Monday, February 16, 2015
Two very, very different films
Snowpiercer, an SF Film
Into Great Silence, a documentary
Several nights ago, I watched two very different films. One was Snowpiercer, directed by the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. It's a post-catastrophe or post-apocalypse film that reflects current events.
In an attempt to deal with global warning, a chemical is interjected into the upper atmosphere. It, of course, goes wrong (otherwise there would be no film), and, instead, sends earth off into a planet-wide ice age, killing off everything. The only survivors are the lucky ones who managed to get aboard a long, powerful, and self-sufficient supertrain created by the mysterious and wealthy Wilford. Obsessed with trains, Wilford uses his wealth to create a world-wide railway system for his train.
It's now seventeen years later, and a strict brutal class/caste system has evolved. The train is a linear depiction of this system, with the train tailenders at the back living in a few overcrowded and rundown cars, on rations barely above the starvation level. any grumbling is met with a lecture about how ungrateful they are to be allowed to live. They are at the back end and others at the front because that's the way it is and they should know their place. This is the natural order of things. Sound familiar?
As we move forward, the conditions improve until we reach just behind the Eternal Engine where the rich live idle lives with a variety of rich foods, clothing, and drugs, with no concern for the less fortunate at the train's back end. At the front is the Eternal Engine compartment, occupied only by Wilford, who is seen almost as a deity at this point and visited by only a few.
However, yet another revolution by the ungrateful powerless poor is brewing. Curtis, one of those trapped in the rear of the train, leads the poor and dispossessed through the train which provides numerous fight scenes, violence, and a high body count.
The number of interesting characters among the rebels and the ruling elite is one of this film's strong points.
One point made by the film perhaps explains the behavior of the very rich and powerful today. They seem unconcerned about the dangers brought about by global warming at this point, and spend millions of dollars fighting legislation that is designed to reduce the threat if that legislation reduces either their power or their profits. The film suggests that they believe that, while global warming or any severe climate change may cause problems, they are rich enough and powerful enough to ensure their own comfortable survival.
Into Great Silence
Fortunately that wasn't the only film I watched that night and doubly fortunate that I watched Into Great Silence, a documentary about life in a Carthusian monastery, the Grande Chartreuse monestery in the Chartreuse Mountains of France, afterwards. The non-stop action in Snowpiercer would have kept me awake for a long time. Into Great Silence was the exact opposite-- almost a silent film, with only one instance of the monks engaging in conversation and that at a permitted time. The only other examples of the human voice was the chanting during ceremonies and a formulized question-and-answer dialogue when a novice took his temporary vows. Oh yes, one other bit of talk occurred when the monk, whose job it was to feed the monastery cats, called them for dinner. He talked a little to them and noted that one was the big boss.
Philip Groning, the director, had contacted the monastery in 1984, requesting permission to do the documentary. They responded that they weren't ready yet. Finally, 16 years later Groning was told they were ready.
The film is a visual documentary: there is no narrative voice explaining what is being filmed. The viewer is forced to guess. Groning shot the film in natural light so the viewer sees the monastery and its inhabitants going about their daily routine without any artificial lighting.
The monastery does have electricity, but its use seems to be limited to when it is absolutely necessary; for example during night time services, small lights are placed by the music stands so they can see the music. Clearly it replaces candles. The Carthusians do not have tonsures, but instead get all of their hair cut off regularly. (Reminded me of my time in basic training in the USAF) They use electric hair clippers instead of hand clippers.
The monks were shown going about their daily lives of prayer, work, meditation, and rituals without commentary. They never spoke, except for the examples noted above, and seemingly spent most of the day silently and solitary, at least outwardly so.
The combination of the silence and the beautiful photography both inside the monastery and outside made this an extraordinary film.