Watching Martha Marcy May Marlene and Margin Call at the Cinema

I missed out on Martha Marcy May Marlene when it screened at The Little (240 East Ave.) a few weeks back, but I got a chance to see it at The Cinema TheatreMySpace link (957 South Clinton Ave.) as part of a double-feature with Margin Call.

I'll start with Margin Call and say just a little: it's the story of the 2008 financial meltdown convincingly told with a sympathetic eye to the people closest to the problem. It really only served to reinforce my opinion that the stock market is nothing more than gambling with no relevance to any real value in the world. It was good, solid entertainment.

Martha Marcy May Marlene plays out largely in flashback: the tale of a woman indoctrinated into a rural cult. I think most people watch the film as a sort of horror/thriller, exposing the layers of lies, power, and brainwashing that get an otherwise reasonable person to embrace completely absurd notions. But I guess I come from a weird perspective, and saw it as a tale that compares two cults: one at a rural farm, and the other, American industrialized society. When Martha (a.k.a. Marcy May as named by the cult leaders, or Marlene when any of the women answered the phone) is reacquainted with her sister Lucy, she returns to Lucy and her husband Ted's summer home (none of who utters reference to a "cult" as none either knows or believes it). She first showers and when she rejoins Lucy on a bed, Lucy says, "oh, you're dripping", referring to Martha's wet hair. Particularly given the more important things going on, why is this even remotely important?: it is the Lucy/Ted/American culture's set of arbitrary and irrelevant rules.

Like Kynodontas (Dogtooth) (which I saw at the Dryden), the film acts as a mirror to our own society. My culture's foundation is violence: if I don't do what I'm supposed to do, society responds with force (which may sound familiar, taken from Derrick Jensen's philosophy). For instance, if I decide that the house I have been living in (exclusively, for the last 12 years, and no other person has come by to claim it is theirs) is mine and I decide to no longer pay my mortgage, eventually someone will come with a gun and tell me I have to leave. That is the incentive for paying my mortgage. Of course, it's conditioned from an early age, so it doesn't seem like that's the reason, but it ultimately is.

I of course know the differences between my culture and the cult, but the lines were pretty severely blurred by the end of the film. It's kind of a "choose your own poison" kind of tale. Martha is a pawn in the game where she's either enslaved to pay for her existence, or, well, enslaved to pay for her existence. There's happiness and misery to be found in both places only at different times and in different forms. But ultimately she's asking the right questions: why do I have to?

2,258 total views, no views today

Watching END: CIV Resist or Die at the Flying Squirrel

I figured it would be interesting, so I headed over to The Flying Squirrel Community Space (285 Clarissa St., formerly the Flower City Elks Lodge) to see the essay film END: CIV Resist or Die. Filmmaker Franklin Lopez introduced the film by talking about how he was deeply moved when he heard Derrick Jensen speak and how he built his film around much of Jensen's work. Lopez said he was impressed by the impeccable logic laid out in Jensen's books Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization, and Endgame, Vol. 2: Resistance, which outline the environmental apocalypse in our midst as simply being caused by what we call "civilization". I'll narrow things a bit and discuss corporations and industry.

First, note that corporations, organizations, machines, and tools, if anthropomorphized, are psychopathic. In other words, these things behave without consciousness, hence without inherent morality. I know that corporations and organizations include people which do have morality, but the nature of the group does not reflect that individuality. In fact, because corporations and organizations have rules in place that prevent any one person from having any decision-making power, the effect of their individual morality is nullified.

Second, all corporations we create have as their highest priority (or if not, a high priority) to make money. The secondary priority of a corporation is to operate in its industry sector. There is no primary consideration to the value of human life, or of life in general, or of the resources life needs to survive. As such, if life-giving resources, life, and human life are an obstacle to those goals, the corporation will attempt to spend as little money as necessary to get past those "obstacles."

Third, corporations generally do not have an expiration condition. As such, they will continue to operate in the primary industry sector until there is no economically viable way to continue.

Finally, the economic and social system we have in place is generally taken as given. That is, what we call "civilization" cannot be changed directly.

The film looks closely at two industries: oil production and logging.

In the case of the logging industry, the cheapest path to financial success is greenwashing — giving the illusion of sustainability — as that is cheaper than actual responsible forestry. In one instance, a tribe of Native Americans attempted to stop a logging company from cutting down the forest on their sacred lands, but Greenpeace intervened and came to an agreement to permit logging of their lands. (Yes, you read that correctly: Greenpeace voluntarily did not stop the logging.)

More damning, though, is the case of oil production. The industry likes to claim there are nearly limitless reserves available. What they fail to mention is that unlike when oil was discovered bubbling out of the ground, the extraction of newly discovered oil is nearly a losing battle. In fact, if they were charged for the water destruction and the pollution from leaks and accidents, it would likely not be profitable. But the industry subsidizes itself by coercing agreements to use and pollute water without added cost — destroying the resources necessary for life in its driving need for further profitability.

The film refers again to Jensen's works to note that peaceful protests were coincident with violent ones. In other words, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not act in isolation — rather, they were the peaceful resisters in a sea of varying degrees of civil disobedience, property destruction, and bloodshed. As such, the power structures in place were able to engage them and make some advantageous changes, but only so much as to defuse their more violent contemporaries.

It's clear that peaceful protest alone accomplishes nothing. I have watched as wars were started with 250,000 people in the streets of Washington, D.C. in opposition. And I now see how natural gas companies are running roughshod over the peaceful protest of citizens only wishing to protect their water supplies from contamination. Without the teeth of violence, no change occurs, even if it is not those acting in violence who sit at the negotiating table in the end.

Derrick Jensen has an interesting quote about all this from Endgame, Volume 1. He opens by asking if the reader would have joined the resistance in Nazi Germany then says:

Now, would you resist if the fascists irradiated the countryside, poisoned food supplies, made rivers unfit for swimming (and so filthy you wouldn't even dream of drinking from them anymore)? What if they did this because … Hell, I can't finish that sentence because no matter how I try I can't come up with a motivation good enough even for fascists to irradiate and toxify the landscape and water supplies. If fascists systematically deforested the continent would you join an underground army of resistance, head to the forests, and from there to boardrooms and to the halls of the Reichstag to pick off the occupying deforesters and most especially those who give them their marching orders?

When, exactly, is enough?

2,436 total views, no views today