For A Few Myths More


"...Aries shows us how modern images (albeit set in 19th century America)..." Julia, Web of Wyrd No. 7.

For me, that "albeit" sounded like a gauntlet being slapped down. Can we show the presence of myth in films other than Westerns? We don't plan to go on in great detail, but we suspect that what we're trying to get across is the suggestion that maybe "The Mythic" is not the stories or rituals, but the substrate out of which our tales and trials grow.

When we talk about myths we are really referring to ancient stories, and not every ancient tale grew out of "The Mythic". More than enough were for entertainment, propaganda, satire or pornography to see everything that is old as also being venerable is to fall into the Confucian Heresy. In much the same way our modern literature/film culture produces works serving as varying purposes as moral tales, epic adventures, pulp and hard-core porn, but also produces work that grows direct from "The Mythic".

In the rubric of science, "The Mythic" can be seen as being non-local; it stands outside of space-time, being here, there and everywhere; now, then, and everywhen. Our tales do not grow out of the ancient tales/myths, but draw afresh from the same wells as they did (do/will?).

In the printed media a good many SF novels are based on the inner/underground journey; all that Phillip K Dick and Edmund Cooper wrote seemed based on this theme, in the same way "Metropolis" is of the "descent" type story. One of the great advantages of film is the way it can make the sensations of the "descent" seem "real"; possibly by a species of auto-hypnosis into a state that Robert Anton Wilson refers to as virtual reality in his book, Cosmic Trigger 2. For us other examples of the descent theme are Orson Welles' films; Touch of Evil and The Trial (based on Kafka's book), giving a long shot of the journey.

The classic "Casablanca" we suggest is the story of the "descent" from a viewpoint inside the underworld itself. That Casablanca is the place of death is always suggested by the comment that Rick makes to Elsa when she says that Victor Lazlo will die in Casablanca; "What of it? I'm going to die in Casablanca. It's a good place for it." Full of refugees (lost souls). Rick exists in his own emotional limbo awaiting the descent of his own Inanna to set him free.

"Apocalypse Now" and the Conrad novel it is based on, "Heart of Darkness", gives a great example of the same story set at both ends of the century; the parallel of the inner and outer journey, especially as Conrad went through his inner journey whilst writing the book, and Francis Ford Copolla and crew went through theirs while making the film. I would strongly suggest that "The Mythic" emerges into our lives first and foremost; through tales we make sense of the patterns, and warn those who follow on from us.

Another great advantage of film is its ability to show us inside the underworld in such a way that we may lose track of where the boundaries lay, and become uncertain of what is real and what is illusion. If the previous films can be seen as "descent" themes, the following, we suggest, can be called "Chapel Perilous" themes. In "The Maltese Falcon" we have the characters chasing the elusive bird, crossing and double-crossing each other, unconcerned by anything but possession of the miraculous object, which we discover at the very end is nothing but; "The stuff that dreams are made of".

With "The House of Games" Mamet's six year-old cult movie we enter the image of the labyrinth, a subterranean night world of confidence tricksters, who lead a lady psychiatrist along until she, and us (the viewer) have problems distinguishing between what is real and what isn't, until it all becomes part of the game.

That is the nature of "Chapel Perilous", its existence can be denied, we can believe we're somewhere else (watching a movie?), but all the time we're trapped in it, unable to discern what is really going on. Another cult movie that gives a beautiful experience of Chapel Perilous is Orson Welles' film "F for Fake", except this time we are the targets of the con. A documentary film about two fakers, itself really a clever montage of existing film clips put together to give the impression of a series of interviews. At some point the film moves into the realm of total fantasy, and the beauty of it is that we don't notice that is the Chapel Perilous experience. From here it is logical to move onto the ascent, or what could be called the "Promethean" theme. The film "Frankenstein" is the classic Promethean film, but is full of timid, anti-Luciferan morality; i.e. to steal the "fire" from the gods instantly incurs punishment; as a myth, that is no longer useful to us.

All of the above examples are tales based in the twentieth century. For a Promethean theme we feel we should be looking forward; "2001 A Space Odyssey" is wonderfully symbolic in that it is based in the first year of the next millennium. There are four stages in the film: the first is "The Dawn of Man", taking place in prehistoric Earth, where "the slab" appears the Promethean gift, but what is the gift? fire? tool use? weapon use? the ability to kill? We would suggest that it is the gift of imagination; the ape man looks at the bone and "sees" a weapon; he has the ability to manipulate images in his mind.

In the film the image cuts instantly to a space craft on its way to the Moon. This journey between the worlds we feel signifies that we have entered mythic space. In the next stage of the film, "The Moon", we meet "the slab" again, where it dispenses its next gift, the awareness of something beyond. In Qabbalistic terms we have moved from Malkuth to Yesod; the following stage of the film, "Journey to Jupiter", has us ascending the sephiroth to Chesed.

On the approach to Jupiter, Dave has to disconnect the higher functions of the computer, Hal. We would suggest this can represent a distrust of reason; a return to child-like ways, or a stepping away from the constraints of language. As Hal closes down, it is language that deteriorates; i.e. it is language that constructs the world we perceive. So to go into the infinite beyond, to take the Next Step, we have to go beyond language, hence all the descriptions of mystical experiences end up sounding like gibberish.

For the final stage of the film, "Jupiter and beyond to Infinity", we have the leap across the Abyss to the Supernals; Chokmah, Binah, Kether. Because language fails us at this point, Kubrick relies solely on the visual image; the sequence seems baffling, but we wonder if he is trying to explain something that is also suggested by Ken Wilber in his book, "The Atman Project"; i.e., we evolve by changing how we translate the incoming information of our senses. We go from looking through to looking at each developmental stage. For most of us, we construct the world by looking through a semantic framework or grid; when we transcend this stage, we will be able to look at our semantic structure. Likewise in the film, Dave sees the next stage from outside and then becomes it: the outsider, the astronaut, the urbane man, the old man on the death bed, and finally rebirth as the Star Child. Or as Crowley puts it in "Magick" when describing the grade of Adeptus (Exemptus); "Completes in perfection all these matters. He then either (a) becomes a Brother of the Left Hand Path or, (b) is stripped of all his attainments and of himself as well, even his Holy Guardian Angel, and becomes a Babe of the Abyss, who having transcended the Reason, does nothing but grow in the womb of its mother."

So we contend that "The Mythic" is everywhere, everywhen, and despite our cultural estrangement from myths, "The Mythic" still emerges through our media in many guises, which includes, but is not exclusive to, Western movies.

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