Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cocoon and the Villa of the Mysteries

Ron Howard's 1985 Cocoon followed hot on the heels of his 1984 commercial breakthrough as a director, Splash. That film told the story of a mermaid who takes human form and takes up with a bachelor played by Tom Hanks. The film ends with the couple swimming to Atlantis.

In this regard, Cocoon can be seen as a sequel to Splash, since the story revolves around an alien rescue operation of hibernation pods from the ruins of Atlantis. As we've seen in the past few years, these memes of Atlantis, the mer-people (or Sirens), and aliens are bleeding into the pop culture and outside of it as well. 

A lot of this symbolism has revolved around Sirius - see the "Stairway to Sirius, Revisited" megapost and the field report of the Alexandria Harbor excavations. The aliens in Cocoon don't hail from Sirius but from Antares, a star whose name means "Opposed to Mars." 

That connection is fascinating, given some of the Atlantis/Mars connections we've seen from some alternative researchers. Wiki states that "many of the old Egyptian temples are oriented so that the light of Antares plays a role in the ceremonies performed there." 

 Ron Howard is a major power player in Hollywood and his films have featured multiple esoteric thrulines, both hidden and overt (as in his recent Dan Brown films). 

With Cocoon he wandered directly into ancient astronaut territory, even though the film doesn't make a big deal of it like a Crystal Skull or Revenge of the Fallen does. Part of that might be the fact that's it not a franchise film with need for a mytharc, but it also may be that Howard travels in circles that take it for granted. 

 Either way, there's a whole host of memes very familiar to regular Secret Sun readers in the film, so let's first dispense with the obvious, plot first...

Cocoon revolves around a group of senior citizens living at a retirement community in Florida. The obvious allegory here is the Fountain of Youth, which was believed to be in Florida by Ponce de Leon (this is deeply-embedded symbolism to most movie critics). 

Three friends, Ben (Wilford Brimley), Arthur (Don Ameche) and Joe (Hume Cronyn) try to keep spry and regularly break into a well-kept pool house (built in the style of a Roman villa) on an neighboring abandoned estate to swim. Unfortunately, a new group of tenants then rent the house. 

 These tenants, led by Walter (Brian Dennehy) and Kitty (Tahnee Welch), rent a fishing trawler captained by the hapless Jack Bonner (Steve Guttenberg). Jack tries to run a fishing tour business, but he's teetering on the brink of insolvency.

Walter’s group takes Jack out to a spot in the ocean where they recover several large rock-like pods, which they store in the pool on the estate. When the new tenants leave, the older men decide to swim in the pool even though the pods fill the pool. The effect of the pods in the water reinvigorates the men and they eventually bring their wives to experience the effects. 

 The film then follows the men and their wives and girlfriends as they are all physically, sexually and spiritually rejuvenated by the effects of the pool. Ben’s failing eyesight is restored and Joe’s cancer goes into remission. 

Ben and his friends then try to interest their friend Bernie to try it, but he's terrified of anything but the certainties of aging and death. Bernie also refuses to bring his wife to the pool, though she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

On the boat, Jack peeps in on Kitty as she undresses and discovers that she's an alien. He panics, but he's outnumbered and out in the open waters. Walter then explains that they are a benevolent race that held an outpost on Atlantis before it sunk. They came back to recover several of their mates who inhabit the cocoons in a state of suspended animation. 

Soon, Walter and his group discover the seniors in the villa, who in turn discover that the new tenants are aliens. The group comes to an agreement - Walter will let the men use the pool if they don’t reveal the aliens' mission.

Eventually, Bernie reveals their secret of the pool in the dining hall during an argument with Joe. A mob of seniors stampede to the villa and storm the gates. They deprive the waters of the life-giving force that the cocoons need to sustain their inhabitants. Walter and his group return to see several of the alien beings die within their pods. The rest need to be returned to Atlantis.

The AstroGnostic Rapture

Walter then offers Ben and his group a chance to come back with them to Antares, promising them that the Antareans have the means to prolong the seniors' lives. Jack takes a group of other seniors with them, but the Coast Guard is called when the seniors are reported missing and Jack’s boat is pursued by the authorities. 

 Suddenly the great Antearean mothership appears and takes Walter and his team and the assembled seniors aboard and flies off into space.

The first thing about this film that fascinates me is the use of the villa for the pool. Cocoon's Atlantis subplot brings to mind another doomed ancient city, namely Pompeii. 

It was there that the Villa of the Mysteries was excavated, a ritual temple for the Dionysian Mysteries that boasted a series of breathtaking mosaics depicting an initiation, which was a ritual rebirth into the cult. The word “cocoon” itself refers to the rebirthing chamber that caterpillars construct to complete their metamorphosis into butterflies and moths. Hence, cocoons were seen as symbols of rebirth, for obvious reasons.

Within the film's villa there is a statue of a water carrier, which is probably Ganymede. Tying back to the ritual androgyny of the Happy Days episode we looked at in the first part of this series, it's worth pointing out that the aliens in their true form here are themselves androgynous, something that you see not only in UFO lore but also in esoteric texts from antiquity.

The Initiation- The meeting between Ben and Walter has an strongly initiatory undercurrent, signaled by the vaguely Masonic decor of the room, with the checkerboard floor, and the three sunrise windows. It's interesting to note that the Ben character is losing his eyesight in the film and initiates are often blindfolded in these kinds of rituals. It's also interesting that the three older men are sworn to secrecy. But most importantly, the secret here isn't some vague, symbolic flibbledy-floo but a concrete and tangible knowledge and life-changing experience of the alien gnosis.

For reference here's another variation on the Stairway to Sirius first degree tracing board, showing the floor and the three columns, representing the Sun, Moon and Sirius.

The Profanation- The symbolism of the Baptism is unmistakable here. Ben, Joe, Arthur and their wives are essentially are a secret society in league with the aliens, and use their unworldly power towards their own ends. The mob of seniors who crash the villa represent the great horror of secret societies - the profaning of the Mysteries by the greedy, ignorant masses. 

 Note that the profanation of the alien temple depletes the power, both for the aliens and the initiates. This theme of the Mysteries lending eternal youth to the initiate - and the danger of profanation- is also the theme of Star Trek: Insurrection, another narrative jam-packed with very, very loaded symbolism (as are all of the Next Generation films).

And where there's a baptism there must be a baptist. Interesting that Jack's nemesis is "Kirk," a name meaning church. More interesting details: ‘Jack’ is a pet form of John. And ‘Bonner’ is a simple anagramatical cipher for Oannes. Here’s how it works: take a letter from B and you get A. Then add a letter to R and you get S. BONNER becomes AONNES, an anagram of OANNES. Coincidence? Maybe, but this is representative of a very basic form of cipher.
And as usual, the mothership strongly resembles a mushroom cap with the heavenly beam acting as the stem (a common icon well familiar to Secret Sun readers). Again, we're square in the middle of AstroGnostic territory - the alien gnosis offering escape from the fallen world that sickens and kills good people, and deliverance to the higher planes where the power of the Demiurge and his archons is broken and the knower is given eternal life.

The real life parallel here is the exodus of the original hippies from habitats like San Francisco -- where the counterculture had been commercialized and dumbed -down by later waves of wannabes -- to communes and alternative communities in rural areas. But the problem of knowledge and technology -- or cultures, even -- being exploited and degraded by the greedy and egocentric is a very old problem, and one that shows no sign of correcting itself in the near future.

POSTSCRIPT: I can't help but think of this film- as well as Ron Howard's connection to The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons when I hear "The Stonecutter's Song": 
Who leaves Atlantis off the maps? Who keeps the Martians under wraps? We do! We do! Who holds back the electric car? Who makes Steve Gutenberg a star? We do! We do!

NOTES: There are any number of headers I could have listed this post under. It certainly ties directly in with the themes explored in the AstroGnostic series, as well as the Alien Dreaming and the Widening Gyre posts. 
The next installment is going to take us straight in Gus Grissom territory. One of the things I struggle with on this blog is how to present material in a way that won't bore regular readers but also won't completely lose new readers.
Part of this kind of analysis relies on the sheer repetition of symbols in similar patterns, and you have to experience that to appreciate the effect. I've followed back some links leading to this blog and have discovered that a lot of people have absolutely no idea what I'm doing here. 
A lot of them are your typical kneejerk reductionist/denialist types, whose opinion is important to no one but themselves. But at the same time there are a lot of people who want to grok this arcane constellation of connection and symbol and expand their own consciousness but can't always find a way in. That's a nut I've yet to figure how to crack.