Tag Archives: movies

!Viva Cristo Rey! Some historical background for the movie “For Greater Glory”

15 May

I haven’t seen much publicity for it, but the movie titled Cristiada in Mexico and For Greater Glory in the United States is coming to theaters June 1st.  I imagine a sizable number of moviegoers will fill the seats so they can watch Eva Longoria (or, for ladies who prefer older gentlemen, Peter O’Toole).  I don’t imagine that many U.S. viewers, however, will know much about the historical event the film revolves around: the Cristero War of the 1920s in Mexico.

I did an undergraduate research project on press surrounding the Cristero rebellion, two years ago, and with this movie coming out so soon I’m hoping that some of that research proves useful.  If you can read Spanish, I commend you to the Spanish-language Wikipedia entry (it’s much more complete than the English article, unfortunately).

The full text of my research paper with sources: Los Fieles: Faith, Anxiety, and Prejudice in the Press during Mexico’s “Religious Crisis,” February-July 1926

Another previous post — Mexico’s Holy War: Faith, Prejudice, and the Press in 1926

This is David Uribe Velasco, a native of Buenavista de Cuellar, a small town in southern Mexico.

A month ago marked the 85rd anniversary of his death, and next month, it will have been 12 years since his elevation to sainthood by Pope John Paul II.  On April 12, 1927, Father Velasco—a Catholic priest—after putting his affairs in order (he repaid the 50 pesos owed to a fellow cleric; he bequeathed his typewriter and vestments to a friend)—and after blessing his captors in the sign of cross and the name of the Virgin of Guadalupe, he was taken outside, forced to his knees by Federal soldiers, and shot in the back of the head.

In May 2000, he was canonized as San David, a martyr, and one of 250,000 Mexicans killed in the conflict known today as la Cristiada, or the Mexican Cristero War—a rebellion unique in modern history as a popular uprising that took the international community completely by surprise.

Lasting from summer 1926 to spring 1929, the Cristero rebellion represented a popular reaction to the contemporary Mexican administration’s increasing restrictions on religious speech and practice in the country—a country with a Catholic population upwards of 90%.

The very name of the war bears witness to the deep-set piety of the rebel soldiers, christened Cristeros by opponents ridiculing their battle cry:  “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” or “Long Live Christ the King!”

However, in the months leading up to the initial outbreak of violence the depth of Catholic devotional sentiment in the Mexican population was completely underestimated by the American press, which saw the seething controversy to the south as a strictly institutional conflict—not the rebellion of individual cristeros, but a “Church War.”

The flashpoint for mobilization was July 31, 1926—when the Catholic Episcopal hierarchy of Mexico ordered, as protest against clerical persecution, the indefinite suspension of worship services throughout the country—and the federal government obliged by attempting to take possession of church buildings.

Lay Catholics resisted.

Crowds of hundreds, most of them women, spontaneously mobilized to defend the churches—even as police brigades brought fire hoses and mounted federal soldiers to disperse the congregations.  One Mexico City newspaper summed the day up in a single headline—“Los Fieles [the faithful] Will Not Abandon Their Churches.”

Even so, the fight was initially expected to be a rout.

For perspective—At the time, the Mexican government under President Plutarco Elías Calles had a federal army of nearly 80,000 professional soldiers.  The rebel movement, on the other hand, was unorganized until 1927—and comprised mostly untrained, and practically unarmed, rural Catholic peasants of the Bajío region, Central and Southern Mexico, which remains even today the bastion of Catholic conservatism in the country.  To the contrary—by the end of the war the Cristeros numbered 50,000.  And an auxiliary brigade of  women, engaged in smuggling weapons and provisions into combat zones for the soldiers, totaled 25,000.

Popular sentiment was enraged—and the uprising reflected the crystallization and shattering of widespread anxiety that had been growing throughout 1926.

A memoirist from San Julián, a small town in Jalisco, one of the centers of the rebellion, recalled the pervading climate of fear and apprehension that entered her community with the New Year:

“The enemies of the Holy Church began to spread their poison everywhere… black stormclouds began to rise in the blue sky—Everyone was afraid.”

But this anxiety of the faithful was ignored.  Commentators abroad, particularly in the United States, viewed and reported the conflict through the lens of domestic problems and paradigms: an ideological clash of Church and State.

On one side, the child of the 1910 Mexican Revolution: he Liberal, secular administration of President Calles—determined to suppress religious speech, end religious education, restrict the influence and very number of Catholic clerics in Mexico, and nationalize Church property—in the name of secularization.

On the other the child of the Spanish Conquest: the centuries-old Mexican Catholic Episcopacy under Archbishop José Mora y del Río, equally determined to preserve the Church’s economic privileges and institutional autonomy.

Church and State—no third party in existence.  But this was the perspective of an American press embroiled in its own ideological collision:

Just the year before, the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” over evolution in the education system had made headlines in the United States as a war of secularism or fundamentalism, science or faith, progress or regression, educated urbanites versus rural ignorance.  These were the antitheses occupying American minds in 1926—and reporter H.L. Mencken summed up the public attitude in two words: the rural-based, deeply religious segment of the American population comprised: “yokels and morons.”

This domestic situation provided American commentators with a template for the dissatisfied Mexican laity: rural, ignorant, superstitious, racially inferior—and thus incapable of exercising any significant political influence.

Essentially, the United States media projected its own anxieties onto Mexico, and ignored those of the Mexican Catholic.

One incident in particular encapsulates the American perspective:

When Mora y del Rio and the Episcopacy announced that worship would be suspended at the end of July, the Mexican faithful flocked in thousands to churches to receive what many believed might be the final sacraments of their lives.  The Archbishop himself was said to have baptized, confirmed, and married over 3,000 individuals in one day alone.

But while the Mexican press reported apocalyptic panic—in San Julián, the faithful prayed in the streets for God’s pity and mercy—TIME magazine treated the incident as entertainment:

“… barefoot, blanketed Indian runners; toothless Mexican gaffers, perhaps pagans all their lives, hobbled in frenzied haste to receive a precious sprinkling of holy water… in this baptismal race.”

Said correspondent was also thoughtful enough to add a footnote explaining to his readers that the people of Mexico were only nominally Catholic, their religion really a pantheon of primitive deities smeared with a veneer of saints and idols.

Even New York City’s premier Catholic periodical, the Commonweal, espoused strikingly similar racial and religious bigotry:

“the plain truth about Mexico… is that a native Indian population is not the same thing as a Caucasian civilization fostered by centuries of Christian discipline.”

The national academic journal Current History exhibited a comparable bias in its July 1926 issue—intended to be a symposium on opinion about the religious situation in Mexico.

The contributing parties—supporters the Mexican Government, American Catholics, and American Protestants (although, notably no representative of Mexican Catholicism went to print)—all, essentially, agreed on one central issue: the degeneracy of the masses in Mexico.  The only question that remained was which institution—Church or State—was responsible for developing a program for the “uplift” of the Indian and Indo-Latino population:

“Physical welfare is a fact; spiritual consolations are the resources of a theory.”

—a comment that typifies the 1920s, and even modern, elitist ‘progressive’ trivialization of Mexican Catholic piety.

The Mexican press, on the other hand, did not see the growing religious crisis as an issue of progress; rather, it was about freedom of conscience.  This is probably my favorite quote to come from a reel of microfilm.  From the Mexico City paper Excélsior:

“We imitate the United States in its defects, in its sports, in its diversions, in its food, in its clothing, in its affectionate ‘spooning’… but in its indisputable virtues, we don’t care much to imitate them.”

Still, the American press remained convinced that religion was not a primary driving force in human behavior—first came social and economic factors.  And thus, the religious crisis in Mexico could not be any sort of popular war, let alone a “holy war,” but rather had to represent a power struggle between institutions.  Thus when the Mexican Episcopacy called for an indefinite suspension of religious services beginning July 31st—a virtual interdict—American papers such as the Catholic Commonweal assumed the inert, helpless Mexican laity would bear their cross and pray.

But popular anxiety had been steadily growing since Mexico rang in the New Year 1926 and the faithful of San Julián saw “dark clouds” on the horizon.  As early as February, a columnist for the Mexico City paper El Universal predicted what the American press could not imagine: violence.

In an article titled “Spiritual peace is indispensable,” a columnist warned against the Calles administration attacking the “essence of the religion”—the sacraments.

Current History writers, such as the Methodist bishop James Cannon, undervalued this deeply-rooted devotion.  According to Cannon, Catholic ritual was superstitious ceremony alone—and only served to retard social and economic progress for the Mexican peasant:

“The mass in the morning, the rosary in the evening, confession, communion, extreme unction, the benediction of the grace within a Church cemetery, and responsories for the departed, kept the people well under the control of the church even after they were dead…”

But that is a viewpoint unique to the primarily Protestant United States.

Protestantism, unlike its Catholic rival, developed from a theology of faith and scripture alone.  The Catholic Church, contrarily, held tradition on par with these as a source of religious authority: the sacraments were thus not empty ritual to believers, but a conduit of God’s grace and the path to salvation—the essence of religion El Universal mentioned.

And when this was targeted on July 31, 1926—churches seized, worship suspended, and sacraments ended throughout the country—all the assurances of the American press that there would be no reaction meant nothing to the Mexican Catholics who felt their very identity at risk.  From El Universal, six months before the July 31st uprising:

“The truth is that the people never commit suicide.  They might change, transform, and even disappear; but they never change their essential nature—an integral part of native religion.  It is the Mexican people, instinctively, who understand the danger.  For them it is a question of to be or not to be… and it costs everything to want to be!”

Until an accord was reached in June of 1929 between the Mexican Episcopacy and the Calles administration, it did cost everything for faithful Mexican Catholics like Father Velasco.

And in the end, the Mexico City paper was right—the Mexican people knew early on what the international community, blinded by racial prejudice and a disastrous underestimation of the depth of religious devotion in Mexico, never saw coming: the tragedy and the violence of la Cristiada.

* * *


John Smith didn’t really look like that. Sorry, kids.

30 Apr

Disney, I’d like to commend you.  You own the animated children’s movie business.  You own it to the extent that I’m still not sure whether you did that 1997 Anastasia musical or not.  Nobody is.  And even if it wasn’t you, I mean, we all know that hardly matters.  You’re the best.  You were when I was a kid, you did when my mother was a kid, you may have when my grandmother was a girl, depending on how old she is.*

Your classic animations are a part of the cultural consciousness now.  But let’s be honest with each other for a moment–and I think we can be, because of our long and loving relationship.  You’ve taken some serious, serious liberties with history.

Now I’m not talking about the fact that Anastasia requires audiences to suspend their disbelief enough to accept that evil green spirits released by an undead Rasputin made the Russian people want Communism.  The undead Rasputin?  That I believe.  But come on, associating the Bolsheviks with evil green spirits?  At least make them evil red spirits.**

Not that you haven’t been great with attention to detail in the past–it’s uncanny they way you’re able to make animated characters look like the voice actors who play them.  Example: Jeremy Irons as Scar in The Lion King.  Iconic, right?  Now whenever I watch The Borgias I keep expecting the Pope to push someone off a cliff into a stampede of antelope.  Although, to be fair, it’s something Alexander VI would probably have done if he had half the chance.

But Disney, dear, dear, Disney, you really phoned it in with Pocahontas.  When I was little, my sisters and I used to re-enact scenes from the movie.  Having an unusually low and raspy voice–the product of chronic asthma and throat inflammation–I played John Smith.  Imagine my dismay when I learned, years later, that all the time I was strutting around like a strapping blonde adventurer I really looked like a squat ginger leprechaun.  Was it any consolation to learn that John Smith was knighted for bravery (0r most times escaping from enemy capture and publishing books about it, or something, whatever) by a Transylvanian prince?

A little.  It helped a little.

I understand that you weren’t working with much.  Even in the 17th century, this was not the face of a handsome man.  The whole John Rolfe thing makes way more sense now.  But still, you turned Jeremy Irons into a lion.  You could have at least given John Smith a beard.

* She has aged beautifully, my grandmother, and it’s not empty flattery because she’ll probably never see this.  Also, has anyone else noticed their mothers or aunts or grandmothers saying “when I was a girl” instead of “when I was little” or “when I was a kid.”  I’ve never said “when I was a girl.”  Gender neutral identifiers, people!  They’re all the rage.

** And this goes for whoever made Anastasia, Disney and pseudo-Disney alike.

Better Living Through Chemistry? (Book Review: Limitless, by Alan Glynn)

15 Nov

Put away your half-started manuscripts and tragic hopes, creative writing minors. In an economy like ours, your chances of publication are bleak – unless, that is, you have unlimited access to a mind-enhancing “smart pill” called MDT-48. That’s the premise of Alan Glynn’s novel “Limitless,” anyway (originally published as “The Dark Fields” in 2001).

You might remember “Limitless” from theaters last spring – or maybe not, judging by its lukewarm critical reception. In any case, it was the movie with Robert DeNiro and that guy from “The Hangover,” and I guess it was pretty good. Some of the visual effects that critics like to describe with words like “stunning” or “experimental” were in keeping with the movie’s billing as a techno-thriller, sure, but in the end they just left me dizzy.

What I found truly stunning – dizzying enough to reverse that age-old tradition of reading the book first and seeing the movie second – were the ideas.

“Limitless” is a novel about human enhancement. And while our trans-humanist hero Eddie Spinola’s journey might end up in some unlikely situations (convincing a shady Russian loan shark to give him half a million dollars by promising to write him into a screenplay about the Mafia, for example), in terms of believability Glynn’s novel is light-years ahead of old-school science fiction that couldn’t see beyond evil cyborgs or disembodied brains in jars. Chances are, the future’s going to look a lot more like “Limitless” than “I, Robot.”

Eddie Spinola starts the novel writing his own novel (that’s right, it’s meta from the very first page), with a day job as a copy editor at some podunk publishing firm. There may have been a point in the distant past at which he had his life together, but it certainly isn’t now, fifty pounds and one failed marriage later.
Lucky, then, that his ex-wife’s brother hasn’t changed at all. When they serendipitously meet on the street one mediocre morning, Eddie’s drug-dealer-in-law gives him a sample of a mysterious substance that propels the intelligent but unmotivated Eddie to the stratosphere of genius and productivity. Lucky, also, that Eddie gets his hands on the entire existing supply of MDT-48 when his supplier gets offed in a very messy scene that I’ll happily leave to Alan Glynn for description.

Taking half, then one, then two or three pills a day, Eddie finds himself playing the stock market like a true Wall Street One-Percenter – with the spare time to wax philosophical about the global trading network as a “template for human consciousness” or “humanity’s collective nervous system.”
On a tangential note, that’s something I liked better about the book: like its original title, it’s deeper, darker and includes quite a few more discussions about the nature of free will and determinism.

You don’t have to have seen the movie to guess that with great power comes great responsibility, and even greater plot twists (involving many, many terrible things happening to our Eddie Spinola as he spins out of control). But even if you did see “Limitless” in theaters, the original, words-only iteration is well worth the read. In fact, it might not be fair to compare the two versions at all: the book is so much more nuanced – subtle where the movie is showy – that it makes you think even while calling itself a techno-thriller.

Along those lines, what’s most impressive is how Glynn makes an apparently far-fetched plot completely believable – from the ideas about boosting human intelligence to the political context of the United States invading (pardon me, “liberating,”) Mexico (from drug cartel tyranny, ironically enough). By the end, you get the feeling that not only could this book happen – it could be happening right now.

Parallel Universes Where the South Won the War

25 Feb

Whooosh, it’s the Flash-Sideways… again!

I’ll have to wait 8 years or so before I can say with some validity that this is the kind of question professional historians daydream about without daring to publish, but I’ll make an educated guess that they do.  I imagine some Civil War re-enactors daydream and talk about it shamelessly, but as an undergrad history major who only pretends to be an Alabamian, I really can’t speak with authority on either account.  I do know that in 9th grade my world history class reenacted the battle of Waterloo and I got all of us disgruntled French soldiers pumped up on ABBA before we waged a water-balloon shock and awe campaign on that smug 14-year-old Duke of Wellington and put Napoleon back on the throne for good.

Our teacher wasn’t terribly pleased.

But that sort of counterfactual history is the bread and butter of science fiction writers–remember Murray Leinster’s Sidewise in Time? And it’s not just temporal shifts in general that SF writers posit, either, but specifically Confederate/Nazi Americas.  Another classic example: Philip K. Dick’s (love him!) The Man in the High Castle.

PKD’s novel was first published in 1962–I call that the “coherent period.”  Come 1978 and you get something like VALIS, which almost makes House of Leaves look intelligible.  Almost.

(And that, my friends, is called postmodern name-dropping, included in honor of my *friend* and fellow blogger (well, she’s 3 posts in), Marina Roberts, who doesn’t get one of my weird pseudonyms because she’s an anthropology major and I don’t care about her Internet safety, and who called me a “scary hipster” the other day, which really touched a soft spot because I’ve never even been in a thrift shop.  The salespeople kind of freak me out.  But then, I won’t step into J. Crew either.)

In any case, and to preach to the choir, The Man in the High Castle is fantastic and well-deserving of its Hugo.  Remember the Sidewise Award for Alternate History?  I’ll bet that in an alternate universe where he lived to 1995, PKD won that too.

For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of a glimpse into Philip K. Dick’s twisted mind, here are a couple plot summaries for TMITHC.  Since it’s Phil, I figured we might need two:

Dick’s Hugo Award-winning 1962 alternative history considers the question of what would have happened if the Allied Powers had lost WWII. Some 20 years after that loss, the United States and much of the world has now been split between Japan and Germany, the major hegemonic states. But the tension between these two powers is mounting, and this stress is playing out in the western U.S.

What if the Allies had lost the Second World War …? The Nazis have taken over New York – the Japanese control California. In a neutral buffer zone existing between the two states an underground author offers his own vision of reality, an alternative world that offers hope to the disenchanted …Hugo Award winner Philip K Dick is one of the most original contributors to American sci-fi, and his books were the basis for the critically acclaimed films “Blade Runner” and “Total Recall”.

So it’s not exactly a Confederate States of America, but slavery is legal in this alternate America and freedom definitely isn’t ringing.  It’s a book that came to mind earlier this week as I watched a screening of Kevin Wilmott’s “Confederate States of America,” an event hosted by the University of Alabama’s brilliant history department.  From Wikipedia, because I’m lazy:

C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America is a 2004 mockumentary directed by Kevin Willmott. It is a fictional “tongue-in-cheek” account of an alternate history, in which the Confederates won the American Civil War, establishing the new Confederate States of America(that incorporates the former United States as well).

The film primarily details significant political and cultural events of C.S.A. history from its founding until the 2000s. This viewpoint is used to satirize real-life issues and events, and to shed light on the continuing existence of discrimination in American culture.

A particularly interesting segment of the film involves the CSA’s participation (or lack thereof) in World War II.  In this reality, Hitler visited the States, whose Aryan leaders impressed him with the slave economies in North and South alike.

More insightful bloggers than me (read Cory Doctorow, and yes, that’s a double entendre) have written about the role of science fiction in society; a couple years ago, he wrote an article titled “Radical Presentism,” about “the way that science fiction reflects the present more than the future.”

For some years now, science fiction has been in the grips of a conceit called the “Singularity”—the moment at which human and machine intelligence merge, creating a break with history beyond which the future cannot be predicted, because the post-humans who live there will be utterly unrecognizable to us in their emotions and motivations.

Read one way, it’s a sober prediction of the curve of history spiking infinity-ward in the near future (and many futurists will solemnly assure you that this is the case); read another way, it’s just the anxiety of a generation of winners in the technology wars, now confronted by a new generation whose fluidity with technology is so awe-inspiring that it appears we have been out-evolved by our own progeny.

Confederate States of America isn’t science fiction in the way that The Man in the High Castle is, but both are counterfactual (alternate) histories–telling us less about what could have happened than what is happening.

In the question-and-answer session after the film screening, director Kevin Wilmot (hell yes, he was there) suggested that–to paraphrase–the reason that South fought so hard in the Civil War was because they felt betrayed.  The country started out as the Confederate States of America–slavery and the 3/5 law were enshrined in our very Constitution, and let’s not forget how very many Virginians we had for presidents back in the day.

Every move we make toward true democracy, Wilmott argued (and that’s not just emancipation, but Civil Rights, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, etc), makes the country more of the United States, and less the Confederate States.

If filmmaking ever falls through for Wilmott, I’d suggest a career in science fiction.

Btdubs, I’m currently fascinated by the I Write Like tool, which has for months told me that in both the blogosphere and academe I write like H.P. Lovecraft.  Probably the prohibitively long sentences.  This post, however, has been textually analyzed and came out, quote the machine, as comparable to Cory Doctorow.  Nothing’s comparable to Cory Doctorow’s writing, but I’ll take what I can get.

The Aliens Speak French (Event: Fantastic Planet and Chronopolis at UCLA)

14 Dec

Monday night, I went with my sister Charlie (aspiring artist) and my friend Doug (aspiring Jew) to a screening of classic French sci-fi animation at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater.  As Charlie says—using a word generally reserved for Pink Floyd and that bizarre children’s book The Phantom Tollbooth—it was trippy.

The theater itself set the tone: lines of light decorated the walls and ceiling surrounding the screen, making it look for all the world like we were traveling at warp speed on the USS Enterprise.  The playbill told us to expect the double feature to feature “chilling allegories,” Borges-esque phantasmagorics, enigmatic storylines filled with a “surreal taxonomy.”  We should’ve guessed what would happen next, but Charlie and I were just three days out of Tuscaloosa—how could we have known the horror of a theater suddenly filling with hipsters?  A surreal taxonomy indeed.

As determinedly bad haircuts and ironic screen print t-shirts enveloped us, Charlie, Doug, and I struggled for breath under the crushing weight of existential angst.  Thankfully, it wasn’t long before the show started.

First was La planete sauvage, or “Fantastic Planet,” a 72-minute hand-drawn animation from 1973.  Here’s the basic story:

Somewhere out in the distant reaches of space, there is the planet of the Traags, a blue-skinned, fish-faced race of giants who keep as pets strange aliens from the planet Terra.  These Oms (read hommes, the French word for men) are variously collared and coddled by Traag children, or, when they escape and form communities in the wild, eradicated with poison like vermin.  They breed so quickly, after all.  The Traags don’t breed at all on their planet, as far as the Oms can tell.  They spend most of their time in Meditation, out-of-body experiences.

For all their seeming spiritual enlightenment and advanced technology, however, the Traags engage on a de-Oming campaign even after they find evidence that the Oms have advanced intelligence.  The only solution, obviously, is for the Om to manufacture a rocket and fly on up to the Strange Planet, the Traags’ world’s moon that the Oms pray to.

At this point in the movie, both Doug and I independently developed the theory that the Strange Planet was going to be Earth, and that the Oms’ colonization of it would be our human origin story.

Didn’t happen.

When the Oms touched down on La planete sauvage, they didn’t find the Garden of Eden.  They found a bunch of headless giant stone statues doing a sex dance.  For real.  I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.  Apparently, this was how the Traags bred, by projecting their consciousnesses into the statues and making little blue babies by… waltzing with marble statues.  Hey, to each his own.

So the Oms knew the big secret of the Traag, and they did what any oppressed people would do if placed in the same opportunity: they shattered the statues with really high-pitched sonic blasts.  Threatened with the destruction of their entire race, the Traags stopped massacring Oms.  Oh frabjous day!  But there was no real reconciliation or peaceful coexistence—the Oms got themselves an artificial moon to live on, and everything worked out.

The end.

I don’t know about you, but the whole premise was incredibly dark.  Every time I look at my cat now, I wonder if she’s self-aware and plotting the destruction of humankind with feline co-conspirators.  Beyond that—Fantastic Planet say something disturbing not only about human nature: that we have to be pushed to the very brink before being forced to get along.  It was mutually-assured destruction for the Oms and the Traags if either got out of line.  Cold War allegory, much?

This semester, it was a running joke in my “War in American Culture” class that I interpreted everything we read as commentary on the dark tendencies of human nature.  But really—with this storyline, the French title’s English cognate is just as appropriate as the translation: it’s a seriously Savage Planet.

But oms are oms—they adapted.  It was a friggin’ weird landscape, with giant crystals growing over trees and tentacled birds cackling as they killed furry little animals for fun.  The people were reduced to living in completely primitive communities out in the wild, reverting to leadership by a chief wizard and decision-making by combat to the death (if I were the wizard, it would be rock-paper-scissors all the way).  But when given the opportunity to learn, steal, and utilize Traag technology, they took it.  They were determined, and adaptable, flexible and unsinkable.  It’s what people have been like since the beginning of human history.  Om pride ftw!

Most interesting of all to me, though, was how the film succeeded in 71 minutes in what I’ve been failing at for years—converting my sister into a sci-fi-natic (yeah, I went there).  Just a couple minutes in, Charlie leaned over and whispered to me, Do you like this? I gave a noncommittal shrug and locked my face into what I’ve been told is my default expression: what Doug termed “The Morales Disdainful Snarl.”  Charlie beamed.  I love it! she said.  Oh, and when we got home, she tried to find the soundtrack online, then started reading Whitley Strieber’s Communion.  Who knew.

Charlie loved Chronopolis too.  I was just frustrated.  It was the weirdest friggin’ thing I’ve seen in my entire life.  And I’ve seen a community theater production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.  There were Egyptian statues doing stop-motion claymation stuff and some spindly little rock-climber doing some folk dance with a sentient orange ball on a tight rope.

(see 10:00)

And even that’s too coherent an explanation.  The program said Chronopolis (1982) is about an alien city of immortal beings who manufacture moments of time, but it could be another Cold War metaphor for all I could tell.  Not even the hipsters knew (or pretended to know) what was going on—half the forty-odd person crowd left before the end of Chronopolis.  It was some seriously weird shit.  I won the DARE essay award for my school in 6th grade, but even I could sympathize with Doug when he muttered that he really regretted not getting high before watching this.

All I know is the French are friggin weird.

Things that go bump in the night (review: Dream War)

29 Jul

Leonardo DiCaprio calls the process of implanting the seeds of ideas into a person’s subconscious “inception,” but in Stephen Prosapio’s hair-raising novel Dream War it has another name, perhaps even more sinister: Injection.  And when it’s a top-secret CIA operation taking place in a tricked-out dentist’s chair under the aegis of a wild-eyed, slightly disheveled genius named Dr. Hyde (of all things), it’s hard to imagine something creepier.

But that’s the job description for Hector Lopez, Senior Agent at the Reagan-era Oneirology Institute of America, just another classified project from our shadowy puppet masters in the federal government.  As Lopez knows:

Rumors about the CIA delving into paranormal technologies circulated both the military and popular culture frequently.  One suggested that the government was using astral projections to keep tabs on the Russians…

Having just read and reviewed Ed Morawski’s remote viewing romance View, we know that too.  But author Prosapio’s novel takes a different tack: Dream War is a spooky journey through the nightmare realm of the subconscious, an adventure on a much wider scale than the blockbuster generating so many bewildered Twitter updates about whether or not Leo’s little metal top ever did stop spinning.

Stepehn Prosapio sets the tone of the novel with a thoroughly ominous introduction, reviewing in a page and a half our near-universal fascination with the darker places in the human mind and all the mysteries therein.  And this isn’t all speculation—Prosapio’s right to point out the astonishing, inexplicable historical power of the subconscious.  Want proof?  See: In hoc signo vinces on Wikipedia, the dream angel’s message to Constantine that he would conquer in the sign of the chi rho (minor historical correction for the novel—it wasn’t the cross).  Or the dreams of Mohammed and other Abrahamic visionaries.

Dreams have power.  No wonder the CIA was interested.

Unlike Inception, Dream War gives readers a surprisingly believable technical explanation of how one “dream-links” to a given target.  The key is the “dream-print,” a REM cycle fingerprint of sorts, made of endorphins and an electrochemical element unique to each individual’s brain.

But like the psychics and Project Star Gate, information about NOCTURN (Night-Oriented Connection To Uncover and Retrieve iNformation) stop surfacing after experiments in the 1970s and 80s.  And whether you’re a conspiracy theorist or not, Prosapio does make a pretty convincing case for special agents “dream-linking” to terrorists and other targets to extract information from the unguarded sleeping mind.  Who’s to say, after all, that some of that defense spending ramped up by Reagan didn’t go to paranormal projects?

The novel begins with these end days of NOCTURN and the Oneirology Institute of America.  And here’s where the story begins to accelerate—the reason for its death isn’t an executive order or lack of results: it’s the fact that while CIA agents are “injecting” ideas of suicide into the minds of America’s most wanted, a more sinister REM cycle traveler has found a way to do the same, and not just to terrorists.

Meet Luzveyn Dred, the eldritch master of the Spatium Quartus, a dimension parallel to both the waking and dreaming world—a space between (a bit like Inception’s limbo), the origin of all nightmares where the dream death is the true death and the aptly-named, Roman-era Dred is determined to stage an assault upon the subconscious of non-CIA trained geologists and their young daughters, along with everyone else in the world.  And the only thing standing between him and the creation of a nightmare empire is Hector Lopez, the smartass special agent who wears his reflective sunglasses indoors because Chicas think these look cool.  Or something.

Lopez finds himself at the center of Dred’s plan to “inject” the Spatium Quartus into the real world and turn life into a waking nightmare—literally.  Trained by Dr. Hyde and the CIA’s OIA, Hector’s in a perfect position to become Luzveyn Dred’s baleful lackey.  But our irreverent hero fends off this supernatural devil’s temptations with strength of will and a couple clever quips.  His first reaction to finding himself in the stormy, noxious SQ?

“Well, Toto, I guess we ain’t in Tijuana no more.”

And neither are we in Hollywood—Stephen Prosapio’s novel is a gripping, frightening, thoroughly disquieting novel that’s hard to put down, thanks to an arresting plot, superior writing style, and the thought that Luzveyn Dred might just show up once the lights go down.

Now Reading: Dream War, by Stephen Prosapio

24 Jul

Just a couple weeks ago, Inception hit the big screen–flooding Facebook and Twitter with obscure, dream-related references as awestruck audiences fuzzy on exactly what had just happened left the theaters.  Something about Leonardo DiCaprio infiltrating people’s dreams and extracting information, anyway.  That was two weeks ago.

Three years ago, Stephen Prosapio’s science fiction thriller Dream War made the final five in Gather.com’s 2007 “First Chapters” conference.  Dream War in it’s full form hit the presses on July 14, 2010, just two days before the U.S. Inception premiere.  From the product description on Amazon:

Decades ago, the CIA developed the technology to enter our dreams and extract information. It was just a matter of time before they took things a little too far…

1980. Hector Lopez joins a CIA enterprise capable of entering dreams and extracting information. Lopez saves hundreds of hostages’ lives by dream-linking to terrorists and foiling their plans. When the Red Brigades, an Italian terrorist group, kidnaps a US General, Lopez and his team execute every technique available for extracting information—including one that links our world to a dimension never meant to be discovered.

Present Day. The Sogno di Guerra—a Red Brigades sect—plans the slaughter of millions. And they’ve the help of Luzveyn Dred, the entity ruling the dimension the CIA inadvertently opened a portal to—the Spatium Quartus.

Aided by an aging expatriate, a recovering alcoholic, and a mysterious girl, Lopez must overcome memories of past failures and defeat evil—in this world as well as in a dimension of nightmares.

the Scattering will let you know how like or unlike Inception this oneiric novel of former fantasy football sports reporter Stephen Prosapio turns out to be.

Mommy’s Little Monster (Splice review)

30 Jun

In the movies, horror and science fiction go hand in hand—or maybe just horror and science.

Think Gattaca, Serenity, even I Am Legend with its cancer-curing, zombie-creating virus.  The message tends to be: Don’t mess with Mother Nature.  And while Will Smith makes a pretty badass scientist trying to save humanity, in a lot (dare I say most?) of these cinematic case studies, the labcoat is code for creepy.

Splice seems pretty conventional in that way.  Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) are the power couple of genetic engineering.  Getting the cover of Wired in the first five minutes of the film, they run a pharmaceutical lab called N.E.R.D. (Nucleic Exchange Research and Development—awesome acronym, right?) and blast rock music while synthesizing proteins.  Not to mention their boss introduces them at a major research conference as “Splicemasters extraordinaire”—which sounds like a bad DJ name, but ties in pretty well with Clive’s tricked-out labcoat (see above).

In any case, Elsa and Clive are the best in the field, and determined to go further than anyone else—quoth Dr. Kast: “If we don’t use human DNA, someone else will.”

That’s right, human cloning.  Well… not exactly.

I’m not sure exactly what it is about genetic engineering that gives people the heebie jeebies.  And I’m not just talking the Right to Life, tape-over-the-mouth-at-rallies set—there’s simply something shiver-inducing about anemic nerds snapping on blue latex gloves in a laboratory (pronunciation: luh-BOR-uh-tor-ee).

Maybe it’s the fact that a movie like Splice might not be science fiction for long—heck, we cloned Dolly in 1996.  For all we know, someone decanted an amphibious, winged human hybrid with a spiky tail even as you sat in the theater and lost your lunch.  Or maybe not.  But whoever wins the stem cell debate, there’s one thing I’m convinced of: eventually, whatever can be done, will be done.

And here’s the twist: I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.  In fact, I’m not sure that the Splice subtext says it’s a bad thing either.

Spoilers ahead; if you haven’t seen it and want to, here’s my review in a nutshell– Splice gets five stars for creepiness, five stars for moral conundrums, and five stars for being flat-our bizarre.  I loved it.

For me, the creepiest thing about the movie wasn’t the Clive-Dren sex scene, nor even the Dren-Elsa rape scene—it was Elsa, in the barn, with a tape recorder.

But let’s back up.

While I was away in Greece, my dear Charlie and her boyfriend drove out to Edwards Cinema in Brea to see Splice.  Charlie likes scary movies—even if The Ring did turn her into a skittish mess for about six months of 2002.  Doubtless, they went in expecting something along the lines of Pan’s Labyrinth in terms of atmosphere and creepiness level (Splice was produced, after all, by the twisted mind of Guillermo del Toro himself, and there’s not much more disturbing than Goya’s “dark paintings”).  According to Charlie, they slunk out absolutely disgusted, asking themselves exactly what Brody/Clive exclaims at the climax of the film: “What the fuck is going on?”

When I came home, Charlie discouraged me from seeing it, telling me I’d be “embarrassed” if I did.  I, having no shame and having promised myself to be a faithful follower of all disturbing science fiction, whatever the format or genre, didn’t listen to her.  Of course, because she wouldn’t come to the theater with me, I had to watch the movie on Watch-Movies on my laptop, which was well enough.  I’ve always thought Top Ramen’s a much better movie snack than popcorn.

And so the buffering ended, and I hit play.

Splice started off conventionally, with the conventionally self-confident scientist couple saying things like “What’s the point if you can’t publish?” and “Are you telling me you don’t need to know?” and best of all, “If God doesn’t want us to explore his domain, why would he give us the map?”  Clive shares a “double-helix high five” with his brother, and Elsa indirectly compares herself to God by calling Fred and Ginger (her first new species, two slug-like masses of puckered white flesh) “Adam and Eve.”  Nothing terribly unexpected.

Things start to get weird during what I call the “birth scene”—Dren’s dramatic entrance into the human world.  Having developed from a baby blastocyst to a real monster in a much shorter amount of time than either Clive or Elsa anticipated, little Dren (Nerd backwards, btw) has to be blasted out of her amniotic tank.  Elsa, trying to feel for the creature through an opening in the decanter, gets her arm stuck—stuck as in stabbed—by the fetus’s noodly appendange.  Stabbed repeatedly as Clive smashes the tank, Elsa pants and screams and cries out throughout the entire birth scene.  Symbolism, much?

Clive and Elsa’s journey into parenthood doesn’t stop there—actually, besides the fact that their baby has strange double-jointed legs, a seam down the top of her head, and a fencing foil for a tail, raising Dren seems eerily familiar.  Always crying, Dren has a fit over her gooey green meals of “bean curd, roughage, and starch,” craving instead, as the scientists note, “high-sucrose foodstuffs.”  In English: Dren won’t eat her vegetables, but she sure likes sugar.

And to Elsa, Dren can do no wrong.  In a moment of pure parental adoration, she suggests revealing Dren’s existence to the scientific world (Clive, understandably, is horrified).  Elsa’s only argument?  “Do you think they could really look at this face and see anything less than a miracle?”  It’s the proverbial face only a mother could love.

Elsa gives Dren her old Barbie to sleep with, teaches her how to put on make-up, and tries—it seems—to be the mother she never had.  We get hints throughout the movie that Elsa didn’t have the most idyllic family life.  Not only did she live on a creepy farm in the woods, she had a monster for a mother.  What exactly her mother did is never explained (which bothers Clive as much as it does me), but as Elsa says: “If you could understand crazy, it wouldn’t be crazy.”

Which begs the question—is Elsa crazy?

Bizarre as it may seem to raise a hybrid baby made from your own DNA (another thing Clive didn’t know until very late, but which the audience could guess just from previews), Elsa was a good mom who brought out the human side in Dren—the girl who could disembowel a rabbit in the woods upon arrival at the farm but who, after playing dress-up with an old tiara of Elsa’s and looking at an old family picture of mom, can snuggle up with a kitty in the barn.  It says something about nature and nurture.

But about ninety minutes in, Elsa-as-mom snaps—or rather, Elsa turns into her own mother (a woman’s tragedy, as Oscar Wilde would say).  After an argument with Clive in which the still-wary dad shouts “When did you stop being a fucking scientist?” Elsa pulls out the labcoat.

Dren is back to “Subject H50,” strapped on a metal table and discussed, once more, like an experiment.  This, to me, is the most chilling scene—an indictment of human psychology, not Dren’s.

“Physically, H50 has evolved well,” Elsa says into a tape recorder, flat and clinical.  “However, recent violence behavior suggests dangerous psychological developments.”  The problem, Dr. Kast postulates, is “caused by a disproportionate species identification.”  In other words—Dren thinks she’s human, and she’s not.

Or maybe it’s Elsa having the dangerous psychological turnaround—she seems to have taken Clive’s question to heart… or brain, I guess.  When did she stop being a scientist?  My guess is, when she became a mother (that’s the answer to everything, right Jacob?)  And to remedy the problem—caused by Elsa’s disproportionate identification of Dren with the human species—Dr. Kast disowns her daughter.  Literally, she strips the human from Dren—wiping the make-up off her face, snapping the necklace off her neck, and cutting the dress off her shivering body.  And then, with a sinister syringe squirt and scalpel, she cuts the stinger and venomous glands out of Dren’s tail.

But Elsa’s not the only slightly disturbed member of the cast.  Clive, after some serious misgivings (shoor, he tried to drown Dren thirty minutes in), is the first to tell Dren that they need her, that they love her.  He is the subject of her first crayon sketches, and he is the one to introduce Dren to music.  Of course, things get creepy fast when he teaches her to dance in the barn, and sees Elsa in the shape of her lips and curve of her neck.

To make brief a disturbing climax (oh god, I really didn’t want that to be a pun):

Elsa walks in on Dren and Clive… doing it; Elsa freaks out; the Watch-Movies recorded audience laughs until some girl shouts “Shut up!”; Clive absolves himself by claiming that “We changed the rules”; Dren gets a fever and dies, and the grieving parents bury her; the N.E.R.D. boss figures out what’s going on back on the farm and demands to see Dren; he can, because it turns out she’s not dead—she just underwent a gender-switching metamorphosis.  Man-Dren rapes Elsa; Man-Dren kills Clive; Elsa kills Dren.  It’s like a Shakespearean tragedy.  Kind of.

And in the end, Elsa gets what she wants: a baby.  Too bad she had it with her clone instead of Adrien Brody.

As the credits rolled, I was stunned—but not embarrassed like Charlie had promised.  Splice was disturbing, sure, but not outrageous, and there’s an interesting subtext.

“Was this ever about science?” Clive demands of Elsa after realizing that Dren isn’t just a clone—it’s Elsa’s clone.  To answer his question, one would think not—Elsa had some mommy issues and passed them on to the next generation, and Clive’s libido is going places nobody wants to see.  In fact, the movie itself really isn’t about science about all, or the dangers of a new creation.

Like in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the “creature” is not inherently destructive or evil.  Frankenstein, which has become a byword for a monster, is the name of the doctor—who neglects to raise the child he made.

It’s all about the creators.  But really—what parent doesn’t mess up their kids?

Twilight Zone and Conformity

28 Feb

A look at 1950s conformity in two creepy episodes from the mind of Rod Serling, and an even creepier video from a 1954 classroom:

Can we all agree that the most disturbing part of the harrowing tale of Barbara and Helen in the 1954 social guidance film “Habit Patterns” is the fact that it was created as an adjunct to a high school psychology textbook?

In this context, the narrator’s injunction to develop “good habits approved by custom, accepted by society” turns 1950s conformity into more than an issue of social etiquette and behavioral ideals, but a matter of mental health.  This idea is borne out by two of Rod Serling’s most critically-acclaimed episodes of The Twilight Zone, “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” and “Eye of the Beholder.”

Like the “psychology for living” guidance films, both episodes focus primarily on young women—in particular, young women who deviate from the ideals espoused by parents, friends, and culture.  When Marilyn, the heroine of “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” refuses to pick a pattern and asks whether “Being like everyone—isn’t that like being nobody?”, she challenges the assumption that assimilation is the only way to get along in her society.

But while “the transformation” is ostensibly physical—everyone looks like a dozen or so physical ideals—the ultimate purpose is psychological.  This is revealed in the opening scene, when Marilyn argues with her mother.  Though already transformed into the beautiful Number 12 (in a highly futuristic metallic leotard and leggings, no less—this is the year 2000 after all), Lana still attends “culture class,” indicating that the true mental transformation is never finished, and must be continually reinforced.  Similarly, Serling briefly touches on the use of psychiatric drugs as a quick fix, particularly for women, in Lana’s constant exhortations to her daughter to have a glass of “instant smile,” possibly the Prozac of the future.

The nature of the transformation as a psychological one is further explored at a telling location—a government-run hospital.  Questioned by a Professor Sigmund Franz (a thinly-disguised Sigmund Freud), Marilyn is told that “the transformation must be performed young”—the point when the mind is most malleable.

This seems to be supported by Dr. Rex’s eagerness to take a brain scan of Marilyn.  While possibly used to determine her intelligence level, as he claims, his and Lana’s conspiratorial looks suggest otherwise: the ultimate transformation, after all, is more than just physical.  The horror of the episode for the viewers is in the complete turnaround of Marilyn’s personality and ideals.  While before she had read Shakespeare, Shelley, Aristotle and Keats, in the end she echoes her friend Val in simple superficiality—“Life is pretty, life is fun.  All is good, and all is one.”

Like Marilyn, Janet Tyler in “Eye of the Beholder” finds herself not only in a world where she doesn’t fit in—but in another government-supported hospital, where her differences are to be fixed, or if not that, hidden away.

Conformity is once again the ideal: like Marilyn was pushed to “pick a pattern” in the form of a number, Janet throughout is called by the nurses and doctors “Patient 307.”  And like Marilyn as well, Janet questions the right of the state to make choices for her—in this case the decision to send her to a special area she identifies correctly as a “ghetto.”  “Who are you people anyway?” she asks; “What is the State?  The State is not God!”

But in Janet’s world, the government is indeed nearly as omnipotent and omnipresent as God—large screens of “the Leader” drop down into the corridors Janet desperately runs through, trying vainly to escape, the leader shouting about “glorious conformity” and “our unified society.”  The State is almost omniscient as well, as “treason” recalls the thoughtcrime of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: Janet’s empathetic doctor is warned to be careful when he has the heretical thought, “Why shouldn’t people be allowed to be different?”

The need for conformity of thought as well as appearance parallels this same idea in “Number 12 Looks Just Like You”—that the psychological change is more important than the physical one.  When Janet Tyler is simply deformed, she is permitted to remain in a public hospital with bandages on her face, allotted a certain number of government-subsidized surgeries and experiments; it’s the moment she starts question the state’s power to do this, however, that she is held down by nurses and forcibly sedated.

Most significant, perhaps, is the focus both episodes put on female conformity.  Marilyn’s mother Lana and friend Val seem to presage the Stepford Wives stereotype—perfectly coiffed and always smiling; the use of medications such as Prozac among depressed suburban housewives in the 1950s has nearly become a cliché today as well.

Janet Tyler’s feelings about the bandages keeping her from the light and the outside world she loves—even blinded in this way she runs to her window to feel the night breeze, and constantly asks the nurses what the day was like—could be a metaphor for a woman’s sphere at the time as well: “Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived my life in a dark cave with walls of gauze.  There’s a kind of comfort… no one can ever see me.”  In a gilded cage, women were expected to have a domestic role as far from the public sphere as possible; a woman stepping outside of the culture’s gendered assumptions would be shocking—perhaps suggested by Janet’s comment that people have screamed to see her on the street.

Ultimately, conformity is the order of the day in Serling’s “Eye of the Beholder” and “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You.”  Comparing these episodes with a social guidance films for high school students, the parallels are astonishing: all three indicate the emphasis put on mental, psychological assimilation, as well as the extent to which this idea was targeted at young women.

This is a slightly-edited version of a paper written for an American Studies course at the lovely U of A: Twilight Zone Culture–to my instructor goes all the credit for the assignment and curriculum.  So, friends, don’t plagiarize me if you don’t want to end up like that dreadful Helen (Barbara, I mean dreadful Barbara)—it would be ironic, though, of this blog came up on turnitin.com and I was accused of plagiarizing myself.  I wonder…

Genghis Khan in Fiction and Film, Part 3 of 3

18 Nov

Military prowess ranks among the chief virtues of the fictional, and very likely the historical, Chinggis Khan — and so in The Blue Wolf as he undertakes successive campaigns in pursuit of wolf-like fierceness, Chinggis appropriates the military technology of newly-subject peoples without compunction, ignoring other aspects of alien culture.

Describing the invasion of the Naimans, The Blue Wolf provides a litany of the cultural achievements of these people beyond the Altai Mountains: musical instruments, temples with ornate altars for ritual ceremonies, a written language, and perhaps strangest of all, “homes that were fixed to the ground and did not move” (Yasushi 117).  Yet among all this, Chinggis Khan sees only one thing: “We shall pacify the Naimans,” he tells his men, “and make use of the new weaponry they possess as our own” (Yasushi 117).

In the novel, this dichotomy between military and cultural triumphs is concretized in the tension between Chinggis Khan and Yelu Chucai, a Khitan advisor to the khan.  “Military force can only hold down an opponent,” Chucai insists on multiple occasions, “To the extent that they do not yet have a high level of culture in their own land, Mongol officers cannot fully rule the state of Jin” (Yasushi 204).

Time bears out Chucai’s predictions — while militarily the “Oceanic” Khan reigns supreme, the cultural flow between the Mongols and subject peoples travels only in one direction.

What should be a triumphant return home to Mount Burqan after years of military campaigns becomes instead bittersweet for Chinggis, who experiences a wave of nostalgia for the old, lost, ways:

“I alone have the characteristics necessary to be greeted by women on the Mongolian plateau,” he says, only half-joking, as truly “he alone was wearing Mongolian clothing and shoes, and he alone knew what it meant to live according to Mongolian custom” (Yasushi 256).

An innovator in military technique and statecraft, the first conqueror to “succeed in holding both the Inner Asian steppe and the neighboring sedentary lands simultaneously” (Morgan 5), Chinggis Khan’s relentless drive to convince himself he is a true Mongol, according to Inoue Yasushi, ultimately results in the erosion of the very values he pursued: a wolf, but alone.

This in-depth treatment of motivations presented in Mongol and The Blue Wolf, possible in the realm of fiction, film directors, and novelists, presents more of a challenge for historians, who need evidence before they can play the psychologist — to understand an historical figure, scholar David Morgan writes, “we need some insight into his state of mind at the time; but he is not available for our analysis” (Morgan 69).

The mindset of as singular a man as Chinggis Khan may be the most attractive topic for an exploration of his life, but something as intangible as personal motive — whether love or obsession — leaves little evidence.

Restricted to a more carefully circumscribed narrative, Morgan postulates a political theory for the Mongols’ expansive conquest which, while perhaps drier than love or blood, stands on a firmer foundation:

Newly unified under Chinggis Khan in 1206 CE, the Mongol “military machine would soon dissolve into quarrelling factions again” (Morgan 63) if not used for some decisive, concrete purpose: war, only now against an outside enemy.

Even today, Chinggis Khan — while perhaps dividing academics — continues to serve, as he did historically, as a unifying force in Mongolia.  After the chaos and upheaval following the collapse of the Soviet Union, “Chinggis Khan returned not in a physical sense but as a symbol to unify the country and restore a sense of nationalism, grandeur, and even stability to an independent Mongolia” (May 146).

Perhaps this grants the khan one of his final wishes — In 1221 CE, contemporary Chinese histories report, an interesting event took place, what Inoue Yasushi describes as “the meeting between the famous Daoist master Changchun and the great mass murderer Chinggis” (Yasushi 275).

The records observe that Chinggis, realizing his age was progressing faster than his desired military conquests, inquired as to the existence of a medicine many ambitious men throughout history have unsuccessfully sought: an elixir of immortality.

But whatever his motivations — whether emotional, a desire for more time with his beloved Borte; or psychological, driven yet by mental turmoil over the circumstances of his birth; or strictly political, in an attempt to hold together the unified Mongol state by continuing to turn his pack of wolves against external enemies — the Mongol khan may have achieved his most elusive goal:

Recreated in film and fiction, pored over by historians, and shaped into a new national symbol for a modern Mongolian state, Chinggis Khan ranks among the historical figures whose legacy rightly gives them claim to the title “immortal.”  Both traditional khan and creative leader, if Inoue Yaushi’s and Sergei Bodrov’s portrayals touch close to life: having proven himself a wolf, Chinggis finds himself, for better or worse, apart from the pack.


This is part 3 of 3 of a slightly re-tooled version of an paper I wrote for an Asian Civ course in Fall 2009.  Feel free to use or abuse it—just cite your sources, and my sources, which are these:

Lane, George. Daily Life in The Mongol Empire. The Greenwood Press “Daily Life Through History” Series. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2006.

May, Timothy Michael. Culture and Customs of Mongolia. Culture and Customs of Asia. Hanchao Lu. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2009.

Mongol, DVD. Directed by Segei Bodrov: Picturehouse and Sony Pictures, 2007.

Morgan, David. The Mongols. The People of Europe Series. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1986.

Onon, Urgunge. The Secret History of the Mongols. Abingdon, Oxon: RoutledgeCurzon Press, 2001.

Yasushi, Inoue. The Blue Wolf: A Novel of the Life of Chinggis Khan. Joshua Fogel. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.