Bearing Knowledge Not Meant for You

Over at Crisis Magazine, Joseph Susanka
has a strong, insightful piece featured looking at Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, two films wherein he finds a common, ponderous theme about discovery and the weight of carrying knowledge not meant for you.:

The similarities between the two films are striking. Coppola and von Donnersmarck employ many of the same methods (both visual and auditory) in their efforts to create tension around a pair of actors engaged in the least cinematic of activities: listening. Their protagonists both grapple deeply with the troubling consequences of knowing more about their fellow humans than anyone should ever know. And the unsettling way in which audiences are invited to engage in that very same activity made so unappealing by its “heroes” imbues both films with a sense of impending doom, as though someone will soon expose our own activities as hypocritical and sordid.

This climate of unease and imminent danger runs so deeply through both films, they feel almost like chapters of the same story. And yet, it is in the profound differences between the films’ main characters that the kinship between their messages becomes most clear.

Read the whole piece.
The Lives of Others is a favorite among longtime Anchoress readers, and we discussed it here:

The Lives of Others has moments of beauty interspersed with scenes of harrowing loneliness, shame, purposeless and hopelessness, but the moments of beauty are sublime – a man at the piano, his music deeply affecting the Stasi agent assigned to listen in – a conversation between that agent and a child of about six. The little boy, holding a ball, enters an elevator with the agent and asks, “is it true you are with the Stasi?” The agent responds, “do you even know what the Stasi is?” The boy: “My father says they are the bad men…”

The agent, on automatic pilot, begins to ask the boy what is the name of his father – another comrade to check up on, you see – except he seems to realize he is about to exploit an innocent, and he stops himself. The Stasi agent, in his relentless, thorough and dedicated spying, has observed real, committed and selfless love. He has been moved by art (which so many disdain as useless). He has encountered a true innocent in a land where no one is considered that. And just moving against the periphery of this powerful but underappreciated trinity – love, art, innocence – rocks the Stasi’s world.

Hmmmm…I could watch that again. I find myself watching every film Joseph discusses, and I always enjoy them and take more from them than I might have, without his smart expositions. Last night my husband and I watched the Japanese film Departures, which he wrote about here, and found it so moving and beautiful. It was a way to put a grace note to then end of a difficult week.

Joseph is talking about another film, and exploring another theme, here at Patheos, as he looks at Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, and wonders if even the strongest of visual images is enough to jumpstart adult imaginations:

The imagined worlds of young children are, in many ways, more spectacular because of their lack of experience rather than in spite of it. There is a reason we often describe wonder as “childlike,” and it is a mistake for us adults, grown wise in the ways of the world, to equate experience with depth. Age and experience seems to muddle and dim, rather than enlarge and clarify our imaginings. Cynicism, rationalization, excessive literalness (and an accompanying lack of vibrancy and excitement) are far more likely to afflict us as we grow older than is an excessive sense of wonderment and child-like joy.

And of course, as I never cease to remind everyone, Gregory of Nyssa said, “only wonder leads to knowing…”

May I respectfully suggest that if you’re not reading Joseph Susanka on film, every Friday here at Patheos, and at Inside Catholic, too, on other days, you are missing a change to put some glorious films into your Netflix queue, and to find some genuine refreshment and food for thought.

Being a Gene Hackman fan, it is odd to me that I have never seen The Conversation. After reading Susanka’s piece, however, it’s on my list!

And having never seen

About Elizabeth Scalia