Murder in Town – the Mental Health Care Issue Hits Home

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Just recently there was a murder in the town where I grew up.  A 29 year-old woman has been charged with beating and stabbing a 65 year-old man to death.  People are saying that the woman was mentally unstable and the talk about a mental health care crisis in our country has resurfaced here at home.

The homicide is the first in 9 years.  The previous murder involved a man and a 15 month-old baby, so it has been even longer since there was a murder that resulted from a confrontation between two adults.  Saranac Lake is a village in Upstate, NY where families are raised in what is considered a safe environment.  The murder is an anomaly.

However, it bears characteristics similar to gruesome incidences which have arisen all over the country; all over the world.  People killing other people for reasons that have been linked to mental health issues.  And so the mental health debate has been circulating.

Since Sandy Hook, policies have been changed within the mental health field, specifically in relation to gun control.  These policies have changed the level of privacy that mental health patients are entitled to.  Generally speaking, any new regulations which result from the emotional response to a tragedy invariably involve the stripping of personal freedoms.  We consider it “individual sacrifices for the greater good,” or something to that extent.  Hypervigilant airport security checks come to mind.

I’ve listened, as have you, to the national dialog.  Now that the issues are being raised so close to my home, I’d like to try and set the record straight, to nip in the bud an errant discussion on mental health.  Mental health care, and some solution to either augment it, or to forge some tough-love opinion about those who are mentally unstable among us, is a reaction that misses the root cause of our current epidemic.

In the mental health field, and in medicine, standard of care is driven by policy, and policy is driven by the opinion makers, and the opinion makers are influenced by the almighty corporation.  Let me just condense that equation – mental health standard of care is driven by the corporation.

We are not a preventative-medicine society, because there is little or no enabled profit margin for preventative medicine in our country.  We are a treat-the-symptom health care society.  We take more pills than any other country in the world – Americans consume 80 percent of the world’s pain pills, for instance, 25 percent of women in the US take mental health meds, anti-anxiety pills for kids age 10-19 are up 50 % – so it ain’t a lack of pills; we take billions of them annually.

In a full-disclosure editorial, a prominent cardiac surgeon recently wrote that for 60 years, doctors have gotten heart disease wrong.  The surgeon explains in his article that what was previously considered to drive heart disease – fat and cholesterol – is not the case.  Rather, it is the processed foods, the refined sugars and flours that we eat which inflame artery walls and restrict the blood flow.  The low-fat diet prescribed by opinion makers and fueled by the money-market system which capitalized on selling low-fat foods, and which pushes fast food, nutrition-less candies and snacks and processed foods into the market are what is killing us.  (I would link to this article, but after reading it last night, it has mysteriously disappeared.  There are, however, other articles which refer to and quote the source article.)

Similarly, we have had a misguided understanding of mental health for decades.  Only recently have progressive doctors and therapists come to understand epigenetics, and how our environment shapes genes and behavior.  Research has shown that from the time we are conceived in the womb, we are influenced by our environment and that our genes are switched on or off given the conditions we experience.  By and large, we are each a being that is forged not just by the initial encoding of our genetic traits, but by the world we grow into.

That world is one dominated by the money-market system.  That world is one of an increasing wealth gap that rivals anything before seen in history.  That world is one in which love, empathy, and compassion are categorically unrewarded by the socioeconomic system, but rather indifference and selfishness bear up best under the economic and social pressures of our time.

Doctors – from general physicians to specialists and psychiatrists, as well as mental health counselors and other therapist clinicians, work in a system structured to be rewarded by numbers.  Seeing more patients per hour and reporting more billable hours are the only ways to stay solvent given current conditions.  People come back to see a doctor or therapists often with the same problem over and over again.  Their time together is circumscribed.  Their options are limited – provide information, or provide a drug.  The true, personal care, the time it takes to unravel the complexity of a suffering person, to truly empathize and see things from their point of view in order to help them, is hardly there.

We can’t expect our system, which creates the gross inequities that result in the crime, drug use, and mental fallibility of our time, in an increasingly secular, hedonistic society, to produce perfect people.  And we can’t then expect our mental health care system, enmeshed in the same money-market paradigm which engenders the conditions wherein mental instability flourishes, to be able to simply fix these people.  We can’t just turn away and expect others to do the job that is, essentially, our own job – to love our neighbor and to be compassionate with our neighbor.

Each one of us is tasked with showing the love and support that many people brought down by the system deserve.  Whether they are a product of poverty, of drug or alcohol abuse, of a high crime environment, of sexual or emotional abuse, we are complicit in their suffering.  Our flatscreen TVs (I have three), our smartphones and two car garages and sports weekends and trips to the tropics are the result of a system that, sure, rewards hard work and all of that guff, but that functions through an increasingly stratified society, and perpetuates the gross inequality which defines modern day capitalism.

How quick we are to judge.  From what I’ve heard, people have already tried and convicted this woman and have her sentenced in their minds.  There’s no “excuse” for murder, but there is due process, and there is an opportunity to reflect on the conditions which may have given rise to a tragedy like this, and all other tragedies of this nature.  How quick we are to label and to cast away, and to make it someone else’s problem, and to blame the mental health care system – a system in this region populated by tens of thousands of people who see endless suffering, and who do everything they can within the strictures dealt to them by the money-making hands of our economy.

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New Study Shows that Afterlife Exists, but Only for Atheists

afterlife cell pic

A study that was conducted recently cites the relationship of the Higgs-Boson particle to The Field of Dark Matter, along with other scientific mumbo jumbo, in proving the existence of the Afterlife, a place that only admits atheists into its eternal bliss, however.

“It seems that God is not without a sense of irony,” said Pastor Jim Taylor.

“We’re closing down the synagogue,” said Rabbi Benjamin Seidenstein, “and going to Starbucks next Saturday instead of Temple.”

For millennia, people of Earth have believed in some form of god – Yaweh, Allah, Zoroaster, The Moon, Obama, and others.  In most cases, the religion ascribed to that god has involved a type of afterlife – a place human souls depart to upon mortal death (and usually only upon some form of spiritual expiation) that is paved with golden streets overrun with solicitous virgins working the corners.

The study, conducted by scientists around the globe, in part at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, as well as on the Russian Space Station, Mir, and at the Hubble Space Telescope, represents the largest coordinated scientific effort to date, and a lot of things to say in one sentence.

Using the Hubble telescope, researchers peered deep into Space, while scientists at CERN smashed atoms together in the Hadron Collider; they were looking in the other direction – into the inner space of the tiniest observable particulate matter – the neutrino.

“The neutrino tells us quite a story,” said Swiss scientist Werner Mathis in a silly Swiss-German accent which made him hard to understand.  “Trillions of these tiny particles are passing through you, me, that chair over there, right this very instant.  So, we ask ourselves the question: where do they go?  And so, we followed them.”

Coordinating with Mir and the Hubble Telescope was no easy feat.  Astronomer Guy Wannaker said, “We were texting constantly.  My phone was totally blowing up.”

The location of a group of 3.3 trillion neutrinos was tracked by a mathematician named Orgo Maddox.  Electromagnetically “tagged” by Maddox, Mir Space station did the initial tracking of the herd of neutrinos as they left the atmosphere while feeding the coordinates to Wannaker.

“Though I don’t know that ‘herd,’ is the right term for this group of neutrinos,” Wannaker said.  “I like that you can call a group of crows a ‘murder’ of crows.  And then there’s an ‘unkindness’ of ravens – that’s really cool.  In Australia they have kangaroos, right?  And they say, a ‘mob of kangaroos.’  That’s kind of great; it makes the kangaroos seem like they might be carrying weapons, like bats or tommy guns.  Can you imagine that? Kangaroos with bats and tommy guns.”

Hubble-Telescope-Captures-Horsehead-Nebula

Wannaker was able to effectively “watch” the neutrinos as they traveled 42 light years into Outer Space, passing the beautiful horsehead nebulae, and making a left turn at the farthest observable extrasolar planet, and continuing on from there.

“And that’s where I found the afterlife, and that’s where I saw them.”

Wannaker became emotional telling the story.  “T.H. Huxley, Nietzsche, Max Stirner, uhm, other noteworthy dead atheists – they were all right there.  It was wild; it was like 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I felt like that guy in the space helmet with all those colors coming at him.  Man, he looked really fucking freaked out, didn’t he?”

afterlife choicesThe discovery of the afterlife in the deep cosmos did not turn up any believers, Wannaker said.  “You know, you expect to see Mother Theresa there.  Martin Luther King, Jr. …I just couldn’t make sense of it.”

“When you look that far back into Space,” explained Wannaker after he had settled himself down with a few cocktails, “You’re looking back in time.  We essentially looked into the beginning of the universe – that’s where the neutrinos had returned.”

Baffled by his findings, and half-drunk from tee many martoonies, Wannaker made a phone call.

He called Pastor Jim Taylor.

Taylor explained that the afterlife has no time; that it is the beginning and the end of all life.

“It’s weird, you know?  We’ve got proof that the afterlife exists, but you can’t believe in it if you want to get there.  It’s like one of those Chinese finger torture things.  Well, no, I guess it’s not like that.  But it shows us that God is even more mysterious than we first thought.”

Asked whether he would continue his practice as a pastor, Taylor said, “I would stop believing in a heartbeat and become an atheist, but, I just can’t.  I make $28,000 a year as a pastor, and my family needs the money.  Anyway, this cosmic geography where the afterlife was discovered is arbitrary.  I bet science will show us next that rank-and-file believers, you know, Christmas Eve Christians and people with one foot out the door, they’ll show up as having a place in the afterlife, too.  And it will go on from there.  That’s the thing with science, it’s like watching House of Cards or something – you just got to stick around to find out what happens next.”

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Getting Sober and Staying Sober

 

So you want to quit drinking and stay sober.

I’m not a doctor, just a recovering addict, but I can share with you my experience. Maybe it can help you if you want to quit abusing a substance. While I abused drugs, alcohol was my primary addiction. At the time I quit, I was consuming an average of 15 drinks a day, 90% of which were beer or wine.  I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get Delirium Tremens, which can be a part of late-stage alcoholism withdrawal.  I was not a late-stage alcoholic, though I’d been drinking pretty much everyday for ten years. I was more or less in a “middle stage.”

Everyone is different physically and mentally.  Different weight and metabolism, different levels of cerebral goings-on.  Some people physicalize things more than others, while some “mentalize” them.  There really is no true distinction, however, between the two.  The body informs the mind and the mind can influence the body.  I had physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as some tingling in my fingertips, mild heart palpitations (irregular heart beat), and general unease, but mostly it was a mental thing for me, getting through the acute mental anguish, depression, the negative thinking of that first 48-72 hours.

If you’re ready to quit, and you’re going to do it on your own (meaning not check into a treatment facility), first, get yourself to the most comfortable, safest place possible.  And then you may consider the following:

  1. There should be no alcohol around you.  The people in AA say “I’m just five minutes away from my next drink,” because alcohol is on every street corner.  If possible, find yourself a place far away from town.  If you’re in a city, you know, that’s going to be challenging.  In whatever way you can, make it difficult, if not impossible, to go out and buy drinks.  Turn over your car keys.  Board over the door.  Whatever you can.  Get every last bottle of booze out of the house.  Nothing stashed in the back shed either, or in the basement.  No place is safe.  Get rid of it all.
  2. Make sure no one around you is going to be drinking.  This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many people think they can get sober and stay that way with other people drinking around them.  In order to get clean and stay clean, your whole environment has to change.  Don’t worry about the long run right now – you don’t have to reorganize your whole life and get all of your friends to quit.  You just need to tell them that they can’t drink near you for a little while.  If they refuse, or can’t do it, then you need to go somewhere else.  (Lots of addicts are surrounded by friends and family members who drink – it tends to be a “family disease.”  And lots of these other people don’t know their problem yet, or are in denial of it.  It’s not about changing them for you to change.  You can’t change anyone.  If they will support you with their own abstinence vigil, great.  But your sobriety can’t be contingent upon theirs.  “Quitting together” rarely works – you’ve only doubled your chances of relapse.)
  3. Have some things to help you.  There are over the counter, non-addictive anxiety pills like Hyland’s brand “Calms” and “Nerve Tonic.”   Melatonin can be also good to take.  Herbal tea helps too, like Chamomile.  Ginger ale, too.  No caffeine, until maybe on the third morning you feel like a cup of coffee.  (I ended up quickly drinking way to much coffee in the years following the day I quit, and it didn’t help the lingering anxieties.  I have since switched to half-caffeinated coffee and feel much better, because, as an addict, I tend to pound five or six mugs of the stuff each morning.)  The things I mention above can be found in most any common drug store.
  4. Drink plenty of water.
  5. Go for long walks (but not past any liquor or grocery stores if you can help it).  Do some mild, light exercising when you feel ready.
  6. Avoid negative TV or shows that are horrific or thrilling or wacked-out during that first 72 hours.  If you are going to watch something, watch something fun, like The Great Outdoors.
  7. Stay off the internet.  Maybe you are researching something about drinking, fine.  But avoid Facebook and email and all of that while you’re getting through the detox.
  8. Once you’ve made it through 72 hours, be patient with yourself.  Someone said to me once that my brain was new and I had to give it time.  Your chemicals have to reset.  Your thought process has to change – and it will.  In the short run, though, I highly recommend joining an AA group within the first three or four days of your last drink.  Or, become an outpatient at a clinic and go to group three or four days a week.  Most of these places have sliding scales and won’t cost you any more than it cost you to drink.  And AA is free, of course.  (My case of getting sober and staying sober without AA is rare.  I had the luck of my family and the woods to protect me – my brother had remodeled part of his little house and I stayed there, miles from civilization.  I had no wife, no major job, no mortgage payment.  I was able to disappear from the world for a while and not leave some big hole in it.  This is not usually the situation.  More likely, you have a family and responsibilities and so it is critical you are able to go and get the support you need.)
  9. If you absolutely cannot manage to go to AA or to an outpatient clinic, you still need support.  If you can, you have to involve your family.  To not let parents or loved ones know is to not be committed.  Period.  They love you and they will understand.  Or, if they don’t quite get it (most loving parents think the sun shines out of their offspring’s ass and/or they don’t want to face something that might reflect back on them), they will come to get it in time.  Point is, you’ve got to have one or the other.  You need AA or outpatient, or you need total family support. It wouldn’t hurt to have both, either.
  10. If you don’t go to AA or group, or even if you do – seek out recovering addicts wherever you can.  Go online and find websites and groups.  You need to talk about what you’re experiencing – that is critical.  You’ve got to talk, and you’ve got to listen.  The great thing about other recovering addicts is that in listening to them you find all sorts of things you have in common.  Addicts are everywhere – we’re a dime a dozen.  And we all have the same universal truths in our lives – our active addiction became unmanageable.  But the variation and detail of each addict is beautiful.  Some might have stories that just blow your hair back. You may realize you are lucky.  Or you may find you can share something of your own story with someone that helps them.  This becomes your new family.  Not as in your mother/father/wife, but the other family you used to have – your drinking family, the people you spent all that time with at the bar, or on the porch tipping back cold ones – the recovering addicts are your new family now.  We’re like a cool motorcycle club.  You can get tattoos.  You are legitimately tough now, and you didn’t even have to beat anyone up.  (Except maybe yourself.)
  11. In the long run, you are going want to reorganize your life.  Everything changes.  And it’s all good.  Nothing of value goes away – value only gets added.  As you change things and develop your new routine – maybe a morning jog, or at least telling yourself how good you feel to not be hung over, and remembering all the bad shit you experienced is behind you – you will also be cultivating the awareness of something you can learn to love more than drinking.  This is critical for long term sustainability.  And it’s not something that becomes a goal you achieve, either, this thing you want more than you want drinking – it is going to be the rest of your life.  Recovery is, as they say somewhat ad nauseam, “One day at a time.”  But the reason this gets repeated over and over is because, as an addict, you are a total fucking moron, and thick as an ox.  You need to be told, every single day, that this day, the one right in front of you, is what you’ve been given.  You stay sober that day, and you do what you love that day – or work towards doing what you love.  There will always be something a person can love more than drinking.
  12. Sobriety is an engine with many parts.  It is a tent with many poles.  There is not one “trick” to sobriety.  To toss in another metaphor, you are sort of spinning multiple plates.  The more you have going, the better.  When you are exercising, keeping busy with productive work (but not obsessing over that work), and when you are attending meetings, or talking with other addicts, and reaffirming yourself daily, you’re in decent shape.  Sometimes it’s not possible to be doing all of these things at once – life has its demands.  Your sobriety still needs to come first, though, even amid those demands – like taking the oxygen mask that drops from the plane and putting it on your own mouth before the loved one beside you – you have to prioritize it.  That’s why it’s good to have multiple things you do, because on some days you can only manage to do *this* thing, and other days you can only manage *that*.  So, it’s not just going to the meetings.  It’s not just staying busy, or meditating, if that’s what you do.  It’s these things in combination.  Eventually they will become habit, become routine, but you need to stay one step ahead of complacency.  You never arrive anywhere as an addict.  You never reach the end of the road.  It might not even be a road, per se.  It might be a circle.  And you are in the center of it, and you bring into it good things, and you radiate back those good things to the world.

Good luck, and see you later on down the road.

TJB

11/21/13

Movies Are Cannibals: An Epic List of Sci-Fi Goodies, Some Original, Some Not

Movies are cannibals.  Let me give you an example.  One of the best sci-fi films of all time is arguably Alien (1979).  One of the Alien writer-creators is Dan O’Bannon.  Dan O’Bannon worked on Dark Star with John Carpenter, and in Dark Star there was the monster-in-the-ventilation-system sequence which would germinate into O’Bannon and Ronald Shusset’s Alien script.  And Dark Star itself was a loose parody of the classic 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

All sci-fi movie back-roads lead to 2001.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) GARY LOCKWOOD TTO 016FOH

Okay not really.  But the majority of movies we know and love were derived from some other movie, or book, either directly adapted from, overtly inspired by, or unconsciously motivated from.  Or, straight up cannibalized.

I’m going to take my top 30 sci-fi movies and put this to the test.  First, a disclaimer: I’m excluding anything prior to 1968, which was the year of A Space Odyssey.  Second, I’m not going to include any Star Wars or Star Trek films.  Whether they may have ranked on my list or not is probably irrelevant here; it is because they too have spawned so much, as 2001 has, and almost belong in their own category.  Third, I won’t pretend to know what “unconsciously motivated” a writer or not, and we can assume that while the collective consciousness informs us all, but doesn’t count as source material.

In this list, I’ll wager that I can concretely show something borrowed or sourced in at least 2/3 of these films – or 20 of them.

Let’s see.

30. Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus was a breath of fresh air.  A group of scientists and explorers on a distant planet investigating an alien intelligence we hadn’t seen since…well, Aliens.  Which is the lore this film comes from, ostensibly a prequel or “origin story” for the quartet of “Alien” films which have left the sci-fi genre with their indelible stamp.

29.  The Fly (1986)

I love this movie.  I’m normally put off by the grotesque, and David Cronenberg likes to lay on the goo.  But this film moves like a play, and has a pitch-perfect tempo and such a heart-rending denouement that it haunts me to this day.  The film, though, is a reboot of a 1958 horror/sci-fi flick of the same name.  So that’s two sourced films so far.  (I promise I won’t keep counting though.)

28. Dark City (1998)

Popular Mechanics said that this movie was “Plato’s cave allegory meets Detective Comics.”  It was a comic book before it was a movie and the comic story, like so many stories, is a version of a man coming to greater understanding of the realities which emerge as he does, from his limited perspective.  Some academic types observe that all stories spring from one well: A character journeys into the unknown.  I like this movie for its tone, costuming, and sinister nature – and yes, I took the journey.

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27.  The Thing (1982)

The Thing is another goo-fest.  It oozes with waxy monster bits and things growing and popping out of people.  It is a reboot of the 1951 film, The Thing From Another World.  (And it was rebooted again in 2011).  The Thing satisfies in a suspenseful way, and has one of the best endings – and I mean the very last minute – of any sci-fi film I’ve seen.

26.  Inception (2010)

Inception was tedious, but ambitious.  In its attempt to be mind-blowing, it had an analgesic effect.  I spent 45 minutes wondering when the movie was going to get started, since all any of the characters seemed to be doing was talking about what was going to happen when it would eventually happen.  Yet Inception contains the kind of movie moments that can’t be denied – that sense of God Moving over the Face of the Waters – streets and buildings peeling away from the earth, zero-gravity fights, and a tremendous orchestral score that vibrates the rib cage.  And even though I felt like I had seen it before, through the lenses of The Matrix, Minority Report, and Momento, I will mark Inception as Original.  Maybe because the characters talked so damned much they convinced me of something unique.

25. Vanilla Sky (2001)

This film took all kinds of guff from critics and viewers.  For some reason, I found it utterly spellbinding.  The journey through the many layers of reality was mesmerizing – another cave allegory, perhaps, but this felt more like a free fall.  I fell for it all.  And I had no idea, until later, that this movie I thought to be one-of-a-kind was a remake of Abre Los Ojos, a Spanish film.

24.  Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall has been remade, as we all know.  The 1990 version starring Arnie was a fantastic ride, and thanks to a story by Philip K. Dick.  This is only the first film we’ll see on this list inspired by Mister Dick’s incredible imaginings.

total-recall

23. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Not totally my taste, but an undeniable masterpiece in its own right.  This controversial film comes from a book by Anthony Burgess.  A book, no less, Burgess once said he considered to be one of his “lesser works.”  Not bad for phoning one in.

22. The Truman Show (1998)

Kind of weird to see this in a sci-fi list? I thought so too, when I first saw it in a top 100.  Yet it is listed in most databases as a sci-fi flick (though also a comedy and a drama).  This genre-bending film utterly engrosses under crystalline direction from Peter Weir.  It is an original screenplay, written by Gattaca writer-director Andrew Niccol, and, as far as I can tell, truly the first of a kind.  Yes, we’ve seen other films about reality TV, like The Running Man (arguably prophetic at its time) but this unknowing subject at the center of it all really gives The Truman Show its distinctive mojo.  Most game show or reality show movies feature fully-apprised protagonists, but here our hero tumbles down the hole toward enlightenment.  I’ll score it original, universal themes notwithstanding.  So remarkable is this film that its title has been co-opted by the world of psychiatry – The Truman Show Disorder refers to people who have a persistent delusion that they are on a 24/7 reality show.

21.  Mad Max (1979)

“A western seen through the lens of post-apocalyptic Australia.” – Popular Mechanics

A western?  Really? Yeah, totally.  I can see that.  Mad Max is a Pale Rider.  The reluctant Stranger who helps out the vulnerable village folk.   A great movie, a trendsetter, a legend, but, no, not totally original.  Cribbed from Clint Eastwood films and sci-fi predecessors like Outland.

20. 12 Monkeys (1995)

What could be more original than Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in an insane asylum together? And one of them is a time traveler and the other is the red herring we will come to believe started the end of the world in motion?  Nothing, it would seem, could be more fresh and new.  Yet, 12 Moneys was based on the eccentric artist and documentarian Chris Marker’s short film of still photographs, La Jetee.  Marker wrote the 12 Monkeys script based on his 1962 experimental film.

19. Contact (1997)

Contact does what sci-fi movies do best – transport you into a new world.  Yes, as we’re observing, it’s all about journeying into the unknown.  But there’s a difference in being in on a truth the protagonist is not (The Truman Show) or unraveling a mystery through clues and flashbacks (12 Monkeys) and rocketing through space and time to another world.

When we get there, Contact may feel like it cheats us a little.  (Spoilers ahead!) The aliens use Ellie’s own mind to construct the world she encounters, but the personal journey this takes her on proves to carry us in to an even more special place – a dramatic irony in which the brilliant atheist we have come to know and love faces the challenge of convincing others of something they just couldn’t possibly accept without proof.  For which she has none.

The film is based on Carl Sagan’s book, so cannot get the “original” stamp (though the book sure does…painstaking though I may have found it to read).

Contact-film

18. The Terminator (1984)

So archetypal.  So simple, and yet so smart.  Total grindhouse, and yet somehow sparing.  The Terminator is the first of a kind.  Our fear of the wave of technology capsizing our fragile organic civilization, manifested as a relentless, man-eating cyborg.  Original.

17.  The Terminator 2 (1992)

One of those rare instances where a sequel has actually improved on its prequel.  T2 is great action sci-fi, from bones to liquid metal, but it doesn’t get the originality vote, since, you know…  He came back.

16. Blade Runner (1982)

I know. You’re shaking your head. How the hell could I have placed this film in anywhere but the top 10?  Don’t get me wrong.  Blade Runner is awesome.  There’s a muddled area for me in the Blade Runner legacy though – that of the discrepancies between all the different versions of the film.  There are some with explanatory voice-overs, some with unicorns, and some with happy endings.  All that aside, one of those – the approved director’s cut, I think – is totally bad ass.  So much so that it never has to explain why replicant-terminating future cops are called “Blade Runners.” It is sufficient, I guess, that such a moniker sounds unassailably cool.  Anyway, the film is based on a story by Philip K. Dick.

15.  2001: A Space Odyssey  (1968)

Wow.  Another whack upside the head.  What self-respecting list wouldn’t have this film at the tippy top?  This film is a work of art, a masterpiece, a golden goose – the basis for this whole particular list in the first place – it is one of the great films of all time, sci-fi or not…but it is also old.  Whereas Gattaca, for instance, doesn’t date itself, letting it stand outside the march of time, I hate to break it to everyone, but we’ve passed 2001 in real life.  If I lived in 1968, this would be number one, the best movie I have ever seen.  But this crown jewel of a flick – nay, the crown itself – just reeks of the 1960s, at least for the first half.  The Jetsons furniture, the civilian clothing, and the understandable inability to actually see too far into what the future will actually look like, while this film still represents absolute craftsmanship, we have to move on.  From the book by Arthur C. Clarke.

14.  Minority Report (2002)

Such a ride.  From start to finish, a smart, engrossing, totally thrilling ride.  One of those few Cruise movies where Tom himself isn’t somewhat of an annoyance.  Spielberg is at his best too – those clicking spiders are just Gremlins in the age of cyborgs.  The beauty is, those clicking spiders aren’t the only gimmick – this film is so packed with ideas and nods at technology and society that it borders on encyclopedic.  Only possible from the mind of Philip K. Dick, who wrote the story the film is based on.  That’s three for Dick.

13. Sunshine (2007)

I swear nobody saw this movie.  Nobody talked about it, nobody told me to go see it, nothing.  I think I found it by accident.  What a sweet surprise.  There is nothing director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland can’t do as a team.   (The Beach, 28 Days Later.)  This film stands alone, executed with a style and story which I have not seen before nor since.  Original.

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12.  District 9 (2009)

I remember being disappointed when first watching this film and realizing its documentary-style aesthetic.  I’d had high hopes, and felt let down – how can anything be epic, how can it have true, transcendent movie moments when it is this hand-held, fake documentary thing?  I’m so glad I was proven to be a complete idiot (which happens a lot).  The film turned out to be a gem, and did, in fact, have moments which had me leaving my body and lost in its greatness.  Like that fight with the guy in the robot suit which he can use because he is turning into an alien.  Oh man.  Original.

11. Moon (2010)

Only better than District 9 because of how infinitely watchable Sam Rockwell is.  Duncan Jones “little” film does what many of its big-budget counterparts have aspired to do, and failed – it brings you into a world you are convinced of.  The moonscape and the “cosmic” bits of the story, then, become like another character in themselves, and not something we’re constantly told to marvel at.  Duncan wrote this for Sam Rockwell.  Original.

10. Aliens (1986)

Classic.  Wonderful.  Everything about this movie is entertaining.  The scenes are tight, everyone and everything on edge, plunging inexorably toward the lair of the beast, quipping smartass lines and shooting everything in sight along the way.  Double-back-for-a-friend suspense, incredibly convincing effects and sets; just a pure juggernaut of an epic film. No wonder Cameron has an ego.  He made this shit.

*Ahem* However, sourced by another film (which will appear shortly here).  Thus, not original.

9. Robocop (1987)

I saw this film as a twelve year-old boy in the theatre.  I pretended I was Robocop afterwards, as my father and I walked through aisles of clothing in a retail store near the theatre.  I had to be Robocop. I couldn’t let it go.

I watched the film several times over the ensuing years.  The power of it never faded. My peptides gushed in all the same spots – the brutal gunning down of Peter Weller, the first time Robocop walks into the precinct, the shot of him driving the cop car into downtown Detroit, and the nasty guy whose face gets all melty because he fell into toxic waste, and so on.  Fantastic movie.  One of a kind.  Original.  (Too bad about the horrible sequels – let’s see what the remake has in store.)

Robocop

8. Predator (1987)

Totally in league with Robocop.  Great, simple, archetypal story.  Same release year.  Same age, me – totally blown away.  There are fewer things to say about the truly good films.  They just work.  It’s not hard for me to separate out the teen love affair with these flicks, either.  I have watched them again as a grown man and see the glory in them, still.  Predator is just a mean film, man.  Totally, gut-wrenchingly good. Who gives a shit about the implausible ending?  By then you are just carved out of wood, a quivering mass of muscle ready to take on the alien invasion yourself.  Totally awesome story.  Original.

7. The Fountain (2006)

Okay, now for the softer side.  The Fountain is one of the more underrated films of the genre, and yet totally spectacular.  It can’t get marked original because it draws on historical events, and other depictions of said historical events.  However, in every way this is a landmark film, with great nuance and depth.  It harkens Terrence Malick’s work in the way the sphere surrounding the tree of life drifts up into the heavens.  This sphere is our watchdog – our time constraint.  Where it is headed recalls that great film, 2001, in that what the film does is totally judicious and mature – it leads us into this experience, and then lets us have it.  It does not overly define it, or dumb it down, but gives us an approximation of form.  It is the mystic in a foreign land bestowing the visitor a talisman to behold, and granting him the intelligence to parse its deep meaning.

6.  Jurassic Park (1992)

I saw this film as a freshman in college at the campus theatre.  I don’t remember what I expected, but I remember what I experienced – I truly lost sense of myself when the T-Rex came over the damn fence, man.  No music, nothing cluttering up the moment, just the squish of that thing’s massive toes in the mud, the guttural trumpet of its growl, the rain pounding down.  This is Spielberg at his best, reaching in and seizing the child in all of us and saying “look.”  Any of the film’s campiness or fairy-tale goofery is made up for, and then some, in the light of this benevolent act: Spielberg made the dinosaurs real at last, so the rest of us didn’t have to.  From the book of the same name, by Michael Crichton.

5.  Children of Men (2006)

Everything you could want in a movie that shows you the future of society is here in Children of Men.  Yet it is completely unfettered; astonishingly “clean” despite the dirty world it dwells in.  The scenes are individual works of art – some of them long as the day, pulling you out of yourself with this tractive force.  In the maelstrom of societal collapse, one plight rings out above all others – the sudden inability for man to procreate.  Makes everything else pale in comparison.   Based on the book by P.D. James, it took five screenwriters to haul this out of the literary mire and paint pictures with it.

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4.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

This film came out the same year as Star Wars?  Totally.  What a year for movies.

Spielberg does something Lucas doesn’t – he creates characters that look and sound and act like people.  Amazing.  One of the ways he achieves this is often by having more than one person speaking at the same time in a scene.  Astonishing.  More than one person speaking at a time, you say??  Yes, people do it, apparently.  Check out the scene where the UFOs are first spotted by a radar control tower.  The reactions by the guys with their headsets on is just some of the best filmmaking you’ll ever see in your life.  There is so much to say about this movie, books have been written on it.  I’ll just sum it up with “original.”

3.  Donnie Darko (2001)

Another film that doesn’t seem to like the sci-fi jacket, and tries to squirm out.  Donnie Darko is in its own class.  There is nothing else quite like it.  And nothing ever has seized me in the same way that seeing the metal bunny standing in the front yard.  Sometimes the absurd dredges up the things in our own unconscious – which scare us, or at least make us pay attention – more than any contrivance.  This film is genius.  It was best left alone before the director’s cut came out and tried to foolishly explain everything.  I extoll its virtues here as the original theatrical version, a movie I didn’t actually see in the theatre but grabbed off the video store shelf one night with a shrug.  I had no idea my world would change forever.  Original.

2.  Alien (1979)

As referenced during the introduction of this list, Ridley Scott’s Alien borrowed some ideas from another film.  But does that really make it “unoriginal?”  As I get to the end of this list, I realize just how vast the grey area is.  At the time of the film’s release, certainly no one had really seen anything like the crew of the Nostromo.  Sci-fi films were either swashbuckling or spare, kitschy or clinical.  Alien was gritty.  Archetypal.  A slasher film of a sort, but really the dawn of realism as we know it today in many modern movies.  The first of a kind, certainly, but heavily influenced by other works, and so it cannot bear the clean stamp of “original.”

1. The Matrix (1999)

What else would be my first choice?  This is the best sci-fi film of the last forty years.  It is breathtaking in its pace.  It is highly visual, yet completely intellectual and cerebral.  It is unassailably cool.  The cinematography broke new ground, the special effects totally pushed the limits, and the story couldn’t have come at a more perfect time in human history – right at the turn of the millennium, as thoughts of the Singularity were seeding, and we were just starting to really ride this wave of unrelenting technology.  Amazing that The Matrix could almost be dated now – but this is a testament to the exponential growth of technology the film features.  It is all these things, but is it Original?  No.  Aside from being a retelling of, well, Christ coming back to save humanity, the filmmakers got most of their ideas from a 1995 animated feature film called Ghost in the Shell.

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Well, did I do it?  Let me go back and count.

I’ve got ten, by my count.  Ten films which can be considered original, and twenty that took from a book, a comic, another film, or referenced history.

(I swear I didn’t do this in reverse and pre-calculate the results.  I actually thought I could find more evidence of source material for the rest of the films.)

What does all this prove?  That I am a complete nincompoop who just wasted half a day researching and writing this?  Yes.  But hopefully, in some small way, is also lends to quieting the need we seem to have lately for this elusive “original” film.  They’re out there, and they can be great, but we ought not discredit the film – or any work of art – which draws from others.

As the man once said, every artist can copy.

A great artist steals.

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A Little Religious Kung-Fu

I am a Christian.

I am not a rank and file, Christmas and Easter Christian.  I am not a suburban Christian.  I am not a Wal-Mart Christian. I am not a political, our-country-is-the-best Christian.  I am a middle-of-the-night, wild-eyed, coming-down-from-the-mountain-in-a-rainstorm Christian.

I am not an evangelist.  I am not an imperialist.  I am an over-privileged white person who leeches off of the economically-enslaved rest of the world.  I do not believe that Jesus Christ must be believed in or you will go to hell.  I know that hell is a perpetual psycho-spiritual state removed from kindness and enlightenment, and Jesus represents kindness and enlightenment.

Part of this Christ symbolism comes from questioning the established order of the day.  This is why I like the story of Christ.  Christ indeed is “in all of us” – that part of us which seeks to upset the status quo and further equality and human rights.  Christianity has been co-opted by our government and its ideology has been the excuse (the ruse, really) for countless atrocities over the centuries.

Yet, I remain a Christian.

I believe that to forgive is to love.

I could care less about the hundreds of Christian denominations.  I don’t care to quibble over the Bible.  Religious infighting is even stupider than religious fighting between fundamentally different beliefs.

Muslims attack Christians and Christians attack Muslims because each are afraid of dying.

True belief in an afterlife means there is no fear of dying.  No fear of dying means there is nothing that is threatening.  Yet we are, this whole globe, quivering, angry beasts of fear, blowing one another up because we are terrified we are wrong about our superstitions and the stories we decide to interpret literally.

I have no idea what the afterlife is.  I believe if you do good things in this life then you will continue on along that trajectory. I believe energy can neither be created nor destroyed; we persist.  Time and space and consciousness are all part of the same existence.  After death, there ceases to be temporal awareness.  We plunge into everywhere and everywhen.  That is the most I can say I know.

And I do mean I know it.  Obviously not empirically; not from direct experience.  But I believe there is this deep place of knowing within us which has been a part of us since the beginning.  Atomically and anatomically, we are kin to the stars.  We have a reservoir of transcendent knowing.

The details are: which religion, which version, which story.  They are inconsequential.  What matters is tapping into this eternal knowing / being.  The stories are the vehicles which can help get you there (provided you don’t waste all of your energy scrutinizing their claims).

The destination is the same.

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