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Archive for May, 2007

If you are
looking for cutting edge commentary on the culture, you have come to
the wrong place. I don’t get out much, and anything I say about a film
is said after it has been released on DVD (Children of Men was the rare exception, and I saw that after it had been out in theatres for weeks).

And so last weekend I rented Pan’s Labyrinth,the critically acclaimed fantasy by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. "Pan’s Labyrinth" is an unfortunate paraphrase; the literal
translation from the Spanish is "The Labyrinth of the Faun", a far more
evocative and accurate title; the filmmaker has stated emphatically the
Pan is not one of his characters.

The tale is
set in 1944, in fascist Spain. The heroine is Ofelia, a young girl of
11 or so, whose widowed mother Carmine has married Captain Vidal, a
fascist leader whose battalion is stalking the resistance that has
persisted in the forest. Carmine is carrying the Captain’s child in her
womb, and as the film opens Ofelia and her mother are on their way to
live at the fascist camp in the woods. Along the way fairy tale-reading
Ofelia encounters a strange sculpture in the forest and a mysterious
insect, which she calls a fairy.

Upon arriving
at the camp the insect transforms into a real fairy and leads her to an
ancient labyrinth, which is a portal to the underworld, where she
encouters a faun.

Now, when I say "a faun" you
may think of CS Lewis’ Mr Tumnus, or Disney’s dancing furry children,
but this is quite a different creature. Lewis’ fairy world was a
prettified and genteel English version of pagan myth. Toro’s creatures-
no doubt more accurately-  are darker, otherworldly, ambiguous and
dangerous. Even the fairies are carnivores. This faun hails from the
deep Earth, and his bones creak and groan when he moves, like old wood
or stone grinding far underground.

The faun, in
true fairy tale fashion, reveals to the girl that she is a lost
princess, and assigns her three tasks she must accomplish to return to
her kingdom.

Captain Vidal proves to be cold and cruel, as much an incarnation of evil as Ophelia is of innocence.

As so the tale unfolds, a classic story of good and evil, skillfully and beautifully rendered. This is filmmaker’s art finely tuned. It was so
visually rich on my small TV screen, I can only imagine how it was on
the big screen.

While this is a fairy tale, it
is not for children: it is dark, often literally as much of the action
takes place at night or in the underground realm. Evil is portrayed
graphically and the violence is brutal. There are creatures that appear
to have arisen from a nightmare and the film is rich in imagery rooted
in mythical and psychological archetype.

This
isn’t exactly a Christian fable; the faun could no more be called good
or evil than a thunderstorm or a mountain. And the only representative
of the Church that is seen is a profascist cleric shown stuffing his
face as he dismisses the hunger of the poor.

It
is, however, a profoundly moral and redemptive film, one that touches
the imagination and the heart as deeply as any good fairy tale. In the
truest sense it is more a Christian film than some of the sanctimonious
movies I have seen.

Daniel Nichols

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That Longing Which the Aeroplane Cheats

Maclin Horton

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Those of us who attempt to think with the Church’s social doctrines as well as her theological and moral teachings know the feeling well: we quote a papal statement at odds with a particular war, or critical of unfettered capitalism, and we are told "Well, that is just his personal opinion," as if the Pope’s opinion were merely one of many, with no more weight than yours or mine, and considerably less than Fr Neuhaus’ or Mr Bush’s.

It is a favorite tactic of the Catholic neoconservatives, when they cannot twist papal pronouncements to their own end, to make a fine distinction between infallible and fallible statements.

I am not saying that this distinction does not exist, but it seems to come glibly, with little reflection, to those whose own opinions are challenged or rejected by something the Pope has said.

This cavalier attitude toward Papal teaching is odd, especially when it comes to statements about particular wars, which after all are matters of life and death for huge numbers of innocents.

Stephen Hand, in a recent piece at the Traditional Catholic Reflections website addresses this, and the general tendency of the neocons over the last few decades to co-opt Church teachings for their own ideological ends, saying that this attitude is "…particularly troubling since papal prudential judgements have never been viewed as off-the-cuff soundbites but, especially relative to war, as very important rational conclusions based on 2,000 years of infallible Catholic moral principles and reasoning, and which the popes publish only after very careful and weighty analysis".

It has long been evident to those of us who have been observing them that the Catholic neoconservatives have no interest in sitting at the feet of the Church, our Mater et Magister, but rather are intent on leading Her around on their own ideological leash.  Mr. Hand’s very fine and comprehensive critique can be read here.

Daniel Nichols

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A Permanent Culture War?

Maclin Horton

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As promised, I have added some new icons on my website. I have also replaced some of the older ones with recent versions.

Check it out at www.eighthdayicons.com.

Daniel Nichols

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A Few Notes on The Sirens of Titan

Maclin Horton

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The Seamless Shroud

That was the term coined by Juli Loesch Wiley back in the ’80s to describe the view that provides moral justification for both nuclear war and abortion. Ross Douthat of The Atlantic arrives at a similar formulation. I like Juli’s term better but am very pleased to see the same point made so well and in such a prominent forum.

Maclin Horton

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