Rousseau’s dictum of “Men are born free and are chains everywhere.” fittingly describes the condition of what it means to be free from slavery after the Civil War. Even so, freedom was recalcitrant to belong to them, and the hardships that came with the price of liberty from the carnage of the war still beset the newly freed along the trail of exodus to the new promised land in the west as articulated in Sidney Poitier’s classic western film “Buck and the Preacher” (1971).
Buck (played by Sidney Poitier), a former Union sergeant turned scout, leads a wagon of freed blacks from Louisiana to the west, where they hope to start their new lives without a shadow of slavery. But alas, the shadow of slavery still haunts them. It is up for grabs in the form of renegade ex-soldiers, probably both of the Union and the Confederates, hired by the former enslavers to bring the migrants back to the chains of slavery. They attack the wagon, rape women, and kill the old and the young, constantly intimidating them to return to where they belong. But the pain of loss and death is even less painful than the thought of returning to the past, and the journey marches on. Buck protects the journey, and the self-proclaimed preacher conman artist (played by Harry Belafonte) a former slave, chimed in, despite his original ulterior motive of money-gaining. This unlikely dup proves to be something of Moses and Aaron, so to speak, in a way that they guide and protect the persecuted people from the sordid bondage to a new promised land even if it takes a nearly decimal lot.
Then there are Indians across the wilderness as gatekeepers to the land of freedom. They are no outsiders to the persecution with their land taken away and their very beings threatened to decimate. The Indians live by the toll fees migrants have to pay when crossing their territories, not the least due to the paucity of livelihood resulting from the government’s confiscation of the land. When Buck implores the tribal chief to help them against the white attackers because they are all brothers, the chief retorts him by saying, “But black people also fought against us with the whites.” The mistrust is natural, as is the confrontation of the two peoples whose rights are put to contests orchestrated by the forfeiter of the rights. The class consciousness between the Indians and the blacks needs a manifestation of shared injustice and empathy, which both of them attest to an objective reality where they prove to be on the same side.
This film is one of the great Sidney Poitier’s and finest as I have been watching as remembering this brilliant actor who has recently died. Always poised with a commending presence filled with natural confidence and will without being febrile and vociferous, Poitier exudes his irresistibly graceful charisma on screen in this memorable Western about blacks and Indians, who are often seen in the peripheral characters contributing to highlighting main white characters. But this is not a revisionist Western at all to polarize the thematic elements of the genre. Hardly so. Instead, “Buck and the Preacher” is an eye-opening Western film about the peoples who are likely to be cast as outsiders even if they also rightfully belong to, to quote Lincoln, “the family of freedom with a jewel of liberty” called Americans.
Whether animated or dubbed, good movies are conversant with more delicate tissues of conscience and spirit than others replete with vehement manifestos. I am talking about ‘The Lion King’ (2019 film),’ that is. It is a wholesome movie with simple adages of friendship, love, patience, and courage—only the more vividly alive and visually superb with the Cute factor. The film is also what Plato says in the Republic, a work of art that best imitates the objects and events of human life, a good entertainment.
The a priori reasoning is sometimes apt, and so was the movie. I admit that had it not been for the cute Simba’s face in the movie’s advertisement on my newly subscribed Disney Plus channel, I would have passed it. Besides, living with nature in the form of thirteen-month-old tabby cat Toro at home perfected the inclination to watch it. What captured my eyes most was the realistic animals and landscape that rendered undoubtful verisimilitude of natural wildlife in Africa. It’s a hybrid of the 21st science and timeless imagination that created the world’s awe-inspiring symmetrical view of natural beauty in cinematography. Contrary to unwelcome and acerbic opinions about the movie for its lack of fluid emotions and spectacular action scenes, I find it genuine and honest. It illustrates the natural habitats and habits of the animals in the wild as authentically as possible, which may seem less than what today’s audience inured to gratuitous special effects and outpourings of dramatic gestures. However, nature is simple, and Leonardo da Vinci saw it as the ultimate sophistication of beauty.
If Aesop’s Fables are the ancient Greek’s way of teaching morals or virtues to people of all ages, this film follows the tradition of teaching the good in the audience’s hearts. There are four types of love subtly construed as thematic subjects in the movie: (1) Eros – passions between lovers; (2) Philia – friendship; (3) Storge – love between parents and children; and (4) Agape – humanity. Furthermore, the Homerian code of honors that Simba and his father Mufasa possess and the eponymous virtue of arete consists of moral integrity and physical finesse. The goodness described above incarnates in the pride of the lions and alludes to human characteristics laid bare in the majestically untamed landscape of the Pristine Wild.
‘The Lion King’ (2019 film) is thought-provoking and entertaining. Plato, whose view on the best of art as the best imitation of the physical world, would approve of this film as a wholesome entertainment in the constellation of the great minds. But, notwithstanding his approval, the film is worth watching when you feel lonely and need some pick-me-up spirit with smiling cheer. After all, a good mood in the buoyancy of a cheerful soul with hope for an uncertain future is what makes our lives pleasant. Hakuna Matata!
“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (2021) is the newest in the Conjuring Universe Series, a new artifact to the Museum of The Haunted All and Sundry. The legendary Ed and Lorraine Warren are as inseparable as a couple in love and benevolent as rescuers of souls afflicted with the forces of evil as ever. But the mysteriously noble and spiritually convincing atmospheric elements are barely there, albeit the mix still has the thematic Catholic flavor. They said that when fact becomes legend, publish legend. So the story of the movie may be based on an actual event that has become American folklore, a modern legend, and it is the legend that the movie published.
As with the tradition of the Conjuring World, the movie evolves from the actual event of the supernatural phenomenon beyond the reasonable explanation on what the eyes only can see. First, an insidious ambiance surrounding a family house that seems strangely alienated adumbrates a sinister force lurking behind the bathroom door, over the shower curtains, and finally inside your head. Then comes a Catholic priest, thanks to the rite of exorcism popularized by The Exorcist and the Warrens’ association with the religion as their spiritual base. But he is usually not too much of significant help, if not a trouble, so it is always the Warrens’ job to ghost-bust with a style of a medieval magician who used to reconcile esoteric paganism with Christian faith. In this installation, Lorraine proves to be a mighty Christian mystic and a white witch in crossing over the space and reading memories of the dead, all for the fighting the devil’s deputy in a tunnel that promised to capture as many human souls as possible to fill up Hell’s Circles.
The essential thematic elements of good v. evil, love v. hatred, violence v. peace are unfailingly ubiquitous in this installment. Still, more violence and hatred make up the scenes than the others, making the movie more aligned with screaming scary movies than classified as supernatural horror. Perhaps the application of Catholic elements as a credible supplementary spell on the movie’s ambiance might have slightly fared well with the director’s intention (or the producer James Wan, the original creative director) to make the film elevated to a canon of classic supernatural movies. But it doesn’t give much of the movie’s intended effect when the Warrens can do what priests can do. Besides, the characters other than the Warrens themselves are not convincingly real, sympathetic, or natural. Instead, they are either surreal or theatrical to the point of playing a masque in Elizabethan time, so to speak, which would have been excellent.
I watched the movie with high hope when it first started showing on HBO Max last Friday night. But my expectation was already turning ominous when I had trouble viewing it at first for some unknown technical reason. Once I got into the third world of Conjuring Universe, I knew it wouldn’t be what I had expected. The real Warrens have become the ghosts themselves, and I wonder what they would have thought about the movie. Judging from their celebrity status in the society of paranormal investigators, I think they would probably have been thrilled about their being the creative subject of the movie. Then maybe, it’s time for me to leave the Conjuring Universe in search of a new world of the supernatural without celebrity.
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