Film


 

The habitual austerity of the Cordatian regime is always softened a bit in Easter Week, and so in recent days I have watched two Alfred Hitchcock films from the 1940’s, Spellbound and Notorious. In each, the heroine was played by Mrs Petter Lindström, better known by her maiden name, Ingrid Bergman.

One can see why this actress stood out in her generation: the particular cast of her beauty, at once wholesome and vulnerable, and the intelligence of her acting. She was ‘not like’ the other Hollywood stars, so the papers said, implying that these others were no better than they ought to be. She had a happy home life wholly separate from her career, and was glad to regard her Swedish husband, a neurosurgeon, as the head of their household.

Then in 1950 she revealed that she was leaving him for an Italian film director whose child she was carrying, and a nation mourned. Perhaps in America the 1960’s began in 1950.

The habit grew on her. The Italian was divorced after a few years, and then she ‘married’ another Swede. They divorced as well. She died officially unmarried in 1982, although her real husband, who had also married again invalidly, lived till the year 2000. They burned her body and threw the ashes into the sea.

Reading all this made me wonder about the dangers of acting. It’s not just that some of the scenes, even in films from 75 years ago, could not be performed without violating the virtue of modesty. But the very practice of mimicking romantic love, attentively and at length, is bound to make the reality of it sometimes spring up. Then what happens to the domestic life, especially if that has grown monotonous? ‘There are some occupations’, says St Gregory the Great, ‘which either hardly or never can be followed without sinning’.

Her husband revealed later that the Italian had not been the first man. It seems that Ingrid too had all along been no better than she ought to have been. But then who is, I wonder? In later life she came out with some sad stuff about having been true to herself. Rousseau is probably at the bottom of it all. I suppose she was simply trying to be happy.

One great idea on which all tragedy builds is the idea of the continuity of human life. The one thing a man cannot do is exactly what all modern artists and free lovers are always trying to do. He cannot cut his life up into separate sections. The case of the modern claim for freedom in love is the first and most obvious that occurs to the mind; therefore I use it for this purpose of illustration. You cannot have an idyll with Maria and an episode with Jane; there is no such thing as an episode. There is no such thing as an idyll. It is idle to talk about abolishing the tragedy of marriage when you cannot abolish the tragedy of sex. Every flirtation is a marriage; it is a marriage in this frightful sense; that it is irrevocable.

I have taken this case of sexual relations as one out of a hundred; but of any case in human life the thing is true. The basis of all tragedy is that man lives a coherent and continuous life. It is only a worm that you can cut in two and leave the severed parts still alive. You can cut a worm up into episodes and they are still living episodes. You can cut a worm up into idylls and they are quite brisk and lively idylls. You can do all this to him precisely because he is a worm. You cannot cut a man up and leave him kicking, precisely because he is a man. We know this because man even in his lowest and darkest manifestation has always this characteristic of physical and psychological unity. His identity continues long enough to see the end of many of his own acts; he cannot be cut off from his past with a hatchet; as he sows so shall he reap.

This then is the basis of all tragedy, this living and perilous continuity which does not exist in the lower creatures. This is the basis of all tragedy, and this is certainly the basis of Macbeth. The great ideas of Macbeth, uttered in the first few scenes with a tragic energy which has never been equalled perhaps in Shakespeare or out of him, is the idea of the enormous mistake a man makes if he supposes that one decisive act will clear his way. Macbeth’s ambition, though selfish and someway sullen, is not in itself criminal or morbid. He wins the title of Glamis in honourable war; he deserves and gets the title of Cawdor; he is rising in the world and has a not ignoble exhilaration in doing so. Suddenly a new ambition is presented to him (of the agency and atmosphere which presents it I shall speak in a moment) and he realizes that nothing lies across his path to the Crown of Scotland except the sleeping body of Duncan. If he does that one cruel thing, he can be infinitely kind and happy.

Here, I say, is the first and most formidable of the great actualities of Macbeth. You cannot do a mad thing in order to reach sanity. Macbeth’s mad resolve is not a cure even for his own irresolution. He was indecisive before his decision. He is, if possible, more indecisive after he has decided. The crime does not get rid of the problem. Its effect is so bewildering that one may say that the crime does not get rid of the temptation. Make a morbid decision and you will only become more morbid; do a lawless thing and you will only get into an atmosphere much more suffocating than that of law. Indeed, it is a mistake to speak of a man as `breaking out.’ The lawless man never breaks out; he breaks in. He smashes a door and finds himself in another room, he smashes a wall and finds himself in a yet smaller one. The more he shatters the more his habitation shrinks. Where he ends you may read in the end of Macbeth (G.K. Chesterton, ‘The Macbeths’)

May the divine mercy have released her from it before the end.

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United Kingdom:Independence Day

Formerly, when the father of a family voted, he did so as the head of his household. The household as such was thus represented in the counsels of the nation. What should we think of an army where the commander-in-chief would take advice from the lower ranking officers but not, on principle, from the higher-ranking officers who have charge of these? We should say that the army was functioning badly, and that its proper hierarchical requirements were being ignored. How much more incongruous, since contrary to a more basic and universal hierarchy, for a State to seek to be directed by private citizens and not by heads of families. The family is the cell of the State; that is, it is the only natural society that exists beneath the level of the State. So it is a disorder to give some authority over the State to a private citizen while denying any authority over the State, in principle, to the family.

A film is coming out, or maybe has already come out, about the suffragettes. I wonder how many of those who oppose the abolition of marriage that has recently taken place in formerly Christian countries would be willing to trace the problem back to female suffrage. Yet the link seems clear.

The ‘same-sex marriage’ advocates require two things: a denial of the complementarity of the sexes, except in the most obvious physical sense, and a denial of the family as a natural society. Female suffrage achieved both things. First of all, it reduced people’s sense of the complementarity of the sexes by giving man and woman in principle an identical role in the direction of public affairs, contrary to the innate tendency of man to act primarily within the public sphere and woman primarily within the private sphere. Secondly, it took away from the man the power to represent his family in the State, and therefore weakened the idea that the family is not the creature of the State.

Politically speaking, female suffrage pulverised the family. The husband and wife may well vote in opposite directions, and then their family for all practical purposes has no voice. But even if this does not happen, their family ceases to have any organic place in the State; it is changed into two isolated individuals who have no more relation to each other than if one were voting at Land’s End and the other at John o’ Groats.

But who will chain herself to the railings in Downing St and demand change?

Isabella

I have often wondered why the SNP should trouble themselves to promote such a thing as ‘Gay Marriage’ in Scotland. I find it hard to believe that Alex Salmond is doing it for idealistic reasons. Scotland’s image generally is of a particularly virile country. If the novelty were resisted for a decade or so I think a certain amount of patriotic feeling would soon attach itself to the fact, securing the position of marriage north of the border for the long term. I fear Salmond may have simply calculated that if he were to allow Cameron to take this step but not do so himself, then ‘Gay Marriage’ would become an issue in the referendum and the Homosexual lobby would be more effective in opposing Scottish Independence because it was lacking, than the Natural Law vote would be in supporting it for the same reason. Perhaps this is a sad reflection on the strength of reason and revelation in Scotland. (Although the cases are not alike. Remaining in the Union would not affect the chances of ‘Gay Marriage’ either way, while leaving before it was legalised would probably reduce them).

It is a shame that everyone seems to forget that the ‘proud Edward’ in Flower of Scotland, whose armies were sent homeward to think again, was Edward II not Edward I. I have mused from time to time that this blog ought to grant an ‘Edwardian Pride’ award to that figure who has done most that year to import the ‘Gay agenda’ into Scotland and perhaps a ‘Send Them Homewards’ award for whoever has done most to resist. Until it was revealed that he had rather let the side down, the first ‘Send Them Homewards’ award would probably have had to go to the former Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. That leaves Bishop Joseph Divine and Bishop Hugh Gilbert. While I feel my Lord of Aberdeen’s comments were more effective the award might fit his brother of Motherwell’s temperament rather better. Nominations remain open. I think it would be uncharitable to place the former archbishop in the running for the Edwardian Pride trophy. He did work vigorously to uphold the Church’s teaching after he took the oath prepared for him by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in 2003. That being the case there is no real challenger, Salmond himself ought undoubtedly to be the first recipient of the ‘Edwardian Pride’ trophy.

Yesterday I watched ‘The Way Back’ for the first time. Before doing so I checked its reviews online. I had heard good things of the film and I was surprised that, though good, the reviews were not better than they were. In a way, though it is a splendid film and well worth watching, the assessment was fair. There is so much potential in the film it is surprising it does not make more of it. In particular the ending seemed to resolve the narrative less elegantly than it might. Not that it does not end fittingly, but given the craftsmanship of the film the last sequences seem almost desultory. Nevertheless, what struck me most forcibly was the cosmic significance of the film’s essential premise. The protagonist escapes from the Gulag, journeys across frozen forest, burning desert and impassable mountains to return to Poland to his wife who denounced him to the Soviet secret police – so that he can forgive her. This thirst to forgive her is why he does not give up when he is dying of bodily thirst in the desert. Is this not the essential history of the entire universe? How could one possibly do justice to such a theme? Our Lord didn’t just endure the Cross to save us, it was we, His thankless bride, who crucified Him and yet He endured our ingratitude and infidelity precisely so He could forgive us for it. More terrifying still is that not only did He die for us while we were still sinners, but He died for those of us (the ‘many’ of Luke 13:24) who will never accept His forgiveness. He traversed the desert of our ingratitude even for those for whom His sacrifice would never bear fruit, even knowing that.

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