The Doppelgänger Trap:  The State of Art Cinema Today
Between the conception
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
(from "The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot)
A Doppelgänger is a German expression literally meaning a "double walker". Often this term is used to describe a ghostly or shadowy self that is thought to accompany a person. Many times this entity is considered mischievous, tempting or luring its host onto the "dark" path. Seen in a broader sense, the Doppelgänger is just a reflection of our own base nature and makes a convenient rationalization for poor life-choices stemming from the inability to advance ourselves spiritually. Long a preoccupation with poets, composers, artists and filmmakers, the Doppelgänger is actually a real thing of ethereal substance that a person forms through spiritual neglect, i.e. by dragging the ideal of spirituality down to an earthly level instead of striving upwards to the great heights where human spirituality originates. The Doppelgänger attaches itself to our beings until we literally burn it off through a steadfast change in volition towards the spiritual.
The problem of the Doppelgänger really becomes significant, however, when an artist begins to surrender to the world of his shadow over the world of his spirit, the velvety allure of the Darkness as opposed to the austere, demanding Light. This is powerfully caught in the "Hymns to the Night" by Novalis, who wrote this poem after the death of his beloved and shortly before his own death at 29:
Have you also
A human heart,
Dark night
What are you holding
Under your cloak,
That grabs so unseen, strongly
At my soul?
If there was ever an art form with a Doppelgänger in its closet, it is the art-cinema of today, which is almost schizophrenic in its absorption of an incredibly wide range of influences from the unspeakably perverse to the sublime - often in the same scene! In reference to the latter (the sublime), the films of Tarkovsky, Bresson, and Reggio are now commonly taught in film schools around the world. And with the widespread availability of these and many other great art films on DVD, is it any wonder that present day art-cinema has become so confident of its ability to match, even surpass the work of the great masters? Recent films such as "Japon", "Undertow" and "Tarnation" have been cited by critics as nuovo art-cinema masterpieces. But can these films really claim to be successors to the high mantle set by the great ones? The answer can only be discerned if one carefully examines the qualities that the films of the masters possess verses the qualities of the new generation.
Let's take "Japon" as an example. The film's director, Carlos Reygadas, is clearly influenced by the work of Andrei Tarkovsky. Long meditative takes, an emphasis on natural elements in the frame, a sometimes deep sense of beauty, shooting actors from behind, the prevalent use of classical music - these are all qualities one might find in a Tarkovsky film. At times during "Japon", one is actually convinced that a spiritual journey has been caught on film. Unfortunately, Carlos Reygadas also has other sources of inspiration, such as the seedy, surrealist films of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Fernando Arrabal. And these influences regrettably disrupt the spiritual flow of the film, ultimately preventing the audience from experiencing any kind of genuine transcendence. The decapitation of a dove, constant shots of animal carcasses, the vulgar sequence of the laughing boys looking on as the two horses are mating and, in one of the most disgusting scenes ever filmed in the history of cinema, a man making love to a completely naked, horrendously ugly seventy-year-old woman. Surely, anybody with an ounce of regard for human dignity can see the incongruity here, which makes the critic quotes ("Solicits comparison to the work of Andrei Tarkovsky...abrasively sensual" - A.G. Scott, NY Times) seem even more perverse than the film itself. When has there ever been a moment of "abrasive sensuality" in any of Tarkovsky's films?! As confused as Reygadas is, the critics are a hundred times worse. Reygadas, an artist torn between his spirit and his Doppelgänger (his baser tendencies), has made a basically good film that has been hopelessly marred and crippled by some serious misconceptions about spirituality. The critics, on the other hand, in an effort to elevate Reygadas, end up dragging down Tarkovsky by involving him in this witch's brew.
It would be quite unfair to Mr. Reygadas if we just let the comparisons end here. There are other very talented directors that have also fallen into the Doppelgänger trap. In fact, many genuine seekers do not see any harm in mixing the darker sides of human nature with the lighter ones. They might even feel that a genuine exploration of human spirituality must inevitably lead one into the darker and baser areas of life. Such excursions, however, must be kept to a minimum, if one does not wish to inadvertently "pick up" some unclean propensity or other, for it is foolish to think that one can come out of a swamp smelling like a rose. Some residue will inevitably cling, and the longer one stays in the swamp the greater the chance for the soiling of one's soul. The clearest example of this in cinema is the case of Pier Paolo Pasolini, who started out by creating one of the most sublime films ever made "Gospel according to St. Matthew", and finished by creating one of the most revolting (though cinematically stunning) films on record, "Salo". In between these two films lay a long period of seeking in a downward direction with such films as "Teorema", "Pigsty" ("Porcile"), "Canterbury Tales", "Decameron" and "Arabian Nights".
In the highly charged atmosphere of today's cinema, with every film competing for attention, each director tries to outdo the other by being "daring" and trying to let go of all the inhibitions.
Andrei Tarkovsky is the only director, who has intuited on his own the actual process of the spiritual soiling of the individual, which cinema can help bring about. That is why he wrote:
"... the most convincing of the arts demands a special responsibility on the part of those who work in it: the methods by which cinema affects audiences can be used far more easily and rapidly for their moral decomposition, for the destruction of their spiritual defenses, than the means of the old, more traditional art forms." (Andrei Tarkovsky, "Sculpting in Time".)
If we were to name just one film in recent memory that has brought the greatest confusion to the concept of spirituality, it would be "Breaking the Waves" by Lars von Trier. Here sexuality is presented as a way of achieving spiritual transcendence. More than that: the whole concept of selfless love between two people is twisted into the notion of a sacrificial offering, willed by God and receiving unequivocal blessing from the Light (at the end the bells ring out jubilantly). The power of this false conception is further magnified by the true originality of von Trier's cinematic language - something that doesn't happen often in cinema these days. In short, the allure of the film's combination of high artistry and sexual-sacrificial spirituality proved to be too much for most of the spiritual seekers out there, who (perhaps, after the initial shock) accepted the film without question as a spiritual masterpiece. Only the complete ignorance of the basic Laws of Creation could have given rise to this film's conception and its general acceptance. The persistent unwillingness to seek the Knowledge of God's Justice as It really is (and not, per chance, as we wish It to be) has resulted in a refusal to accept the Law of Reciprocal  Action, operating in Creation and regulating the flow of all guilt and redemption. An accident, such as the character of Jan has in the film is in reality never accidental, but is always the inevitable result of the person's own past misdeeds. It is brought about through the inflexible Law as a way of teaching a person some necessary recognitions about himself and, if it is used for self-improvement, as a way of liberating him from some former personal guilt. This process of redemption is a highly personal business and can never be undertaken by someone else (no matter how much they may love him) because, as the guilt encumbered was personal, so the redemption must also be. Naturally, the ignorance about the existence and the workings of this Law does not prevent It from operating without fail.
The art cinema of today has allowed itself to be heavily influenced by the ethereal currents of the Darkness, which are continuously assailing the Earth and everyone on it. The above-mentioned directors are all exceptional artists, so that they are quite naturally much more sensitive to the invisible and yet very real influences/vibrations of the Ethereal World. In this Ethereal World there are regions of Darkness and there are regions of Light. Both the Light and the Dark regions send out their characteristic vibrations/influences/images into the World of Matter, seeking entrance into the souls of men. And each one of us decides which of these particular influences we choose to cultivate, nourish and spread. We decide not only through our visible actions, but also through our choice of words, thoughts and desires - in short, our whole inner world (and not any religious affiliation) bears witness to who we are: mediators for the Darkness or mediators for the Light. Art cinema, perhaps more than any other art form, has the ability to lay bear the director's state of the soul at the time of his making a particular film. This makes it easy to spot his specific leanings either towards the Darkness or towards the Light. And it is here that the principle difference between artists like Tarkovsky and Bresson on the one hand, and Lars von Trier, Jodorowsky, Lynch, Kubrick on the other hand, emerges with crystal clarity.
Never before in recorded history has art become literally the enemy of the people. Today it swerves and dances around fundamental spiritual concerns like a drunken, perverted, ghoulish Fred Astair. Today art serves only the Darkness and cinema is its right-hand man. Its goal is simple: to give the people - in their spiritually weak state - what they want and not what they need. Where is the director of today who will defiantly stand on the side of the spirit's needs, like Tarkovsky did for almost three decades? It is deeply regrettable that the most talented filmmakers are simply not facing the responsibility of their calling. Art in its truest sense exists only to prepare the way for the Light to enter the parched souls of mankind. Any deviation from this objective is a heavy burden on the filmmaker and his associates.
We were recently approached by a young Spanish man, who was so obsessed by the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movie, that his life's dream was to visit the house where the actual grizzly murders had taken place. What hope can this gentleman have of the ascension to greater spiritual consciousness? Already terribly weak, with a plethora of propensities, this film had pushed him over the edge, resulting in confusion, lessened resistance towards nasty influences and a further dimming of his spirit-core. How can such a film ever find justification in Creation, when its audience-victims vastly outnumber the victims on the screen? This is a crime against the spirit, pure and simple. Filmmakers and critics everywhere cry foul - "This is just entertainment, after all," they assure us. "Just make-believe. We can't help it if people take this stuff seriously." How much greater the retribution will be on those who hold a blind eye to the monstrous effects their work has on their fellow-men. And the more talented the director, the more powerful his vision, the more devastating the end result. Such examples can be seen in the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, among others.
Jodorowsky's "Santa Sangre" is unquestionably his greatest film. It is a work that, despite its artistic panache and its stylistic refinement over his earlier films ("El Topo", "Holy Mountain", "Fando and Lis"), leaves one feeling dirty. Everything - from cutting off of the mother's arms, the knives being thrown at the naked tattoo lady, the blood spewing from the dying elephant's trunk and its subsequent fate as dinner for several hundred starving Mexican peasants, the scene with the enormous woman (?) wrestler, and the final cemetery scene with the naked corpses of the women victims seeking revenge - speaks of a highly twisted motivation behind the making of this film. How many filmmaking students have viewed this film in amazement at its audacious artistry and have been encouraged by its success to seek similar forms of expression for themselves?
On the reputation of his "Eraserhead", David Lynch has always been regarded as a "dark" director of disturbing, nightmarish visions. The allure of his films rests solely in the fervent artistry with which they are made. Films like "Blue Velvet", "Wild at Heart", "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me", "Lost Highway" and "Mulholland Drive" leave the viewer often perplexed and somewhat soiled over what they had just experienced. While other films like "Elephant Man" and "Straight Story" stand apart through their oddly uplifting character. One only wonders over the results if Lynch had followed the trend of the latter set of films, as opposed to the former set. Maybe he would have made less films, but they would have been better films. And, most importantly, he would not have to face the music over the oppressive effects that he alone has set in motion. Just about every American director has been influenced to one extent or another by Lynch's work - a thought scarier than his films.
Last, but certainly not least, one should mention the work of Stanley Kubrick. His masterpiece, "A Clockwork Orange", was the first commercial film to really combine high art cinema with graphic sex and violence. Its potent mix of hyper-stylized, almost visionary imagery with a hefty dose of indulgences, shocked audiences at the time and paved the way for a new era of filmmaking, where the assault would become nothing short of apocalyptic. It is a sad irony that Kubrick's last film, "Eyes Wide Shut", is also about overindulging his sexual fantasies. Unfortunately, to the very end, Kubrick reveals that he has little regard for the spiritual well-being of his audience. Time and time again, Kubrick is intent on turning the minds of his fellow-men onto the lowest aspect of their existence: sex (unspiritualized sex). It doesn't matter that the often brilliant window-dressing that accompanies the subject qualifies the film as "art". What ultimately matters is the effect the work has on the viewer's spirit. That is all. Revealing the true inner state of the man just as he was about to leave this world, "Eyes Wide Shut" was Kubrick's final faux pas.
Today, the list is endless of those highly talented filmmakers, who have chosen to follow the preceding influences and take the dark path, leading away from spiritual concerns. Bruno Dumont ("Life of Jesus", "Humanité", "Twentynine Palms") Gaspar Noé ("Irreversible", "I Stand Alone"), Catherine Breillat ("Romance", "Fat Girl"), the films of Quintin Tarantino, and other movies such as "Momento", "Requiem for a Dream", "Fight Club", "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "Pola X".  

"Man has now disrupted this normal course in all development through the base use of his free will, with which he formed ethereal bridges to the region of Darkness, so that those who had sunk there could be thrown onto the earth-plane like a rabble, who now joyfully populate the greater part of it." (Abd-ru-shin,  "In the Light of Truth: The Grail Message", lecture "What Separates So Many From the Light Today?")

Copyright 2004 by Gregory and Maria Pearse