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Something Different (Movies)

Well, I’ve written about books and about music, so I thought I’d write a post about the top five movies I watched last year.
The movie that jumped out at me the most is a documentary that first aired in 2003 called “The Origin of AIDS“.  This documentary tells the story of how the AIDS pandemic was quite likely created by a Polish-American doctor who was experimenting on African populations in the 1950s in order to try and win the race to create the best Polio vaccine.  This doctor, Hilary Koprowski, did in fact create the vaccine that was used to eradicate polio and he has been treated as a hero in the medical community.  Naturally, then, there has been a lot of controversy around this documentary, but I find it’s thesis — and the evidence is presents — compelling.  It’s all quite devastating.  Not only did Western colonialism create deep poverty in Africa but it quite possibly created the AIDS pandemic (the same pandemic it refuses to address seriously, given the way Western pharmaceutical companies continue to hold on to the copyrights of medication that can be used to properly treat HIV/AIDS).
The second film that jumped out at me was “Hunger” (2008), which tells the story of Bobby Sands, a member of the IRA who led a prison-based hunger strike in 1981, in an effort to have the IRA become recognized as a political (and not criminal) faction.  There is some really fascinating dialogue in this film, including one long uncut conversation that occurs between Sands and a Catholic priest.  I almost never watch movies multiple times, but I watched this one three times last year.  It’s a very moving portrayal of a person whose commitment to life — and life for all — leads him to embrace death (Sands starves to death along with several others).  Further, the portrayals of others involved — like one prison guard who appears to be the guy designated to beat the prisoners — is one that refuses to take sides, but portrays the humanity of everybody involved.
Another documentary that I found interesting was “Born Rich“.  It also aired in 2003 and was created by Jamie Johnson, the heir to the Johnson & Johnson Inc. empire.  Jamie is friends with other young people who grew up amongst the super-rich — heirs of giant media, sports, or real estate empires, members of European royal families, and so on.  It’s a fascinating glimpse into the brokenness, loneliness, opulence and even guilt experienced by those who grow up in this rather limited social circle.  In fact, I even found myself feeling some sympathy towards a number of the young people who appear in this film.  It would be very interesting for a discussion group to watch this film in conjunction with the more famous documentary, “Born Into Brothels“.
Finally, my fourth and fifth picks are “Darkon” (2007) and “Guys and Dolls” (2007).  Both of these films look at groups of people who, in one way or another, have created a ‘fictional’ world full of alternate relationships, and wherein they find their deepest sense of meaning and identity.  So, in “Darkon” we follow group of “Live Action Role Players” (i.e. LARPers) — everyday people who go off questing in the woods on the weekend dressed like wizards, warriors, and amazons (I know, right?  It doesnt get much better than this!).  It is as these characters, the the members of Darkon are able to truly live life.  Similarly, in “Guys and Dolls” we encounter some men who have developed relationships with “Real Girl” sex dolls (which sell for around $10,000).  It is these relationships that these men experience as the most fulfilling aspect of their lives.  I found both of these documentaries to be entertaining and fascinating and they led me to ask questions about the ways in which all of us structure the world in which we live.  I mean, are these people really doing anything different than Christians who go to church and undestand themselves to be ‘beloved children of God’?  Or, to pick another example, are they different than corporate business people who go to yoga classes in order to affirm their internal goodness and transcendence (despite the brutal material actions they take in their day-to-day jobs)?  Maybe, maybe not.  A conversation worth exploring.

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  1. Re: “Guys and Dolls”, have you seen “Lars and the Real Girl”? A quirky little comedy drama about a guy, played by Ryan Gosling, who buys one of those dolls and totally believes she’s real, and about how his community, playing along, deals with it.

    • I did see “Lars and the Real Girl” and enjoyed it. Still, it’s pretty fantastical in it’s own way (i.e. in the way that the community responds). Watch “Guys and Dolls” to get a sense for the way this sort of thing actually plays out and also ask yourself: how do I find myself responding to these men? What sort of reaction are they bringing up in me, and how would I treat them if I encountered them in my day-to-day life? I suspect we might discover that the emotions stirred are rather different than the ones stirred up by “Lars and the Real Girl”!