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Watching the recent movie War, Inc. I saw another example of a cinematic cliché which, as far as I can tell by extensive Googling, I am the only film fan who has ever noticed. Now, if I am the only film fan who is aware of a cinematic cliché, can it possibly be a cliché? Since it appears I have few, but loyal readers, I will let you all be the judges of this.
I call the cliché “the paralyzed totalitarian”. I have seen him now in four movies. In Terry Gillam’s Brazil, Sam’s father’s colleague (and Sam’s mother’s lover?) Helpmann has enormous power, orders Sam to be tortured, but is confined to a wheelchair.
Also wheelchair-bound is José Lewgoy as the warden of the prison in which are being detained William Hurt and Raul Julia in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Together with the secret policeman, he cunningly positions the homosexual Molina to weave his way into the confidences of the suspicious political prisoner Arregui, yet he is incapable of any independent motion and is dependent on an attendant for everything.
In the recent War, Inc., Walken, the “viceroy” of sad Turaqistan, which has been the object of yet another American preemptive invasion, wields enormous power from his wheelchair, and the very earliest movie I in which have ever seen this “paralyzed totalitarian” figure is Abel Gance’s silent masterpiece Napoleon, in which Marat, Robespierre, and Louis St. Just plot together to eliminate enough Frenchmen to usher in the new day of la Republique juste et belle. The actor portraying the arch-Jacobin St. Just fidgets about in his little wooden wheelchair nervously planning the death of thousands and misery for uncounted others.
The image sticks with me, I believe, because it portrays those of a totalitarian cast of mind as victims of their own machinations. In gathering more and more power to themselves, they lose that which make them human, becoming in their turn as powerless as their victims.
One of the emotional objections I had to Calvinism as a system was that I always had a niggling in the back of my mind that the system would eventually eliminate the freedom of God. If man were not free, then I couldn’t see how God could possibly be free. Some great awful necessity, some dreadful immutable ἀνάγκη, whether internal to God or external to Him, would demand the damnation of men.
I know there are a thousand qualifications I would have to make, and I take a great risk in mentioning this. After all, the Christian blogosphere is about 94% Calvinists of disputatious temperament. I hope my obscurity saves me.
Borges says it better than I:
Lejos de la ciudad, lejos del foro
clamoroso y del tiempo, que es mudanza,
Edwards, eterno ya, sueña y avanza
a la sombra de árboles de oro.
Hoy es mañana y es ayer. No hay una
cosa de Dios en el sereno ambiente
que no le exalte misteriosamente,
el oro de la tarde o de la luna.
Piensa feliz que el mundo es un eterno
instrumento de ira y que el ansiado
cielo para unos pocos fue creado
y casi para todos el infierno.
En el centro puntual de la maraña
hay otro prisionero, Dios, la Araña
“Far from the city, from the clamorous forum and outside of Time, which is Change, Edwards, now eternal, dreams and walks forward under the golden trees.
Today is tomorrow and is yesterday, and in the serenity there is nothing of God which does not mysteriously exalt Him, the gold of the afternoon, or of the moon.
He meditates happily upon the world as an eternal instrument of wrath, and that the anticipated heavens were created for a very few,
and Hell for nearly everybody, and that at the absolute center of the maze waits another prisoner, the Spider, God.”
By the way, the movies are all good. War, Inc. is the weakest of them, maybe a C+. Brazil is a B+. Kiss of the Spider Woman is a solid A, and Napoleon is one of the best movies ever produced.