The Thing I Like About …

Insidious (I, II, and III): Elise.

She starts out as a psychic and family friend who helps the main characters handle a demonic incursion. She ends up as a psychic who helps the main characters handle a demonic incursion. In between, we find out how hard it’s been for her to have her gifts, yet still be unable to counter fate or death or time – her husband has died, her gifts seem often like a curse, and a woman who follows her from the afterworld threatens daily to kill her.

She knows this woman will kill her one day. She sees the chair where she will die, and feels the hands around her throat. Understandably, she doesn’t want to die, and so she abandons her psychic practice and hides in her house … for a time.

But ultimately she is strong and compassionate, and she doesn’t really know how to ignore people who come to her for help. She decides that she’s one of the few people to whom others can turn when they experience things that are out of the ordinary. She decides that she needs to deal with her husband’s death, with the ranting threats of the demon-woman, with the fear of horrible things that interact with our world from the other side … she decides that everybody dies of something, so she might as well do her job.

She’s nice. She’s smart. She’s getting older. But she’s not getting older the way Hollywood usually allows women to get older – with heavy make-up, plastic surgery, and trick lighting. She’s just a regular woman in regular clothes, having regular feelings – of fear and bravery, of indecision and fortitude, of weakness and strength. She doesn’t pretend she’s twenty. She doesn’t mention that she’s not twenty anymore. She never says, “I’m too old for this.” She just asks herself if the next thing coming is a thing she wants in her life; she just decides one choice at a time whether or not she’s up for another challenge.

And in the end, she saves every client who comes to her.

She’s capable, but not fancy or dramatic or posturing. She’s smart but not condescending or domineering. She’s pleasant but not a pushover. She can be hurt – she can be killed – but she doesn’t let her fears control her for long, and she doesn’t let others face evil alone.

Everybody dies of something … but before that we get to pick what we do, how we feel, and who we are. We get to decide how to treat people, how to help them, how to help ourselves, and what callings we attend to. It’s all well and good to think, “I could be a superhero, and do great things, and be awesome!” But it’s even nicer to think that we could just be regular people in regular clothes, with our ordinary gifts and talents and lives, getting older and wiser, and doing great things and being awesome.

If we’re brave enough to be regular folk, and to be ourselves for better or worse, we can end up doing extraordinary things. If we can know what we’re worth even when we’re not superheroes, we can end up being real heroes who help real people in the real world … right to the very end.

The Thing I Like About …

Doctor Who: the one where he tells Leela there’s nothing to be afraid of.

It was Tom-Baker-Doctor, and he was walking with Leela – the warrior girl (from stone-age culture, if I’m remembering right) through the bad guy’s castle. But the bad guy sends out this overwhelming psychic message of fear, and Leela describes feeling hunted, and watched, and says that’s she terribly, terribly afraid. The Doctor explains to her about the bad guy’s psychic fear-miasma, and tells her that it’s all an illusion, and that actually nothing is there that can hurt her.

She blinks, and repeats back what he said to make sure she understood … and then she squares her shoulders and walks on, completely ignoring from that point forward any fear messages her brain is sending her.

She trusts the Doctor – who doesn’t? – so she is able just to ignore this crippling fear being visited upon her.

I wish it was as easy as that for me to overcome my fears, and to do things anyway.

But if Leela can do that when faced with this external fear-force, maybe we can learn to do it with things that we know – we know – we’re only making scary in our own heads. Maybe we can work on trust, and having faith in our own abilities. Maybe we can look at the things that scare us and see them for what they truly are – (usually) tiny little bad guys sending out itty-bitty psychic fear messages that we don’t actually have to listen to. Maybe we can square our shoulders and walk on, ignoring all the stuff we don’t need in our lives and focusing instead on what we do need, and want, and search for.

Leela keeps walking until she confronts the bad guy, and throws him out of his own castle.

Let’s do that.

A Countdown for the Holidays

The Wisdom of Pinhead: Part Five
“He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake!*

Last year for Christmas, I blogged about my favourite part of Hellraiser V: Inferno.  I talked about how Pinhead’s dark, scary message was really a cautionary Christmas tale – avoid superficiality and selfishness and embrace what really matters, or, you know, pay horribly forever.  I realized afterward that Pinhead has always had some very Christmas-y things to say … when seen in the right light.  So this year, I will be presenting a Pinhead-Christmas-personal empowerment-happy-joy-countdown.  At the end of it, I hope readers – Christian and non-Christian alike – are more disposed to find the love and joy the Christmas holiday represents.

And maybe they’ll want to watch the movies too.

“It is not hands that summon us. It is desire.”

Pinhead refers to the young girl who has been asked to solve the puzzle-box by the evil Dr. Channard.  The doctor wants to know what secrets the puzzle-box holds, but he doesn’t want to pay any consequences for opening it.  He has coerced the young girl, Tiffany, to open it for him … but Pinhead knows who the true “client” is – and unfortunately for Dr. Channard, where he is.

He seeks out the doctor and leaves Tiffany alone.

The world can be quite ludicrous, in far too many ways to describe here.  But by following Pinhead’s excellent example, we can be a force of love and logic against the absurd.  His message here certainly seems clear enough:

– Children only know and only do what they have been taught.  They are inherently innocent, even when they are in the wrong, because they’re still figuring things out.  You might say, “Well, how long could it possibly take to figure things out?!”  To you, I say, “Do you have things figured out?  How old are you?”

– Grown-ups are responsible – for ourselves, for the world we’ve created, for the children we’ve created, for any messes we’ve made, for the evil we watch, for the evil we allow.  We’re responsible.  If we don’t accept that responsibility, “unpleasantness” occurs.

– Whatever higher power there may be is likely very hard to fool.  Why, for the most part, we can’t even fool one another.  Far too often, we can fool ourselves … but in the end, our guilt remains.

– Having other people do your dirty work does not make you innocent.  It makes you a coward.  And if Pinhead catches you, it makes you a coward whose skull is pierced by a giant, sucking worm that drags you around by your brain.
[This outcome was for Dr. Channard.  Other clients may experience different results.]

This holiday season, let’s try the love-and-logic strategy.  Let’s be kind to children even when they push our buttons.  Let’s acknowledge our sins and crimes, apologize for them like big girls and boys, and make amends where we can.  Let’s take responsibility for our lives.  Let’s be brave and confident.  Let’s be honest – with ourselves, with others, with our gods.

It’s not so hard once you get started.

* “Santa Claus is comin’ to town” by Coots and Gillespie


The Thing I Like About …

Glory:  The white soldiers who change their minds.

Glory describes the story of the 54th, the first black troops in our country, who served during the Civil War.  They suffered the usual hardships of military training; they also received inferior clothing, and were obliged to use ill-fitting boots or nothing at all.  They were paid less than other soldiers.  And, of course, many around them did not think they could do as good a job as a white soldier – many others felt that they should not be allowed to try.

A group of white soldiers meet some of the 54th, and immediately pick a fight – they are verbally abusive and obviously contemptuous.  They are the material sign of the unfair discrimination and treatment of blacks that is described throughout the film.

But when the 54th is asked to take a fort that has persistently fought off all other attempts, they accept this honour proudly, knowing that it is largely a suicide mission.  They do it to prove themselves, but also to pave the way for other black troops – and blacks in general – who had not yet been given a chance.  They march to the fort past all the soldiers who will fill the breach they create.

Among those waiting soldiers is the group of white men who had earlier picked a fight with them, but now they shout out, “Give ‘em hell, 54th!”

They had changed their minds.

I don’t know if those men were real or if they were dramatic creations, but they represent something extremely important: we are all trained and taught to feel and think the way we do, but, at any time, we have the power to look at things differently – even really big things that have been the same for a very long time.

Glory is about the 54th – a part of black American history.  But it is also about white soldiers who had to readjust incredibly ingrained lessons – this is not easy, no matter how necessary it may be, and that struggle – especially in America where so many different peoples have come together – is a constant part of white American history.

The white soldiers changing their minds, and the 54th proudly accepting that respect, make Glory something more than a look at black history or white history – it becomes a look at our shared history, and how we can make changes for the better, as long as both sides are willing.

The Thing I Like About …

Iron Man II:  the little kid who faces the giant robot.

Everyone’s gathered to see Iron Man, but the bad guy has dispensed a horde of giant killer robots to attack the crowd, and Iron Man is stuck far away.  A little boy, perhaps five years old, dressed in a little Iron Man costume, stands as still as a statue while the robot comes toward him.  If the robot lifts a foot, the little guy will be nothing but a smear, but he stands there anyway, lifting his little hand toward the robot the way Iron Man would do.

He doesn’t have weapons or death rays; he probably doesn’t even realize there’s a science behind Tony Stark’s special suit.  All he knows is that when his hero lifts his hand against evil, a magic beam blows the evil up.  All he knows is that when evil threatens, heroes like Iron Man stand still as statues and face the evil.  All he knows is that he’s dressed like Iron Man, so he must therefore be like Iron Man.

In that moment, he is braver than any superhero there ever was.

We owe it to these little guys who emulate all the things we tell them are important; we owe it to them to be as brave as they are, to believe the stuff we tell them about faith, belief, courage, right and wrong.  We owe it to them to stand still as statues and face the evil, with or without magic weapons.

Say what you like about the amazingly egocentric Tony Stark, but he’s the only one who comes to save the little boy, while all the other grown-ups run away screaming.  Tony Stark believes in himself, and the little boy in the Iron Man costume believes in himself, and that’s how the evil robots are defeated.

Let’s try to be as brave and confident as a five-year-old … when you say it that way, it doesn’t sound so hard, right?

Because that’s how evil is defeated.

The Thing I Like About …

… the Die Hard franchise:  John MacLean.

In all four movies, John is a man with an ordinary amount of flaws and problems; his relationship with his wife goes up and down in a very un-dramatic way.  His relationships with his kids are straightforward.  He has friends.  He has weaknesses.  He really is just a regular guy who ends up in extraordinary circumstances, and he saves the day because he wants to save people – his family, his friends, total strangers.

He has impressive skills – he’s a very good policeman – but he doesn’t suddenly become a ninja; he has to solve problems and stop bad guys with whatever tools present themselves.  He spends half of the first movie hardly able to walk, in a building that the bad guys know better than he does.  He only has the weapons that he can wrestle away from the bad guys – and many of them are bigger than he is.

What really allows him to save the day is not any extraordinary ability that he has hiding in his pockets (other than a good eye for things about to go bad); it is simply his inability to give up.   When he’s tired, or scared, or injured.  When he’s uncertain, or exhausted, or helpless.  When he knows that there’s absolutely nothing he can do – he still does something, because people’s lives are at stake.

It makes me wonder how many heroes there are around us every day – milling about, doing heroic things that most people don’t notice, and making what difference they can in a world that can be bleak, unfair, and hostile.  It makes me hope that I could do as much if I had to – that I could keep battling darkness even if I was tired, or hopeless, or weak.  It makes me think that we should all be that brave, and that determined, and that sure of our priorities.  If we were, then even the little things that we were able to do would add up to a whole lot of good.

When the bad guys have taken over the plane, and recalibrated the instruments to tell lies; when it’s dark and snowy on the runway, and even with improvised torches it would be impossible for the pilots of the plane to see the tiny little human on the ground below; when there’s no way his meager efforts will do anything at all – he goes out there anyway, just in case, just to say he tried, just because it matters.

–       “What are you going to do?”

–       “Whatever I can.”

When John does “whatever he can”, things end up all right … maybe if we bring a little of that to the real world, things will end up all right here, too.