199: How Much Room Is There for Love? Answers from Wall.E and an Outsider

n a week when we’re exploring Values, here’s a truly cosmic coincidence: Disney’s lovable outsider “Wall.E” debuts in the same week
that one of the true outsiders of global cinema, the late Derek Jarman,
is resurrected in the form of a provocative, multi-film set of DVDs.
Here at ReadTheSpirit, we pride ourselves in keeping our ears close to
the ground for the latest news on spiritual trends. (In fact — today
is a great time to drop us an Email if you’d like to sign up for the next issue of our free, Monday-morning Planner that scopes out the week ahead.)
But anyone could hear this weekend’s news rolling toward us like a
freight train. It’s this: Disney’s “Wall.E” is beaming spiritual messages along with lots of cosmic fun.
On Wednesday this week, comic book artist Chris Yambar
said this toward the end of our conversation: “People think in visual
terms these days. … I think there’s going to be some very important
in this new Pixar movie, ‘Wall.E.’

    One of the best reviews of “Wall.E” online comes
from our friends Fred and Mary Ann Brussat at the Spirituality and
Practice Web site. Here’s what the Brussats had to say, in part: “We believe that spiritual teachers come in all guises, and
WALL.E is one of the best we have seen on the screen in many a moon!”
Check out their full review, which also lists the Brussats’ “take” on 7 Lessons that Wall.E can teach all of us.

   Like most major films these days, Wall.E has attracted several quite active Facebook groups. I’ve joined a couple of them, because it’s so refreshing to see the high hopes fans are expressing about this little guy — distinctively different than some of the anticipation around, let’s say, “The Incredible Hulk.”
   For instance, nobody in the Wall.E groups is writing on the walls stuff like: “Hope he kicks some big-time butt!!!” There’s a surprisingly tender affection for this robotic pilgrim, even from the guys.
   If you’re on Facebook, check out the groups. Or stop by my Facebook page — I’ve got links there to a couple of the best Wall.E groups.

   I saw the film at 12:01 a.m. today in a packed theater with my daughter Megan, who has just finished college and is headed to seminary in August.
    “Dad, this is going to be weird — seeing it in a theater full of screaming children up past their bedtimes,” she said as we drove to the theater.
    But, no, clearly she is the target audience here. The crowd was all late teens and 20-somethings.
    And, the movie is jammed with references to Hollywood gems — some of which she started ticking off on the drive home; some of which I spotted. We lost count of how many classics are either subtly or blatantly saluted here: from “2001” and “Battlestar Galactica” (the current TV series) to Charlie Chaplin, “Gilligan’s Island” and, perhaps most surprising of all — “Hello Dolly” (yes, the 1969 big-budget musical that was a collosal flop but — who knows? — may suddenly find a new cult following with 20-somethings after this).
    The film is lots of fun. Yes, children will enjoy it, but like “Shrek” and so many other new animated hits — it’s dually aimed at adults. And, yes, there are as many spiritual lessons here as cinematic references.
    In short: Grab a friend and go see it today.
    WARNING: For hours afterward — maybe days (we won’t know for a while) — you’ll be turning to people, saying, “Waaaaaah-leee.”
    And, if they’ve seen the film, they’ll respond: “Eeeeee-vaaaah.”

   But also this week — with far less fanfare — Zeitgeist films debuted a stunning DVD set of works by a true outsider. Not a cute-as-a-button little robot, but the real-life, sometimes-fire-breathing, British artist and activist Derek Jarman.
   Solid evidence of Jarman’s stature of an artist is the Who’s Who of famous British actors and actresses who worked in his avante garde productions, including Judith Dench, Tilda Swinton and even Laurence Olivier, who made his final film, “War Requiem,” with Jarman.
   But here’s the thing: Jarman was deadly serious about probing the outer boundaries. He had no interest in producing Hollywood hits. Quite the contrary. In fact, the “extras” in this new DVD set include an interview with Jarman in which he makes precisely that point.
   He says that his whole body of work was intended as a counterpoint to American cinema. It wasn’t a question of artistic options. He had lots of lucrative work from which to choose. In his prime, for instance, Jarman was a sought-after director of music videos. When his late-in-life production, “Blue,” was released — a joint broadcast was arranged involving both British television and radio networks to broadcast the image and the audio in optimal quality throughout the UK. (And “Blue” is in this new set.)
   Jarman followed the road less traveled because the question he wanted to ask over and over again is: How do true outsiders form community?

    In this new DVD set, you’ll get a real glimpse of his range as an artist, designer and director. For example, there is painstaking work behind the shadowy opening scenes of his “Caravaggio.” It’s a feature-length film about the artist who took Rome by storm around 1600 with huge, dramatic canvases that reinterpreted traditional spiritual themes. These opening scenes are as gorgeous as the artist’s paintings themselves. But we soon realize that Jarman is, above all, an artistic provocateur — when we suddenly hear the distant sound of a freight train! In 1600? And, then, we discover a malicious nobleman tapping on a hand-held calculator — and suddenly characters show up in tuxedos!
   What Jarman really is doing here is extending the questions raised by “Caravaggio” into our present age. By the middle of the film, we already can see how an outsider artist can summon incredible spiritual gifts. Caravaggio’s paintings helped people to see biblical stories in entirely new ways. But his status as a highly controversial and emotionally troubled rebel almost defied any community to embrace him.
   Jarmans’ films are challenging, intellectual, not for young viewers — and even an acquired taste for adult viewers — but I am amazed, on the week of the “Wall.E” release to have an opportunity, as well, to reflect on the brilliant insights of a true outsider, as well.

INTRIGUED by Jarman? Click on the covers from this DVD set or click on this link to our Bookstore — and you’ll jump to our review where you can order the set at Amazon’s discounted rate. (Plus, anything you purchase in our bookstore helps to support our site.)


We love to hear from readers — and, even more importantly, our readers love to hear from you. We’ve got a number of cool reader comments in store that we’ll share in the coming week. And, it’s a great time to tell us what you think about “Wall.E” this weekend — or other films and books, as well.
   You know how to reach us — click on “Comment” below or Email Editor David Crumm. Or, find us on Facebook, Digg, Amazon reviews, GoodReads — and other fine social-networking sites where people gather these days.


We’ve got major news breaking here on Monday — a major expansion of ReadTheSpirit that we’re sure you’ll find fascinating.

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