The privilege of genius

Last weekend I saw Stanley Kubrick’s movie The Shining for the first time. Two nights later I saw it for the second time. I’ve also done some reading on the Internet about this movie and how it was made, as well as biographical information about Kubrick.

I’ve seen about half of the movies Kubrick made, and I’d like to see the rest, except for maybe his earliest work. Kubrick is acknowledged a genius in the making of movies, with classics such as Spartacus and 2001: Space Odyssey to his credit. He is famous for shooting each scene dozens of times to achieve the best possible result; also, he is famous for detailed and meticulous planning of his filming, so that everything in each frame contributes to the story that the movie is depicting.

For example, in one of his movies, two characters are having dinner, and they are seen from various angles while they eat and drink. Yet the amount of food and wine in front of them fluctuate irregularly rather than disappearing steadily, as one would expect during a meal. Any other director would have been accused of continuity errors, but Kubrick says that he mangled the continuity purposely to make viewers share the feeling of disorientation that the main character was feeling.

The Shining has similar distortions of continuity which Kubrick’s fans consider deliberate and meaningful. During one conversation, Jack pulls a sheet of paper out of his typewriter and rips it to pieces; minutes later he is typing again—paper is in the typewriter, even though he never added another sheet. In the same conversation a chair is seen behind Jack at first, but it has disappeared later. In the pantry cans of food appear mid-scene on shelves that were previously emptier. In other scenes items are rearranged from moment to moment without ever being touched. Even light switches and electrical outlets appear and disappear during the course of the movie.

One might assume that all these distortions are simply continuity errors, but with Kubrick’s reputation for genius and for meticulous planning, his fans are certain that every one of these distortions was done for a reason. Because The Shining is about haunting and supernatural abilities, some viewers assume that moving chairs and lamps reveal telekinetic abilities of the characters. Others think that the hotel itself is inhabited by malignant spirits that steal light switches and provide paper for Jack’s typewriter. Because the cans of food which appear out of nowhere have a Native American as their logo, some viewers think that the entire movie contains a message about Native Americans.

Of course it is also possible that by filming each scene dozens of times, Kubrick left himself vulnerable to continuity errors. Maybe after filming the conversation five or six times, Kubrick decided he didn’t like the chairs behind Jack and had them moved, but when he edited the footage he found that Jack’s best delivery of a certain line happened before the chairs had been taken out of the set. Perhaps he rearranged props in the pantry, not to make a point about Native Americans, but to achieve a certain proportion of shape and color in the background. Since the light switches and outlets were props, perhaps they were installed after some scenes had already been filmed.

Stanley Kubrick was a genius. Therefore, what would be a mistake for any other director is part of his deliberate plan to film a masterpiece. People have tried to make maps of the Overlook Hotel, the setting for The Shining, only to discover that the layout seen in the movie is impossible. Interior and exterior windows do not match, interior rooms have windows that show outdoor scenes, stairways lead to dead ends, and journeys through the passageways are inconsistent from scene to scene. Of course the movie was filmed on a group of sets, not in an actual hotel. Other directors would have been blamed for these inconsistencies, but Kubrick is assumed to have created an impossible hotel for dramatic purposes.

The privilege of genius is that mistakes don’t happen. A good explanation can be found for everything a genius does, even if it looks like a mistake. Of course people study the work of geniuses far more carefully than the work of average people—most movies set in a hotel don’t compel viewers to draw maps of the hotel. Ordinary people make ordinary mistakes that most of us don’t even notice. Only geniuses can make what seems to be a mistake and send people searching for its meaning.

By the way, the thought that Stanley Kubrick made The Shining to confess that he helped fake film footage of Apollo 11’s trip to the moon is ridiculous. J.

Strive to be…

I have seen a clever saying: “Strive to be the person your dog thinks you are.” While that would be good advice for many people, it doesn’t work for me. I don’t have a dog; I have two cats. I don’t know if I should strive to be the person they think I am. Sometimes they think I am a piece of furniture. Sometimes I distract them when they want to sleep, and sometimes I sleep when they want to be distracted. I provide them with food and water, and I clean their litter boxes. If it wasn’t for that, they might not notice my existence at all.

I do not need to strive to be the person they think I am. I already am that person. They see me as a bundle of contradictions. I leave the house for hours at a time, and always at the best times for getting a few naps. Then I sleep through the best times for exploring the house and having fun. I prepare food and eat food off of surfaces so disgustingly dirty that I won’t even allow my cats to walk across those surfaces. I spend long periods of time staring at objects in my hands instead of batting those objects across the room and then chasing after them. When they want to greet me in a natural way, I turn them around so their heads are facing me.

Maybe I should strive to be the person my cats want me to be. It would take effort, but I’m sure it could be done. I would have to develop ESP so I would know, without having to look, that their food dish was nearly empty, and I would rush to fill it again. (“Nearly empty,” by the way, is defined as, “the bottom of the bowl is visible in at least one place.”) I would walk around the house every hour flushing all the toilets so they had a ready source of fresh drinking water. I would open the windows every day. (The air is always fresh and near the ideal temperature every time I open the windows, so why don’t I do it more often?) I would let the songbirds into the house so the cats could play with them instead of just watching them through the screen. I would stay home every day, take frequent naps, and be ready to play at night. I would help them figure out how to catch that red dot of light that bounces around the walls and floor and never seems to stay captured, no matter how cleverly they trap it with their paws.

No, I will never become the person my cats want me to be. They will never understand that my hours away from the house somehow make it possible for me to put food in their bowl. They will never convince me that the best conversations are not conducted face to face. But we seem to have a working relationship, and that may be what matters the most. As in so much of life, vive la difference! J.

 

Second Sunday of Easter

Many Tuesdays I stop at the bank, which means that I have a different route coming home from work. Since late February, one of the houses I pass on that route had decorated a tree by the road—it was filled with plastic Easter eggs. All through March, every time I drove past that house I wondered how long into the Easter season that tree would remain decorated. As I suspected, when I drove past that house on Easter Tuesday, the tree was already bare of Easter decorations.

What is it with our culture? Why do we celebrate major holidays before they arrive, only to pack up our celebration before they have ended? Christmas decorations appear in November, even in October, but they are packed and put into storage before half of the twelve days of Christmas are ended. With Easter also, the anticipation of the holiday is filled with bright colors and springtime decorations, but once the last egg is found some time Sunday afternoon and the last Easter candy is eaten sometime Easter Monday, the holiday is over for another year.

The traditional Christian Church does not treat Easter that way. For forty days (plus six Sundays) the Church observes the solemn season of Lent—a time to repent of our sins and meditate on the price the Lord paid to redeem us from those sins. The songs in church are somber; the decorations are minimal. Then, Easter morning, sometimes before sunrise (in the earliest traditions, at midnight), the Good News is announced. “The Lord is risen.” “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Flowers fill the church with color, hymns of joy and praise are sung with enthusiasm, and Christians rejoice in the news of Christ’s resurrection, a guarantee of our own resurrection.

Christmas lasts twelve days. Easter lasts seven weeks. Why seven? Seven is a number of completeness; as God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh (according to the book of Genesis), and as the Church on earth is represented by seven lampstands and seven congregations (in the book of Revelation), so seven weeks of Easter marks the completeness of joy Christians receive from the Good News of the Lord’s resurrection.

Christ was crucified and returned to life during the festival of Passover. For forty days he appeared to his disciples, strengthening them, preparing them to do the work of the Church. After he ascended into heaven, another ten days passed. Then, in Luke’s quotation of Jesus, the disciples were “clothed in glory from on high.” The Holy Spirit was poured out on them during the festival of Pentecost, a festival commanded by God through Moses along with the Passover festival and the autumn observances.

Easter is seven weeks long—forty-nine days—so it can be longer than the season of Lent. Christians repent of our sins, but our joy exceeds even our repentance. Darkness lasts a nighttime, but light prevails in the morning. On the second Sunday of Easter, Christians still rejoice that “Christ is risen.” “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

I hope and pray that your Easter joy has not fizzled and been forgotten. In a sense, every Sunday is a miniature Easter, a weekly reminder of Christ’s resurrection. As the resurrection of the Lord happened on the eighth day of Holy Week, beginning something new, so the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples of Jesus on the eighth Sunday of Easter, beginning something new. In the Lord, we are new always. J.

 

UFO sighting

Until this week, I had always assumed that reports of UFOs were the result largely of human imagination and a desire to believe in extraterrestrial life. A man can change his mind, though, and after what happened to me last night, I know that UFOs exist.

Let me say first, though, that the definition of a UFO does not require belief in extraterrestrial visitors. The official meaning of the acronym UFO is Unidentified Flying Object. Many things that are unidentified are still of earthly origin. Often people who report seeing UFOs are in fact responding to the sight of weather balloons, man-made aircraft, or even natural phenomena. An airport’s radar may pick up UFOs from time to time—some are aircraft that have failed to identify themselves properly, others might be flocks of birds or similar natural objects moving through the air.

Much of the evidence I’ve heard to support the idea of extraterrestrial UFOs in Earth’s sky seems rather shaky, to tell the truth. I’ve heard people seriously propose that UFOs are often seen near military airbases because they are investigating human technology, especially that involving flight. To me it has always seemed more likely that those witnesses are seeing experimental craft, vehicles made here on Earth even if they are unlike most aircraft. The sheer number of reports of UFOs from generally reliable people has not shaken my doubt; reliable people can be sincerely wrong about their interpretation of what they have seen.

I have lived near airports much of my life, including small airports, large public airports, and USAF bases. I have observed aircraft appear to behave in startling ways, especially when I’m viewing them through the windshield of my car. An airplane might seem to have jumped from one location to another at an impossible speed, but the appearance of rapid movement is due to my having traveled along a curve in the road. Moreover, in spite of my many sightings of aircraft, most of them remained “unidentified” so far as my knowledge is concerned. I cannot tell the difference, for example, between a Cessna and a Piper, or between a DC-10 and a 787. I’m a little better at identifying birds. Minutes before I witnessed my first UFO, I saw a pair of ducks fly over the road. Although the sun was going down, I recognized their outline as ducks rather than geese or hawks or herons.

But shortly after I saw the ducks, I saw an amazing thing through my windshield. I supposed it could be described as “cigar-shaped,” if the cigar had been smoked to about half its length. I could not tell how big it was because I did not know how far away it was; likewise, I could not tell how far away it was because I did not know how big it was. It was hovering over the road, seen in silhouette in the deepening twilight. I stared at it for several minutes, and it remained hanging in the air, neither drawing closer or moving away from me.

Most vivid of all, though, were the lights on the UFO. As I say, I’ve seen standard aircraft, and I am familiar with the kinds of lights they use. These were entirely different. For one thing, these lights were in a vertical array, perfectly round, and in several different colors. They flashed on and off in what appeared to be a regular pattern. As I recall, the pattern began with yellow, followed by red and then green. And, most puzzling of all, whenever the lights changed to green, the cars behind me would begin honking their horns. J.