Movie Review of ‘Divine Access’

divine access poster

Some months back I posted a movie review of the Jamin Winans film The Frame, and though I am a proponent of the film for various reasons, I make it clear I don’t consider it a spiritual film. To justify that I threw out a working definition of what I thought a truly spiritual film would be. I consider a spiritual film to be one that acknowledges in some way that our true purpose in this world is a shift in identity, a change in consciousness resulting in an actual lived experience of ourselves as God, Being, Oneness or whatever you want to call it. Recently, I saw a film which I feel isn’t quite knocking on the door of that definition, but it’s at least turning in the driveway. That movie is the recent independent film Divine Access.

This movie is worth seeing for a number of reasons not the least of which are great performances by much of the cast. It also has an entertaining and to a certain extent meaningful story punctuated by some very clever and amusing satire on religious veneration, new age spirituality and gurudom.

The main character is Jack Harriman, who grew up making the rounds of the New Age circuit with his New Age mom accumulating a vast wealth of teachings and scriptural quotes from Buddhism to Christianity and everything in between. Growing up in that free love atmosphere, Jack also fostered his passion for the opposite sex. Fast forwarding to the present we find Jack as a 40 something underachiever whose life largely revolves around his johnson and trying to bed as many women as possible.

Things change though when Jack’s friend Bob, who’s aware of Jack’s vast religious knowledge, invites him as a guest on his no-budget late night cable access show Divine Access. On the show Jack debates and shows up current host Reverend Guy Roy Davis, and after a favorable response from viewers, Guy Roy is out and Jack is in. Things pick up steam from there on out when, by Bob’s prompting, Jack gives a talk in town, and one viral video later Jack embarks on an inspirational speaking tour of the southern United States. His main motivations though for going on the tour are to make money, ‘selling ideas for cash’ as he puts it, and to hook up with loose women who are attracted to his celebrity status, and who are propositioning him via email. Jack claims not only to have no original ideas, but also no belief in the things he says. From his perspective he’s giving people hope, and as long as the people believe what he says that’s what matters.

Among the important supporting characters in the movie is Nigel, who works as a ‘catcher’ catching fainters who’ve been slain in the spirit1 at religious revivals. He tags along with Jack to serve in that capacity if necessary and also keeps a journal chronicling the events of the speaking tour as well as Jack’s teachings. Another character is Amber, a down on her luck prostitute who presents Jack with the chance to help a woman unselfishly as opposed to trying to get her into the sack. Then there’s Marian, a mysterious woman who knows things about Jack that she shouldn’t and pops in at different points in the story to challenge Jack’s indifference and call him on his behavior. She represents a divine element in the movie since she’s obviously not a normal human and she can appear superimposed over other people as well as vanish into thin air. What is she, some form of God,  an angel, or a representation of Jack’s soul? The movie never actually tells you, but it does show that she can be seen and heard by other people than Jack, so she’s not just a figment of his imagination.

The story also periodically shifts to follow the exploits of Reverend Guy Roy, who blames Jack for the loss of his late night TV pulpit and who he views as a minion of Satan. As the hapless Reverend’s life and mental stability come unraveled, things build to a final showdown with Jack at the movie’s climax.

Now I won’t tell you what that climax is, but I will say that I was at first disappointed with it. Afterwards though, I realized it would have been hard to take the story any farther without it crossing the threshold to a spiritual movie and actually addressing the idea of a shift in consciousness. As it is, Jack’s wisdom is mostly along the lines of what you’ll mainly find in trendy best sellers from the Self-Help section of your local bookstore.2 It’s not pointing people to that change in consciousness. In addition, Jack’s growth is towards the genuinely sattvic3 man that he is and is trying to deny. It’s not a growth toward surpassing man.

Regardless of that, I’ll say again that the film is well worth seeing. It’s a story of growth and redemption and of accepting one’s destiny, and because of these things I feel it stands out from even the small crowd of independent films. Ultimately it’s a ‘human’ story and not an ‘exceeding the human story’, but it does have the element of divine help in the figure of Marian who is pushing Jack towards self-betterment. That, for me, is what really raises the other elements of the film to a step on the way to a truly spiritual movie, puts it in the driveway. For those thirsting for such a movie I think, like me, you’ll find a little sustenance in Divine Access.

Notes

  1. Being ‘slain in the spirit’ refers to the practice of people falling to the floor in religious ecstasy. Usually their fall is broken by ushers or ‘catchers’.
  2. I say ‘mainly’ because you’ll also find the likes of Eckhart Tolle and Michael Singer in the Self-Help section.
  3. Dictionary.com defines sattvic as: having a serene, harmonious,balanced mind or attitude.

 

Movie Review of ‘The Frame’

the-frame-poster

By Douglas McElheny

I recently watched the indie film The Frame by Jamin Winans who also directed the cult indie hit Ink from 2009. Having enjoyed Ink I was looking forward to seeing Winans’ new outing and on a certain level was satisfied in general. Though obviously an indie, the film was very well and professionally done with quality action scenes, special effects and acting that were satisfying to my vital. It also has a very nice musical score composed by the multi-talented Winans himself.

What is more notable about The Frame though is what it does for the mind. It’s what you might call an ‘idea’ movie in the same way a movie like The Matrix is. It’s supposed to make you think, make you wonder, and it does that very well. The movie poses such questions as: Are our lives scripted by forces bigger than ourselves? Is the world a chaos or is it a miracle?, Can Fate be changed? The story revolves around Alex, a cargo thief who owes a life debt to a crime cartel, and Sam, a paramedic with a dark past she’d like to forget.   These two lost souls are brought together to change Alex’s fate, but the way their lives meet challenges their very ideas about reality. I don’t want to say more and spoil the surprise, but I will drop a hint and say that these two characters are literally worlds apart.

It also bears mentioning that a third major character is a demonic looking man who appears in multiple guises in the film and serves as the antagonist. The Light or God if you prefer is there too since it’s obvious our heroes are getting help, and we’re shown that there are lines that evil can’t cross. It’s not personified though. However, there is one character who’s the spokesman for the light, a dying man who’s been a positive presence in Alex’s life. He seems to be a man of the cloth, but that’s never stated specifically.

The movie leaves a lot of things open to interpretation, which I think works overall. However it may have gone a little too far in that regard, and left me with the feeling of a garbledness or lack of cohesion in the film.   I also didn’t care for the fact that this movie utilized the tired old storyline of the guy getting the girl, and doesn’t point to anything deeper than the fleeting, narcissistic and conditional attachment referred to as romantic love. I could really digress here, but instead I’ll refer readers to a short story of mine where I examine the fallacy of this.

To sum things up I’ll say that while people like me who are hungry for something that you might call ‘spiritual’ will be on one level left unsatisfied, this movie as well as other ‘idea’ movies like The Matrix, Branded, Radio Free Albemuth and I, Origins conjure up a sense of mystery or wonder, hint at something bigger than ourselves. Films like this widen people’s horizons, and in that sense can serve a role in getting us to look at something other than our mundane existences. They are also I think necessary intermediate steps on the way towards things to come that will be truly groundbreaking.   For all these reasons this film is worth seeing.

And what will those groundbreaking films be? What would a spiritual film actually be about? Well first of all that would depend on what you mean by the word spiritual. For me the word spiritual denotes the ultimate reality of our being. You can call it God, the Self, Oneness or whatever you like, but I believe (and for me it’s still just belief) our true purpose in this world is a shift in identity, a change in consciousness resulting in an actual lived experience of ourselves as That.   The scenarios could be endless but for me a spiritual film would have this idea as its backdrop or at least point to it.   To date I have not encountered such a film and if someone reading this post knows of such a film I would be most grateful if you would share the name in the comments.

Note: If you don’t have something like Amazon Prime where you can stream this film for free, I recommend you purchase it directly from Jamin Winans’ website and put all the money in his coffers instead of Apple’s or Amazon’s. I’m not sure Mr. Winan’s will ever produce a spiritual film according to my definition, but I’m interested to see what he’ll come up with next.

Lucid Quest for the Light, a video

I saw this on a Lucid Dreaming closed group page I follow, and over 12,000 people are in it, and so it’s a fast feed. Coming at me are ideas, images, and videos that run the gambit if something’s worth my time or not, and so I have to be very choosy or I waste my time, which I have to add isn’t so bad because it’s good to see all the degrees of quality, from bad to worse. While there is a lot of ‘good stuff’, and things I just need to see, else I wouldn’t follow the group, much of the material and media coming down the page is either ads (disguised as a person; I do it too) or rough drafts to say it kindly.

A difficulty in detecting things of quality is that things are coming down the pike very quickly, and you only have a second or so to recognize quality work, and that kind of work by its very nature takes more than a second or two to appraise. In fact a lot of the time it’s even jarring and disjointed, or too obtuse, the first couple of three times you see it.

You have to give it more than a chance, and so, it’s not possible to always or even often actually spend you time on what’s worth your time, since something worth it also taxes you at the same time, taxes you with your focused attention, and you don’t give that freely. It’s the dilemma of art in a digital medium, a dilemma of us all.

This video by Paul W. Coca is art, maybe not Michael Angelo or immortal, but it crosses that indefinable line that makes a work art. I didn’t see it the first time, only saw a good video, but after living with it some, and especially after Douglas liked it (I admit it I’m herd sour), I see what I’d like to share with others because it will enrich them.

Donny

A Review of ‘Joan of Arc: A History’

Edward Reginald Frampton (British, 1872 by sofi01, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  sofi01 

By Douglas McElheny

This new biography of Joan of Arc by author Helen Castor recently caught my eye on the new release rack at my local library.   At the time, I honestly knew precious little about Joan of Arc other than she fought against the English, was burned at the stake and heard what she claimed were divine voices, so I was curious to know more about this historical spiritual figure and checked out the book.

I don’t know how other biographies of Joan have handled things, but this one rightly takes its time in setting the scene, starting with the British invasion and then navigating all the different twists and turns of the war until Joan arrives on the stage fifteen years and eighty-six pages later.   In doing so, the book really gave me a stimulating glimpse into the mind of the times I previously didn’t have. The middle ages weren’t something I knew a whole lot about either other than what stuck with me from high school history i.e. there were kings and knights, the pope and the Inquisition, the bubonic plague, a lot of wars, and your average person was basically miserable and oppressed.   The book shows a lot about what a powerful force religion was back then. It’s not really clear from the book how your basic peasant looked at things, but the nobles and the clergy looked for evidence of God’s favor or disfavor or even whose side God was on in events like the outcome of battles. And if you lost a battle in a particularly ugly manner, like the French did at Agincourt, the clergy would debate amongst themselves as to which sin it was and committed by whom that brought the misfortune upon them. They also used signs and portents to determine what actions to take and when to take them. It was also not uncommon for people to claim to hear divine voices, and thus the means of discerning who was hearing the divine and who was hearing the demonic was a topic of no little import amongst the clergy of the time.

With the groundwork patiently and properly laid by the author, our firebrand Joan then enters the picture as the strategic river city of Orleans is under siege by the English. We quickly see that Joan is remarkable for more than just hearing voices. The book makes very apparent the incredible force of personality of this simple God-loving peasant girl who balked convention by wearing men’s clothes and who rose to a position of military leadership at a time when that was unthinkable.   France was desperate to be sure because if Orleans fell that may have spelled the end for the French and they knew it, but Castor clearly shows that what was equally if not more important was Joan’s intense will and conviction in her God given mission to drive the English from France and to give her King his official coronation.   That conviction revives the reeling French morale and inspires Joan’s men to achieve a series of stunning military victories.

But even after her fortune turns and Joan is captured by the English, her incredible will and resolve persist as she endures seven months in captivity followed by a grueling trial for heresy. I couldn’t help but marvel at the way a nineteen year old girl with no education to speak of stubbornly and courageously stands up to some of the greatest legal and theological minds of the day, confounding their attempts to manipulate her and refusing to repent her heresy even after they get what they need to convict her. And I equally couldn’t help but understand her moments of weakness and despair, such as when she attempts to jump to her death from her prison and later, when faced with being burned at the stake, her decision to sign a statement of abjuration.   I mean who wouldn’t have such moments under such circumstances? In the end though, Joan chooses the fire and recants, though history isn’t totally clear on that.   As the book points out, the English may have taken away her woman’s dress and left her with nothing to wear but her men’s clothing which was a breech of her abjuration. Regardless, this time Joan goes through with it, calling the name of Jesus as the fire takes her life.

Even in death though Joan’s promise was fulfilled, and the English were driven from France twenty years later. Five years after that Joan was vindicated and her conviction of heresy overturned in a trial as equally biased as the first.  Then, nearly 500 years after her death, she was canonized as St. Joan. Thus today it’s generally assumed that St. Joan was hearing divine and not demonic voices. I too held the belief that Joan was divinely inspired, but reading this book gave me the chance to take a more in-depth look at things. I must admit that after taking that look I find myself of the same opinion, though I don’t discount the possibility that there was some undivine admixture in her voices. Regardless of that, however, the way she came on the scene at such a critical moment and the fact that France’s salvation was in such an unusual package, speaks to me of divine intervention.   In addition, her stupendous and unwavering conviction and the effect it had on both her troops and her country, though short lived, suggests to me that a power much greater than hers was at work through her, and that for whatever reason the English conquering France would have somehow gotten in the way of the divine plan. It seems to me that Joan may have been what in Hinduism is known as a Vibhuti. For those not familiar with the term Sri Aurobindo defines it by saying that “A Vibhuti is supposed to embody some power of the Divine and is enabled by it to act with great force in the world.”1

But regardless of whether I’m right or wrong about Joan, I would encourage anyone intrigued by this review to take a look at what I found to be a riveting and engaging look at this fascinating historical figure and her times. And if I am right perhaps like me you’ll catch a window looking in on the workings of divine intervention.

References
1.  Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo Vol 22, pg 406.