Peace is not just the absence of conflict; peace is the creation of an environment where all can flourish, regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, gender, class, caste, or any other social markers of difference. Religion, ethnicity, language, social and cultural practices are elements which enrich human civilization, adding to the wealth of our diversity. Why should they be allowed to become a cause of division, and violence? We demean our common humanity by allowing that to happen.
―Nelson Mandela, Global Convention on Peace and Nonviolence, New Delhi, India, January 31, 2004
On either side of a potentially violent conflict, an opportunity exists to exercise compassion and diminish fear based on recognition of each other’s humanity. Without such recognition, fear fueled by uninformed assumptions, cultural prejudice, desperation to meet basic human needs, or the panicked uncertainty of the moment explodes into violence.
―Aberjhani, Splendid Literarium: A Treasury of Stories, Aphorisms, Poems, and Essays
Therefore, she hummed the provincial lullaby she had learned from the officers’ children in the English Quarter of Jerusalem, and watched in fascination while the savage radical’s eyes misted over with tears. For an instant, the prison bars melted away, and she felt God’s presence—for the first time since their imprisonment. She was not a captive, and this man was not her captor. Indeed, they were both merely God’s children.
The interplay of individuality and unity is not one of uniformity and unanimity imposed from above but rather of conflict among diverse groupings that reach a dynamic consensus subject to questioning and criticism. As with a soloist in a jazz quartet, quintet or band, individuality is promoted in order to sustain and increase the creative tension with the group–a tension that yields higher levels of performance to achieve the aim of the collective project.
―Cornel West, Race Matters
I was tired in the evening yesterday. I felt drained by the last days outer conflicts. I felt separated from life. Suddenly I heard the wind blowing through the trees outside my open window, whispering a silent and playful invitation: “Do you want to play? Do you want to join the dance?”
It was lunar symbolism that enabled man to relate and connect such heterogeneous things as: birth, becoming, death, and resurrection; the waters, plants, woman, fecundity, and immortality; the cosmic darkness, prenatal existence, and life after death, followed by the rebirth of the lunar type (“light coming out of darkness”); weaving, the symbol of the “thread of life,” fate, temporality, and death; and yet others. In general most of the ideas of cycle, dualism, polarity, opposition, conflict, but also of reconciliation of contraries, of coincidentia oppositorum, were either discovered or clarified by virtue of lunar symbolism.
―Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion
There is no need for us all to be alike and think the same way, neither do we need a common enemy to force us to come together and reach out to each other. If we allow ourselves and everyone else the freedom to fully individuate as spiritual beings in human form, there will be no need for us to be forced by worldly circumstances to take hands and stand together. Our souls will automatically want to flock together, like moths to the flame of our shared Divinity, yet each with wings covered in the glimmering colors and unique patterns of our individual human expression.
Critics often praise pessimism over optimism. What if portraying the unconventional and exceptional helps create a kinder world?
Video via MOVIECLIPS Classic Trailers on YouTube.
Lars Lindstrom is twenty-seven years old, withdrawn and incommunicative. He’s only able to function because of the politeness and reserved nature of his hometown, which lies somewhere in the northern portion of the American Midwest. Whatever is going on within him, his neighbors and coworkers know it’s none of their business, so a smile and a few words suffice from day to day. As he passes between work, home and church in his tiny Toyota Tercel, he’s as frozen and cold as the snow that blankets the ground.
His status-quo is threatened when his brother, Gus, and sister-in-law, Karin, move back home and announce that they are expecting a baby. On top of that, there’s a cute girl at work named Margo who seems curiously attracted to him. All of this creates a crisis for Lars, who is desperately afraid of human interaction, especially the kind of conversation and physical contact expected from family. He moves into a room beside the detached garage and keeps his distance. Karin is wounded and worried by his rejection, and her fears are justified when Lars decides to come to dinner with a guest, a life-sized doll named Bianca. Lars purchased her on the Internet and it soon becomes painfully obvious that he believes she is a real human being.
Gus and Karin consult a psychiatrist who advises that Lars seems delusional and, due to his fragility, agrees to treat him while pretending to treat Bianca. The catch? She needs Gus and Karin to go along with his delusion. Gus, voicing the pessimistic thoughts of what we all like to call the “real” world, protests that “Everyone will laugh at him.” “And at you,” Dr. Berman answers with blunt honesty. There is no quick fix for Lars and no guarantee that he will ever snap out of it. Karin agrees to try Dr. Berman’s method, and, after a brief and futile attempt to talk some sense into his brother, Gus comes around too. As his delusion begins to affect the entire community, we see those around Lars deal with it for his sake. As we come to understand why Lars has retreated into this fantasy and confirm how childlike he truly is, we come to root for him and look forward to the day he will have the courage for a relationship.
I found Lars and the Real Girl spellbinding, and I’m one of those who prefers a dark and violent film to a disingenuous and insincere film that bills itself as “uplifting”. The unconventional nature of the story and its setting in a northern Mid-West community of Nordic descent keep it from getting overly sentimental. The cast is excellent across the board. Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider are winsome and completely believable as Karin and Gus and it is their response to Lars (Ryan Gosling) that won me over. Gosling, who received several award nominations, is phenomenal as the anti-social and childlike Lars.
Some will not allow themselves to see this movie and will miss the gentle, sweet nature of the film and its potential for changing the way we see others. Yes, Bianca is an anatomically correct sex doll, suggested by one of Lars’s coworkers who is a lonely goofball and maybe a bit of a pervert. But Lars isn’t after sex. He’s after someone he can talk to and hold who won’t cause him pain. Much like a child who plays out grown up scenes with dolls or toys, he’s playing at human interaction. It’s a much healthier response than some outsiders take in our society.
Equally fascinating are the effects of Bianca on the community and Lars’s family. Some people enjoy dressing her and styling her hair, some take her to the hospital to visit sick children, who find her a wonderful distraction from the pain and fear they are experiencing. In fact, she becomes so popular that Lars feels left out and the fantasy begins to wear thin. Karin and Gus realize things about each other and their family while explaining them to Bianca, revelations that are sometimes uncomfortable and sometimes wonderful. She gives them an excuse to talk about family matters and feelings, something that members of restrained families will understand. One of the most poignant scenes in the film is when Lars, inspired by Bianca, asks his brother how he knew he was a man. Gus’s answer takes a few minutes, but, after some fumbling, reveals his vulnerability and shame over his own selfishness. This in turn foreshadows Lars’s struggle with the selfishness of his fantasy world.
Miraculously, the film itself never stoops to cruelty, nor does it ever become obscene or even bawdy. Writer Nancy Oliver, also known for Six Feet Under, received an Oscar nomination. The work Oliver and director Craig Gillespie put into Lars and the Real Girl deserves accolades and attention. It isn’t easy to tackle a stereotype and make it a human story, especially when taboo is involved.
Video via Writers Guild Foundation on YouTube.
It has been said that the responses of the community are unrealistic and too positive. There are no beatings, no violence, and barely even any eye-rolling. We see a workplace in which coworkers communicate the potential of an awkward situation ahead of time and everyone does their best to avoid it. We see a tolerant Christian pastor and congregation which allow the health and well being of one lonely man to trump its traditional image. Lars and the Real Girl portrays a world in which people help each other through mental illness without taboos, cruelty and judgement, a world in which the ultimate health of an individual is more important than the momentary discomfort of a community. That’s a world worth imagining, don’t you think?
In the Kimberley area of Australia, indigenous tribes worship the Wandjina, supreme creators of the world. The Kimberley nations are recognized by all other tribes in Australia as the only group allowed to paint these figures, recognizable by their large eyes and lack of mouths. Elaborate headdresses, which are interpreted as different types of storms, often grace their heads. These unique and beautiful paintings require special permission from tribal elders to be made and their veneration and sacred qualities are a pillar of tribal culture.
For the outsider, these iconic images pose a lure. While the relationships of Wandjina to the believer are not easily understood, the images themselves are easily assimilated and copied by artists and bear some similarities to what many science fiction and alien conspiracy buffs would call Grey Aliens. Excited by both the strangeness and familiarity of the figures, artists have created their versions of the sacred images without permission. Their motivations vary from seeking common ground with another culture to making money off of a trendy image, but the reaction from the Kimberley community has been understandable outrage.
Vesna and Damir Tenodi sought to place a large stone sculpture depicting an outsider’s interpretation of Wandjina in a very public position outside of their art gallery in Katoomba and were ultimately denied permission. This was known as the Blue Mountain case. You can read in depth about it here. There was also a case in Perth, outside of the Kimberley region, where Wandjina showed up in graffiti, which you can read about here. In that situation, some indigenous people saw the street art as an homage to their culture, while others took offense that it was done in the wrong place by unapproved individuals.
In “westernized” nations, creative people are generally allowed to represent what they want or need to, even if it offends some people deeply. There have been and will continue to be controversies, such as that over Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, a crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine, but such art is allowed to stand as valid expression of human experience. Public opinion is not seen as a reason to censor art and the individual voice is given protection unless it becomes deemed dangerous or intolerant. What constitutes dangerous or intolerant is a legal matter of some contention, but is not determined on religious grounds.
By contrast, sacred images have lost a great deal of their power in western culture. By marketing a particular interpretation of a sacred figure and allowing it to be plastered on billboards, we present a particular picture of a faith. This obscures other interpretations and drives away people who are made uncomfortable by that picture. Does using art almost as religious logo contribute to the exclusion of some people from faith communities, even when this was not at all the intention of the artist?
The Kimberley people are newer to the assimilation game and many of them would like to keep their faith and art authentic. Unfortunately, they are fighting two forces which will make that very difficult as our world becomes increasingly globalized. The first is the driving force of financial gain propelled by advertising. As long as there is money to be made from the sale of an iconic image it will be replicated and sold. Both faith and artistic expression are likely to suffer.
The second force is that of inspiration and creative impulse. Despite the desire of religion to control both artistic and faith experiences, the creative spirit cuts across religious and cultural lines, often with delightful results. You cannot control the effects your art will have on a stranger, nor can you deny that stranger an encounter with the forces you revere. Blending of culture can result in wonderful art even as it upsets order and the common ground. It is my hope that empathy and sensitivity can help us find venues and spaces for both the traditional and the new, even when the new seems sacrilegious.