Why do we spend so many precious hours of our lives watching films? What is it about cinema that it should occupy a place of such prominence in our lives? And why do we even need movies? It is as though we are trying to fill a gap in our lives - a void, an emptiness within ourselves. So to even begin on the path of our Truth Quest, we have to see the broader picture of how film correlates to life, and life to film. To find this higher perspective, it is helpful to look towards the other arts, as well as philosophy.
Today -more than at any other time in history - all branches of art seem to excel at depicting life in the void. In the above poem, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is confronting the painful questions of the reality of human existence: Where have we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Nietzsche could truly feel the clock of his own mortality ticking (shortly after he wrote this poem he went insane). He had opened his eyes and stared hard into the depths of the void within himself, stared harder than his own sanity could stand.
Cinema, with its ability to document the human spiritual experience, is the ideal medium for this kind of introspection into the depths of our being. However, in practice, film has become the least responsive, the most atrophied of artistic media. There is a notable failure on the part of major countries like the United States, Great Britain and Germany to offer directors dedicated to pursuing the rarely-treaded path of intense questioning and seeking on a SPIRITUAL level in their films. Certainly, there are many talented directors around the world, who have made and continue to make many fine films. But there are very few directors, who have intuited that the medium of film has a much greater potential than what has been realized thus far. Even one of the inventors of motion pictures, Thomas A. Edison (1847-1931) , when he saw what level cinema had almost immediately sunk to, wrote:
"I had some glowing dreams about what cinema could be made to do and ought to do in teaching the world things it needed to know..."
And yet, there are some directors, who have recognized cinema's true potential to probe, examine, question deeply who we are and what we have become. The greatest of these is the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986), who used cinema as a personal tool to seriously seek a way out of the terrible darkness of mankind's present-day existence. In his book, Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky writes about the artist's "spiritual mission" which the true artist must fulfill according to the spiritual intent of the gift he has been given. He refers to the "frenzied search" of the great writers Tolstoy, Gogol and Dostoyevsky as being prompted by the awareness of this intent. "An artist who doesn't try to seek out absolute truth . . . can only be a time-server" (Andrei Tarkovsky). The fact is that, in its spiritual mission, cinema has fallen far short of the successes witnessed in literature, music and philosophy. There are, however, a few directors besides Tarkovsky, who have responded in their own unique way to the high calling of spiritual cinema: Sergei Paradjanov, Robert Bresson, and Ingmar Bergman. Among the directors, whose work is more inconsistent in this regard, but who still contributed are Luis Bunuel, Pier Paolo Pasolini , Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Alexander Dovzhenko, Jacques Tati, Charlie Chaplin, Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi. Despite their differences in culture and philosophy, all these directors have in common the basic need to defy superficiality and spiritual slumber and to seek out the deeper Truth behind their existence.
- "Nothing is so important to man as his existence; nothing so much to be feared as eternity. And therefore it is quite unnatural that there should be men indifferent to the loss of their being and to the danger of an eternity of misery. They think quite otherwise of everything else; they fear the smallest things, they anticipate them, they suffer from them; and the same man who passes so many days and nights in rage and despair over the loss of a place or for some imaginary slight on his honor, that same man knows without anxiety or emotion that he will lose everything at his death. It is a monstrous thing to see this strange sensibility about small things, existing side by side in the same heart at the same time."
(Blaise Pascal 1623-1662)
It is indeed sad, when even the best artists do not look seriously beyond the most superficial of spiritual surfaces, and when a ten-ton weight has to literally drop from the sky onto someone's head before they will even consider the existence of deeper spiritual possibilities in their life. It is as if a wall has formed, invisible to most of humanity, but which demonstrates its presence by continually denying the right-of-way to seekers, artists and philosophers. And yet it is that very wall, which simply will not go away, the wall that keeps us trapped in the void, the wall that stands as a symbol for man's separation from his very own spirit.
At the same time, the audience too must be called to account for the failure of cinema to achieve its full potential. By not placing any higher demands or expectations upon its artists, writers, philosophers, composers or filmmakers, humanity shares in their burden. And by not perceiving the need of their spirits to awaken in order to confront the serious questions of existence, mankind has sold itself short, way short. The relationship of artist to audience and audience to artist forms a great cycle of unlimited potential. But an audience, which is unwilling to hold up its part of this cycle, has only itself to blame when the art, films, music and literature society produces is filled with spiritual apathy, trendiness and shortsightedness.
As the world declines, the wall grows ever more dense and defiant. This is quite effectively depicted in the film version of Pink Floyd's The Wall. The scene where the main character is banging his fists against the terrible, unbreachable wall is particularly powerful. In it we can see a wall, which all of humanity must now confront, a wall which takes its form from the "bricks" of all the pursuits that mankind considered important in life and which were, in reality, obstacles to the attainment of true life, the life of the spirit. The question posed at that moment in the film is: "Is there anybody out there?" This question in itself indicates the terrifying distortion that has taken place in the way the "outer" persona of the human being has developed. But later in the film when this question is turned around "Is there anybody in there?" then it is phrased more to the point (that is, from the point of view of the spirit), and then our inability to connect with the most important part of ourselves becomes gravely apparent. Like the main character in the film, we come face to face with our own inner deadness. We then become the puppets for the Void of Darkness, doing its will without even realizing it. The main character experiences this horrible transformation of his being into a tool of the Darkness, when he turns into a Fascist dictator, who issues the same decrees of hatred and prejudice that were the law-of-the-land in Nazi Germany.
And who today is still trying to breach this painful wall to their spirits? The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) believed that "the pain essential to life cannot be thrown off." But is not pain an awakening and animating force, prompting us to question, to confront and to seek? Where are the artists, who should be like the poet-knights of the middle ages, seeking the way through that wall so that others can look to them as an example and do the same for themselves? These days, artists mostly prefer to wallow in the darkness of the void either for the sake of pseudo-profundity or because they are simply too lazy to exert themselves to find a way out. And, after all, what is the point of being in the void (and the intense pain and suffering therein), if one is no longer inspired to seek a way out of it?
Indeed, today's artists seem to even revel in the hopelessness within the void. Using Nietzsche as their unsung hero, they rebelliously, joyously surrender themselves to the dark currents of total self-destruction. This is particularly evident in the "gloom-and-doom"/ apocalyptic side of rock in the sub-genres of industrial, gothic and heavy metal music, out of which have sprung bands like Nine Inch Nails, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Metallica, Soundgarden (to name just a few of the better known groups.) Their song titles speak for themselves:
These artists use innovative, even poetic devices to extend the conventional rock medium into an incredibly intense free-for-all of total despair, unrepented hatred and bitterness, confrontational fury and, at times, real questioning and longing for "something more than this," - a powerful form for the expression of the spiritual void within themselves. Their themes of death, lovelessness, impending world doom, intense personal suffering and the giving into their weaknesses seem to document a monumental final showdown for the life-or-death struggle of their (and all our) spirits.
Now, we can begin to perceive "life" and "death" not in their old, traditional meanings, but as viewed from a new, higher perspective: death= the sleep of the spirit within us, and life=the awakening of the spirit within us, for when one's spirit is asleep, one is simply existing in a void, and life ceases to have true meaning and direction. What, then, constitutes the sleep of the spirit and what constitutes its awakening? Here, once again, conventional definitions are too narrow to be of any use to us. We must try to approach these questions objectively (and not rush in with ready-made opinions), for our own lives hang in the balance on this very point.
It is, obviously, too superficial to assume that outward "liveliness" (including aggression) can qualify as evidence of the life of the spirit. It is a question of the intensity of our INNER being; and this intensity may or may not manifest in an outwardly "lively" form. Thus, a housewife may possess a richer and more intense inner life than a rock star thrashing about on stage. To exclude this possibiltiy is to forgo all objectivity at the very start of our TruthQuest.
Another frequent point of confusion is the belief (almost taken for granted these days) that indulgences of all sorts (in life as well as in art) testify to the strength of the spirit. The simple fact is, however, that a truly strong and free spirit possesses ONLY high and noble qualities (individually expressed) - all other traits being the accumulation of various distortions, which, sooner or later, will have to be put straight, if one wishes to return to true life.
And, finally, we must realize that personal harmony and balance can never be achieved by striking a compromise with the darkness. The "dark side" in us is NOT complementary to the ''light side", but is the best evidence of the weakness and suppression of our spirit. A spirit that is beginning to awaken will not be able to tolerate even one shade of darkness within and will not rest until a way is found to achieve that ultimate victory: a victory over oneself, over one's own dark tendencies. In this light, the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Plotinus ( A.D. 205-270) ring out even more powerfully today than when they were first written:
In this struggle, we fight the darkness within ourselves, and each one of us decides whether to take the high road (leading to the awakening of our spirits and true life) or the low road (leading to further burdening and enslavement of our spirits through indulgences.) The twentieth-century Russian philosopher Lev Shestov accurately envisioned this Apocalyptic struggle of each and every individual at the End-Time:
- "Most men...live haphazardly, quite absorbed in the cares and joys of the day. But when the 'DIES IRAE, DIES ILLA' draws near, joys and postulates lose their power and their magic. Man sees that it is quite irrelevant whether he postulated or not, whether he believed or not. The Last Judgment, which so tortured the middle ages and which our day has forgotten so absolutely, is no mere invention of selfish and uneducated monks. The Last Judgment is the supreme reality. In moments - their rare moments - of illumination - even our positive thinkers feel this. The Last Judgment decides whether there shall be...immortality of the soul or not - whether there shall be a soul or not."
( from "In Job's Balances")
The only correction that needs to be made in the above quote is that it is not the Last Judgment that decides the question of immortality of our soul, but each and every person decides for himself the question of immortality of his own soul. The processes through which this decision comes about for every individual are revealed for the first time in a special book "In the Light of Truth: the Grail Message" by Abd-ru-shin. It brings New Knowledge to mankind. The opportunity to acquire this Knowledge is given to EVERYONE. In keeping with the Perfect Justice of the Judgment Process, no human being is denied access to the Knowledge, which is essential for the survival of his or her spirit. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) put it this way:
- "In the world of the spirit luck and accident do not make one a king and another a beggar, one more beautiful than the queen of the Orient and another more miserable than Lazarus; he only is excluded from the world of the spirit who has excluded himself. In the world of the spirit all are invited."
(from "Thorn in the Flesh")