God is a concept, by which we measure our pain.
Whenever I’m about to impart a smart-assed observation (which is often), I tend to preface it with the disclaimer: “I’m already going to Hell anyway…” I’ve never really contemplated why it is that I feel compelled to say that. Is Hell merely a state of mind, or is it an actual travel destination? And if it is the latter, how do you get there? Spend your life committing unspeakable acts? Turn left at Greenland? Besides, don’t you first have to buy into the idea of “Heaven” to enable a “Hell” to co-exist? I have no religious affiliation to speak of, and I’m fairly convinced that any “afterlife” is, at best, a feast for the worms. However, while watching a new documentary called Hellbound? I found it particularly fascinating to learn that even amongst the “true believers”, there seems to be as many different interpretations of “Hell” as there are, oh I don’t know…denominations.
With the exception of the odd rabbi or token atheist, director Kevin Miller has assembled a bevy of (mostly) Christians to offer up their windy definitions. These are Christians of all stripes, from the sober and scholarly (theologians) to the frothing and unhinged (members of the Westboro Baptist Church). To tell you the truth, my eyes began to glaze over about halfway through this film, but from what I was able to discern, interviewees seemed fairly evenly divided between three concepts. There’s your Coke Classic, with Mother Teresa in the penthouse and Hitler in the basement (based on the assumption that evildoers will suffer “eternal torment” after they snuff it). “Annihilationists” believe that it’s their way…or the highway to you-know-where (how that’s different than “fundamentalism” is unclear to me). And lastly, there’s “universalism”, which is pretty much what it sounds like…all sentient beings end up in God’s good graces, no matter how they act (just another way of saying that the penalty for sin has an expiration date?). Once this trio of theories is established, the film becomes somewhat redundant; and it ultimately raises more questions than it answers. For example, how do Muslims define Hell, I wonder? Buddhists? Hindus? It might have made for a more interesting exercise, had Miller approached one or two of those folks to toss in their two cents worth. Then again, I’m no theologian, so what do I know? Besides, I’m already going to Hell anyway.
Wake in Fright: Dude, where’s my car?
There’s a great old Temptations song that goes “you make your own heaven and hell right here on earth.” That would have made a perfect tag line for a rarely seen, one-of-a-kind 1971 drama called Wake in Fright. Restored in 2009 for a successful revival in Australia and considered a great lost film from that country’s “new wave” of the early to mid-1970s, it was helmed by the eclectic Ted Kotcheff (Fun with Dick and Jane,
North Dallas Forty), and is currently playing in select cities. As someone who is a huge fan of Aussie cinema from that era (
Walkabout, The Last Wave, etc.) I’m ashamed to admit that this film was under my radar until I was offered a DVD press loaner a few weeks back (I don’t recall it showing on cable, and it’s never been available domestically on VHS or Region 1 DVD).
Here’s the film’s actual tag line: “Have a drink, mate? Have a fight, mate? Have some dust and sweat, mate? There’s nothing else out here.” That actually could work as a plot synopsis. Sort of a cross between Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and (speaking of the Australian new wave) Peter Weir’sThe Cars That Ate Paris, it’s a relatively simple tale about a burned-out teacher (Gary Bond) who works in a one-room schoolhouse somewhere in the Outback. Headed back to Sydney to visit his girlfriend over the school holiday, he takes the train to Bundanyabba (the nearest town with an airport) where he will need to lodge for one night. At least that’s his plan. “The Yabba” is one of those burgs where the clannish regulars at the local pub take an unhealthy interest in strangers, starting with the (too) friendly town cop (Chips Rafferty) who subtly bullies the teacher into getting completely blotto. This kick starts a “lost weekend” that lasts for five days.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the ensuing booze-soaked debaucheries have to be seen to be believed; particularly an unnerving and surreal sequence involving a drunken nocturnal kangaroo hunt that I can pretty much guarantee no film before or since matches for sheer audacity (a strange, lengthy disclaimer in the end credits may not assuage animal lovers’ worst fears, but at least acknowledges viewers’ potential sensitivities). That aside, this is a unique and compelling film; dripping with an atmosphere of dread and tempered by sharp, blackly comic dialog (Evan Jones adapted the script from Kenneth Cook’s novel). Splendid performances abound, especially from Donald Pleasance as a boozy MD. Oh, and one more thing. In all sincerity, I hope that no one is foolish enough to devise a drinking game based around the film, because somebody in the room will surely drop dead of alcohol poisoning long before credits roll.