Living in the United States today, many of us are no strangers to the divine command excuse. Most of us have heard our share of freaky crime stories, about people that ate their children or slaughtered entire groups of people and, when asked why they did it, claimed that they had been instructed by God, or the devil, or an angel or demon. In Frailty, a psychological horror movie released in 2001,actor-director Bill Paxton brings to life a screenplay written by Brent Hanley about two young boys and their widower father, who wakes them one night and claims to have been called by God to “destroy demons” who are living among them. The film, starring Matthew McConaughey and Levi Kreis as Adam and Fenton, Matt O’Leary and Jeremy Sumter as young Fenton and Adam, Bill Paxton as their demon-slayer father, and Powers Boothe as the lucky (or not-so-lucky?) agent on duty who gets the first-hand account of just what exactly goes down once your dad decides your family’s new purpose is demon hunting.
The movie begins with McConaughey talking to Boothe, FBI Agent Wesley Doyle, in a dimly lit room. McConaughey introduces himself as Fenton Meiks, and tells agent Doyle that he knows the identity of the “God’s Hand Killer,” a serial killer for whom Doyle has been searching. Doyle is skeptical, saying that serial killers don’t just get caught on tips, but Fenton persuades him to listen anyway. Fenton says that the killer was his brother, who has committed suicide and whom he has buried in the Thurman Rose garden. He says that he received a call from his brother, who said that there were too many demons and he could not keep up, and then shot himself on the phone. He tells agent Doyle that his mother died giving birth to his younger brother Adam, and that the two of them grew up with his widower father in a house behind the Thurman Rose Garden. One night, he says, his father woke the boys and told them that he’d received a message from God – that an angel had come to him that night and “revealed to him god’s purpose for their family,” that the final battle had begun and there were demons walking among them. The angel, he said, had told him that the Meiks family was henceforth to become a family of hunters, “destroying” demons whose names God would give to Fenton’s father in lists of seven. Over the next several days, their father claimed that God had “provided” him with three holy weapons: a pipe, a pair of gloves, and an Axe named Otis. It isn’t long before their father brings home his first victim, a blonde woman who he “destroys” with the axe in front of the two boys, claiming that she is a demon and that he has “seen” her sins, and buries in the rose garden beside their house. He tells Adam and Fenton not to worry, because even though she looks like a woman she is in fact a demon, and that God will keep the authorities from interfering with his work. Adam believes his father’s words readily, embracing the idea of becoming a demon-slayer, but Fenton is deeply troubled, and begins to give thought to running away with his brother. After the second demon has been destroyed, Fenton panics and runs to the local sheriff, who does not believe his story and returns him to his father’s custody without any real investigation. As punishment, Fenton’s father locks him in a cellar Fenton was forced to dig underneath their shed, and leaves him there with no food for a week. He claims that the angel has told him that Fenton is a demon and must be destroyed, but that he refuses to believe it and so he is punishing Fenton In hopes that it will awaken his faith. At the end of the week, as he narrowly avoids death by starvation, Fenton tells his father that he has seen God and that he understands what to do. However, just as Fenton is about to “destroy” the third “demon,” he quickly turns and instead axes his own father, then moves to untie their captive but is thwarted by Adam, who has picked up the axe and finished his father’s “work.” Back in the room, Fenton tells Doyle that he believes that after that night, his brother grew up to become the God’s Hand killer, and that the notes left at crime scenes were left to taunt him about his family’s past. He convinces Doyle to follow him to the Thurman Rose Garden for the proof he needs to validate his story, and what happens from there, you will never see coming.
As horror movies go, Frailty has a lot of substance to it. The story is stimulating, the characters are deep, and the conclusion is shocking. Many of us could not imagine finding ourselves in such a position as Fenton, but we are quick to offer him our sympathies because his character is so believable, and his point of view so easily relatable. We are brought up through his struggles, presented with his dilemma, and then blown away in the end. The camera work, as far as I paid attention to it, was high quality, and given the age of the film the effects weren’t bad at all. If your kick with horror films is in the blood and gore, then this might not be your film, but if you’re looking for an engaging, challenging ethically perplexing 100 minute rollercoaster, you can end your search here. The acting was phenomenal and Matthew McConaughey’s languid, sober stare perfectly completes his character in the film. The movie perhaps could have gone without a few of the bad Southern accents, but I am generally pretty hard to impress when it comes to Southern drawls (I am from Alabama after all). The story is one that is not overdone or familiar, and the perspective is unusual and suspenseful. The film’s uniqueness alone lends it substantial entertainment value.
The messages in Frailty are powerful and chilling, and if asked whether or not I recommend this movie, I would have to respond with an enthusiastic, resounding ‘yes!’ The psychological aspect of the movie is satisfying, and the horror aspect is lingering and perhaps even multi-dimensional. I was personally very afflicted after watching the movie – I mean, is it suddenly okay to just murder people in front of your children if God tells you to? Not everyone wants to spend their movie night contemplating ethics and religion, but for those that do, Frailty is a gem.
There is absolutely no shortage of discussion on the topic of love in modern America. We are absolutely obsessed with love – how to find love, how to keep love, how to tell if love is real. This is not a new phenomenon, either. Human beings have written about the experience of interpersonal romantic and erotic love for about as long as we have written at all. It’s a part of our universal culture, something we all are generally able to understand and to accept as a part of our social reality. The controversy, however, arises in the simple fact that not everyone’s feelings of love are evoked by the same things, or even the same kinds of things, and one particular type of love that has come under heavy fire is homosexual love. Some believe that homosexuality, or attraction to members of one’s own biological sex, is a threat to society, and that legislation should explicitly favor heterosexual union. One proponent of such ideas is a man by the name of Michael Levin, whose position on homosexuality and its place in society I will analyze and rebut in this paper, on the grounds that homosexual love between two consenting adults, if experienced genuinely and carried out in a way that is not harmful or disruptive to society as a whole, is no more likely to contribute to unhappiness than heterosexual love, and that it is not the place of legislators (or anyone) to tell a person who he or she may have romantic relations with.
Levin believes that homosexuality should not be embraced by society, but that instead we should legislate against it, and continue to deny homosexuals equal rights as lovers. His basic argument, the one which he believes to be the most important and deciding factor in the homosexuality debate, is that he believes the genitals have a specific function, and that to use them in a way that is contrary to that functions (i.e. inserting a penis into the anus of another man, rather than the vagina as is intended) is misuse of these body parts and will inevitably lead to unhappiness. He asserts the idea that he does not object to homosexuality on moral or evolutionary grounds, and points emphatically to the ‘purpose’ he believes genitalia has - heterosexual intercourse - in a slightly risque, attention-grabbing paragraph about the evolution of the human penis to fit the vagina. Levin describes homosexuality as a “self-punishing maladaptation” and “a violation of mutuality,” and declares that to engage only in homosexual relations is to give up real sex - he considers homosexual relations ‘foreplay’ and maintains that only heterosexual, penile-vaginal intercourse can satisfy the human sex drive, and that “exclusive preoccupation with behaviors normally preparatory for intercourse is highly correlated with unhappiness.”
Levin’s position, though, is not a practical one, and often seems to conveniently overlook the way things really are in order to uphold the believability of some words on paper. In addition, a considerable portion of the argument Levin makes is presented in terms of evolution, although earlier in the piece he states that he disapproves of homosexuality “not because it is immoral or sinful, or because it weakens society or hampers evolutionary development.” He offers loss of ability to procreate as a driving force away from homosexuality, but fails to mention that in today’s world, it is not only possible but fairly easy for a woman (or man) to pay to conceive a child using his or her own DNA, and the DNA of a donor of the opposite sex. In another scenario, a homosexual couple desiring to be parents could choose to adopt an orphaned child, thus simultaneously satisfying their desire for parenthood and removing a child from the flawed foster or adoption system. He says that homosexuality breeds unhappiness, and yet offers no statistic by which to compare the level of happiness of homosexuals to that of heterosexuals, simply stating that “anecdotal evidence” suggests that gays are unhappy, and that social acceptance will not make them any less unhappy. He also attempts to make a radical connection between the non-life-threatening tendency toward homosexcual encounters, and a man who dies of malnourishment after “misusing” his teeth as a necklace. Levin tries to say that since in both cases there is a body part being “misused,” the two situations can be considered in the same light, however the plight of a man whose teeth he has willfully detached and made into a necklace and the plight of a man whose still-attached penis has a fancy for other men are hardly the same at all. In this instance, Levin uses an example which is visually graphic and, presumably, just hopes that his readers will be unable to pick up on the lack of similarity between his imagined toothless man and real-life, fully functioning human beings who are romantically attracted to other human beings who happen to possess the same primary sex characteristics.
In his essay, Levin outlines the utilitarian position on homosexuality as follows: “Even if homosexuality is in some sense unnatural, as a matter of brute fact homosexuals take pleasure in sexual contact with members of the same sex. As long as they don’t hurt anyone else, homosexuality is as great a good as homosexuality.” Although he went on to argue against this position, and although he used some convincing word choice in his attempt to do so, Levin’s stance on homosexual behavior is flawed. He regards homosexuality as tending to produce unhappiness because such use of genitalia he regards as “misuse,” where “One might take the use of an organ to be what it is used for 95% of the time.” So, what of the penis? Its other function, urination, certainly must demand at least 6% of its time, so by this science the penis has no real function at all. At any rate, one of the most beautiful things about the human body is its adaptivity. Body parts don’t have to be for something - they’re for whatever the human mind desires to use them for in order to promote happiness. Maybe we should take a few cues from our adaptive human bodies, and adapt our minds to the idea that just because someone doesn’t love the way we do, they are not damned to a life of unhappiness. However, we are damning them to a life of unhappiness by continuing to prosecute and shame them for behaviors that take place behind closed doors, and that have absolutely zero effect on most of our daily lives.
Sitting down to watch Tommy Lee Jones’s The Sunset Limited, I will admit I had no idea what to expect. After the first few minutes of dialogue I still wasn’t sure, and the IMDb page wasn’t giving me much to go on, so I decided to wait and see. I was a little put-off by the two-member cast list, but I felt confident that Samuel L. Jackson wouldn’t let me down, and I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed. The movie is based on a play by American writer Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy’s dialogue stood out to me as quality dramatic work, although the follow-through of the actors may have taken away from the depth and heaviness of the story, and whether this is a good or a bad thing is to be considered. The Sunset Limited may not be a movie for the faint of hope or the easily inflamed, but for those who can appreciate it, it is a thought-provoking, and tastefuly articulated case for and against the belief in an omnipotent God, as told by an apparently middle-class caucasian professor, intellectual, and atheist, whom McCarthy calls White, and an African American ex-convict-turned-Man-of-God, Black.
The story reveals itself to be that Black has unwittingly saved White from committing suicide by being in his way when he tried to jump off a platform to his death as the subway, the Sunset Limited, passed. From the beginning, there is an essence of the supernatural, as White swears he was alone in the platform, that he had made sure there had been no one around, and yet somehow Black was directly in his path. The two men begin to talk, and White tells Black about his plight, which he believes is the death of culture. He claims that all of the knowledge he has gained has taught him to love things that are “very frail,” and that he is unable to handle watching the things that he believed to be indestructible die. Black, as we learn, is a devoutly religious man, whose life was plagued by violence, death, and a ‘love of trouble.’ He maintains that there is a God, and that White should not end his life. White calls Black’s apartment a moral leper colony, and asks what a man of God is doing in a place where the people cannot be, and do not deserve to be saved. Black replies that to help people in trouble, you have to go to where the trouble is. White coaxes a violent prison story from Black after trying to leave several times, and Black supplies the story of his salvation – in which he beat a fellow inmate mentally and physically handicapped, was gutted with a knife, and found God in the hospital. The men eat dinner and, ultimately, White decides to leave, and to end his own life after all, disregarding Black’s assertion that “Ministry is for the living, that’s why you’ve got to take care of your brother while he’s breathing, because one’s he’s gone he’s in the other party’s hands.” The film ends with Black praying loudly, asking God why he failed to provide the words to save White’s life.
Without a doubt, this is some heavy subject matter. As I said, it’s not for the faint of hope or the easily inflamed. The two men are very engaged in their debate, and at times I felt as though the actors’ attempts to capture the intensity of the moment came off as awkward, or humorous, which both lightened the mood and possibly slightly undermined the seriousness of the subject matter. I felt like Tommy Lee Jones would rush through some of the short back-and-forth dialogue, which at times would add to the suspense, and at times would take away from the believability of the conversation. I thought the set was very well-designed, and the lighting did a good job of setting the mood – it was very low but very warm, it felt sort of metaphorical. Samuel L. Jackson is always an incredible actor, and aside from a couple of minor flibs, I felt like both Jackson and Lee portrayed believable, interesting characters and that both men did an exceptional job of bringing the dialogue to life.
For a film that consists solely of two men talking back and forth in an apartment, it is certainly exceptionally engaging, minimally frivolous, and refreshingly insightful. Overall, I would have no reason not to recommend it to others, and I, personally, thoroughly enjoyed both the film and the written play. I think there is a lot to be said for movies like The Sunset Limited, particularly in an age where media seems to be drifting further and further away from these types of meaningful ideas.
Ethics: My Commentary on Capital Punishment -
The use of capital punishment as the consequence for murder in some American states is highly controversial. Of course it is a touchy subject because it is, literally, a “life or death” situation. Looking at an argument from both points of view is the best way to accomplish any compromise….
Bravo on doing your research! It’s interesting to know that the definition used in the ten commandments was so specific, and that’s a very powerful argument to be able to make. I also really liked what you said about stealing time, and rewarding a murderer with what was taken from their victim. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I wonder, though, do you think there is anything society can gain from these people? Do you feel that anything of value is lost by putting murderers to death? Or does murder define a person above all other acts?
Untitled: Capital Punishment -
What do we get out of the death penalty? One less criminal. That’s it. Our dead loved ones don’t miraculously come back when we kill their murderers. Maybe we feel better that they can’t kill again. But we still miss our children, our parents, our siblings, our friends, our lovers. Killing a…
I love how you tied natural selection into that, and I really like your opinion on the issue in general. I agree with your sentiments - it is important that we try to help the people who have done wrong in the world. We cannot right their wrongs, but, as you say, we can show them how to repent and how to become prosperous and functional in society - which is always preferable to taking a life that can possibly be used for good.
Well, it’s pretty much inarguable that the Capital Punishment argument is important; it’s literally a matter of life and death. And here in America, we are torn. We simply can’t make up our minds as a nation about whether or not the death penalty is something we should be supporting. But who can blame us? We’re playing God here. We’re literally trying to draw a distinct line about who is and is not worthy of living. It’s not something to take lightly. There is so much to consider, and so much weight to the decision to end another person’s life. In our readings, Gelernter uses the Talmud’s assessment of Cain’s murder of Abel, which equates the murder of a man with the destruction of an entire world. And, in a way, it is. Each person has a unique reality and perspective. I think everyone can mostly agree that it is wrong to take an innocent life. Where we seem to disagree is on whether or not the ‘innocent’ in that sentence is a deal-breaker. Is it still wrong to take the life of a person if that person has taken innocent lives? Even within myself, I have a hard time coming to a conclusion. There is just so, SO much to consider. After all, even the most sadistic, evil person is still a person, and there is an exceptional amount of useful knowledge to be gained from studying people who commit heinous crimes. How else would we learn the warning signs? The triggers? People who commit heinous crimes don’t usually do so out of the blue, after years of healthy development and socialization. We know that because we’ve studied it. And I believe that we should continue to study these people, and draw connections between them. Because of these studies, we now know what to look for. I believe this knowledge is valuable, and therefore I believe extreme cases should be studied. However, I do support the death penalty, and believe that, once we have learned all we believe we can from an offender (even if the offender is uncooperative and we learn nothing), we should give the devil his dues and ease the tax-payers’ burden by delivering a quick an inexpensive shot to the head at point-blank range, because I don’t want to have to pay for free meals for a person who is teaching us nothing.
Live to Love, Love to Imagine: The Allegory of the Cave -
In my best interpretation of the meaning of the cave scenario, I believe the cave to be a brilliant representation of the way the human mind works. If we live forever influenced by only certain views, which in this case would be the shadows, those are the only views we’ll ever know; therefor,…
I love that you related the story to your younger sister. I agree, the allegory of the cave is an interesting representation of human nature, but I wonder about what you think about the idea that the enlightened man will not want to free the men still trapped in the cave? Do you think that everyone discovers the pursuit of truth on their own, or do you think that the ‘enlightened man’ enlightens us?
Behind the Wall: On the Topic of Piety -
I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way. The last part of the Euthyphro was rather difficult for me to wrap my head around. I’m usually the last person to admit that something is difficult to comprehend. The whole part in which Socrates is saying, “a thing is not carried because it…
Okay, I, too, had to spend a fair bit of time picking apart the last part of Euthyephro, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one. I think what Socrates was trying to do is establish a sort of understanding by using the ‘carrying’ thought. He says that a thing is not carried because it is in a state of being carried, it is in a state of being carried because it is carried. He is establiushing a sequence of events. The object was not being carried until someone decided to carry it. Therefore, because someone decided to carry it, it is in a state of being carried. Similarly, I believe Socrates is suggesting that the gods cannot love something because it is pious, but that it is pious because they love it. He goes on to discredit that thought, using this kind of reasoning to establish to himself that the two things (piousness and what the gods love) must be different. Does that help at all?
We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. — Martin Luther King, “Beyond Vietnam” (via thegadflychronicles)