we hear the copses ring,
And her whisper throng’d my pulses with the fulness of the Spring.

Many an evening by the waters did we watch the stately ships,
And our spirits rush’d together at the touching of the lips.

O my cousin, shallow-hearted!   O my Amy, mine no more!
O the dreary, dreary moorland!   O the barren, barren shore!⁠

Falser than all fancy fathoms, falser than all songs have sung,
Puppet to a father’s threat, and servile to a shrewish tongue!

Is it well to wish thee happy?—having known me—to decline
On a range of lower feelings and a narrower heart than mine!

Yet it shall be: thou shalt lower to his level day by day,
What is fine within thee growing coarse to sympathise with clay.

As the husband is, the wife is: thou art mated with a clown,
And the grossness of his nature will have weight to drag thee down.

He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force,
Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse.⁠

What is this? his eyes are heavy: think not they are glazed with wine.
Go to him: it is thy duty: kiss him: take his hand in thine.

It may be my lord is weary, that his brain is overwrought:
Soothe him with thy finer fancies, touch him with thy lighter thought.

He will answer to the purpose, easy things to understand—
Better thou wert dead before me, tho’ I slew thee with my hand!

Better thou and I were lying, hidden from the heart’s disgrace,
Roll’d in one another’s arms, and silent in a last embrace.

Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth!
Cursed be the social lies that warp us from the living truth!⁠

Cursed be the sickly forms that err from honest Nature’s rule!
Cursed be the gold that gilds the straiten’d forehead of the fool!

Well—’tis well that I should bluster!—Hadst thou less unworthy proved—
Would to God—for I had loved thee more than ever wife was loved.

Am I mad, that I should cherish that which bears but bitter fruit?
I will pluck it from my bosom, tho’ my heart be at the root.

Never, tho’ my mortal summers to such length of years should come
As the many-winter’d crow that leads the clanging rookery home.

Where is comfort? in division of the records of the mind?
Can I part her from herself, and love her, as I knew her, kind?⁠

I remember one that perish’d: sweetly did she speak and move:
Such a one do I remember, whom to look at was to love.

Can I think of her as dead, and love her for the love she bore?
No—she never loved me truly: love is love for evermore.

Comfort? comfort scorn’d of devils! this is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.

Drug thy memories, lest thou learn it, lest thy heart be put to proof,
In the dead unhappy night, and when the rain is on the roof.

Like a dog, he hunts in dreams, and thou art staring at the wall,
Where the dying night-lamp flickers, and the shadows rise and fall.⁠

Then a hand shall pass before thee, pointing to his drunken sleep,
To thy widow’d marriage-pillows, to the tears that thou wilt weep.

Thou shalt hear the ‘Never, never,’ whisper’d by the phantom years,
And a song from out the distance in the ringing of thine ears;

And an eye shall vex thee, looking ancient kindness on thy pain.
Turn thee, turn thee on thy pillow: get thee to thy rest again.

Nay, but Nature brings thee solace; for a tender voice will cry,
’Tis a purer life than thine; a lip to drain thy trouble dry.

Baby lips will laugh me down: my latest rival brings thee rest.
Baby fingers, waxen touches, press me from the mother’s breast.⁠

O, the child too clothes the father with a dearness not his due.
Half is thine and half is his: it will be worthy of the two.

O, I see thee old and formal, fitted to thy petty part,
With a little hoard of maxims preaching down a daughter’s heart.

‘They were dangerous guides the feelings—she herself was not exempt—
Truly, she herself had suffer’d’—Perish in thy self-contempt!

Overlive it—lower yet—be happy! wherefore should I care,
I myself must mix with action, lest I wither by despair.

What is that which I should turn to, lighting upon days like these?
Every door is barr’d with gold, and opens but to golden keys.⁠

Every gate is throng’d with suitors, all the markets overflow.
I have but an angry fancy: what is that which I should do?

I had been content to perish, falling on the foeman’s ground,
When the ranks are roll’d in vapour, and the winds are laid with sound.

But the jingling of the guinea helps the hurt that Honour feels,
And the nations do but murmur, snarling at each other’s heels.

Can I but relive in sadness? I will turn that earlier page.
Hide me from my deep emotion, O thou wondrous Mother-Age!

Make me feel the wild pulsation that I felt before the strife,
When I heard my days before me, and the tumult of my life;⁠

Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield,
Eager-hearted as a boy when first he leaves his father’s field,

And at night along the dusky highway near and nearer drawn,
Sees in heaven the light of London flaring like a dreary dawn;

And his spirit leaps within him to be gone before him then,
Underneath the light he looks at, in among the throngs of men;

Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;⁠

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;

Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples plunging thro’ the thunder-storm;

Till the war-drum throbbed no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.⁠

So I triumph’d, ere my passion sweeping thro’ me left me dry,
Left me with the palsied heart, and left me with the jaundiced eye;

Eye, to which all order festers, all things here are out of joint,
Science moves, but slowly slowly, creeping on from point to point:

Slowly comes a hungry people, as a lion, creeping nigher,
Glares at one that nods and winks behind a slowly-dying fire.

Yet I doubt not thro’ the ages one increasing purpose runs,
And the thoughts of men are widen’d with the process of the suns.

What is that to him that reaps not harvest of his youthful joys,
Tho’ the deep heart of existence beat for ever like a boy’s?⁠

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and I linger on the shore,
And the individual withers, and the world is more and more.

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and he bears a laden breast,
Full of sad experience, moving toward the stillness of his rest.

Hark, my merry comrades call me, sounding on the bugle-horn,
They to whom my foolish passion were a target for their scorn:

Shall it not be scorn to me to harp on such a moulder’d string?
I am shamed thro’ all my nature to have loved so slight a thing.

Weakness to be wroth with weakness! woman’s pleasure, woman’s pain—
Nature made them blinder motions bounded in a shallower brain:⁠

Woman is the lesser man, and all thy passions, match’d with mine,
Are as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine—

Here at least, where nature sickens, nothing. Ah, for some retreat
Deep in yonder shining Orient, where my life began to beat;

Where in wild Mahratta-battle fell my father evil-starr’d;—
I was left a trampled orphan, and a selfish uncle’s ward.

Or to burst all links of habit—there to wander far away,
On from island unto island at the gateways of the day.

Larger constellations burning, mellow moons and happy skies,
Breadths of tropic shade and palms in cluster, knots of Paradise.⁠

Never comes the trader, never floats an European flag,
Slides the bird o’er lustrous woodland, swings the trailer from the crag;

Droops the heavy-blossom’d bower, hangs the heavy-fruited tree—
Summer isles of Eden lying in dark-purple spheres of sea.

There methinks would be enjoyment more than in this march of mind,
In the steamship, in the railway, in the thoughts that shake mankind.

There the passions cramp’d no longer shall have scope and breathing-space;
I will take some savage woman, she shall rear my dusky race.

Iron-jointed, supple-sinew’d, they shall dive, and they shall run,
Catch the wild goat by the hair, and hurl their lances in the sun;⁠

Whistle back the parrot’s call, and leap the rainbows of the brooks.
Not with blinded eyesight poring over miserable books—

Fool, again the dream, the fancy! but I know my words are wild,
But I count the gray barbarian lower than the Christian child.

I, to herd with narrow foreheads, vacant of our glorious gains,
Like a beast with lower pleasures, like a beast with lower pains!

Mated with a squalid savage—what to me were sun or clime?
I the heir of all the ages, in the foremost files of time—

I that rather held it better men should perish one by one,
Than that earth should stand at gaze like Joshua’s moon in Ajalon!⁠

Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range.
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.

Thro’ the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day:
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.

Mother-Age (for mine I knew not) help me as when life begun:
Rift the hills, and roll the waters, flash the lightnings, weigh the Sun—

O, I see the crescent promise of my spirit hath not set.
Ancient founts of inspiration well thro’ all my fancy yet.

Howsoever these things be, a long farewell to Locksley Hall!
Now for me the woods may wither, now for me the roof-tree fall.⁠

Comes a vapour from the margin, blackening over heath and holt,
Cramming all the blast before it, in its breast a thunderbolt.

Let it fall on Locksley Hall, with rain or hail, or fire or snow;
For the mighty wind arises, roaring seaward, and I go.

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/96/51/26/96512601375f129e730c4c14fc25be94.jpg

Fear of Death

“When you remove, like even in the schools, you remove prayer, you remove God, you remove the fear of God, you create the possibility of the fear of everything else. But watch this: If you instill the fear of God, you eliminate the fear of anything else!”
https://mobile.twitter.com/zhenryaz/status/1320102253865308161

I know nothing of Kanye West, but if he’s putting out messages like this I will gladly give him a shout out. We live in odd times: the Church neglects her duties, so God raises up the rappers and playboys of the world to pick up the slack.

I bring it up because he’s quite right (Churchill said something similar): when one fears God, one need fear nothing else. Remove fear of God, fear of everything else rushes in. Particularly fear of death.

The thing about fear of death is that it amounts to fear of everything. Just about anything could potentially kill you. The Jews or the Jesuits might be plotting your downfall right now (well, the latter probably are). It may seem ridiculous to you, but there’s the nagging question: what if you’re wrong? What if you die, or you get someone else killed because you believed your own lying eyes rather than the experts? And in the final resort, death is always in reach; if your masters want your obedience, they can just put a gun to your head.

(Which is why the narrative that religion, and particularly Christianity, are means of controlling the masses and keeping the elites in power is rather silly. Which is more conducive to earthly power: the idea that all men are subject to God, who rewards each according to his works and promises paradise after death to the faithful, or the idea that this life is all there is and nothing awaits after death, putting the worst possible fate squarely in the hands of human authorities?)

The trouble is that everyone dies, and everyone dies of something. The fear of death must ultimately rule your life, and as we’ve discovered it can very easily consumed everything that makes life worth living.

We live our lives always under the shadow of death. That is simply how this world works. We Christians have hope in death. But even apart from that, it has never been the way of mankind to allow fear of death to rob of life or to deprive us of our virtue. That is cowardice, and to do right in spite of fear is fortitude; one of the cardinal virtues. Maybe the Jews are plotting our downfall. But I am commanded to love my neighbor, and it is a base thing to turn on a man whom I have never known to do wrong, so I will stand up for Mr. Schneider down the hall. If he later stabs me in the back, well, that’s on him. And if there is a deadly disease going around, so be it, but I have a duty to visit my father in his final illness. If I catch the disease and spread it, I can’t help that. I shall live as a man and die when it is my time.

That is how we ought to act. That is the human, classical, Christian way (yes, yes; there must be prudence as well, but not to the point of neglect of duty). That is what happens when we fear God more than we fear death.

Today we pray for the souls of the faithful departed who are in Purgatory. It’s a day also to remember that, sooner or later, we’ll be following them. Just how or when that happens is in God’s hands; what we do in the meantime, what sort of person we make ourselves, is in ours. Do we really want to be the kind that spent his life cowering in the shadow of the inevitable?

All Saints

The doctrine of the Communion of Saints is rather simple. It’s that Christians don’t leave the Church when they die. The work they began in this life doesn’t end when they enter the next.

We have a perspective problem in this life. In fact, it’s very like being in high school (our education system has very few good qualities, but it’s useful as an analogy). We find ourselves in a confined environment subject to many seemingly arbitrary rules, with little or no sense of the larger world that would put them into context. Everything in that little world seems all-important: winning that football game. Getting that grade. Going out with that girl. Some people excel in the system, others struggle, and those who excel often make it all the harder for those who don’t.

All the while we’re told that this isn’t the real world, that it’s only a passing phase and things will get better. If we have sensible parents they’ll remind us that the skills necessary to succeed in high school are not always the ones necessary to succeed in life. But it’s hard to believe that in the moment. The ‘real world’ seems like shadow: something that will be, while high school is what is.

As the poet Brad Paisley put it, “At 17 it’s hard to see past Friday night.”

But our parents are right. High school is four short years, compared to potentially seventy or more of adult life. How many people ‘peak’ in high school? How many of those who were popular, who were the kings of campus went on to be failures at life itself? But equally comforting, how many made a success of both? The point is that life is the important thing; high school only matters insofar as it prepares us for life. No matter how much ‘success’ we had in school, it won’t matter a bit if it doesn’t translate into adult life.

Also, adult life is where we have access to a level of agency, to the power to act upon the world in a way that we scarcely dreamed of in high school. The adult world is immeasurably larger than the high school world.

We in this world are in high school. The saints are the adults. They’ve grown up, matured, set aside childish things and live and operate in a world infinitely larger than ours, with a scope and agency that we can hardly imagine. But like adults, they aren’t ‘other’ than us; they’ve been in the same position we are now and they are invested in our success (far more than adults in our world often are, to be honest).

This is something Professor Tolkien pointed out in On Fairy Stories: we have a bad habit of talking of children as if they were a distinct class of people. We talk of children the way we might talk of, say, Japanese or Jews or women: as if there are some who are children and some who are adults, and they simply exist side by side. But a child is just a person at a particular stage of development. Everyone either is a child or has been a child.

It is the same with Saints. They are simply people who have reached the final stage. They are complete people, standing to us in almost exactly the same relationship as adults stand to children. So of course we honor them, of course we seek their help and intercession. That is what is proper to people like us, just as it is proper for children to seek the aid and support of grown ups. It’s akin to Ray Harryhausen seeking advice from Willis O’Brien, or a young baseball player asking for support from one of his sports idols. The followers of Christ in all walks of life are now pursuing their vocations in Heaven, the true vocations of which their actions in this life were but shadows, and they’re eager to help us follow in their footsteps.

Because they too are in the Church. We worship and work and praise alongside of a great cloud of witnesses, of heroes who have triumphed before us and urge us on to “be imitators of them as they are of Christ.”

For Halloween: ‘Don’t Drop That Knife’

(To the tune of ‘Last Friday Night’…though more directly ‘Don’t Mine at Night‘)

There’s a voice upon the breeze
There’s a screaming from the trees
Bodies all around the room
Last one left, girl, you are doomed!

Just no way to reach the car
Someone’s moving in the yard
Walls are dripping wet with gore
Now he’s pounding at the door!

Your life flashes by
And you start to cry
You’re doomed!
Oh, well.

He was caught off guard
And you hit him hard
He’s down!
(Whew!)
But don’t drop that knife

Refrain:
You just whacked him on the head
And it sure looks like he’s dead
But remember what they said
Don’t drop that knife!

I know he’s lying on the floor
But he’s been that way before
Only one way to make sure
Don’t drop that knife!

No one’ll think it is a crime
If you just stab him ten more times
Don’t hesitate and you’ll be fine
Don’t drop that knife!

Girl, it’s just the only way,
If you wanna live ‘til day – hey woah!
Don’t drop that knife!
(Here he comes again)
Don’t drop that knife!

Hiding underneath the bed
Found your boyfriend’s severed head
Think the cops are on their way
Hours left until the day!

Bleeding from a dozen cuts
Hear that chainsaw starting up
This might really be the end
Now he’s coming back again!

There’s nowhere to run
Now your life is done
You’re doomed!
This time

One more clever trick
And you hit him quick
He’s down!
(Whew!)
But don’t drop that knife

You just whacked him on the head
And it sure looks like he’s dead
But remember what they said
Don’t drop that knife!

I know he’s lying on the floor
But he’s been that way before
Only one way to make sure
Don’t drop that knife!

No one’ll think it is a crime
If you just stab him ten more times
Don’t hesitate and you’ll be fine
Don’t drop that knife!

Girl, it’s just the only way,
If you wanna live ‘til day – hey woah!
Don’t drop that knife!
(Here he comes again)
Don’t drop that knife!

(ki ki ma ma
ki ki ma ma
Ki Ki Ma Ma
KI KI MA MA)

Don’t drop that knife!

You just whacked him on the head
And it sure looks like he’s dead
But remember what they said
Don’t drop that knife!

I know he’s lying on the floor
But he’s been that way before
Only one way to make sure
Don’t drop that knife!

No one’ll think it is a crime
If you just stab him ten more times
Don’t hesitate and you’ll be fine
Don’t drop that knife!

Girl, it’s just the only way,
If you wanna live ‘til day – hey woah!
Don’t drop that knife!
(Here he comes again)
Don’t drop that knife!

Brief Thoughts on ‘The Shining’

Last night I watched The Shining for the first time with my family. Though obviously I’ve been familiar with it for a long time and I’ve seen many clips of it (which, unfortunately, meant that I kind of went in knowing more or less what was going to happen).

Quick take: it’s pretty good. I can’t say I thought it was amazing, certainly not one of my top horror films, but it’s pretty good.

The best part: definitely the camera work and set decoration. I haven’t seen a camera move as much and in the way this one does in a long time; maybe ever. Especially the way it’ll hang over the character’s shoulders, following them from room to room as though something’s watching them. The suspense scenes are very well set up as well, like when Wendy is dragging Jack to the storeroom, and we can see he’s beginning to wake up as she fumbles with the doorknob. And the Overlook Hotel is a masterpiece of design. It looks very much like a real hotel, but something about the way it’s shot and the ambiance conveys a strong sense of isolation, of that particular, specific feeling of being alone in a place meant for crowds.

The performances are great all around. Danny Lloyd, who plays little Danny is a stand-out in the ranks of creepy children in horror films. Shelly Duvall has to do a lot of the heavy lifting, and props to her for pulling off the terrified wife role so effectively. I also really liked Scatman Cruthers as the kindly chef who shares Danny’s gift and tries his best to help them (his exit was kind of annoying, though: all that work and time to get him there, and he’s just bumped out of the movie). The smaller roles were excellently cast as well: particularly Barry Nelson as the hotel owner, trying to put the best possible spin on “one of your predecessors went nuts and murdered his family” so as not to scare off a potential employee, and Joe Turkel as Lloyd the bartender, who manages to be one of the most unsettling things in the hotel with nothing but a piercing smile (who was also Dr. Tyrell from Blade Runner: dang, that’s a resume right there).

(There is one big exception to the cast, which we will get to. Though you’ve probably already notice who I’ve left out)

The scares were nicely done for the most part. I thought some of them dragged on for too long (the nude woman in the bath for instance could have stood to have been tightened up a bit: come on, movie, we know something’s going to happen here). And I really liked the creeping sense of uncertainty of just what the hotel wants and what really is happening here. That famous final shot, coupled with some earlier lines, leaves us feeling we’ve touched the edge of a world of rules that we don’t understand, which is what many good horror films aim to achieve (definite Lovecraft influence there, as he was the master of this effect).

Speaking of influences, I saw quite a bit of DNA from Robert Wise’s The Haunting, especially the creative camera work and the specific scare of having a crucial door which had previously been locked suddenly be found open. Actually, upon reflection, the film is more or less the same story as The Haunting, only with a family and ax-murder angle and more heavy-handed manifestations. This is not a bad thing at all; most stories are variations on older ones. Just so long as you do something creative or interesting with it, and I’d say this one does.

The biggest liability to the film is definitely Jack Nicholson. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great actor and he’s extremely entertaining here. But that’s kind of the problem; he’s more entertaining than scary. When he goes nuts, I couldn’t help laughing because it’s Jack Nicholson gnawing at the scenery like a sugar addict set loose in Willy Wonka’s factory, bugging his eyes, arching those famous eyebrows of his, and twisting his face like rubber. Take the scene where he’s talking to his son (a genuinely uncomfortable scene, admittedly). When he says, “I would never hurt you,” I just laughed because he says it in the most insane, non-reassuring way imaginable. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a cartoon.  

Who would believe this guy could become an ax murderer?

That, and he’s too obviously crazy from the get go. If I’m supposed to be disturbed and shocked by a normal family man dissolving into an axe-wielding psychopath, he can’t start off looking like an axe-wielding psychopath. Nicholson’s many things, but he’s not the everyman. Intentional or not, he comes across like a nutjob from almost the moment we meet him (about a half-hour in I commented “this is basically ‘I Married the Joker’”).

I also didn’t care much for the roller-coaster of scares in the climax, with Wendy running around the hotel and encountering different ghosts. Throwing weird stuff at her like a guy in a bear costume giving a blow-job to a butler feels way too desperate and…well, just random. Like they collected a lot of different weird ideas and just pulled a few out of the hat. Not like, say, the Shape’s surreal tableau of jack-o-lanterns, a tombstone, and the body of one of its victims at the end of Halloween, which was atmospheric as hell while tying in with the opening and giving disturbing hints at the inner workings of its mind. This just feels like they were trying to be shocking for shock’s sake.

Actually, that’s another problem; the manifestations throughout the film are too random. They actually remind me of the scares in House on Haunted Hill: that sense of just throwing anything at the screen in the hopes of getting a reaction. They seem to me to lack any kind of thematic through line, or to have any real depth to them. They could have had with a few small tweaks, but they don’t (I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how much this applies there as well). Like, the bear-costume bit could have been ten times as effective if, say, Danny had carried a teddy bear around with him or been particularly attached to such a toy. That would have linked it to the rest of the story, would have been a scare with some real bite to it, instead of just a “what the heck?” moment. Likewise the woman in the bath would have worked better if we’d established that Jack and his wife were no longer being intimate (playing on the idea of isolation and confinement), but nothing suggested that to me. Wendy is warm and affectionate to Jack, if a bit of a frumpy nag, and the friction comes primarily from his end.  

The best scares are simply the sense of isolation and cold created by the visual style: the crushing sense of loneliness, of boredom, of confinement. The film excels at this, and I think it’s the best thing about it.  

Overall, I’d call The Shining a good horror movie, but not a great one. The directing and acting are exemplary, it’s amazingly atmospheric, and it’s highly entertaining, but a lot of the scares are pretty shallow upon reflection and it’s handicapped by a tremendous miscasting in the lead role. But whatever its flaws, it’s definitely one that needs to be seen by anyone who enjoys horror films or wants to understand the horror genre.

Never going to be a favorite, but clearly canon status.  

RIP Sir Sean Connery

This is a big one, and a long time coming. Sir Sean Connery, the definitive James Bond and elder statesman actor for a generation has gone to his reward at the age of 90.

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“Goodbye, Mr. Bond”

Sir Sean was an interesting figure on screen: one of the old school of actors who came from a working class background, serving as a truck driver and labourer among other things (his father was a factory hand and his brother was plasterer), though he also dabbled in bodybuilding and modeling. When he turned to acting (choosing it over a football career), he had a fair number of roles in low-budget or made-for-TV movies (which were just getting started at the time), as well as a lead role in Walt Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People. It was this film, of all things, that brought him to the attention of Cubby Broccoli when he was casting an adaptation of Dr. No.

Ian Flemming wasn’t crazy about the rough Scotsman at first. Bond is an aristocrat, and Sir Sean had no knowledge whatsoever of the high-class, sophisticated world that Bond was supposed to inhabit. He had to have a crash course in fine wines, tailored clothes, and all the rest of it. It paid off, and Sir Sean conveyed the absolute perfect combination of sophistication and brutality that has come to define Bond: a man you can absolutely believe would be equally at home trading witty barbs in a high class casino and trouncing thugs in the alley behind it. Flemming warmed up to Sir Sean’s portrayal so much that he re-wrote Bond’s backstory to make him Scottish.

Sir Sean attempted to leave the role more than once, being tired of it and especially the enormous publicity that went with it, as well as not wanting to be typecast. After finally escaping the franchise, he began to reinvent himself as a powerhouse actor, serving under Alfred Hitchcock in Marnie and John Houston in The Man Who Would Be King (acting opposite the equally great Michael Caine in an adaptation of a Rudyard Kipling story, and frankly those four names alone tell you it’s going to be great), being one of a dozen stars participating in Murder on the Orient Express, and playing the Arab chief Raisull in The Wind and the Lion.

I remember him mostly, from my own childhood, as one of the great elder statesmen actors: as Indiana Jones’ father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as Draco the dragon in Dragonheart, defecting Soviet sub captain Ramius in The Hunt for Red October, and as the aging British secret agent John Mason (who is basically Bond in all but name) in The Rock. He won the Academy Award for The Untouchables, back when that still actually meant something. In any case, it was only a confirmation of what everyone already knew: Sir Sean was one of the top actors of his generation, with an unforgettable voice and manner (he’s one of the most imitated actors in history). He could be incredibly tender or incredible brutal, often in the same film. Or he could become a grumpy old professor, or a reclusive writer. Whatever role demanded character, strength, and integrity.

That, I think, is what came across most on screen: Sir Sean was a man. When he was tender and romantic, or even when he was doddering and comic, he always had that edge of iron masculinity that made him riveting to watch.

By all accounts he was a consummate gentleman on set and well-liked by his peers. Some of my own favorite stories about him tell of how he would go out of his way to look after the other actors, such as when he took it upon himself to check on Japanese actress Mie Hama (who, like him, came from a working class background and was blindsided by the experience of making a Bond film) every day they were shooting together on You Only Live Twice to make sure she was bearing it up.

His final role was in the unfortunately abysmal League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a film that, like the Mario Brothers movie, I have a soft spot for despite its horrible quality. It’s a film marked by a collection of very talented actors doing their best with awful script. That said, Sir Sean’s performance as an aging Allan Quatermain showcases all his usual power and skill, and his final words are strikingly appropriate epitaph upon his illustrious career:

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“May this new century be yours, son. As the old one was mine.”

Eternal rest grant unto him, o Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, Rest in Peace

Sunday Thoughts: Love and Unique Creation

In the beginning, God made all things and made them good. He made each thing to be itself and not another, to occupy its own particular place in creation and to reflect its own small portion of His infinity.

God loves everything that is because it is what it is. I believe it was Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand who said that to love something is to see it through God’s eyes: to perceive the particular individual nature that God has given it. Chesterton expressed this same insight in his comic novel The Napoleon of Notting Hill:

“What could have happened to the world if Notting Hill had never been?”

The other voice replied: “The same that would have happened to the world and all the starry systems if an apple-tree grew six apples instead of seven; something would have been eternally lost. There has never been anything in the world absolutely like Notting Hill. There will never be anything quite like it to the crack of doom. I cannot believe anything but that God loved it as He must surely love anything that is itself and unreplaceable. But even for that I do not care. If God, with all His thunders, hated it, I loved it.”

Incidentally, I think one of the reasons God permits evil is that a being that has rebelled and been reconciled is a different thing than one that has never rebelled. A creature that knows it is possible to fall, and yet stands is different from one that has no idea that it is possible to do wrong at all. That particular kind of existence requires that there be those who will not be reconciled, rebels who remain rebels to the end. It requires, at least, that there be such a thing as rebellion, if only that there may also be such a thing as reconciliation.

Now, in the Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas says something almost in passing that I think is extraordinarily profound:

“For the more completely we see how a thing differs from others, the more perfectly we know it, since each thing has in itself its own being distinct from all other things.”

Each thing is itself, unique, and irreplaceable, and the more we understand how it is different, the more we see it as other, the more perfectly we understand it.

This is, I think, is the core of the Catholic view of creation: not just that creation is good, but that each created thing is good in its own nature, because it is what it is. The more perfectly it embodies that ‘being’, that idea of it in the mind of God, the better that thing is. A good thing (whatever it is) is good to the extent that it is most peculiarly itself, most perfectly the reflection of that particular idea of God’s. That is why (for instance) patriotism is a Christian virtue and one reason why love is so important: to love something, as Dr. Von Hildebrand says, is to see it as God does and to have an inclination of the idea of that thing in its uniqueness. To love something, properly loving it for its own sake, is to enter in part into the life of God.