(Rant 428 bis)
14 February 2011
Love. Eros, actually. The opening sequence of the film The American. Shows George Clooney in bed with a girl friend. Atmosphere reassuringly peaceful and caring. She is affectionate, kisses and caresses him. Looks like exemplary love-making. Despite the cynical Latin adage, post coitum omne animal triste – ‘after coition all animals are sad’ – afterwards they dress and go out for a bracing walk. It is a lonely Swedish landscape, there is plenty of snow about, but they wear thick, warm clothes and, her arm under his, the two lovers march along together, contented. A scene that fills your heart with happiness.
Suddenly, the crack of a bullet. He pushes her down, out of harm’s way. Then, locating the hidden enemy in the trees, he whips out a gun and shoots him dead. ‘Go, call the police!’ he tells his shocked partner. As she harries off in the snow he shoots her dead. There and then. From behind, in the back of the head. She collapses without a cry and that’s it.
The action shifts to an Italian village, high in the Abruzzi mountains. Clooney is now Mr Farfalla, ostensibly a harmless eccentric, a painter of colourful Lepidoptera. In fact, he makes guns for sale. Or rather, he makes guns for hired assassins.
The film is fab. And the novel it is based on, by the late Martin Booth, is also good. The conjunction between Eros and Thanatos, love and death, is what interests me, on this bright Valentine day, however.
When I was a parish priest it fell sometimes to me to preach on St Valentine’s Day. Valentine was a holy martyr, a priest at Rome who helped other Christians under the persecution of emperor Claudius Gothicus. They urged him to deny Christ and apostatise, to save his life. Valentine would have none of it, so his tormentors beat him to death with clubs. This holy man really has nothing to do with the present nonsense of giving ‘valentines’ to someone of the opposite sex (hopefully). The learned Fr Alban Butler suggests the custom arose from trying to efface the lewd and superstitious carousing on the Roman festival of Lupercal. Or perhaps it’s connected with the mating habits of birds – the feathered variety.
In my sermons way back I sought to be positive, to give Valentine day a Christian colouring but I now realise I was dead wrong. (I too, like Aaron, the father of all priests, he who made and worshipped the Golden Calf, have sinned – the liberal atmosphere in the Church of England made me do it.) The whole thing is false, rotten through and through. You cannot serve two masters, as Christ said. You cannot serve both Adonai, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and of Jesus Christ, and also some squalid fetishes, the modern, tawdry counterparts of Dionysus and Venus, with all the wickedness that they represent.
Still, Lupercal is now back. It seems only fitting that, as the English more and more forsake the faith of the ancestors, they should fall back into the lubricious arms of a second-rate, ersatz paganism. In none of the shops making brisk business selling valentine rubbish you will find the slightest reference to anything even vaguely saintly or spiritual. An object lesson. As Christianity fades away from this land, the holy England of martyrs, saints and pious kings, the discredited, bogus gods return. (It grieves me to say but....might Islam be the only hope left? Mumkin...)
In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, fraudulent Dr Freud proposed his famous theory of the two forces, Eros, the love instinct, and Thanatos, the death instinct. A construct that becomes a materialist and mechanicist thinker like the Viennese impostor of course. As love and death battle it out in the lives of men, we know already which force is going to triumph. As Schopenhauer put it before Freud ‘we begin life in the lust of the flesh, the madness of carnal desire, and we end our life in the filth and stench of the grave, devoured by worms.’ Horrid? Makes your flesh creep? Of course. Any materialist, hedonistic and atheistic Weltanschauung, pseudo-scientific or philosophical, must ultimately succumb to pessimism, despair and irrationality. It figures.
In The American, shady Mr Farfalla, anonymous in his cool Italian town, regularly quenches the lust of the flesh by visiting a young, hot prostitute in the nearby whorehouse. Clara is in fact not quite a professional but a young university student. Along with a friend, Dindina, she needs to finance her studies and has no scruples in selling her body to men in order to achieve that. Farfalla unwisely falls in love with her...but I’ll leave you to find that out. The fact is that Clara’s choice is not particularly uncommon, it seems. I learn from the Studenti website that apparently 30 per cent of Italian youths are willing to prostitute themselves to make money. OK, maybe a little exaggerated but even with that the figure stuns. Italy used to be a traditional Catholic country, where the Church’s presence and influence ensured some degree of moral guidance and restraint. But even there, the land of the priest’s ancestors, the floodgates have opened.
Love and death. Oh, yes, online you will find a supposedly ‘comic’ book entitled ‘Kill Your Boy Friend’. Symptomatic words. Allegedly about British youth culture. And another book offers to teach how to do that ‘in ten steps’. (I wonder whether someone would be allowed to write the same about girl friends.) Getting away with blue murder? Literally. Our accursed couplet, Eros and Thanatos, surface once again.
In the novel, but not in the film, Mr Farfalla, the gun-maker, in the end succeeds in shooting the avenger out to kill him. In the process, however, he manages to cause the death of his innocent friend, the local parish priest. A flawed but Christ-like figure, who takes upon himself Farfalla’s sins. Maybe a little didactic but suitably Italian Catholic, eh?
And Valentine day? I am being naughty as a Protestant here, I know, but I cannot not say it:
St Valentine, pray for us!
Tuesday, 15 February 2011
(Rant 428 bis)