Let’s start tonight with a disclaimer: this post will be about Biblical interpretation, so those who read my blog for comments about books or movies might want to skip it.
In my good friend Rachel Held Evans’ blog, she does Sunday Superlatives every week, and this one from Richard Beck of “Experimental Theology” interested me. He writes,
The problem at the heart of Protestantism is that the bible is unable to produce consensus. This isn’t a theological claim. This is an empirical fact.
Sola scriptura produces pluralism. The “bible alone” creates doctrinal diversity. Biblical literalism proliferates churches.
And five-hundred years of Protestantism is Exhibit A.
The only way to get a single, unified church, as the Catholics will tell you, isn’t the bible. What you need, rather, is a magisterium, a teaching authority that says, for everyone, “this is what the bible says.”
And that’s why there is one Catholic church and tens, thousands or tens-of-thousands of Protestant churches (depending upon how you count them).
Back to me: I grew up in the Roman Catholic church, so I know a thing or two about authority. I’m currently allied with the Episcopal Church, which doesn’t have a magisterium or a Pope (the Archbishop of Canterbury being more the guy who chairs the meeting than the guy who makes the rules or appoints cardinals — the Episcopal Church has no cardinals, though we do have bishops).
As I’ve said to people dozens (hundreds?) of times, many of them my students in literature classes, the written word doesn’t interpret itself. The long Jewish\rabbinical tradition of midrash illustrates the ongoing controversy about what this or that place in the Scripture might actually be saying and what it might mean. Same with poems, short stories, and plays.
On to the more-recent past. In a church I used to go to, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in High Springs, Florida, we experienced a schism in around 2004-2005 in regard to the New Hampshire church elevating Gene Robinson, a gay priest, to the position of bishop. I always thought that the situation was pretty much New Hampshire’s business, but my pastor thought that what they’d done violated “the clear meaning of Scripture.” When she said that, I laughed so hard to I nearly passed the sandwich I was eating through my nose — the goal of class clowns everywhere. My point is, Scripture’s meaning is anything but clear, and both is and has to be the subject of interpretation, argument, disagreement, dispute. That’s just the way it is, with literature, Scripture, any interpretation of the written or spoken word — including letters, emails, conversation, bumper stickers, billboards, and blogs (to name just a few).
The show is called Penny Dreadful, and the name implies that it should be lurid and trashy — “penny dreadfuls” were the little booklets sold on the streets in Victorian England, costing a penny and containing lurid stories of monsters, vampires, adventurers, prostitutes, werewolves, etc.
Or I could just say, EvaGreenisinitiEvaGreenisinitEvaGreenEvaGreen, the actress about whom film director Bernardo Bertolucci (who directed her in The Dreamers), said “she’s so beautiful it’s obscene.” Don’t see what’s obscene about it, but she is, indeed, beautiful — enough to be a Bond girl in Casino Royale and a very good witch named Serefina Pekkala
in The Golden Compass.
Green plays Vanessa Ives, who with explorer\adventurer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton, who played James Bond twice, in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill) and adventurer Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), fights all sorts of supernatural beings in Victorian London.
I Netflixed a DVD with the first 3 episodes, and was introduced to characters & setting. The second episode brings in both Dorian Gray and Victor Frankenstein — he’s talking to Murray about the only goal of science being to distinguish between life and death, solve its mystery; later in the episode, having manufactured and re-animated The Creature, he introduces himself to his creation, “My name is Victor Frankenstein.” As said Creature, whom Victor names Proteus, there’s a very nice turn by Rory Kinnear, who must be Roy Kinnear’s son (judging by the resemblance), though he has not Internet Movie Database bio to confirm that.
The third episode, “Resurrection,” gives us rather interesting backstory on Victor Frankenstein. He’s a 10-year-old boy, being put to bed by his mother. As they’re talking, a dribble of blood comes out of her mouth, and then she coughs blood all over herself and him. She’s consumptive, the situation quickly gets worse, and there’s a funeral. Victor plunges into the obsession with re-animating dead flesh that will consume the rest of his life.
So, an awareness of Benedict Cumberbatch was gradually dawning on me. I’d not seen him in anything, but the new iteration (or “rebooot,” if you must) of Sherlock Holmes was all over the Internet, with praise for his performance. And soon it turned out that a lot of the women I know uttered long libidinous sighs when speaking of him — which puzzled me, since I saw the pictures in the newspaper and on the Web, and found him perhaps a little plain, a little odd-looking.
Then the Alan Turning movie came out, The Imitation Game (Turing’s title for the article that introduced what we now call the Turing Test, a test to see if someone has made a computer that most people would think was a person). I’ve long been fascinated with Turing, who not only broke the Enigma Code, by which the Nazis sent coded message during WWII, but was instrumental in creating the modern computer. And he was a major social loser, a first-class weirdo (a genius mathematician); I’m quite the computer geek myself, so interest in Turing’s life was a done deal. And, perhaps most significantly, Turing was gay at a time when homosexuality in England was a crime, and he was harassed and oppressed for that.
The Imitation Game is excellent, and Cumberbatch is beyond great– he gets inside Turing in ways that are hard to believe. So the guy is a genius with math, with codes, with highbrow intellectual stuff, but he can barely understand how humans interact. His colleague Joan Clarke, played in the movie by Keira Knightley, takes the opportunity to explain flirting to him in a pub — her friend is flirting with Hugh, one of Turing’s Enigma Project associates, and poor Alan has no idea what’s happening, no idea how body language and facial expressions are a part of human communication, at least as important as (maybe more so) than words. She explains to Alan how you make other people like you, and he wonders why someone would do that — “I’m a woman in a man’s field,” she explains, ‘So I have to.”
Intrigued, I Netflixed a Sherlock Holmes DVD, and I very much like the episodes I saw. This version is not a period piece from Victorian London, but instead takes place in the 21st Century. Holmes uses both cell phone and computer, has John Watson as his friend\associate, and both helps Inspector Lestrade and has a rivalry with his brother Mycroft Holmes (just as in the original Holmes stories, so the big twist is re-setting the story in the present).
Holmes is as arrogant and dismissive as he’s always been, through the b\w Basil Rathbone films and all the other versions, but he’s arrogant and dismissive in interesting ways. Watson, whom he always calls “John,” accuses of him of not caring at all about the people he’s working for, helping– Holmes asks, “If I cared for them, would it help them?” John wants to know if he actually can help them if he doesn’t care about them; the answer is a quick “Yes.”
As you can see from the picture to the left, Cumberbatch is quite stylish as Holmes and has great hair. He’s quite the thing onscreen, an actor that I pretty much can’t take my eyes off. And as Holmes, he has much better hair than as Turing.
Martin Freeman, he of many screen and TV credits, including playing Bilbo in the recent Hobbit movies, is also quite good as Dr. Watson.
I might even go see The Imitation Game again. It’s stuck with me all week, and I’ve taken every opportunity to talk about it with friends. G.W. and I had a nice conversation about Turing tonight — he’s very knowledgeable about him.
And it’s such a tragic story; Turing was a war hero, to whom England owed rewards and gratitude. Instead, he’s convicted for homosexuality and given a choice between “chemical castration” and two years in prison. He chooses the castration, and it leads to very bad results (which I won’t spoil for you her — go see the movie).