Monday, September 19, 2011

The Pledge is a movie...

that I have watched several times. I have a tendency to review or reread (sometimes multiple times) books or movies that resonate with me. For instance, Thelma and Louise is a movie that stuns me each time I see it and I have watched it multiple times. Ridley Scott, the director of Thelma and Louise was one of the first to place a female human into the role of 'hero' of a movie way back in his scary as hell classic Alien. I remember thinking the first time I saw Alien that it was a phenomenal movie and went around hustling friends of mine to go see it. Starman is another movie that knocks me out each time I revisit it although the homage paid to human beings by the alien character played by Jeff Bridges at the end of the movie is a little syrupy and too not true...I wish the makers of the movie had been courageous enough to be more truthful and accurate.

The Pledge is a good movie that is well made and acted with a number of talented folks in it including Jack Nicholson, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Harry Dean Stanton, Sam Shepard and others. Directed by Sean Penn, the movie is about a retired policeman's focus and near obsession on the identification and pursuit and capture of a human that is killing small blond female human children.

This movie is not, by the way, one of the movies I place in a special category I have (Thelma and Louise for instance). This category for books or movies is made up of those that I can return to repeatedly and each time extract something new or can be reminded of some enduring near or actual universal about life or living or nature or something. Either that or they are comedies that extract humor in some way that is timeless to me. Many of Laurel and Hardy's short comedies are in this latter group. The Pledge doesn't quite make it to this classic category although it is a fairly good movie.

I say each time I can extract something new or be reminded of a truthful thing, this might occur because I notice or understand something that had eluded me before or...something new might be apprehended or understood because I have changed since the last time I read or saw this particular work. Of course something like this can happen with any book or movie or artwork or music that is experienced more than once, but some creations are much more pleasant or interesting or thought or feeling provoking when indulged in repeatedly than others.

What was so powerfully apparent to me as I rewatched The Pledge was how much my perceptions had changed since I last saw this movie. Shortly after the beginning is a scene that almost short-circuited my mind as I watched. In it we see Nicholson looking grim after having notified parents that their young child has been murdered, we also see the parents collapsing in grief and anguish. What is absolutely amazing and astonishing in this terrible scene are the thousands of babies surrounding the human characters.
The background of the scene is populated by thousands of baby turkeys.
 The distraught parents are turkey 'farmers' and they were in a turkey 'barn' when notified of their daughter's death by Nicholson's character. These are people who "make a living" by taking baby turkeys away from their parents and imprisoning them in conditions akin to a concentration camp and once the babies reach a given age they then have these babies killed. And they are anguished, destroyed, grief-stricken by the fact that their baby was killed.

This scene, to me, exemplifies the profound schizoid, psychotic like, ignoring and dismissing of elements of reality that characterizes aspects of our culture involving other animals. The horrors these human animal parents engage in as a matter of routine are ignored...not mentioned...not even a whisper and the whole focus is on the anguish and grief and discomfort of the human animals in the scene. The thousands of babies, terrified and lost and facing a certain horrible death instigated by these wounded human parents, serve as nothing but an ignored and dismissed noisy backdrop of feathered children crying in anguish for their parents. I simply was stunned as I watched thousands of victims, thousands of small feathered children...fearful and doomed...relegated to invisibility and the death of one child, one human child presented as if it were the only significant loss and tragedy while all around a multitude of small spirits wailed and asked that their existence and anguish be acknowledged and alleviated.

This ongoing invisibling of our animal sisters and brothers is ubiquitous, "normal" and omnipresent. I see and hear instances of it constantly, everyday and in everyway. From the ignored bodies of animals killed by automobiles laying unmourned and unacknowledged beside the roadway to the "humorous"  representations of cows in commercials telling us to "eat more chickin". We are awash in this invisibling and diminishing of the importance of the lives of those beings that don't look or act or sound like human animals. We swim in it, we breath it and our animal relatives are being killed by the billions, their deaths facilitated by these incessant cultural sermons about the nothingness of the meaning of their lives.

I remember clearly the consternation and confusion and upset and ridicule that accompanied the protestations and objections to racist portrayals of humans that weren't white Europeans. I remember clearly the same sorts of consternations, confusions, upsets and ridiculing that were evoked by protestations and objections to sexist portrayals of humans that weren't male. This still occurs, the battle goes on...objections continue to be raised....ridiculing and dismissals still happen. No cultural wars are won completely and often need to be fought over and over...ignorance and oppression and exploitation and reality avoidance are mighty foes and they never give up and they never go away. They have to be challenged and resisted again and again...anywhere they occur.

I would like to think that the director of this movie and the author of the novella on which it was based were aware of the irony in the scene depicted, that they were making an astute and subtle observation about the narrowness and limitations of our compassions and awarenesses. Whether they were or not, scenes like these must be noticed, commented on and discussed. The herculean task of facilitating awareness of and care for the lives of all beings requires that this happen...but for it to happen common cultural presentations must be clearly recognized for what they are and consciously acknowledged and challenged.

It is incumbent upon all to be willing to be thought of as a crank, as peculiar, as silly, as 'too sensitive', as 'dumb', as whatever...for objecting...but I think that we must again and again object to and challenge cultural messages that minimize, hide, ignore or glorify the infliction of suffering and death on my brother and sister matter what those messages are, no matter how silly it might seem to be to protest...protest we must. Again and again and again.  The messages of ignoring and of invisibling are multiple and incessant and the objections to the billions of hidden and not so hidden tragedies must also be incessant.

If you aren't living as an ethical vegan...why not?. If you are living as an ethical vegan...time to think about how you are going to expand to others the awareness and compassion you have achieved and after deciding how you want to act...then act. Our sister and brother animals need us and they have been without acknowledgement and recognition and consideration for way too long.

As a for instance, I recently discovered that our local city council keeps track of letters to the editor published in our local newspaper about topics the council is interested in. Writing to your local newspaper is an avenue available to most all and using that venue to promote a change in cultural concepts can help in consciousness raising. Every voice is important, every single one...including yours. Recently I managed (astonishingly enough!) to get a letter published locally pointing out the cruelty of 'dairy' and of the hideous ways cows and their babies are treated. We need to make heard the voices decrying injury to or exploitation of sentient beings...the voices of misery and suffering and death have prevailed for way too long.


joan.kyler said...

I'm glad I found your blog. I feel the same way you do. I consider other species to be just as important as humans, actually, more important than humans. I think humans are the only species that could disappear from the Earth without any negative impact. In fact, I imagine the Earth would breathe a sigh of relief.

I feel mostly hopeless about the way humans treat animals, relegating animals to the category of 'things'. I've spent nights and days in agony thinking of the suffering of animals. I almost drove myself crazy before I realized I HAD to step back and stop suffering with individual animals.

My commitment is no less, but I have to allow myself to do what I can do and stop searching for the perfect act or the perfect words that will make people see animals for the amazing creatures they are and stop hurting, eating, and destroying their habitats.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Joan. Well, certainly we're not the most attractive species on the planet and certainly we've become a serious threat in terms of pollution and environmental destruction...Earth just might smile if we all disappeared.

I appreciate your agony and it is true that we aren't perfect and can not do everything. Giving succor when we can, a stroke, a treat, a by one for those we've harmed...that's what we must do.

David Ashton said...

I'm also glad I found your blog. It's a daunting task, but besides going back to sleep, there is really no other option. I love your phrase "one by one for those we've harmed."

Bea Elliott said...

I haven't seen Starman for years... But it's was a favorite. The scene with the murdered deer - given back his life was worth the whole film!

But you bring up some interesting things about how artists express themselves in words, or scenes... Especially in movies I'm keenly aware of the sets they use and why.

For instance, if there is no purpose or relevancy to the plot - Why have the decor include antlers over the mantle... A bear-skin rug... A mounted fish... Or a caged bird?

If the dialog doesn't require the mention of specific food - Why are the actor's lines "Let's get a steak" - Rather than "Let's get dinner"? Why not say "Breakfast is ready" - Rather than "Ham and eggs are done"? This always annoys and confuses me - Sounds paranoid - But it seems like an agenda when it doesn't further the plot along.

Same goes with locations - Why around a barbeque? A circus? An aqua-prison? If the scene isn't critical to be in those places - Why? I watched a movie just recently where a conversation between the characters took place at a greyhound race. Had absolutely nothing to do with the story line... So why shoot it there if not for an undisclosed or even unconscious reason?

The movie "There Will Be Blood" had a slaughterhouse captive bolt gun as the main weapon. Wasn't critical. It could have been any caliber of a standard gun. Why one that was used specifically on nonhumans?

I don't know what goes on in the (absent) minds of these creators except that maybe using other animals, seeing their body parts in various ways is so normalized that they don't even see what they're doing either.

The scene you describe in the turkey house has immense significance for us to pay attention to. You're right that the only way we're going to rid this dissonance regarding others is to point it out over and over again no matter how many times we must.

Seen as a crank? Peculiar, silly and sensitive - Been there. It doesn't hurt any more the 3rd, 30th or 300th time around. It is THEY who are the thick ones that don't get it!!! Although, sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised and someone unlikely will point it out to me first - Score one for our side! Someone's listening!!!

Finally, letter writing is an excellent suggestion especially if they make a difference later on with local government decisions. Ironically, the last letter I wrote to my paper was about dairy too... Or rather the protest of the girl's highschool basketball team being sponsored by a dairy company and photographing the high-scorer with a "mustache". The coach was so riled at my inferences he actually called me at my home to state that his team was not the format for my animal-rights message... Nope! He was wrong! EVERYWHERE, all the time is the place for it!

Thanks for your clear reasoning and strong, unwavering voice!

veganelder said...

Thank you David for commenting. I'm glad you found the blog too and I hope you don't find your tasks too daunting.

veganelder said...

Thank you Bea for commenting. I think the gratuitous using of reminders of our tyranny and exploiting of other animals is motivated and purposeful. It probably is so omnipresent because we know on some level it is wrong and inaccurate. If we just keep on telling ourselves the opposite maybe the repeated telling will make it true. At the core of the narcissists seeming belief in his/her 'superiority' is a nagging sense of just the opposite...hence the need to be constantly reassured of 'superiority' and of the quick and vigorous offense and upset at any hint that this imagined 'near perfection' is somehow flawed and less than imagined.

I too was overwhelmed with the scene of the resurrecting of the deer in Starman, I also enjoyed the scene where Starman mimics the cook's voice and speech cadence when riding in the car with him. There is also, to me, much truth in the paranoia and the desire to control depicted about human animals in the movie.

I clearly remember the ridicule and minimizing directed toward those who began to object to various terms and depictions of folks that weren't white Europeans and toward those that protested the objectification of women. This process is nothing new and the only shame is if you aren't protesting or objecting or elucidating and clarifying. Being thought of as a crank or strange or weird or too sensitive is a badge of honor when confronting odious phenomena.

I am in awe that you managed to stir someone up enough to call you. Congratulations! You get an oak leaf cluster for your badge of courage and honor and compassion. On behalf of the animals you spoke up for...Thank You!!

Have Gone Vegan said...

I haven't seen Starman, although it sounds like it would be worthwhile if I did. Don't actually watch too many movies in general, but after Bea's interesting comment about the use of animals in dialogue, scenes and locations I will now be paying much more attention when I do!

I would hope that in most cases scenes of animal use/abuse (like the turkey farm in The Pledge) are included because it's unseen rather than purposeful (one of the few times I want you to be wrong, veganelder!), so I guess one of the many tasks of vegans is to restore vision.

p.s. congratulations to you and Bea for getting your letters published -- awesome!

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. Well, even if you don't watch movies much I suspicion the scene with the deer in Starman will grab you. Get it, watch it...let me know what you think.

Insofar as the folks making The Pledge were unknowing...the old shrink in me suspects they knew...maybe on an unconscious level...but they knew...some part of them knew...the whole staging of the scene was too exquisitely bizarre to have happened purely by accident. So says my inner shrink. :-)

Thanks for the congrats...if just one person thinks a little more because of the letters...then wow.