Sunday, April 03, 2005

The varieties of religious experience

My 22 year-old daughter whose formerly devout Catholicism seems to have lapsed, or maybe gotten _distilled_ would be a better way of putting it, into a current sort of indeterminate religious Bardo, went to mass on Easter Sunday and the next day went to see Sin City, the movie.

She said the mass, or at least the homily, was undistinguished and bland--something perplexingly inapposite about Abraham and Isaac--whereas she found the movie powerful and troubling.

(To introduce perspective into this story, when I told her yesterday that the Pope had died, she looked up from her book and said, "oh", then, "hmm" and went back to her reading. If only the networks could do as well.)

But to return to what I was going to write about, Sin City gave her nightmares. Possibly this comes from an ultra-sincere take on Catholicism earlier in her life. Yesterday she felt compelled to recite to me the entire plot of Sin City. She has the gift, or curse, of being able to remember a movie frame-by-frame, or the plot of a novel page-by-page. (I myself have always been lucky to remember the title of a book I have just read, and often unwittingly rent movies I have seen before.) The recitation took her took 50 minutes, the length of the drive we make every weekend to see my mother, and she had to deliver a hurried wrap-up on my mother's doorstep, holding onto my arm as I was poised to push the doorbell.

I found it gruesome, as if I had seen the bloody thing myself, every act of mayhem, cannibalism, and torture. A long series of graphically violent movies, starting maybe with Pulp Fiction, have left me, each time, with a vivid ambivalence and a decreasing desire to see the next, but I have gone ahead and seen the next cinematic increment in the the gore-quotient anyway, possibly because I don't have nightmares (more of that in a moment), but more probably just because I am caught in the grip of the spirit of the age. Possibly I see these movies thinking my Buddhism will protect me from harm, kind of like the Vajra Regent, Osel Tendzin, thought his empowerments and mantras would protect him and his lovers from AIDS. As we know, they did not.

FWIW I did successfully resist seeing the Passion according to Mel, and now have no need of seeing Sin City, have seen it in my mind in 50 minutes of awful detail possibly more vivid than the movie, though, given the state of movie technology, I suppose that is doubtful.

But I have already forgotten most of the plot recited to me. My daughter, however, after having recounted every act or torture and depravity she had seen, seems to have unburdened herself of her nightmare, and she cheered right up.

Though I have forgotten the plot, an uneasy sense of something almost like contamination remains. So perhaps the ability to recite a story may be a biological process of clearing out impurities. Such that those of us with impaired memories for plot detail are, in this world, disadvantaged, health-wise.

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