Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Metropolis of Satan: 28 Weeks Later

My poor spouse has had to practice acceptance and patience as far as some of my choices in movies. At the risk of losing some readers I have to confess that I am a fan of sci-fi/horror movies. What can I say, I like zombies. I was not disappointed when I finally got a chance to see the film about the "rage virus" saga that has been unfolding in a fictional London that has been ravaged by a bizarre biological disaster. When people get infected with the rage virus they develop a serious attitude problem and fierce desire eat human flesh. Sounds like a great date movie, yes? 28 Weeks Later is the title of this latest film that is a sequel to the 2005 hit, 28 Days Later that you can read about here. In this film the American military has decided that the outbreak is over and that people can begin returning to London. Everyone, other than a really smart and empathic young doctor is confident that the virus has died with all of its hosts who starved to death six months ago. Among the returning settlers are a father and his children. The children had been in Spain during the outbreak, while the father had managed to survive in England, in part through committing an act of betrayal of his wife that will later come full circle in an almost karmic way. Needless to say that the optimism and confidence of the Americans is misguided and before you know it, infected people are running around the streets of London, chewing up their fellow citizens, while the seemingly impotent military begin to kill everyone in sight in an effort to finish off the virus. In case you want to see this film, I won't spoil it by giving you anymore information, but you can watch the preview and clips here and read more of the back story including information about a graphic novel inspired by the first film.

As a Baha'i thinking, watching this film inspired me to ponder a couple of things that are addressed frequently in the Baha'i Writings, aggression and consumption.

Anyone paying attention, Baha'i or not, knows that human beings don't need a "rage virus" to bring out the animal side of our nature. Whether you consider the Virginia Tech tragedy, the recent news about road rage, or the gladiator style antics that broke out at a recent Boston Pops concert, it seems like far too many folks are on the edge of flipping out at any moment. The Baha'i Faith encourages people to counter their aggressive tendencies through a variety of means, including replacing negative thoughts with more positive thoughts, focusing on the strengths of others rather than their faults, working on our own short comings rather than trying to change others, praying, and responding in the opposite way when people treat us badly. These practices are more than just "playing nice", they exert a transformative influence that is spiritual, mental and physical for both the person who does them and the people around that person. I believe the failure to utilize these practices in stressful situations is one of the factors that is contributing to what seem like increasing outbursts of rage in our society. Such outburst only strengthen a view of humanity that the Universal House of Justice said in 1985 is an obstacle to peace:

"...so much have aggression and conflict come to characterize our social, economic and religious systems, that many have succumbed to the view that such behaviour is intrinsic to human nature and therefore ineradicable. With the entrenchment of this view, a paralyzing contradiction has developed in human affairs. On the one hand, people of all nations proclaim not only their readiness but their longing for peace and harmony, for an end to the harrowing apprehensions tormenting their daily lives. On the other, uncritical assent is given to the proposition that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive and thus incapable of erecting a social system at once progressive and peaceful, dynamic and harmonious, a system giving free play to individual creativity and initiative but based on co-operation and reciprocity. As the need for peace becomes more urgent, this fundamental contradiction, which hinders its realization, demands a reassessment of the assumptions upon which the commonly held view of mankind's historical predicament is based. Dispassionately examined, the evidence reveals that such conduct, far from expressing man's true self, represents a distortion of the human spirit. Satisfaction on this point will enable all people to set in motion constructive social forces which, because they are consistent with human nature, will encourage harmony and co-operation instead of war and conflict."
(The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Oct, The Promise of World Peace, p. 1)

In the film, people infected with the rage virus are afflicted with a desire for consumption that rises to the level of cannibalism. However, people don't have to eat each other to engage in compulsive consumption that has profound implications for the survival of their fellow human beings. Climate change is but one dramatic example of the apparent consequences of consumption gone beyond the bounds of moderation. Baha'u'llah had this to say about such an approach to life:

"Whoso cleaveth to justice, can, under no circumstances, transgress the limits of moderation. He discerneth the truth in all things, through the guidance of Him Who is the All-Seeing. The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men. Thus warneth you He Who is the All-Knowing. If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation. Meditate on this, O people, and be not of them that wander distraught in the wilderness of error. The day is approaching when its flame will devour the cities, when the Tongue of Grandeur will proclaim: "The Kingdom is God's, the Almighty, the All-Praised!"
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 342)

In the film, the city of London is literally devoured by fire as the American military begins to firebomb the entire area in order to halt the spread of the rage virus. This is just a movie after all but our cities in America are already burning, burning with poverty, disease, alienation, racial conflict, addiction, crime, crumbling infrastructure, political corruption and despair. As humanity becomes increasingly urbanized, as was detailed in the most recent Economist Magazine, these challenges will only increase. It makes me wonder if 28 Weeks Later is simply a sci-fi/horror fantasy or a prophetic metaphor of the near future:

"Indeed the actions of man himself breed a profusion of satanic power. For were men to abide by and observe the divine teachings, every trace of evil would be banished from the face of the earth. However, the widespread differences that exist among mankind and the prevalence of sedition, contention, conflict and the like are the primary factors which provoke the appearance of the satanic spirit. Yet the Holy Spirit hath ever shunned such matters. A world in which naught can be perceived save strife, quarrels and corruption is bound to become the seat of the throne, the very metropolis, of Satan."
(Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 176)