Religion is a man-made institution that has a hierarchy with a set of values and norms as dictated in protocols. Even the reformation trailblazer Martin Luther, who protested against institutional abuses of the Church, is not entirely free from the criticism. Thus, I hold a healthy amount of preconception about a religious individual whose outwardly practice of faith incongruent with his or her inwardly reflection of personality, which is a view shared by Gandhi’s opinion attesting, “I admire Jesus, not the followers of his.” The movie “Hawaii” (1966), an American drama about Calvinist missionaries and the Hawaiian natives directed by George Roy Hill, echoes the sentiment conflated with the profundity of religious zeal and the nature of humanity laid bare in the clash of cultures.
The epic adventure story is structured around stern Calvinist Reverend Abner (played by Max von Sydow) with his faithful and delightful wife, Jerusha (played by Julie Andrews). Abner’s devotion to the religious cause at the urge of young Hawaiian prince Keoki at the Yale Divinity School brings them to the beautiful heathen islands of Hawaii. Abner is a good man disoriented in the realm of dreary religiosity and ethnocentrism. He sees the beauty in his wife Jerusha and the land of the people he comes to serve but averts his eyes from it with the Bible on the one hand. He keeps all-natural feelings of love, joy, sadness, and even jealousy locked in his puritanical castle of mind and preaches the ire of God that imbues the natives with fear, not love. One look at him will make a man like Captain Hoxworth (played by Richard Harris) infuriated with contempt for the loss of her beloved Jerusha to such ungainly zealot. Abner is, in short, a man of God and would like to think him so as the will of God he serves.
Max Von Sydow’s skillful performance of the role of Abner invokes both contempt and sympathy for the character who does not know how to act in the intimacy of human relationships. It seems that Sydow is particularly good at playing a clergy as he also did as veteran Jesuit Father Merrin in “The Exorcist” (1973). The tall slim figure carries the intellectual air without the pretentiousness that separates him from the mass, giving him the likeness of a suffering philosopher in the wrong place at the wrong time. In playing the internal character in the external context of reality, Sydow does a beautifully nuanced job of capturing all the inner conflicting emotions ranging from joy to disappointment, to ire mixed with envy, and to sorrow. Thus, Abner’s follies and foibles are forgivable and, in fact, a medium for his new conversion into the religion of Charity, Hope, and Faith.
The movie portrays a realistic portrayal of a missionary living in a foreign land. The excellent Jesuit method of enculturation is possible only when he is celibate without a family to support. Then, even mastery of enculturation guarantees no eradication of racial and cultural pride of the actor. Perhaps, the wish of an entirely benign messenger of the Gospel is vain mother to the thought in the ideation of an impeccable man of God. The best thing is to accept our human fallibility by which the meaning of God and the purpose in life come to a realization. “Hawaii” shows us a process of conversion into the mystery of faith occurring not in the pagan natives but Reverend Abner in the beautiful kaleidoscope of nature’s sceneries and the people living in them. This movie deserves its merit on the list of great films of all time for the posteriority.
A great film with a sincere message about life and human nature transcends a divide of time and a boundary of the territory. I believe that a good movie has a lasting sensory impact on the viewer and cultivates the mind with a visual efficacy of precipitation. In this regard, the epic historical drama ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959), directed by William Wyler, is an epitome of masterpiece cinema not for a time but all seasons. The remarkable triumvirate of the outstanding screenplay, the excellent performance of the cast, the fascinating cinematography produces supreme one of art that resonates with spiritual elements of humanity in the witchcraft of motion picture.
The film follows a history of Judah Ben-Hur, a young Jewish prince whose life is forfeited by a betrayal of trust and corruption of friendship. From the height of his prime to the fall, then to redemption, it is heroic acts of high human drama wonderfully conjoined with a tale of Christ whom Ben-Hur encounters by Providence. His wrath is untamed, and anger is the roaring of a lion. Ben-Hur chooses vengeance as a will to live in the march of death in the desert and the prison galleys on the Ionian Sea. He feeds on ire and utters curse every day until he intends to execute vengeance upon the perpetrator with recourse to the old retributory law of an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Who can calm the turbulent vortex of the soul in despair and save him from the night of the soul?
The film revolves around Christ, and Ben-Hur is another disciple of his teachings through conversion into faith, charity, and hope. The figure of Christ is the central theme of the film, but his face is unseen, and his voice unheard. We can only see his rear, but it is the mysteriousness of the person of Christ that elevates the story of Ben-Hur to the sphere of hagiography. The providential encounters with Christ in the climactic moments of his life lead him to the way of Christ, which mirrors the process of Ben-Hur’s redemption from Wrath to Grace, from Desolation to Hope.
Whether or not you believe in Christianity is not a prerequisite to appreciating this excellent epic drama because it would be a loss to any lover of arts to forego the spectacular beauty of the cinematography, not to mention the spiritual thematic of one man’s redemption from hopelessness. The grand epic scale of cinematography that depicts the tale of Ben-Hur in the trail of Christ from the Nativity to the Crucifixion is akin to watching Michelangelo’s remarkable frescoes of the Sistine Chapel that illustrate the story of humanity from the Genesis to the Last Judgment under God’s mysterious plan for mankind. In conclusion, ‘Ben-Hur’ is not a movie about a hero but about a triumph of hope over the desolation that saves a man’s soul from self-destruction, resonating with ‘Dum spiro, Spero,’ meaning ‘while I breathe, there is hope.’
Justice is the truth, and the truth is the satisfaction of reason. Reason complements emotions triggered by the sense and guides a man to a purposeful action as a beacon of judgment. What motivates the teenage boy Chick Mallison and the lawyer John Gavin Stevens to help Lucas Beauchamp, a respectful and affluent black farmer, accused of killing a white man, is the desire for finding justice, the truth. “Intruder in the Dust” (1949), directed by Clarence Brown, shows that the search for truth excels in the infirmities of whimsical human characters based on William Faulkner’s selfsame novel published to a wide acclaim a year before.
Shot in black and white, the thematic of truth in the darkness of ignorance blinded by racial prejudice manifests itself in the transparency of facial expressions of the characters like ancient Greek theatrical masks to magnify the emotions and feelings of performers on stage. Lucas (played by Juano Hernandez) is laconic like an old Spartan. Still, his a few words carry the authenticity of truth, emphasized by his dignified aura surrounding the natural, confident being that commands attention to himself. As Shakespeare’s adage of true nobility as being exempt from fear, Lucas counteracts the mob psychology driven by the vacuously temerarious inquisition of popular sentiment in poised stoicism pleading for truth, not feelings.
The subject of humanity is likely to be invoked for the anodyne ingredient to resolve the racial tension. Still, Falkner’s “good” white folks are more driven by a curious concoction of investigative natures, intelligent propensities, and occupational instincts blended well in the egoistic sense of fulfillment wonderfully producing a diamond of truth as though it were a wondrous alchemical process. The teenage Chick (played by Claude Jarman Jr.) and Lucas’s lawyer John Gavin Stevens (played by David Brian) are conscientious and principled, with whom we can refer to “good” white folk. Still, they are not entirely free from their prejudices about the colored, especially the blacks. Even Chick becomes indignant and intentionally drops the money when Lucas declines it from him as a token of gratitude and orders him to pick it up. The lawyer Stevens is neither particularly jovial with his client in the way he would be with his white client. However, both Chick and Stevens intend to descry the truth behind the machination of unreason that rains on the minds of the white people in the town because they are inherently good, even though they are biased. They are good people because their reason prevails upon unreason, and their search for truth outshines their prejudice. It’s what matters to the justice and life of Lucas, the black man who is not necessarily a chum of theirs.
“Intruder in the Dust” may be parallel to “Who Killed a Mockingbird?” because of its similar subject and genre of the film, let alone their original novels that were written by southern writers. But what gives to “Intruder in the Dust” is its sense of realism in the likeness of truth. I find the characters in “Intruder in the Dust” more ordinary, more plausible, and more human. This film delineates a congress of human characters amid a universe of varied emotions and a sea of dangerous adventures, which illustrates both the never-ending dilemma and possible solution. The stellar performance of the excellent cast orchestrated by the astute director based on an excellent textual basis by William Faulkner culminates in this American Classic Masterpiece Film.
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