Holy Smoke

From 2001

Keep breathing...
 A dialogue: HOLY SMOKE

Anand said:
<<Saw Holy Smoke, Deb. I enjoyed it, but my friends couldn't relate to it. Unconventional (and disturbing— perhaps more so for a male, you think?) movie. In fact, offhand I can't think of any man I know who would like the movie. Interesting how the tables were turned, unexpectedly but very plausibly. [The bitchy "I won! Admit it, I won!" Kick the guy's balls when he's down! After he objectified her initially.] >>
from Deborah:
Hi Anand.

A sliver of moon, a tilting axis. Holy Smoke is the cusp we stand on. If she kicks him, it's because he needs it.
We sometimes recall that WE'RE ONE SPECIES, the eyes and ears of a planet where all matter descends from stars. War of the sexes is the mindspeak of a process that is passing way. Ruth goes beyond it. "I won." What is she saying? She won not because of taking the upper hand, controlling sexually, but because she thought she'd shown him his hypocrisy. And in saying "I won", she was untrue to her own newly discovered sense of compassion —that which has been awakened in her, the new eyes she sees with—and immediately regrets her cruelty. She makes mistakes, she uses, she regrets, she learns. And in the end, she takes him to her embrace, not as a sexual creature or as winner, but out of higher love. The words to the song in the scene:

The sun has set
All red and primitive above our heads
Blood stained on an ageless sky
Wipe your tears and let the salt stains dry
Let them all run dry
All run dry...

Take me to bed
That's where all our prayers are said
Whispered silent in the night
That's how all our dreams take flight
Let them all go by
All go by...

For time will catch us in both hands
To blow away like grains of sand
Ashes to ashes rust to dust
This is what becomes of us

Send me to sleep
Pray to God our hopes to keep
Take our fears and make us strong
Lead us to where we belong
And let it all go by
All go by...
Primitive  ~Annie Lennox

When sexuality becomes part of Being, of *uniting* and not a force unto itself alone—that's the compassion of the great heart, the stillpoint of the Self. (Note: Normal does a nice parable of this: Love is bigger than type-cast parts.) Libido understood this way makes everything one casts eyes on a thing loved with the same passion one once reserved for the sexual. So I can't speak of those wars of the sexes at all. I only see cruelty (winning/losing) and compassion (uniting). And that's the ultimate message of Holy Smoke.

This is one man's nigredo, the beginning of his transformation.
When I watched it with friends, we laughed at Ruth's conversion experience with Baba—and it was very funny; the literal, Santa-Claus level of understanding always is. But that doesn't mean there isn't a symbolic 3rd eye, that there aren't situations that act as catalysts to open a suspicion of a higher perception *when it is ready to be opened*. Ruth is trying to look out from behind her ego.

The ego, the subject of consciousness, comes into existence as a complex quantity which is constituted partly by the inherited disposition (character constituents) and partly by unconsciously acquired impressions and their attendant phenomena ["Analytical Psychology and Education," CGJUNG CW 17, par. 169.]
It isn't about Hinduism, certain correct gods and paths, their especial words and images. They're just things to hang our projections on.  Through her confusion, Ruth opens herself to love as a verb in every sense... and we see her ripen throughout the movie. We see all the women ripening—all of them way ahead of the men who are still stuck in that Piscean world of opposites.

"He's marrying everyone—it's symbolic."
It's Ruth, the woman, whole, who goes over the peak first, into the sun. That wonderful scene, half satire, half the deepest and most longed for moment of aware ecstasis, enacts that: the women are in the kitchen (Carol with her girls club shirt) and all of them singing the lord's prayer—and we cut to Ruth, looking like the female Christ, as she crests the hill and walks (books tied to her feet as shoes) into the sun—she crosses over, continues down the other side and disappears—and she's across into a new age new age: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, *on earth* as it is in heaven—are the words the women sing. The Thomas Gospel: The Kingdom of God is spread upon the face of the earth and men do not see it.

Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga?
What images return
O my daughter.

The pursuit of consciousness, "con-science", unites the goals of the two previous stages of Western history, namely religion and science. Religion (meaning "linking back") has as its essential purpose the maintaining of man's connectedness with God. This corresponds to Eros, the connecting principle, and the "withness" factor of consciousness as "knowing with." Science, on the other hand, boldly gave up the connection with the other and opted instead to pursue an increase in human knowledge. If religion is Self-centered, science is ego-centered. Religion is based on Eros, science on Logos. The age now dawning will provide a synthesis for this thesis and antithesis. Religion sought linkage, science sought knowledge. The new worldview will seek *linked knowledge.*
It is already widely recognized that the pursuit of scientific knowledge as the highest goal of human endeavor is puerile and inadequate to the needs of the whole man. A return to the intellectually naive standpoint of concrete religious faith is equally inappropriate to the modern mind. A genuinely new goal and purpose for human existence is required. That new goal has been found and articulated by Jung. In his words, "Man is the mirror which God holds up before him, or the sense organ with which he apprehends his being."
Thus, the individual's striving for consciousness becomes... the new answer to the age-old question of the meaning of life." excerpt from Edward Edinger's Creation of Consciousness, p. 57-58

And what liberation! Ruth and her mother and Carol will escape into higher planes. But what of Yvonne with a Y, primping and defining herself as a sexual object? She who has sex with phantasms when she's bonked by the totally clueless Robbie? (Their clothes—the guns on his shirt, their little boy playing cowboy —"Bang bang! Grandma! Bang bang!" Chip off the old notch.)
You just have to trust all to unfold in time.
I love that scene where Ruth realizes that her father has lied to her (he's such a lying sack of shite in his Playboy shirt, the great bag o' shite emblem). She takes the pole and goes to hit him, and she's surrounded by the ring of males. (Rods and circles. Temenos, Oroboros...) All of them saying "We love you." "Yes, we love you Ruth!" Ha! Such love, girlie. They're gonna straighten you out! It's like the patriarchs who are busy at work loving the whole earth to death with their righteousness right now—that which is passing away, and doing as much damage as it can on its way down.
From inside the ring of men, Ruth looks to Timmy, her gay brother—the only man who can come close to relating to her. And even he betrays her. That's when she breaks.
Just believe Ruth. She's taking us where we're all going...
God I love her.

"I put a spell on you." She has to awaken to her own power before she can give it up freely—else it's a false ascension. And here she's feeling that power, watching PJ watch her, all right. And doubly sweet because she knows what went on with Yvonne, his holy hypocrisy (keep breathing) ... a trespass for him because he has the role of a priest in this culture.
But the scene with PJ! When *he* projects a goddess image in Ruth's form, that higher consciousness / love reveals itself to him—BECAUSE HE IS READY. He's dressed as a woman—his own anima. And he has only one boot on, is on his knees and on his belly. Well, that lone boot/ sandal —that's an old symbol of Hectate (Hekate) worship, and PJ is just about a sandal past Etna, as Liz and I joke. (What images return O my daughter.)
As alice says,
The goddess is a personification of an abstract archetypal process that is yin and VERY REAL!!
So we're fully in the thrall of archetype here, Art working a magic larger than we even suspect or intended:

PJ is on his classic journey of awakening, on his way to the underworld to meet the heart, the fire that burns in everything.Hephaestus and Hades and Helios the sun are all nothing without "her"... that which burns as a point in the center of darkness. The light of the dark wing.
As he has his vision of Devi—the source of love and life—in Ruth's form, it fades and spits into three—a trinity of beings. Who are they? Yvonne, Robbie, and Timmy: Female, male, and merged: The opposites and their resolution. And it's a blissed expression on PJ's face as they stand around him—his hands in a namaste salute to each of them. Once you've seen the goddess, the spark of divinity that dwells in every heart, you'll never not see her.
And so he recovers. He lets Carol (who looked so like Kali...) patch him up and put him back together, the mortal woman who forgives his trespasses—and he has twins. That's Devi's image on the computer at the end—did you see? "Something really did happen." He understands that Ruth —the goddess he saw in her—"loves him from a distance," and he says: "I wear it like a blessing."
He wears it like a blessing. PJ wasn't kicked at all, certainly not in the balls. He had his 3rd eye opened, made his trip down to Hades. Maybe the 3rd eye is just a little lower in men—where it connects with the ego. :)
Anyway—there's a start. When you watch it again, pay attention to the imagery of fire, earth, water, smoke/mist: the quaternity that represented the original elements as Empedocles and those before him spoke of so many years ago: All water, the tears of Persephone: The deflowering that is destructive, creative, and transforming: The necessary agony of the conditions of incarnation.
I love this movie... That's all I can say.
>>The whole power play between the sexes is impossible. [Within the sexes is not as treacherous and difficult. It's SEX that's the source of the mess. Yet, excise the sexuality and too much is lost.] I despair of any (even partial) resolution. At least I can see the problem.>>
Just forget the sex bogey. Sex is just beings meeting, seeing the godhood in each other—creator in the created. Incarnation. Sexuality is the magic ritual of incarnation. It's what we have to do *with awareness*: Consciousness makes it a sacrament.
>>Kate Winslett's character lives her Eros, uncompromisingly. She learns compassion.>>
Yes, yes, and yes.
 >>Not many women like that either.>>
Oh heck, we're all like that at heart. It's what we really are—the way we're born. It's just nice when people realize they don't have to die to transcend. Contrast with Clarissa and Lovelace.
And yet—I AM Lovelace—just as I AM Heathcliff. Sometimes I'm Laurence Olivier. No battle of the sexes here. We're all in each other.
 >> I am just holding the movie in my consciousness without taking sides. Would love to hear your take on it.>>
Thank you for asking. Namaste

from C:
I am always uneasy at the kick him in the balls school of feminism. I liked the girl and hated her behavior. Did he deserve it? Probably. Doesn't the movie end with her and her mother going off somewhere else on some new avventura?
One thing we can probably all agree on — we wouldn't want to live in that house in that landscape in that family.
Angels at Gabriel's - Y'all:
Wonderful Weddings/Celebrations photograph and article about Tony Kushner and his mate, page 15 of Section 9 (Styles) of the NYT Magazine — photograph is amazing, they're identical — Mark Harris, editor of Entertainment Weekly Magazine, is the other twin — they've been together for five years and affirmed their partnership at Gabriel's on Columbus Circle wearing yarmulkes and blessed by Rabbi Ellen Lippmann. Blessed by me too, now that I've seen this picture. MORE LOVE, Tony and Mark. Mazel Tov and L'Chaim.
"This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated, and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens.
The time has come.
Bye now.
You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: MORE LIFE.
The Great Work Begins."

from Anand:
C, wonderful! You saw it too! Say more if you will. I would love to discuss further if there is interest.
> I am always uneasy at the kick him in the balls school of feminism. I liked the girl and hated her behavior. Did he deserve it? Probably.>
Sure, he deserved it based on the story-line. And yet, based on his willingness to open himself to her alchemy (wearing the lipstick and the dress, he tastes the opposite: her admonition to find a woman "his age"; and his comment "Tell me all, no-holds-barred!"), in itself a very *rare* and precious quality in modern man, and quasi-willingly relinquish control, he gains our sympathy— all previous excesses forgiven (but I am a guy! You may not agree :- ))).

The difficulty for her, that I can sympathize with, is, how will she really learn of compassion, and I mean *really*, without having tasted the opposite quality of hardness/shrillness/bitchiness within herself, in a situation of "Power over"? Or, for that matter, without having recaptured her own Power? For, compassion is a meaningful option only for those empowered. Only then can "Power over" be transformed into Power that [simply] resides, and exudes as compassion.
> Doesn't the movie end with her and her mother going off somewhere else on some new avventura?>
Both mom and daughter go back to the Guru/social-service in India; the guy has twins through his forgiving and succoring girlfriend. All recounted through the device of the blurb "One year later..." I thought the ending was too cheesy, pat— all the tension of opposites suddenly relaxed. E.g. How and why does the mom flipflop?
> One thing we can probably all agree on — we wouldn't want to live in that house in that landscape (Australia) in that family.
Totally agree. Fucked-up family all right. But can we say all that atypical? Probe slightly, press the right buttons, change the landscape a little...

from Anand:

Hi Deb!
Great review; thanks a lot. You should clean it up and publish it in San Fran Jung Inst journal (they do a lot of film reviews) or send it to John Beebe.
You probably didn't see my response to C when you posted this, but I was kicked to see that we seem to have hit the same high notes with the movie.
But I missed some of the symbols you mentioned— I am very impressed by your recall! Have to see the movie again— will do so after a while, alone or with a more appreciative group.
And I agree with you about endings where the "resolution" involves killing oneself or being killed or dying... In fact, I hate most such endings, because they are usually a cop-out, and such artificial, pointless deaths don't tell the reader (who has to continue with the pain of living) much. Also way too negative a take on Life. Eros surrendering too much to thanatos- Black versus White.
Holy Smoke's been a great movie to ruminate on. I don't think you need much of an Jungian background to get the movie, though that helps. Need to understand the notion of play of opposites, and the need for loss of innocence (experience) to prefigure virtue (*choosing* the good, not falling into it accidentally), a willingness to question conventional values and the recognition of the value of "individual" morality. Even without Eros, there are many lessons, as I discovered while discussing with my relative, although Eros is the glue that holds it all together very satisfactorily.
Reminded me somewhat of The Razor's Edge, and also, a relatively unknown book called The Arrangement circa 1971 by Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront director). The first part of the Arrangement, where the highly successful protagoist suddenly "drops out", was stunning to me when I read it. There is a particular scene where he sits at home stark naked and plays the piano, visitors be damned, that is etched in my mind. (I was just beginning my career, and already I wanted out!) Eros plays a central role here too, via an anima-woman, but it's warped (as with most other such books/movies, where it's warped even if disguised as comedy: Like Water For Chocolate or syrupy- formulaic: Chocolat). Besides, Arrangement is very male. In Holy Smoke, Eros triumphs *convincingly*, which sets it apart... [I am trying to provoke the rest of you to join in, by shooting from the hip!] Did people like The English Patient?

from Anand:

Carroll, your earlier post spoke to the current state of my psyche, and I want to come back to it (rather than do my work here, of course :-).
> We could talk about power, power - that's easier to discuss in abstract. I think we all know that there's bad power and good power. Let's say good power is Love with a capital L — let's assume that's the kind of  Love we feel in this group, I think we've all experienced it here though it would be boring if that were all we experienced all the time.
I suppose what you are writing relates to what we discussed in the context of Holy Smoke— Deb's pithy "false ascension" and the distinction I drew between "Power Over" and "Power In the Service Of" [Love? Goddess? Self? DG?]. My views are constantly changing, which means they are not fully formed or static but growing. The Shaktas (Goddess-Worshippers) constantly talk about Power which is loosely what "Shakti" translates to (Power or Strength). They seek to gain Shakti while exhorting devotess not to fall for the lure of Siddhis (or, occult powers). Thus, there is lesser Power and Greater Power. In fact, vice cosmicized is virtue. E.g. Possessive love expanded to include the cosmos is unconditional Love or compassion. Thus the Tantras seek not to deny but to experience, with an eye to the infinite. It is thus a most dangerous (easy to get inflated or distracted) but quick path towards individuation or realization.
I have to confess I never really understood this preoccupation with Power of the Shaktas until recently. Which leads to the question of what is "detachment". You see, the denial of Power is part of "detachment", and a spiritual path chosen by many. This denial appears to be a turning away from the world. So, one is detached and perfect, but disengaged from the world. The problem with this is the absence of what I view as the Goddess's most essential attribute: compassion. The tantric approach is to act with compassion, which is non-personal, non-specific, unpossessive love, in a Real World. We are channels for eros, and compassion is one such expression of eros. There are other more pathological expressions of course.
So I understand the need for power. Newly-reclaimed power is particularly dangerous, hard to handle and channel correctly. It also comes with a huge risk of inflation, as consciousness struggles to cope with this. But the alternative is a dry and drab perfect spirituality, and gives the lie to the claim of compassion when you do not choose to acquire power to act according to it. Most "virtuous" people, on the other hand, drown in their good deeds without keeping an eye on the infinite.
I have often struggled with inflation, as we all have, but never so directly as when being gifted recently with (a measure of) Power. It is like a powerful newly-released tempest of psychic energy, and like a child wielding a sharp, heavy sword, can harm everybody including oneself, until one has to learnt to cope with it to some measure— with one's body and mind and soul. That's the power of Archetype. Then the temptation remains, and one has to remain ever-vigilant.
If one has overcome the inflation of money/status/worldly goodies etc. to a measure, the inflation gets more and more subtle as one's Power grows. Sexuality and Spirituality (the lure of the occult Powers) are the two big ones. I can see how all these Gurus, who acquire awesome amounts of power with their penances, can fall so badly.
Yet there is no alternative to walking this razor's edge, if your spirituality includes belonging and acting in this world, and yet your virtuous deeds do not consume you entirely. I do define "acting" broadly, not just as traditional 'good deeds'— a meditator in the Himalayas is acting with compassion if he directs good intentions and good will towards the world rather than seeking to escape from it.
Perhaps it is not Power but pettiness that is the enemy of Love.
 > And there are constant adjustments, borderlines to navigate, customs, projections to claim or return, even amongst people who have been living on the frontier most of their lives.>
Very well put! Much truth in what you say. This is almost the only place now where I systematically 'let myself loose'. I struggle with the adjustments and borderlines while trying to express myself honestly here, and I sometimes fear losing it and hence losing you all. This is a particular problem for me because I am not a writer like the rest of you; I hate the effort of writing but am compelled to it. So, when I am prolific here, it is when I am most under the influence of the unconscious, and who knows what "I" spew out under the influence? I certainly don't. But the alternative is a moribund one-of-my-many-other relationships, and who needs to go through the struggle and pain of writing for one more of those?
Interesting stuff happening here. I know I have been blabbering and as I reconsider sending off or at least editing, there is the solitary Eye of the Self watching me from above on the right side. She's suddenly appeared, or I have become aware of Her. Tingling sensation on the right top of my head as She bores into me, so maybe I shouldn't read the above and just send off. Maybe it's your Eye. :- ))) I am wiggling around/experimenting to test whether the Eye is real, but She remains. So it's off with this post, blather and all.
x's and :-))),

from Deborah:
       Anand wrote:

<<Hi Deb! Great review; thanks a lot. You should clean it up and publish it in San Fran Jung Inst journal (they do a lot of film reviews) or send it to John Beebe. >>
Thanks, Ani. But I only blog for Eros.  :)
It makes perfect sense to me that Miriam goes on to good and better things as we see her at the end. The viewer can trust her to see that blind trust in authority and convention is just--well, blind. Old Dad, Uber Muggle, will be left behind in Oz to desiccate with the rest  of the men on the golf course. No great loss.
Miriam and Ruth, the names... mother, daughter...
Notice in Holy Smoke, the dogs barking when the men ring around and enclose Ruth: a trap. PJ will be the hunted before it's all over, his frenzy for the goddess... a mortal who has seen the immortal.
Pentheus from the Bacchae (Asian women; likely where Dionysus originated) is Actaeon's cousin. One, torn apart by the Maenads (from Thebes, buckling their clothing with snakes, suckling wild animals, arg!), the other by Diana's hounds. Must be in the genes.
:) Deborah  (who, rereading this years later, thinks how lucky I was to know these people)