Friday, August 10, 2012

The Curious Case of John Carter, Warlord of Mars

It's generally a tradition here on The Secret Sun to look at movies long after they've been in the theaters, usually because I like to take the time to analyze them on my computer screen. I also like to be able to post screenshots with captions, since what's being said is often as important as what's being shown. 

The takeaway with John Carter was what a bust it was for Disney, who took a 200 million dollar write-off on the film. But the film grossed almost $300 million worldwide, hardly a flop, especially for a March release. The problem was the budget, but the real problem was the promotion. 

 The film's writer/director Andrew Stanton is responsible for some of the biggest box office hits of our time, including the Toy Story films, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and A Bug's Life. But as Richard C. Hoagland pointed out, his name was nowhere to be seen in the promotion or advertising of the film. Very strange. 

 The title said nothing about the film, with wags citing a so-called "Mars curse" for dropping the "...Of Mars" from the marquee. The "Mars Curse" didn't do the original Total Recall any harm, and the problem with movies like Mission to Mars and Red Planet was their scripts. For starters.

Having seen John Carter, I can say the film was a bit overlong, but was otherwise a very entertaining piece of work. Like a lot of people I was mystified by the campaign against the film being waged by the critics. I saw the same thing happen back in 2008 with the second X-Files movie, but that was a combination of hypnotized Dark Knight fanatics and very possibly some interested parties in Hollywood that didn't appreciate seeing certain activities being portrayed in a negative light. 

Hoagland theorized that John Carter might have been sabotaged by outside forces (such as NASA and the White House) for having revealed certain secrets about Mars, but I wasn't quite sure what he is referring to, not being as in the loop on Mars as he is. But we cover different bases and I got quite a bit out of this film, largely because of his prodding. Of course, as I write there's a new Mars probe in the news, revealing a planet all too familiar to our own.

There's also new mysteries to puzzle over, as there after every mission. This one here is the latest. I'm sure it will all be explained away once everyone's moved on, but for those still paying attention the enigmas continue to pile up. Hoagland is best known for his work on Cydonia and the so-called Face and pyramids of Mars, and the links between the Red Planet and Ancient Egypt continue to gnaw at the back of our collective unconscious. 

There's plenty of that in John Carter, and plenty of high weirdness that wasn't in the original books. It's worth noting that Andrew Stanton is from Lovecraft Country...

Stanton centers John Carter around the worship of the goddess Issus (who references both Isis and Ieusus/Jesus), without the ambivalence and complexity of the books. The battle of Zodanga and Helium in giant galleys reminds the viewer quite a bit of Rome's conquest of Egypt, with Dejah Thoris (read: "Dje is Hathor", dje meaning "holy" or "ascending one") seeming to resonate Cleopatra more strongly than her literary counterpart. As we'll see shortly, that era is referenced in the casting, albeit in reverse.

It should also be noted that Carter's relationship as "right arm" to the green skinned Tars Tarkas is highly reminiscent of Horus' role as same to the green-skinned Osiris. Note Carter is "crowned with the Sun" in the theatrical poster.

But there's also the weirdness, with the Therns bearing little resemblance to their own literary counterparts and playing the part of interplanetary Archons, pulling all the strings from the shadows while the world thinks they no longer exist. They intervene in the world war and throw the balance to Zodanga, giving their leader a devastating weapon that Helium can't resist. The aim of the Therns is to create a new world order on Mars, ending the war and ruling by proxy.

The fact that we first see a Thern materialize out of thin air in the dark and next see them in a formation of three- as well as their appearance-- reminded me of nothing less than the Men in Black, who most people today also think are a myth. We later see that the Therns have shapeshifting technology, and are also well-established on our planet as well. They have the same paralyzing technology they use to abduct Carter that we saw the Elven folk use.

The film is also highly reminiscent of all of the AAT epics we've been seeing lately, such as Crystal Skull, Transformers 2 and Prometheus. We learn about Mars' mythic past and the role of the Therns, who serve the goddess. You can't help but wonder whose planet we're actually learning about here.

A question I was asking myself when Carter and Dejah reach the Thern temple and discover all of the secret Thern writing, spelling out the teleportation technology and all of the rest of it...

...which is written in Sumerian cuneiform. Richard said there was a clue that this film was actually about Earth's past- was this it? But I'd be remiss if we didn't talk about where exactly Edgar Rice Burroughs came up with all of this stuff. It certainly wasn't out of the thin air. Indeed, the true source of the Barsoom mythology might be another reason someone was out to "get" John Carter.

Sci-fi legend Fritz Leiber did some digging and found where Burroughs got his inspiration for the classic Warlord of Mars books. It might surprise some people...
Some twelve years ago... I ran across a piece on California cults which contained a summary of Theosophy's speculations about past and future races of earth. What this summary described sounded to me very much like good old Barsoom with its green men, white priests, levitating battleships, egg-laying princesses, and all the rest. 
In short, I got the impression that Edgar Rice Burroughs had found in Theosophy a rich source of background materials for his Mars books; his chief job seemed to have been adding canals and atmosphere plants... "There were four-armed human creatures in those early days of the male-females." "Here one thinks of the green Martians with their two pairs of arms." 
The match is not a perfect one, but Blavatsky's giant, four-armed, Third Race "Lemurians" are more than a little like giant, six-limbed Tharks and Warhoons.

It wasn't just Blavatsky. Later Theosophist writers expanded on her idiosyncratic ideas, including one William Scott Eliott. 

Scott-Elliot's picture of an Atlantean sub-race, the Toltec... sounds remarkably like Burroughs' red Martians: 'They were ... copper-colored, tall, and with Grecian features. Their science was very advanced. There were Toltec airships which operated by a cosmic force unknown today.' 
Scott-Elliot goes on to describe life in Atlantis. "Under the Toltec emperors the Atlanteans were subject to a collectivistic despotism...Their sciences were highly developed. ... In war they fought with swords, spears, bows, and gas-bombs thrown from catapults. Their aircraft were boat-shaped structures made of plywood and light alloys, and propelled by jets of the vril-force ... The emperor had a fleet of aerial warships carrying 50 to 100 men each.."

Lieber read a lot of Theosophist literature-- which I cite in Our Gods Wear Spandex as a crucial influence on 20th Century pop culture-- and found many of the building blocks of the Barsoom Universe:
Instantaneous interplanetary travel by thought power; each planet having its characteristic ray... and airships held aloft by tanks of these rays; Methuselah-size lifetimes of one thousand years;... creation of phantom and living matter by thought power... and finally the oppression and persecution of wise free-thinkers by an evil priesthood.
The parallels are so rich and deep that Leiber was inspired to state the following with utmost certainty:
Burroughs' Martians were essentially Theosophical Atlanteans and Lemurians, removed to a Mars based upon the then popular theories of the astronomer Percival Lowell... 
We have not been able to learn just how and when Burroughs acquired his knowledge of Theosophical Atlantism... we are told that his library contained no Theosophical books. But some contact there must have been, for the resemblances are too many for mere chance. 
For example, Burroughs' noble Red Martians are derived from the Theosophical Toltecs, one of the Atlantean races. They use flying machines much like those of Theosophical Atlantis. His gigantic, four-armed, popeyed, egg-laying Green Martians are nothing but H.P.B.'s Lemurians transplanted." 
Fritz Leiber: "John Carter: Sword of Theosophy," Amra, Sept 1959
The whole idea of the Ninth Ray- the terrible technology with which Helium is conquered- also comes straight from Theosophical literature, which theorized about the Seven Rays of the Sun:
There are seven Forces in Man and in all Nature. The real substance of the Concealed (Sun) is a nucleus of Mother-Substance...The Seven Beings in the Sun are the Seven Holy Ones, self-born from the inherent power in the Matrix of Mother-Substance. 
It is they who send the seven principal Forces, called Rays, which, at the beginning of Pralaya, will center into seven new Suns for the next Manvantara. The energy from which they spring into conscious existence in every Sun is what some people call Vishnu, which is the Breath of the Absoluteness.
To which Burroughs added an Eighth and Ninth. Writer L. Sprague De Camp wrote in Starlog in 1987:
After Blavatsky died, her successors expanded on her account of lost continents and prehistoric races.... the Toltecs, a sub-race of the Atlanteans, were red-skinned and... flew aircraft propelled by vril.... 
When vril came to Burroughs' attention, he transformed it into the Eighth Barsoomian Ray. Life on Barsoom, with its four-armed giants, its red-skinned heroes and heroines, and its boatlike aircraft resembles nothing so much as life in the Theosophists' Atlantis and Lemuria. But I don't know how or when Burroughs came under their whimsical spell.
The parallels to Theosophist Atlantean and Lemurian mythology aren't the only curious connections that Burroughs has to spiritual ferment of the 19th Century. Aside from the Barsoom series, 

Burroughs was also known for his Pellucidar hollow earth adventures, which followed in the footsteps not only of the Rosicrucian Bulwer-Lytton and the Theosophists, but also a religious movement well known today for his enthusiasm for science fiction and fantasy:
(The ten lost tribes of ancient Israel had) "their place of residence... contiguous to the north pole; separated from the rest of the world by impassable mountains of ice and snow."- Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism 
The demonstration of this theory will certainly be of interest to all Latter Day Saints, because if found to be true it greatly extends the possibilities of the fulfillment of scripture. For instance, the prophecies in reference to the lost tribes of Israel. ... what do the prophecies say 
... the Book of Mormon... says: "...the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel: and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews." ...The words of the lost tribes have not come to our knowledge yet. Where are they, and the people who have written them? Not in any known land. They have been led away, we are told. Is it not possible that they inhabit the interior of the earth? If birds and animals may migrate to the interior, as Mr. Reed holds... is it not possible that a human race could also exist there? 
--William Reed, The Saints' Herald
The whole mythology of lost civilizations was an obsession in the 19th and early 20th Centuries and informs the whole of Burroughs' storytelling. Given the weird parallels not only with the Mormons' hollow earth obsession but the whole mythology of a lost American civilization, it's especially noteworthy that most of the exteriors for the film were shot in Utah.

But as if all that weren't enough, there's still another semiotic strain at work in John Carter...

...and that's the none-too-subtle Jesus symbolism attached to this character. You can start with the initials, shots like the one above and the interplay of the character and crucifixes when he is sacrificing himself to save Dejah and Sola.

There's also the symbolism of the empty tomb, well familiar to readers of the Gospels. This is followed shortly after by Carter entering the tomb to "die" to this Earth and be reborn as the savior of Mars.

Which brings us back to that bit of casting I mentioned before. Although we clearly see Dejah Thoris as the Cleopatra archetype of this fable, the leader of Helium and his right hand man are played by the great Ciaran Hinds and James Purefoy respectively. The former played the definitive Julius Caesar on the HBO Rome miniseries and Purefoy played Mark Antony. They essentially repeat their roles here, given that both were allied with Cleopatra, though as conquerors. 

 I can't help but think of the theories that argue that Jesus Christ was in fact Julius Caesar, theories put forth by renegade scholars like Francesco Carotta and others. I doubt that was Stanton's intention, but casting Hinds and Purefoy certainly helps add to the classical vibe that puts over the Christian symbolism we see at work. 

 So with all of this high weirdness and strange symbolism, there was bound to be some major eruption of Synchronicity emanating from the movie screen into consensus reality, and Issus knows there surely was...

Take a good, long look at the Thern Temple. Look at the shape, look at the pedestal form it sits on, almost like a mushroom. The shape is remarkably similar to the Millennium Falcon, don't you think? Here take a look...

Now long after John Carter wrapped up principal photography, a so-called "UFO" was discovered in the Baltic Sea that was also compared to the Millennium Falcon via sonar imaging.

Here's the image that the world first saw.

A subsequent expedition to the site just a few weeks ago revealed a huge object which was compared to a giant mushroom, almost exactly like the Thern Temple. What are the odds? 

What's more the object has anomalous electrical and radar properties and remains unexplained. Whatever the object turns out to be the synchronicity here is pretty mind-blowing. 


The socioeconomic conditions I wrote about in Our Gods Wear Spandex have only worsened and the kind of escapism that was once the exclusive province of weirdos and outcasts like yours truly has gone mainstream. Jack Kirby has gone viral with The Avengers, Alan Moore with Anonymous and its use of the Guy Fawkes mask and Frank Miller has with his own projects as well as the Dark Knight films that ransack his Batman ouevre. 

Comic books matter because they are now writing our culture, often in terrible ways like we saw in Aurora. 

John Carter is a superhero film, make no mistake about it. But maybe Avatar stole its thunder, telling the same basic story with flashier bells and whistles. But for my money there's a lot more to puzzle over in John Carter

The Therns/Archon link cannot be anything but highly intentional, and it feels to me like one more beat in the AAT revelation waltz. And the insane sync with the Baltic anomaly is the customary signal that more lies under the surface than meets the eye.


The Secret Sun Institute of Advanced Synchromysticism is waiting for you to take the next step in your synchro-journey. Come level up.

And don't forget the all-night 90s lotus party over at SHRR. We're presently up to 1998.