The power of the image


My mother is not much for jogging, so we go to the movies. There isn't a lot out there for 78-year-olds in mainstream theaters, so we do artier films, mostly semi-historical romances involving British queens, it seems.

This time it was Russia, mediated by British actors: Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, and James McAvoy (the wonderful Tumnus in "The Chronicles of Narnia"). It concerned the last days of Tolstoy and the question of whether his legacy belongs to family or to Mother Russia. Whatever you feel about that, it's not why I'm writing.

There were two sex scenes in The Last Station, gratuitous but more or less expected in this day and age. (I have always been grateful for Quiz Show [1994], as proof that you can make a great film without skin.). I would like to go on record in this column as saying that it is self-delusional to think you can watch graphic sex in a movie "redemptively" and "interactively," as has been lately alleged.

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I, to this day, have a sharp memory of a porn movie I saw in high school, as well as an image conjured in my mind in 1975 while leafing through a paperback on one of those stands in the drug store in Hyannis. And my parenting years are a blur. Whatever else that says about me as a person, that is the power of image. One does not "interact"; one is acted upon.

Incidents from the end of the book of Judges are often adduced---either by Bible-haters, to show what a bad book the Bible is, or by people who well-meaningly think that gives us permission to depict the crassest form of "real life" in movies. I would have to say that I have read the book of Judges innumerable times, and I have never once been caused to stumble by the imagery in it. One can only wonder at how God managed to tell a tale so awful without inciting titillation.

The director of The Last Station, as any director, is God in his production. His scripting of the events tells you how to think about them too. You don't even notice the cheat. What in real life (i.e., God's world) is the despicable act of having an affair with a "happily married man" is made to seem innocence and an act of independence by a young woman formerly shackled by the suffocating structures of either Russian Orthodoxy or Tolstoyism gone doctrinaire.

"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8).

To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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