Tag Archives: Religion

The Other Lamb

4 Apr

‘The Other Lamb’: Lesson from cult life in woods is largely that guys are manipulative jerks, Part I

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With the Covid-19 state of emergency and shutdown of movie theaters, we’re highlighting new streaming options for people stuck in their homes by social distancing.

“The Other Lamb” is a twisted tale about a cult in the deep woods, dwelling in yurtlike structures adorned with pagan markings and living off the land, all female but led by a man known simply as the Shepherd (Michiel Huisman). The Shepherd lives well: His “Handmaiden” flock wash him and feed him, and the young women he selects get the can’t-say-no opportunity to “receive his grace.” The Shepherd, bearded and benevolent in countenance, evokes Jesus, but when things don’t go his way he acts like Machiavelli, relying on his divine righteousness and religiously obedient groupthink to ensure he gets what he wants. And then there’s that flock of sheep always nearby, peppered with a few anxious bull rams huffing and snorting with pent-up sexual energy, as if they want in on the fertility rites too.

In texture, the postured “Other Lamb” feels a lot like Robert Eggers’ 2015 Calvinist tale of the occult, “The Witch,” but at one point early on we get an incursion from the outside world and learn that we’re not toiling in a primitive, pre-electricity era. The main focus of the film is a young woman by the name of Selah (Raffey Cassidy, so good as Natalie Portman’s daughter in “Vox Lux” and a simmering realization here as well) whose mother had been a member of the cult and perished recently amid curious circumstance. Budding on the cusp of sexual availability, she’s eyed continually by the Shepherd, but Selah’s interested in learning what happened and stepping outside the confines of the cult. It’s such coming-of-age anxiety that gives the film a simmering tension beyond the raw sexual energy that’s heaped out there from frame one with “Wicker Man”-esque dankness.

Things meander as the group is forced to find a new Eden. The odyssey builds the character of Selah, and reveals other things at play beyond the Shepherd’s mercurial nature and the ever-present, heavy-breathing rams. Take the cult’s social order, which has the older women (Selah’s mom was one) referred to as “broken things” or “cursed wives,” both mentors and outcasts. And even though there’s the pronounced tang of Puritanism, the scene of the Shepherd baptizing young women in scanty albs would likely set the testosterone tinder of spring break bros afire once the anointed in their little-left-to-the-imagination garb are raised from the watery depths for air. It’s a weird, haunting modulation between austere religious regimentation, the Shepherd’s enigmatic id and the women’s individual freedoms offset and undercut by the power of group coercion. 

The film’s big win, besides Cassidy, is the gorgeous cinematography by Michal Englert (“The Congress”) rendering the vast Irish highlands as both foreboding and liberating. Overall, Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska delivers a confident and poised composition, crafting a spectacle of a man justifying entitlement by claims of divine right, even if feels done before.

 

First Reformed

26 May

‘First Reformed’: The reverend is in torment in a ‘Taxi Driver’ for a newly tormented era

 

In two of Martin Scorsese’s career-defining films – “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) – the protagonists (cab driver Travis Bickle and Jesus) are souls in torment and on the cusp of greater things that, to varying degrees, shift the civilized world as we know it. Both were written by Paul Schrader, a Calvinist-raised midwesterner who’s regularly shown himself a master as writer (“Raging Bull”) but something of a tormented soul himself as a director. With early hits such as “Blue Collar” (1978), “American Gigolo” (1980) and “Cat People” (1982) and intermittent wonders thereafter – “Affliction” (1997) and “Auto Focus” (2002) – Schrader has more recently scored a series of miscues – “The Canyons” (2013) and “Dog Eat Dog” (2016) – that have tanked critically and gone to the secondary market without the dignity of a theatrical release.

The good news is that Schrader’s latest, “First Reformed,” is something of a resurrection for the 71-year-old filmmaker, and an apt one; it revolves around a soul arguably more anguished than Christ or Bickle. The object of the title is a small, upstate New York church on the eve of its 250th anniversary. Tending to its diminishing flock is a reverend by the name of Ernst Toller (played with perfect restraint by Ethan Hawke, delivering his best work since “Training Day”) who’s clearly more lost spiritually than any of his flock. We learn early on that in the near recent past he’s lost his son to the war, and his wife abandoned him in the aftermath. Toller remains composed at the dais, but behind rectory doors he’s washed out, rueful and barely able to find solace at the bottom of a glass of bourbon. Smartly, he keeps the bottle hidden, but higher-ups at the parent parish (played with power and concern by Cedric the Entertainer) ultimately suss him out. How Toller finds redemption comes initially through purpose, when pregnant young parishioner Mary (Amanda Seyfried) asks him to counsel her troubled husband, who spouts eco-terrorism mantras and conspiracy theories – nothing like a drowning man trying to save another going under – and later, in the discovery of a suicide vest. Continue reading

Of Condoms and Tenets

29 Mar

In strike against safe sex group, Boston College creates its own Catholic mystery

By Tom Meek
March 28, 2013

Boston College has threatened to take disciplinary action against BC Students for Sexual Health. (Photo: BCSSH)

Boston College has threatened to take disciplinary action against BC Students for Sexual Health. (Photo: BCSSH)

Boston College has threatened to take disciplinary action against a student group that promotes safe sex and provides condoms to students because that organization’s agenda is deemed diametrically opposed to the university’s Catholic affiliation and mission.

Okay, I get the rub, but why now? It’s not like condoms on campus are anything new, and I can guarantee you they have been a staple of BC dorm life since before the Miracle in Miami or even the heroics of Jack Concannon – so again, why now? One can only guess that a devout parent or alum with deep pockets got wind of the existence of the BC Students for Sexual Health’s Safe Sites and raised a stink. Or maybe the recent election of a pope got the Jesuit juices flowing in Chestnut Hill and they wanted greater religious sanctity on campus, which would be ironic; the tenor from Vatican City, where the swirl of sex abuse cover-up still hangs in the air, was a more humane and contemplative one, one that seemed even willing to reevaluate the administration of old-world tenets in a rapidly changing world.

No matter what BC’s impetus, in the bigger scheme of college life in which a “Spring Breakers” mentality commingles with pious sanctity, it just seems unwise to forcibly close down Safe Sites given that the downside is an increase in unwanted pregnancies and STDs.

And let’s keep in mind that BC, as an institution of higher learning with a religious affiliation, invites people of other faiths, or no faith, to come to its campus to hone their minds. It likely has a code of conduct students should adhere to, but given its diverse makeup, a new trend compelling its non-Catholic populace to be subject to the ethics of the Catholic Church might have long-term ramifications. The balance of religious obligation and administration of higher education is a tough one. Other institutions, such as Brigham Young University and Notre Dame, must struggle with it mightily, especially when it comes to recruiting student athletes to a top sports program with an arduous army of alumni backers and big TV contacts.

The problem here is that BC has created its own media firestorm. Had its officials reached out to Safe Sites or simply ignored them, life would carry on just the same as if they truncated the safe sex group, because sex and condoms will still happen no matter what.

Sex has always been tricky for Catholic Church. Critics have widely asked: Why not accept the provision of condoms and safe sex in poor and AIDs-riddled parts of the world such as Africa? Or how can one be so righteous in the face of sex scandal after sex scandal? The Church and BC, at their core, seek to do good. Their missions are to help others and they do do much to improve the world through charity, education and outreach. But sometimes the tendency to cling to tradition in a changing world can become a shackle.

One does not need to surrender one’s principals or traditions, but one does need to be pragmatic.