Inherit the Wind: Everything old is new again

I first saw parts of this film, for reasons which still remain obscure to me, in religious school (Reform Jewish, for the record, so we weren’t really particularly expected to root for one viewpoint or the other). It’s of course loosely based on the real Scopes Trial, but divergest to tell its own story, so I’m judging it on fictional rather than documentary merit. It’s really Spencer Tracy’s show, and he delivers the perhaps a bit overwrought dialogue quite well, considering. It’s a passionate play, and that comes through, but the other characters seem barely sketched. Gene Kelly as H.L. MenckenHornbeck seems particularly ill-placed and irrelevant: he hangs around for the whole film just to say particularly irksome things at the end.

Anyways, enough about the film, time for the evolution-debate screed. Really, you think I’d pass up an opporunity to go on about an Issue of the Day thinly disguised as a review? Really, I didn’t pick this movie specifically for the purposes of talking about modern politics; it just came to the top of my queue. Anyways, one theme they try to work into this film (and the play on which it’s based) is the compatibility between religion and science. Since the main conflict is between religious and scientific teaching, it makes sense that they’d try to make the encouraging ending a reconciliation between the two viewpoints. But for most of the film, it’s the proponents of religion trying to tear down science, and the proponents of science trying to tear down religion. That does not seem to be strictly necessary.

I’ve never gotten the stances of the militants on either end of the religion debate. Militant atheists have a point, but they’re so intolerably smug about it, while the ultrafundamentalist Christians are just out of touch with anything resembling reality. These are ridiculous extreme viewpoints, and it scares me to think (as it is increasingly hard to deny) that these stances actually represent a good part of the American population. I can’t fathom biblical literalism: it’s not just evolution which is oppositional to the literalist viewpoint, but pretty much every scientific discovery from heliocentricism on. I wouldn’t think the viewpoint that the Bible contained allegory and poetry would be heretical. But I’m not a fundamentalist.

What bugs me about the debate, really, is that it seems like the sort of thing that shouldn’t be happening. One incisive line in Inherit the Wind is that “creation took a long miracle”. I’m surprised fundamentalism isn’t taking on the viewpoint that scientific stances on creation are evidence of God’s love too. Because, let’s face it, the fact that the end result of this extremely fiddly celestial process is us is pretty damn incredible (yes, I know this is easy to say in hindsight, and if it had taken a million more years and we’d evolved from lizards, we’d say the same thing. I’m just trying to frame it in a way that looks like the Hand of God). Seems pretty likely that millions of years of the universe might produce something else. I’d say a God with the wherewithal to engineer a system which after a few million years cranks out an upright ape is a lot more impressive than one who snaps his fingers and makes man just be there. This would be a far more satisfying theological take.

In my opinion, the debate rumbling through even the new century isn’t between science and religion. It’s between bad scientific metaphysics and bad theology. The theological underpinnings of the hard-line antievolutionists isthe “God of the Gaps” fallacy; as we’ve seen, the smaller those gaps get, the smaller their God does too, but if you give God a role in the processes between the gaps, we can see its hand in everything. The bad scientific metaphysics comes from a vocal but mercifully not representative group of shrill atheists whose essential stance is “God is not described by physics, so God isn’t worthy of consideration”. If there’s one thing 20th century physics should have taught us (especially relativity and quantum mechanics), it’s that the closer you look at the world, the more things you hadn’t even considered pop up. No, I’m not suggesting scientists start incorporating God into their theories. But there should be an openmindedness towards the possibility that underlying principles of the universe may be amenable to explanations not yet supported. Saying “there is no God” is shutting off an entrire realm of possible explanation.

All the wackjobs I actually know are on the militant-atheist end of the scale. But the fundie nutjobs (none of whom I actually know) outnumber them, and that sort of scares me. I don’t understand that stance at all, but I think it’s immune to reasoned argumentation.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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Revolutionary Girl Utena: On the Subversiveness of Wearing Pants

Damn, I’m gonna need some help with this one.

I watched bits of the Utena series and bits of the movie back as an undergrad. I also got the vague impression the movie was a lot worse than the series. I can only hope so, because I couldn’t figure much of anything out here. I remembered a lot of people pulling swords out of this girl’s cleavage and trying to knock flowers off of each other while impeded by bizarre scenery. I remembered a girl who wore a cowbell as a fashion accessory and turned into a cow. I remembered some guy with a stopwatch. Some of these elements show up in the movie, but they don’t seem particularly relevant or important, except the dueling bits.

The only real positive feature I saw in the movie was the art (and to a lesser extent the music). Scenery is lovely, and people are well-drawn if a bit wonky. There’s something disturbing about the faces: they seem out-of-proportion to the body and distressingly pointed. Human figures were OK, but closeups on faces were kind of freaky, for me at least.

Anyways, move beyond the visuals, and you’re looking at characterization and plot, which is where I blink and say “what the fuck?” On characterization I’m tempted to beleive the series does a better job, because the story’s full of characters, and nobody except Utena, Anthy, and Touga feels remotely fleshed out. And even those three I’m not sure what’s up with. Anthy’s down for some hott lesbian lovin’, and Utena’s still got it for Touga, and Touga is, er, some guy or prince, or something. The rest of the characters are conspirators with funky hair who natter on about roses and princes and revolution and are all screwing each other off screen (and flirting shamelessly on-screen). When watching the series, I found myself assuming everyone was an androgynous polyamorous bisexual just to simplify my interpretation of all the flirting/sleeping around which everyone seemed involved in.

And I still can’t figure out what the hell actually happened at the end of the film. Utena turns into a car, OK, they escape the wiles of their classmates, and “revolutionize the world” by escaping into the “outside world”. I’d applaud the destruction of the fourth wall, except it’s really damn clumsy and it doesn’t seem accurate anyways, since the “real world” they escape into doesn’t seem to resemble what I’d call the “real world”.

I can’t figure out why my peer group is so very excited by Utena. My guess is it’s all the genderbending. Everyone loves genderbenders. Well, everyone I hung out with as an undergrad, anyways.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

IFComp 2005

Note: these reviews are also on my web page, and have been crossposted to and .

Another year over and gone, and somehow this comp leaves me feeling
unsatisfied. Maybe I’ve been judging comps for too long and I’ve
gotten jaded. Or maybe it was just a piss-poor year. An awful lot of
people tried hard to push the envelope, and mostly failed.

If that intro doesn’t make it absolutely clear, I’m a total bitch
this year. Don’t worry, I was an equal-opportunity asshole. Coal in
everyone‘s stockings tonight.

Particular causes of bitchiness:

  • Textdumps. I’d be happy to never see a wodge of text longer
    than a screen again. I swear, I wore out my spacebar this year.
  • Ultralinearity. Goes with the textdumps, basically. Some of
    these games would toss me a puzzle or two, maybe a bit of freedom of
    action, and them I’d spend the next five minutes watching plot happen
    to me. That’s not cool.
  • Lack of hints. There were at a few games where not having
    hints was absolutely crippling, to the point where I had no inkling of
    how to finish them. One of these games was even by an author who had
    been taken to task for inadequate hints in the past.
  • It’s vs. its. Really, there’s nothing more to be said, is
    there? Using “it’s” as a possessive pronoun makes baby Jesus
    cry!

Enough general ranting, how ’bout some ranty reviews

老人Z (Roujin Z): Revenge of the Codgers

I kinda like this one, in theory. In practice it’s not as good, but it takes a lot of deliciously silly ideas and runs madcap through them. We have a thoroughly humiliating cybernetic care unit touted as a godsend to the patient. We have “old-school hackers” become not just old-school but just plain old. We have a killer robot on a destructive rampage being sickeningly cute. These are all elements which work towards making this show delifghtfully silly, but then there’s a military involvement and a battle of robots and that all is very eh. But the premise is great. Rampaging killer robots is nothing new, but rampaging killer eldercare units is something you can hang a great deal of wackassedness on.

See also: IMDB, Anime News Network, AniDB.

Sunset Blvd.: Forgetting to be forgotten

I’ve fallen way behind, so my memories of this one are more fragmentary than I’d like. Things I particularly liked were the characterization of Max, getting to see a young pre-Dragnet Jack Webb, and of course the absolutely brutal pathos of the final scene. I was remined, not entirely surprisingly, of a similar scene in A Streetcar Named Desire: the pathos works here too. But Sunset Blvd. isn’t tonally the same throughout: there’s a bleakness and a superficiality throughout, and a sense of impending doom (somewhat bolstered by the fact that we know from the first scene that William Holden is going to end up dead in the pool). It’s well-done, bleakly humorous and hitting the right ewmotional notes. And, surprisingly for a Hollywood film about Hollywood films, it doesn’t come across as self-indulgent.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.