Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Tentative Step Forward

A few days ago, I woke up to headlines with the words “Vatican” and “gays,” without “condemn” or a variation thereof snuck in there somewhere. People who bet that hell would freeze over the day the Catholic Church takes a less-than-hostile stance against homosexuality must have had visions of snowflakes landing on the devil’s nose when it was reported that a Vatican document had some surprisingly compassionate things to say about gay people.

"Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities?” said the document. “Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of proving that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

"Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners," the document added.

Even if you don’t follow religious news, this is a pretty big deal. It’s like your hopelessly homophobic Tito Boyet Or Lolo Badong—that crusty old relative who warned you that being gay is a sin—suddenly popping into the neighborhood parlor and proclaiming that getting a haircut from Trizsha isn’t so bad.

The faithful hold candles during a vigil to mark the start of the synod
Image from

To put this into perspective, ex-Pope Benedict XVI (aka Joseph Ratzinger) was, in the past, quoted as saying that gay people are “intrinsically disordered.” Then again, Benedict was a hardline conservative, in as much as the Pope we have now is, well, not. Francis was reportedly present at the synod (the bishop’s assembly happening at the Vatican this week) when the document was read.

Of course, it didn’t take long for people to make their feelings about this bit of news known. My social media feed was inundated with virtual “thumbs up” for this groundbreaking pronouncement. That was expected; most people would see this shift on the Church’s policy about homosexuality as nothing less than extraordinarily welcome news. On the other hand, there were also voices of displeasure and dissatisfaction. Ultra-conservatives are naturally bewildered and disappointed, believing there should be no wiggle room when it comes to the issue of same-sex relationships. Liberals (those who identify with the label, at least), say it’s not enough. It’s a weak yelp in what should otherwise be a scream advocating social equality.

I have nothing to say to the conservatives, except perhaps that they make like Oprah and get with the program. This is more for the liberals rolling their eyes and being all unimpressed. Yes, the Church stops short of actually condoning homosexuality, and still see the acts related to it as immoral and unconscionable. Being gay is fine, official Church policy states, as long as you do nothing about it. But lest people forget, we’re talking about a 2000-year old institution, with tenets and traditions that have been so deeply ingrained in the psyche of its most ardent followers they may as well be carved on the actual rock upon which St. Peter’s Basilica supposedly sits on. Some people may find that this pivot on official Church dogma may be slight, but in the context of a major religion that has kept its beliefs virtually intact for two millennia, it’s something of a milestone. The acknowledgment of the reality of same sex relationships, the fact that it was even brought up and seriously discussed in a major Church forum, and, most of all, the possibility of acceptance and recognition of “positive aspects” of said relationships—these are all significant strides in the discourse of our collective humanity. They should be held up as such and not be dismissed or taken lightly.

The question now is, can the Church do more to show sympathy and inclusiveness towards alternative lifestyles and preferences? Of course it can. But will it? Don’t hold your breath. Pope Francis may be worlds different from his predecessor, but he is still leader of an organization with a billion followers, most of whom are not ready for something as radical as gay relationships. (And despite the seemingly open society we currently inhabit, in many parts of the world, the mere concept of anything other than male-female partnerships might as well be alien). We may not see a Church that will embrace gay people as much as we would like it to in this lifetime, but a Church that has proven that it is not  averse to a discussion about it is the next best thing.

Friday, October 10, 2014

When Occam’s Razor Fails

Image from Wikipedia

The main come-on of Gone Girl for me is David Fincher. I had never heard of the book before publicity for the movie brought it to my attention, and when I found out it was Fincher’s next film, I counted the days until its local release. I’ve followed his career since Seven, and any film that bears his name is like an invitation to a fancy dinner; I’ve no choice but to show up. The director can do no wrong.

An adaptation of a novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is, at its simplest, the story of a young woman’s disappearance, and how her husband becomes the obvious suspect. Of course, calling it that would be like saying The Godfather is a film about the mafia, or Star Wars is about spaceships. You can refer to it as a domestic thriller about the deterioration of a marriage; a black comedy about getting away with the perfect crime; or even a social commentary on the business of media and the manipulative power the press wields on shaping public opinion. It’s a whodunit that relies more on emotional resonance with the characters than the nitty gritty of forensics or the conventional dramatic depiction of crime-solving.

At one point, one of the characters invokes Occam's Razor. To which the lead detective says, "Actually, I've never found that to be true."

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) poses in front of a picture of his missing wife (Rosamund Pike)
Image from Merrick Morton / 

The most entertaining aspect about this movie is how the balance of who to root for is constantly shifting. The audience is left guessing not just on what actually transpired, but who to believe and side with in a tug-of-war between two generally unsavory personalities. It’s refreshing to see the traditional heroes-and-villains roles completely set aside. Instead we get deeply flawed characters that are as larger-than-life as they are real. Ben Affleck brings depth and gravitas to his role as the husband, Nick Dunne, but the real scene-stealer is Rosamund Pike as his wife, Amy. I remember her from Die Another Day, An Education, and Jack Reacher, but those were negligible blips in her career, which will now be defined by her performance here, undoubtedly. Luminous, almost Grace Kelly-ethereal, Pike should get some notices during awards season.

(Bonus sighting: Patrick Fugit, who played the lead in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, plays a minor character here as a police officer).

Of course, the real star is behind the camera. Fincher directs with a subtle but steady hand that I have yet to see in other filmmakers not named Kubrick or Lynch. In all of his movies,  there is a sense of foreboding that creeps up on you like mist on a gloomy day. One might think it’s easy in obvious thrillers like Seven, Panic Room or Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but here, in a film set mostly in a quiet suburban Missouri town about the troubles between a seemingly ordinary married couple, the prickly uneasiness he builds is all the more impressive.

The writing is also memorable and razor-sharp. I couldn’t help but tear my eyes away from the screen so I could write down some choice dialogue. Here are a few:

“I love having strangers pick at my scabs.”

“We’re so cute I want to punch us in the face”

“Everyone knows complicated is code for bitch.”

“I’m gonna go Benadryl myself to sleep.”

“I need to check my red panty inventory.”

“The hallmark of a sociopath is a lack of empathy.”

“Why should I die? I’m not the asshole.”

Flynn wrote the screenplay based on her novel
Image from Wikipedia

The movie ends on an unexpected, WTF note. When the credits roll, you may need a moment to blink away or try to make sense of the ambiguous final frame. But that’s another director trademark; it wouldn’t be a Fincher movie without a tiny bit of emotional scarring.