Orthodox alien palindromes

Just a few quick random things.

1. Four weeks ago, I posted a link to an article I wrote on Orthodox converts. Today, that article has been re-posted here, with a snazzier layout — and a good thing, too, as the original link has been dead ever since ChristianWeek revamped their website.

2. I have been wondering lately if Steven Spielberg had changed his mind about the peaceful nature of aliens, as depicted in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), given that he is now putting the finishing touches on his version of War of the Worlds. (I must admit I have never seen his mini-series on alien abduction, Taken — and now that I discover it co-starred Dakota Fanning, who is also in War of the Worlds, I think I should check it out.) In fact, I have been half-wondering if his new film will somehow make the alien invasion look like our fault, not unlike how Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (1997) alluded to the imperialistic aggression of its humans.

What the film will do remains to be seen, but in the meantime, Spielberg tells the Associated Press that he still believes any aliens we meet will be peaceful:

I have to certainly believe what my heart tells me. That the first time there is a meeting of the minds between extraterrestrials and human beings, it’s going to be friendly. . . . I can’t believe anybody would travel such vast distances bent on destruction. I believe anybody who would travel such vast distances are curious explorers, not conquerors. Carrying weapons a hundred-thousand light-years is quite a schlepp. I believe it’s easier to travel 100,000 light-years with their versions of the Bible.

Of course, crossing the oceans once seemed like quite a schlepp, too, and the people who did it brought the Bible and their weapons with them. And if the “first meeting” between aliens and humans were to take place here on Earth — that is, if one side of this meeting had not put the effort into crossing any light-years at all, and thus had not had any of the alleged reasons to evolve more peaceful purposes — then there would presumably still be all sorts of ways that the meeting could be non-friendly.

3. I saw Todd Solondz’s Palindromes this morning. It’s about a girl named Aviva (played by half-a-dozen different actresses: some thin, some fat; some white, some black; some younger, some older; most of them unknown, one of them famous) who gets pregnant, so her parents force her to get an abortion, and when the operation goes bad, she runs away and gets involved with a group of pro-life do-gooders known as the “Sunshines”.

It’s one of those films that is inclined to make some people say that pro-choicers and pro-lifers are mocked equally. But the mockery does not seem particularly balanced to me; the pro-choice people still have fairly normal lives, and thus the audience is allowed to identify with them to at least some degree, whereas the pro-lifers live in some rather unusual circumstances, with strange clothes and a strange way of speaking and so on. (Alas, the yay-Jesus youth-oriented dance-pop is all too believable, and brings back awkward childhood memories.) You spend that whole part of the film waiting for the shoe to drop, kind of like how the pro-lifer patriarch in Citizen Ruth (1996) turned out to be a sexual predator; but in this case, when it drops, we discover that these pro-lifers are involved in shooting doctors. Oh goodie.

Still, you gotta love any film in which a person tries to pressure her child into having an abortion by dismissing the fetus as a mere “tumour”. And I do appreciate the way the mother tells Aviva about how she once aborted a child that would have been Aviva’s kid brother Henry (named after a relative who didn’t care about money, or so we are told), because she didn’t think having a second child would allow her to give her daughter so many material blessings — like N*Sync tickets. Gadzooks, if that doesn’t trivialize the pro-choice stance, then I don’t know what does. And it is significant that, for much of the rest of the film, Aviva renames herself “Henrietta”, after the baby brother she never had.

So, no one could ever accuse this film of being pro-abortion. But it’s also definitely not pro-life — and by that, I mean not only that it is not anti-abortion, but that it doesn’t really find much to affirm in this world. The film’s philosophy is apparently summed up by an alleged pedophile who says that people never change (they end up the same way they start out, he says, just like the palindromes of the film’s title), because there is no such thing as free will — just “genes and randomness,” programming us like “robots”. So, come to that, the film is not very pro-choice either, since it comes out of a worldview in which the very notion of “choice” is an illusion.

Oh, and did I mention that the film begins with a funeral service for Dawn Wiener, the protagonist in Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), the film that put Solondz on the map ten years ago? Turns out she got really obese and might have even been date-raped before she committed suicide. Oh joy.

Ah, what a way to start the day!

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).


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