Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Formulas Form Foundations for Film and Faith

Life is full of formulas.  Two hydrogen molecules plus one oxygen molecule creates life-sustaining water.  For millennia, cooks have used formulas to bake bread, while scientists have used formulas to hypothesize about space.  Additionally, the mathematical arena has cursed the world with its innumerable formulas.  

Currently, our class is studying popular culture and the formulas used to create profitable entertainment.  Successful filmmaker Sydney Pollack explained, “The economics of the film industry demand first and foremost that movies entertain audiences – and that they make money…” (pg. 244).  Formulas are often used to increase the likelihood that a movie will be accepted by a wide, money-wielding audience.  However, perhaps the importance of formulas can best be reflected in the formulas that religion provides.  People of faith believe that by following prescribed principles and behaviors, the result will be happiness on earth and the opportunity to have a magnificent afterlife.  

For religious audience members, perhaps horror’s clear distinction between good and evil, and the simplicity of character motive, is a relief from our world that presents itself in camouflage.  For example, for those Abrahamic religions that believe that Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden by God, Satan tricked Eve because he did not show who he truly was; the evil lurked beneath and was difficult to identify.  King’s horror eliminates that moral ambiguity with a clear division between right and wrong.
For the religious, the lists of the ‘right things to do’ and the list of the ‘wrong things to do’ present the simple formula.  Some religions have more strict applications of doctrine, but there is a general understanding that believers should make the effort to choose righteousness and avoid sin – day after day, and year after year. 
Chuck Klosterman expressed similar sentiments when describing our culture’s response to zombies in his article, “My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead”.  He writes, “The principal downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principal downside of life is that you will never be finished with whatever it is you do” (pg. 2).  For believers, there will always be temptations that must be avoided and good deeds that must be done.  “It’s more repetitive than complex …but above all, do not assume that the war is over, because it never is” (pg. 4).  Religious people must be vigilant while continuing on the often long, straight, and narrow path.
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” “I’ve done my best all of my life, and yet I still struggle.”  
Sometimes believers ask the previous questions when it seems life is not turning out as expected.   It doesn’t seem fair when the religious formula has been followed, yet the promised product is not seen.  Sydeny Pollack is a film formula skeptic. “…nobody really knows a formula for what will make money.  If they did, I promise you we would have heard about it…” (pg. 247).  It is true that not every single movie can be a blockbuster.  For example, Disney and Pixar know the profitable formula and usually it yields handsome dividends.  However, every once in a while a film such as “The Good Dinosaur” is released and receives a “meh” compared to its contemporaries.  
 Similarly, it is true that not every righteous follower will have his/her desired life.   There are those who follow church doctrine and still are not as successful as others in the congregation.  However, there are some general formulas that are accepted as providing a solid foundation. These examples of disappointment should not be a justification for abandoning the formula.  Following the disappointment, the growth of the filmmaker, as well as the growth of believer, may prove to be an important ingredient for success.

 End of Days, Rapture, Second Coming, or Signs of Times.   

These are just a few terms that reference the apocalypse, the final fight between good and evil.  Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Cosmologists all believe in a formula that will bring to pass the end of our known existence.  In the Bible, the book of Revelations depicts dreadful scenes that are quite frightening.  The misery that will come before paradise is scary to consider, so presenting the final scenes as a bit of a farce may numb the apprehension and fear.  Zombies can be a symbol of Earth’s final days, and when the entertainment industry shows bodies that “possess merely a rotting brain and have no real emotional capacity” (Bishop, 2011, pg. 271) it becomes easier to think of a violent last battle.  Bishop clearly defines the formula for a zombie film.  “…the classic zombie story has very specific criteria that govern its plot and development. The genre protocols include not only the zombies and the imminent threat of violent deaths, but also a postapocalyptic backdrop, the collapse of societal infrastructures, and the indulgence of survivalist fantasies…” (pg. 270).  As shown above, the ingredients for a zombie formula resemble the ingredients for the formula for End of Days.

The Messiah is a Savior, one who has paid the price for all of our sins so we can go to Heaven or Paradise and be saved, to live with God forever.  In order to obtain that place in the afterlife, forgiveness is required. 

While God is the one to grant ultimate forgiveness, on earth many religions offer opportunities to admit fault and to do better.  Whether through confession, repentance, or absolution, followers improve themselves and recommit to following commandments, which is the formula for peace. In “Situational Selves in Groundhog Day,” Brummett discusses the need for the main character in the film to overcome selfishness in order to break the simulational loop of existence.  “…he is finally learning to reach out in real love to others” (pg. 274). 
At the point when Phil becomes more authentic and empathetic, not only in his actions but in his thinking, he is released from the hell of having to relive the same day for months.  The film presents the soul saving formula. 

While not every bread recipe turns out, and not every science experiment produces the anticipated bang, the formulas are necessary to build strong foundations that may lead to greater understanding and better final products.  Formulas in the entertainment industry may lead to great profit.  On a much grander scale, for those that follower prescribed religious teachings, the formula to live closer to God may lead to eternal peace.

Question: Are you comfortable boiling down religious principles to simple formulas, or do you see a much more complex paradigm at play?

Question:  If one does not affiliate with religion but considers him/herself spiritual, do formulas for happiness apply?

1 comment:

  1. Tawnya, These are huge existential questions that I ask myself frequently. Is there a formula for happiness? If we follow the formula will we be happy? Do we have to affiliate with a religion to be happy? When I was in my twenties, I probably would have agreed wholeheartedly with the idea that there was one straight and narrow path to happiness. And I followed that path rather religiously, ever fervent and faithful that rewards of happiness would come just as surely as two hydrogen atoms and a little oxygen create water.

    Well, life doesn't always turn out so formulaic. At least it didn't for me. Now that I am in my forties I can see that it's not necessarily following the formulas that makes a person happy it's enjoying the journey along the way. Maybe that sounds too trite and honestly I HATE cliches, (religion seems to be full of them). This wasn't an easy lesson for me to learn. It seems sometimes we can get so caught up in following a specific formula we lose sight of why we're using the formula in the first place. Hollywood is full of blockbuster failures that exemplify this. They have all the formulaic elements that created the previous Hollywood hit but they miss the heart that led to the original success.

    I believe religion without true discipleship or true heart can be pretty meaningless and can leave a person feeling empty. Spirituality is about heart. I believe many people can find great happiness through spirituality without affiliating with any particular religion, just as devoted followers of any faith can. It's not the formula that creates happiness, it's about enjoying the journey with your heart.