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Patterns of Evidence: Exodus (2014)
A Futile, Apologetic Attempt
In 2001, archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman published a seminal book titled The Bible Unearthed. Citing both textual and archaeological evidence, the authors demonstrated the inaccuracies of the historical accounts in the Old Testament. Four years later, the eponymous documentary visualized the contents of the book. In interviews that took place in some of the actual excavation sites, the authors mentioned the capabilities of modern exploration technologies, and explained to the viewers the breadth of existing evidence against Biblical narratives.
About a decade later, Tim Mahoney's Patterns of Evidence (2014) is released. The documentary attempts to counter Finkelstein and Silberman's arguments. However, it neither presents any new evidence nor proposes an alternative framework that would allow us to view the existing evidence through new lenses. Instead, it follows a quite common but utterly unscientific method: it refuses to hear what a large body of literature almost unanimously tells us, and tries to confirm the Biblical narratives by putting together bits and pieces of evidence that is circumstantial at best.
In the end, we are left with a production that is a typical example of dogmatic thinking. Scientific thinking is simple: "I want an answer to my question. Let's see what the evidence indicates." In contrast, dogmatic thinking puts the cart before the horse: "I already have the answer, and now I must find some evidence that supports it." Sadly, many people are not sufficiently equipped to notice the invalidity of the latter way of thinking, and conclude that this an ongoing debate. Some others are happy, as such apologetic works reaffirm their beliefs - if not by the "evidence" they put together, then by underlining the possibility that some new findings in the future may prove the Biblical account correct.
Nothing new here... "If you hold a belief because you think you should, over time you'll convince yourself it's true." (Peter Boghossian)
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Challenging the Status Quo
The world would probably be a better place, if all children watched How to Train Your Dragon. The story of the animated film demonstrates, among other things, that (1) parents are not always right, (2) the self-evident truths in a society may very well be false, and the established practices inspired from them equally misguided, (3) societies sometimes consider their enemies inherently evil, due to a lack of empathy, if not projective identification, (4) animosities may come to an end if people try to view their enemies through different lenses, and develop different attitudes toward them, and (5) enemies today may become friends tomorrow, especially if one stops pointing a weapon at them, and extends a hand.
In all, How to Train Your Dragon makes it clear that we live in a world of our own making. We take it over from those who came before us, along with the values they created it with. Still, we can make it a better place if we take up the challenge to question these values, and replace them with better ones. The final scenes of the film are a demonstration of such a better world, where the seemingly-perpetual state of war is no more, and peaceful coexistence prevails.
Hostel: Part III (2011)
The Evil That Men Do
Hostel series commenced in 2005. That first installment was unusual in more than one way. The first half of the 93-minute movie bordered soft porn. The remaining scenes were largely composed of explicit displays of sadism and cruelty. These displays were so extreme that even the biggest fans of the genre found them disturbing. Accompanying that brutality was the shocking indifference to human life and dignity, as was portrayed - among others - in the the oven scene, where a facility worker burned body parts like they were pieces of wood.
Two years later, the second installment continued where the first one had left off, and revisited the chambers of torture and death. Unlike its predecessor, this second movie did not include any sex scenes. In regard to the graphic displays of sadism and corporal dismemberment, however, it was business as usual.
Nevertheless, the second movie also exerted a small yet important effort to go beyond the acts of cruelty, and explore the psychological motives behind them. The changes in the behavior of the two characters after their first actual experience in the torture chamber manifested such motives to a certain degree. Also important were the scenes that displayed these two torturers' entrance to the premises, and their process of dressing up for the act. These scenes have no dialogues. The only sound viewers hear is Synećku, Synećku - a sad Slovakian love song by the band Varmuova Cimbálová Muzika. The contrast between the song and the scenes offer a touching example of what human beings are capable of doing to each other.
In 2011, Part III constituted a deviation from the first two installments in a number of respects. First, the events took place in Las Vegas, Nevada, and not Slovakia. Secondly, the tortures occurred not in a crude and secluded environment but in a "decent" setting where the viewers betted on some trivia regarding the torture. Besides these peculiarities regarding the conduct of torture, the storyline was quite ordinary for the genre.
How do these movies deserve to be rated on a scale of zero to ten? Despite its serious shortcomings, the first movie may deserve an eight, due to its innovative nature that took The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to a whole new level. Albeit a much better production than its predecessor, the second movie is probably a seven, since it cannot get any credit for originality. Finally, the third movie is a six.
Think of Me (2011)
Dark, Gloomy, and Disturbing
About Sunny moves quite slowly, yet at the same time gradually weaves a rather gloomy plot: In the outskirts of Las Vegas, a single mother repeatedly makes bad decisions that adversely affect her economic and psychological well-being. As the consequences of these bad decisions exacerbate her situation, she becomes even more desperate, and her misguided behavior escalates. In the process, things turn from bad to worse for her nine-year-old daughter who can hardly get the proper care she needs.
The movie successfully builds up the pressure with each small unpleasant incident, and in so doing, slowly incorporates the viewer into the depressive world that it depicts. That accomplishment renders About Sunny as one of these dark movies whose influence does not wear off shortly after the ending.
Saw is one of the few horror series with an underlying philosophy. Victims of the main character, John Kramer (aka Jigsaw), wake up in the middle of a puzzle that needs to be solved within a given period of time. Solving the puzzle involves a lot of pain, and often requires a great deal of perseverance. Victims do not have the option to not play the game, because the consequence is death.
For example, a man wakes up by the back wall of a dark cell. He does not remember how he got there. The space between him and the open door of the cell is covered with a dense web of barbed wire. Then, he sees a voice recorder. When he presses play, a recorded voice calls him by his name and tells him that he recently committed suicide, and that now is the time to know whether he really wanted to die that day or was just trying to attract some attention. If he really wants to die, all he needs to do is to just sit there and wait. But, if he wants to live, he has to go through the web of barbed wires. Moreover, he has to do that within two hours, because the door of the dungeon is on a timer.
Putting a person to such a painful test is hard to justify. But, John relies on the assumption that "those who don't appreciate life do not deserve life" - the idea being that the gift of life is precious, and that one needs to appreciate the beauty of every moment. He thus chooses somewhat lost and unappreciative souls, and tries to make them come to the realization of that particular truth about their lives. He does this by designing a game, and putting them in it. Each game is a matter of life and death. Yet John claims that he never murdered anyone, since his test subjects always had the chance to survive.
In a way, John plays God - that is, his tests involve pain, suffering, and death. There are warnings, awards and punishments. And, not playing the game is not an option.
Far North (2007)
A Revisit to the Book of Genesis
The movie begins with a disturbing scene, and ends with an even more disturbing one. The disturbing scene in the beginning involves Saiva (Michelle Yeoh) having to slaughter one of the three dogs they own, due to not having anything else to eat. As she holds the dog in her arms with a bit of sorrow for what she is about to do, the viewers find themselves locked at the innocent yet helpless dog. When Saiva takes out her knife, the dog is still looking around without knowing what awaits him - which adds to the distress of the viewers. The scene ends with the sight of the dog's blood spilling on the snow.
Albeit unnerving, this is just the beginning. The disturbing scene at the end of the movie takes violence to a whole new level in terms of both content and motive. The scene involves the murder of Anja (Michelle Krusiec) by Saiva, and leaves a deeply emotional effect on the viewers. This is primarily because the murder violates a set of deeply-held human norms simultaneously: Anja, the victim, barely knows anyone in the whole world except for Saiva, who has raised her after a band of armed men killed her family when she was a baby. The duo have spent their lives in isolation from other people ever since. They simply have nobody else to trust. Yet, after all their years together, falling in love with the same man quickly grows them wary of each other. Loki (Sean Bean), a complete stranger whom Saiva happens to rescue from freezing to death, attracts both women, and they soon find themselves entangled with feelings of jealousy. The circumstances exacerbate after Anja discloses to Saiva that she is planning to move away with Loki, and start a family.
Saiva's decision to murder Anja is thus one that has no motive of self-defence or survival. It is a completely selfish act. On the top this, wearing Anja's scalped face, and putting on her clothes in an effort to make love to Loki in dim light takes her premeditated crime to a psychopathic level.
This turn in the story is sudden and unexpected. A climax with such a great intensity stuns most viewers, and leads many to even regret watching the movie in the first place.
In a way, Far North dramatizes a different version of the story of Cain and Abel. The Book of Genesis reports Cain to have said to his brother, "Let's go out to the field" before committing the first murder in the history of mankind. Similarly, in the movie, Saiva says to Anja, "Let me comb your hair" before setting her trap. The two contexts seem to be quite the same.