Thursday, December 20, 2018

I Don't Belong Here (and Neither Do You)

A movie I think Secret Sun readers need to watch recently popped up on Amazon Prime. So to mark the occasion, I've revised a review I did on the film upon its release and expanded it to fold in some related films and topics.

After all, what gives you that homey, Yuletide glow more than some home-brewed high weirdness and fresh-baked AstroGnosticism, just like your Grandma used to make?

Classical Gnosticism taught that human beings were celestial entities trapped by the insane, sadistic Demiurge on a prison planet, simply to soothe his wounded ego. The entities were emanations from the Pleroma, or the Fullness, and were cast out due to a terrible cosmic abortion.

Some--if not most--Christian Gnostics taught that Christ was a purely spiritual being who was sent to liberate the prisoners of the "Blind Idiot God" and his Archons by bringing them the knowledge of their true nature and identity.

AstroGnosticism teaches us that human beings were the result of alien consciousness- itself a vastly-potent spiritual energy- grafted through whatever means onto the biology of advanced primates. That human beings are trapped on a planet to which their intelligence and consciousness is not merely maladaptive but in fact anti-adaptive, since trying to exist in an admittedly beautiful yet unimaginably destructive biosphere inevitablyleads to depression, insanity, mass murder and habitat destruction.

The most potent vehicle for the AstroGnostic narrative seems to be the unassuming, usually low-budget sci-fi film. A classic early example is the Mormon sci-fi opus The People, starring none other than Captain Kirk and Ka-Hathor-y Lee Hecate
This story, based on the Zenna Henderson novels, is deeply informed by LDS folk mythology, of a people whose natural superiority (based on the fact that they are stranded aliens) made them targets for persecution from their shaved ape neighbors.

A more successful AstroGnostic franchise are the Witch Mountain films, the two made in the 1970s and the recent, rather overblown remake. Those films are centered on the danger the two fallen angels face from a national security state intent on exploiting the children's powers towards their own ends. 

The X-Files-centric remake didn't seem to resonate the way the original Escape film did, precisely because its expensive bells and whistles distracted from the quiet intimate realism of the original. Plus, the boy in it looked exactly like my second-cousin, which I'm sure most of America found distracting.

Audiences- and most certainly, producers- have become extremely literal-minded, maybe another thing to blame on George Lucas. Now that Hollywood is controlled by accountants and not storytellers (many of the old-time moguls were genuinely in love with movie magic, whatever else their faults) there's no room left for the subtle, insinuating narrative. 

Everything must be literal, explicit and immediately explained....................

Which is why yet another classical AstroGnostic narrative, John August's The Nines, went straight to video, despite having Ryan Reynolds and Melissa McCarthy as its stars. The Nines might be one of the most potent AstroGnostic narratives out there, as well as one of the most explicitly Christian Gnostic variants thereof.  And it's the deadpan, mundane realism of that film that makes the argument it presents so incredibly compelling.

"You're not who you think you are" is also the message of Earthling, a lost classic Outer Limits episode in all but name. Judith, a young high school teacher, experiences a devastating accident (and miscarriage) coinciding with a mysterious cosmic event that also effects a mission aboard the ISS.

Upon returning to work, Judith meets a precocious new student named Abby, who takes on the hippy/free spirit persona, complete with old Volkswagen van. Abby is also a sexually-aggressive lesbian, or presents herself as such, and attempts to seduce Judith while drinking with her extremely creepy father (played by Peter Greene, best known as Pulp Fiction's Zed) at a bar frequented by Judith and her fellow teachers.

Abby begins to reveal her and Judith's true nature, and the true horror of their predicament. They don't belong here, they are trapped on this miserable planet and believe Judith is the one they are all counting to set them free. The documentarian intimacy of the scene gives it a dark rush, since we're not sure if any of this is true or Judith is alone in the middle of nowhere with a dangerous and delusional psychopath.

Abby plunges Judith into a netherworld filled with insanity and murder and pregnant children, which puts Judith at risk of losing her job and her husband. As with any effective AstroGnostic narrative, the protagonist is unsure whether her revelators are telling her the truth or that they are all murderous lunatics caught in the grip of a collective delusion.
An age-old predicament, right? I mean, who among us hasn't been in that situation themselves?

Judith watches in horror as Abby attempts to murder a girl she tries to seduce. She sees Abby's father and another "alien" bury an apparent murder victim at their remote farm compound. But Judith soon develops horn-like tumors on her head as the others have, a sign that their host bodies can't handle the alien presence inside them.

Concurrently we see the devastating mental breakdown of the sole remaining survivor of the NASA shuttle mission, the attempts to break through his amnesia with creepy hypnosis techniques, and his strange family (his father is played by William Katt, veteran of another AstroGnostic drama, The Greatest American Hero)

It all gets pretty graphic, but at the same time it all reminds me very much of classic Outer Limits as well. I don't know if writer-director Clay Liford was consciously channeling classic Stefano-era TOL, but if he wasn't then Earthling is all the more remarkable for doing so. Earthling captures the desolate mood of old-time Outer Limits in a way the X-Files obsessed 90s revival never did.

Earthling's closest parallel in TOL is probably "The Children of Spider County," in which an alien who's sired a host of hybrids comes to collect his offspring to take them to his home planet. The film captures a lot of that episode's mood and rural flavor in addition to its basic premise of alienation and the violence and conflict that always seem to arise from it.

Since "Spider County" was produced in the early 60s-- when Eisenhower-era conventionality still reigned unchallenged-- its assumptions about alien identity are a lot different than films like Earthling. Oh, to live in more innocent times.

The premise of Earthling also draws directly back to Stefano's canny Cambridge Five allegory, "The Invisibles," without that episode's rather unsubtle anal-rape analogs. We also have settings in the film recalling episodes like "Architects of Fear", "Man Who Was Never Born, and "The Mice." And of course we have the sapphic undertones of "Bellero Shield" and "Forms of Things Unknown."  

Stefano later claimed that his Outer Limits scripts were inspired by psychotherapy and judging from the themes (or, more accurately, subtexts) he explored, it seems apparent that he was sorting through a big old pile of sexual identity issues himself. Which makes for a pretty heady brew when coupled with the grotesque aliens the series was famous for, as well as the (then-classified) abduction and close-encounter narratives it allegorized.

As longtime Secret Sun fans know, Stefano's boss Leslie Stevens was not only the son of one of the most powerful and influential military intelligence figures in American history (if there was a real MJ12, Leslie Stevens Sr. ran it), he was a major mover and shaker behind the scenes in Hollywood and was responsible for launching the careers of a battalion of future screen-stars and industry players.

Aside from dabbling with the occult (so much so that his Shatner-starring opus Incubus has gone down as one of the most cursed movies in modern history), Stevens is seen by many as one of the founding fathers of the New Age movement (particularly its techno-futurist branch), which one could argue is/was ultimately a military intelligence project.

As is/was Star Trek, the great grand-daddy of all modern predictive programs. Stevens' fingerprints are all over that long-running franchise and as we've seen there's a lot of compelling evidence that it was Stevens himself who is the real creator of Trek as we know it.

And seeing that Star Trek argues that the true future-world utopia awaiting us is an expansionist, socialist military dictatorship, one might be given to speculate that Stevens might have collaborated with some of his dad's chums in the ONI.

Speaking of military intelligence and predictive programs, it's should be noted that The Outer Limits aired an episode about the assassination of an American President exactly two months before Dealey Plaza. An episode starring none other than Roman Castevet, I might add.

It's unfortunate that films like Earthling seem to fall between all of the cracks and end up going over the heads of pretty much everyone*. But at the same time it makes their existence all the more valuable in that people who get it really get it. 

There's a growing body of these little undiscovered treasures out there, maybe it's up to the people who understand what is being communicated to educate those who don't but should.

In that light, I'd like to start compiling lists of films in this vein, odd little indie films that are ripe to bursting with unusually-potent and well-studied high weirdness. Films like this, Beyond the Black Rainbow, A Dark Song etc etc. Do let us know your favorites.

I'll leave you with these words from Jacques Le Carriere:
"The fundamental difference that separates the Gnostics from their contemporaries is that, for them, their native `soil' is not the earth, but that lost heaven which they keep vividly alive in their memories: they are the autochthons of another world. 

Hence their feeling of having fallen onto our earth like inhabitants from a distant planet, of having strayed into the wrong galaxy, and their longing to regain their true cosmic homeland, the luminous hyper-world that shimmers beyond the great nocturnal barrier. 
Their uprooting is not merely geographical but planetary. And to treat them as aliens in the political or civic sense - which is what happened - could be nothing but an absurd misunderstanding, like giving a Martian a temporary residence visa. 

For the Gnostics, all men were in the same condition, although they were the only ones who knew it, and the human community as a whole is implicated in this universal exile, this galactic diversion that has caused us to be dumped on the mud of planet earth.

The Gnostics must have felt this exile even more acutely in that they themselves constituted marginal communities, strangers or ‘foreigners' in the narrow sense of the term, in the heart of a whole humanity of foreigners. ...Here there was an historical humus which justified the Gnostic feeling of exile, of being a planetary foreigner: `I am in the world but not of the world' is the most basic Gnostic formula. 

So the problem is simple, and one begins to understand how the Gnostics saw it: man, then, is a lifelong exile on a planet which is a prison for all mankind; he lives in a body which is a prison for the soul; he is the autochthon of a lost and invisible world." -- The Gnostics

Some videogame-damaged fanboys complained about the no-budget effects in Earthling, but that's yet another link to classic Outer Limits, as is the abstruse, modal soundscaping.

Mad props to anyone who gets the title reference of this post.