Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

Looking for God in “The New World”

posted by ellen leventry

Just past the two-hour mark in Terrence Malick’s “The New World,” a character named Opechancanough–one of the “naturals,” as the film calls Native Americans–tells Rebecca, known as Pocahontas before her baptism, that he is being sent to England to “meet this God they talk about so much.”

The irony of this statement is twofold: (1) There is very little actual dialogue in the first two hours of the movie, and (2) a small fraction of that dialogue is given over to talking about God. Which left me scratching my head over Opechancanough’s rather humorous comment.

At this point, I must disclose that I am not a real fan of Malick’s style. A philosophy student at both Harvard and Oxford, who later taught philosophy and translated Martin Heidegger’s works, Malick’s films are slower than expected, more sensitive to the voices within and without, and tend to dote on questions about nature and the place that humans make for themselves in it. Some find this liberating, others find it laborious. In this case, I felt like I was watching a Nature Channel special on the ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay, blended with a continuous loop of Calvin Klein “Obsession” commercials–lots of shots of people strolling through tall grass, asking esoteric questions.

Using the star-crossed relationship of John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) to illuminate the conflicts between the “civilized” white settlers of Jamestown and the “natural” people whom they believed they found in a new Eden, the movie is typical Terrence Malick–deliberate pacing, some might say plodding, with an intense focus on the natural world.

Apart from that reference to Eden, which was made by Governer Christopher Newport (Christopher Plummer), along with a scene where Smith wonders aloud if he has gone against God’s wishes in loving Pochantas, the most obvious reference in “The New World” to the Christian God is the giant cross looming above the English fort, the same cross the “naturals” seemed to be trying to knock down earlier in the film. However, only a few times in the film do we get a glimpse at the role religion might have actually played in the Jamestown colony, such as when Captain Edward Wingfield (David Thewlis) strips Smith of his command based on a chapter from Leviticus and when Pocahontas is baptized and given the name Rebecca.

We see a bit more of the Native Americans’ spiritual lives–dances, sun salutations, prayer, and other rituals–but they are never explained in any detail. I understand that Malick intends for the audience to experience things just as Smith did, confused, scared, awed, and not clued in to what is happening, but it would have added to my experience and enjoyment of the movie if Malick had offered a few more clues to orient us.

And yet, a few days removed from seeing the film, I realize “The New World” is imbued with spiritul and religious notes that never quite took form for me while actually watching it. I can appreciate, if not completely agree with, Malick’s somewhat over-simplified sentiments about the purity and superiority of the Algonquin’s spiritual lives as compared to that of the English settlers; perhaps I was just expecting more spirituality and faith from a movie set in the 17th century, an era in which settlements came to be known “as plantations of religion.” Perhaps, though, it just takes a few days back in the real world to really appreciate “The New World.”

“Desperate Housewives”: Gabrielle Kicks a Nun From the Heat to the Cold

posted by sherry huang

While the Christian faith tells us that “the truth will set you free,” it is a lie that set Gabrielle free from Carlos’s bondage to Sister Mary Bernard on last night’s “Desperate Housewives.”

As Carlos pines away for a baby, Sister Mary uses religious and psychological brainwashing to get him away from Gabrielle. Eager to recruit Carlos as a more devout Catholic, Sister Mary goads Carlos into believing his marriage can’t be saved; Gabrielle is only keeping him on a leash by being wishy-washy about having a baby, she tells him. The marriage, therefore, is not a real covenant in God’s eyes and the only solution to an ungodly marriage is to get an annulment (a pamphlet of which Sister Mary has “conveniently” kept in her car’s glove compartment).

After Gabrielle is threatened with an annulment, she goes to confession to complain that she is jealous of the nun’s relationship with Carlos. When asked by the priest whether Carlos and Sister Mary are having an affair, Gabrielle is forced to choose between a truth (‘no’) and a lie (‘yes’). Choosing the lie, Gabrielle then quickly soothes her conscience by confessing–to a different priest–that she lied to a priest, but her lie has already ensured Sister Mary’s quiet transfer to another church in Alaska.

With Sister Mary banished to cold and darkness, Gabrielle shockingly proves that (sometimes) lies are worth telling to get what one wants, even if the future may cause the lie to backfire. For now though, Gabrielle seizes her victor’s title and rewards Carlos with the promise of a baby.

Superman Converts!

posted by

The much-anticipated “Superman Returns” won’t be released for several months, but the trailer is out and contains this shocker: He’s become a Christ figure. We’re used to thinking of Superman as something of a Jewish tale, but it seems like he may have switched teams for this latest movie.

Like so many of the people behind the classic American comic-book heroes, Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were Jewish, and more to the point, their creation had a distinctly Jewish feel. Superman was the Golem, the supernatural figure who wreaks havoc on evildoers, fighting for good and expecting no reward. It should come as no surprise that he first emerged in the late ’30s, as Hitler’s campaign to eradicate European Jewry (which included, no doubt, close relatives of Siegel and Shuster) was underway. As Michael Chabon so poignantly dramatizes in his 2001 novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” the fantasy of a Golem denying victory to Hitler was just about all that most Jews could cling to as the horrors unfolded.

The premise of the new film is that Superman has been away from Earth for some time and, as the title implies, returns, presumably to halt some imminent cataclysm. But in the trailer for “Superman Returns” we hear a deep, authoritative voice addressing Superman (using his given name, Kal-El), telling the superhero that, though he has been raised as a human being, he is not one of them–and yet he still has a mission to accomplish among the humans. The voice continues:

They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show them the way. For this reason above all–their capacity for good–I’ve sent them you, my only son.

And there you have it. The second coming of Christ… I mean Superman… hits theaters June 30.

(Special thanks to my old friend Jeremy for alerting me to this.)

Revamping Jewish Cultural Stereotypes–Through Food!

Just as Jewish culture isn’t all about black hats and beards, and Jewish humor isn’t all about guilt and your mother, stereotypical Jewish foods such as bagels, matzah balls, and gefilte fish may soon have to share the plate with lesser-known Jewish delicacies hailing from the traditions of Bukharian Jews from Central Asia.

Thanks to a recent New York Times article touting the flavor of the Bukharians living in and around Queens, N.Y., chebureks and kebabs–savory deep fried pies and hunks of crisp lamb fat–get their chance to shine as Jewish food with a culinary conscience.

I came to know the Bukharian culture through my first boyfriend, the child of Russian-speaking Jewish parents living in the Queens neighborhood Forest Hills. His character was spicy and pungent, just like the dishes his mom prepared when I met her for the first time. I was thrilled to have landed a Heeb who didn’t seem, well, the stereotypical bagels-and-lox Jew. But it was always a challenge to explain to friends–Jewish and non-Jewish alike–that even though he had dark skin and listened to music with Arabic-inflections, he was in fact a member of The Tribe. I would tell them he was Bukharian. What? BUK-HAR-IAN.

They didn’t get it at the time, but if the Times article is anything of an indication that the world is ready to broaden its image of Jewish culture, let’s pick up our forks and do so one bite at a time.

Cumin-scented pilaf of rice anyone? Yes, please.

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