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Children Of The Damned

film_white_ribbonDisturbingly beautiful 'White Ribbon' ponders the nature of evil

Where does evil come from? Is it sheer, blind chance, an unfortunate genetic malfunction, a random fluke of an uncaring universe? Or is it seeded and grown like a living thing, to be rooted and nurtured in a particular hothouse environment of intolerance and injustice, malice, brutality and fear? Filmmaker Michael Haneke invites us to consider this question in The White Ribbon, his disturbingly beautiful drama that imagines life in a remote German village in the generation before Hitler's rise to power. More complex than a simple parable, it's a stately piece of dramatic fiction with the dread-generating intensity of a horror movie.

The film is expertly shot by cinematographer Christian Berger in deep, pearlescent black-and-white, full of ominous shadows and mystery, which reinforces the sense of a vintage horror movie. This feels appropriate to the unraveling of a mystery plot involving sinister doings among the villagers, but viewers expecting a crisp, conventional whodunit with a tidy resolution will be disappointed. Few answers emerge as the story plays out, only a burgeoning miasma of possibilities; the film's bold, graphic look provides ironic counterpoint to a drama in which nothing is ever completely black or white.

The story unfolds in a small agrarian hamlet, ca. 1913. In another year or so, the declaration of World War I will jump-start the new century with a vengeance, but for now, village life conforms to the feudal patterns of ancient times. Most of the families are tenant farmers working land owned by a powerful baron and his elegant wife. But even the lowliest peasant laborer is a feudal lord in his own home, where women and children alike are held captive in helpless obedience. Their children are taught by the meek, self-effacing young bachelor schoolteacher (Christian Friedel), who narrates the story as an old man recollecting events.

Over a few months, a series of suspicious and frightening incidents upset their orderly lives. The village doctor is seriously injured in a fall from his horse. A farmer's wife dies in an accident in the baron's mill house. Fire, suicide, attempted murder, and disappearing children all add to the villagers' unease. When the Pastor (Burghart Klaubner) demands his congregation root out the evil in its midst, as the schoolteacher recalls, it leads to "a flood of mutual suspicions and denunciations."

But as Haneke deftly reveals, the malaise is  already evident in every village household, in the ordinary course of daily life. Most children (including—indeed, especially—those of the smugly paternalistic pastor) are routinely brutalized by their fathers for minor infractions, either punched, slapped or physically, beaten, or psychologically abused. (The white ribbon of the film's title is a mark of shame tied to the arms of misbehaving youngsters to symbolize their "lost purity.")

Women and girls are confined in long, black dresses and severe braided buns, and neither wives, servants, housekeepers, nor daughters are exempt from the sexual demands or violent rages of their menfolk. The one moment of joy attached to a physical relationship—when a clumsy tryst with the doctor (Rainer Bock ) elicits a fleeting smile out of his stoic mistress (the wonderful Susanne Lothar)—is belied a few scenes later when he discards her with callous contempt.

This holy trinity of authority (church, state, science) remains impervious to reason, that is, the meek forays of the ineffectual schoolteacher to plumb its depths and ferret out the truth. And as these various interconnected stories play out, viewers too may find themselves stumbling over an accumulation of small details that never quite add up. It may be frustrating in retrospect trying to fit all the pieces together, but Haneke makes the point that few things in life are ever a simple matter of cause and effect, and the horrors visited on one generation can never entirely explain (much less excuse) whatever havoc they might wreak in the next. History may have its reasons, but they operate in the grey zone that defies easy comprehension.

THE WHITE RIBBON ★★★ Watch movie trailer >>>

With Christian Friedel, Burghart Klaubner, and  Rainer Bock.  Written and directed by Michael Haneke. A Sonly Classics release. Rated R. 140 minutes. In German with English subtitles.

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Giving Where It Helps

 

Giving Thanks: The Thought-Form of Solution

We are in the time and under the influence of Sagittarius, sign of the wanderer, good food, good music, and the joy (Jupiter as ruler) that occurs from giving to others while simultaneously giving thanks from our hearts. Having the Thanksgiving holiday during the month of Sag is not a mistake. No other sign understands joy (an aspect of the Soul) as Sag (except Pisces when not in despair). “Sag is a beam of directed and focused light. The beam reveals a greater light ahead, illuminating the Way to the center of the Light,” emitting the Ray of Joyfulness. Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude; in the form of prayers, thoughts, feelings, wishes, hopes and greetings. Gratitude is something we still need to learn. Gratitude creates goodwill. Together, gratitude and goodwill create the “thought-form of solution” for humanity and our world’s problems. Gratitude and goodwill are the prerequisites for the reappearance of the Christ, the Aquarian World Teacher. In Ancient Wisdom texts it is written, “being grateful is the hallmark of one who is enlightened.” Gratitude comes from the Soul—the characteristics of which are love and wisdom (Ray 2). Gratitude is scientifically and occultly (mental, not emotional) a releasing agent. Gratitude liberates us and everything around us. Also a service to others, gratitude is deeply scientific in nature, releasing us from the past and laying open our future path leading to the new culture and civilization, the new laws and principles, the rising light of Aquarian, the Age of Friendship and Equality. The Hierarchy lays much emphasis upon gratitude. Let us be grateful this year and this season together. And so now the days of light illuminating the darkness begin (December’s festivals and feast days). Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I am grateful for all of you, my readers.

 

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