The Autumn People and the Winter’s Tale

A WINTER’S TALE is among the best movies, if not the best I have ever seen. The critics panned it, no one went to see it, and it is already gone from the theaters.

What went wrong?

This was not some refined movie of elliptical artistic tastes requiring familiarity with obscure artistic tropes to understand. So it is not the obscurity that kept audiences away.

It has some fantastic elements, but not more so than IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN or THE BISHOP’S WIFE or HERE COMES MR JORDAN or GHOST or GHOSTBUSTERS or THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR. The fantastic elements are handled in an adroit way, perhaps more adroit than any other film I here list, with the exception of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. All these other movies are somewhat lighthearted compared to WINTER’S TALE, even if they are not exactly shallow. So it cannot be claimed that the fantasy elements are driving the audience away, not audiences that watched and gave awards to A BEAUTIFUL MIND or IRON MAN 3 or LABYRINTH.

The acting is top notch. The actors and actresses are well known and well-respected box-office draws, including luminaries like Russell Crowe or Jennifer Connelly or Will Smith (who agreed to do the film at a fraction of their normal pay out of friendship for the director, Akiva Goldsman, who helped them earlier in their careers) not to mention Eva Marie Saint. So it was not for reasons of bad acting that the film went unseen.

The plot was not labyrinthine nor overly complex, but it was not simplistic and predictable either.

If this had been an openly Christian film, like Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION, I would understand the mainstream media disliking it, because the mainstream media is the Voice of Sauron and long ago forgot their own names. But, no, the supernatural elements are about as generic as any Light-versus-Dark nondenominational backdrop as you can get. Lake explicitly asks if the forces of chaos and light are demons and angels, and the wise old clam digger advising him says mildly. “Angels and demons are some of the newer names.”

It is about what one might came across in a Disney film, for example, HUNCHBACK or PRINCESS AND THE FROG. The powers of darkness are explicitly said to be hellish, under the command of Lucifer, but the only clear reference to the powers of light is the Dog of the East. So it is not an overt Christianity that offended the reviewers.

It apparently confounded and exasperated some reviewers that Pegasus could be a spirit guide, as a well as a guardian angel, and a White Dog. I could fathom their hatred if these reviewers were simply muggles, people who could not grasp the idea that divine things can manifest under different masks, but that is not the case here. None of them seemed to be confused by the television show JOAN OF ARCADIA, about a girl who speaks to God, who appears in the form of a different person, young or old, white or black, male or female, every show. So it is not the magical realism that offended reviewers.

I have read one or two reviews that panned WINTERS TALE, and it is like reading something from another dimension, an antimatter universe were good is bad and the Crime Syndicate runs the Justice League. They make enough references to the film to convince me that the reviewer actually saw it, but all their judgments are so distorted that I cannot really believe the reviewer comes from the same continuum as we human beings do, as opposed to some non-Euclidean twilight zone visited only by the Mi-Go of planet Yuggoth.

The reviews are filled with a vitriol that is shocking and inexplicable, even among film reviewers, a profession which prides itself on its vitriol.

The mystery deepens. It is not a case that I am merely making a judgment the is different from the judgment of most other moviegoers, albeit, to be sure, that happens also.

This is not a case where, for example, I liked DARK CITY and most people liked THE MATRIX, and a difference in taste led to a difference of opinion. People who like one sort of thing generally are indifferent to things outside their range of taste, not offended, and certainly not deeply offended. This is not a case of De gustibus non disputandum est.  Reviewers are not ignoring the best movie of the last 75 years, not underwhelmed, not indifferent; they are calling it the worst.

The reviewers hated this movie with a capital H. It offended them. Deeply. But why? What the hell is going on?

One example will do: in the film, one theme, handled (no pun intended) brilliantly is that the light in the universe underpins and organizes all seemingly random events to a divine purpose, hence the light itself of moon and sun and star is like a living thing, like a divine thing. Hence, whenever a trick of the light catches someone’s eye in the film, it is a sign that something miraculous, a message from a higher power, is attempting to help or lead the character.

One reviewer complained — complained — about the amount of lens flare in this movie. It would be like going to see SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and complaining that there is a dude that flies.

How could someone not get this point that the light was guiding people? It was explained at least twice in the narrative. Even a reviewer who ignored the explanation should have been able to see that the glance of light was deliberate, a grace note of great subtlety and power. But the movie was not too subtle. The basic idea was established in the opening scene.

But no, another reviewer complained that the explanation was too obvious, the flares of light seen once or twice a lifetime were too unsubtle, that it was like being sledgehammered in the mouth. But the movie simply was not obvious, or, at least, I did not see any of the several plot twists coming.

Another reviewer was alert enough to liken it to the magical realism genre like CLOUD ATLAS, but said it was a failed attempt. Personally, I am not sure if I would put WINTERS TALE in the same category as HUGO or CHOCOLAT — not that these movies were bad. Far from it, I liked both of them. But they were fundamentally frivolous and shallow movies. They were not about faith and hope and love and loss, they were about self-esteem, which is not a topic any philosopher of any sobriety has ever bothered to discuss. Self-esteem is a pop-philosophy topic.

In any case, WINTERS TALE was much better than any of these movies, because it actually captured the magic that magical realism is trying to capture. And yet the realism of the movie eliminated any danger which haunts some fantasy movies: In any fantasy film, if one extraordinary or supernatural event is allowed to happen, the audience might expect extraordinary or supernatural events to save everyone in any danger, and there is a risk that they will be bored if the magic solves all problems, and confused if the magic does not.

In most fantasies, this done by establishing a simple rule at the outset: love’s first kiss will save the sleeping princess, or throwing the Dark Lord’s ring into the Mountain of Fire where it was forged will destroy him. The rule tells the audience what to expect, and says what the magic can and cannot do.

But in exceptional fantasies, the story attempts something much more daring: the story attempts to live by the unspoken rules that govern miracles, without pausing to explain to the audience what the rule is. It places great trust in the audience, and assumes we are aware enough of how real life works, real life with all its unexpected cruelty and unexpected wonder, to recognize an true depiction.

This movie was a true depiction. So the magic in the magical realism of WINTER’S TALE was handled just right, and the realism in the magical realism was also.

Even people who do not believe in literal supernatural miracles can tell of events in their lives or the lives of their loved ones that bear the ambrosial fragrance of an unexpected and strange and numinous wonder. We know about springtime and Christmas and weddings and babies, all of us, no matter what our personal beliefs. We all know about magic like that. Life’s Magic.

In this movie, the magic is Life’s Magic. The magic does not solve all problems, and so there are no false expectations to deceive the viewers.

But the magic does, in the end, make all the suffering something that the soul of man can endure, endure to the end, to the reward more wonderful than words can say, so that man becomes starlight.

That is the magic older that the beginning of time, the magic deeper than the deep magic, the magic from the Life beyond this Life.

Few movies capture the magic of life. No movie I have ever seen before captured the magic of the Life beyond this Life.

Why did this movie disappear, unwatched, unremarked? Why are all the reviews not merely one-star reviews, but filled with positive hatred and scorn? Why?

I am not the only one puzzled and astounded by the sheer mind-numbing hatred of the reviewers toward this film. Here, Akiva Goldsman, who made the movie, is interviewed by Glenn Beck.

I think the answer is in that interview. It agrees with the only conclusion to which I am forced, after seeing the other options closed off, is a sad one indeed.

WINTER’S TALE is shamelessly uncynical. It was a Hail Mary for Faith. It is a movie about finding meaning in life. It is a movie for those who, having suffered loss and sorrow more than they can carry, and wondering if life is worth living, if there is a pattern and a plan and a reason to carry on, need to hear a voice as quiet as starlight on the snow saying Yes.

But we no longer live in the era of Christian and conservative values. They believed in hard work, love and family and church and liberty. We no longer live in a time of Old Left and liberal values. They believed in economics and social justice and equality and helping the common man and reaching a new utopia of a scientifically managed totalitarianism. For a time, the New Age crowd was promising an Age of Aquarius, when peace and love would rule the planet. That song is silent now.

We live in the time of the New Left. They do not believe in economics, or in anything. They believe in anti-racism and pro-feminism and promoting sexual perversion. They believe in noise and distraction. They believe in the Occupy Wall Street commotion, which is all sound and fury and pooping on police cars, but otherwise has no agenda, no spokesman, no political goal and no purpose.

We live in a time of utter pointlessness. Go into a modern art museum and look at the trash on the walls. Bomb the museum. Go back through the wreckage and see if you or anyone can see any change.

We are the first period in history to have no belief whatsoever about the nature of the universe and the meaning of life.

Or, rather, we are the first period to hold as our official public doctrine, as confirmed by the Supreme Court (“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s concept of existence, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” — Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992)) that each man finds whatever meaning he wishes to find in life, that existence is defined by one’s own snowflake-precious self. Logically, if meaning is whatever each man has the liberty to invent for himself, then life has no innate meaning. We are the first period to hold that life is meaningless.

For reasons that do not bear much close inquiry, but having mostly to do with cowardice and love of unreason, the zealots of this doctrine cannot tolerate any countervailing doctrine. Bruce Carlton in his new book ADDICTED TO DISTRACTION defines this zealous doctrine as “Opinionated Relativism” that is, it is the idea that truth is fluid and changeable and ever-evolving, but, paradoxically, to disagree with whatever the mass media says is truth at this particular moment in mid-evolution is to be met with the savage hatred of the Grand Inquisitor toward the heretic.

Upon reflection, we can see that the promise of Relativism is false. Relativism promises us that if we all agree that each man has his own private truth and keeps it in his own private back yard, that we call all live as neighbors. Therefore in the name of peace and amiable personal relations we should all dismiss the idea of objective truth.

In reality all that happens once we all dismiss the idea of objective truth is that the New Left browbeats (or, in some cases, physically beats) any dissenting opinions from the mass hallucination of the manufactured consensus into silence. Just ask Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard about how far the believers in subjective and relative truth are actually willing to leave you alone in your subjective and relative opinion about, for example, the number of women studying mathematics.

This was a movie about life’s magic and life’s meaning. The reviewers, and, yes, the majority of the American public whose opinions they both represent and help to form, are not merely unmoved by the idea that life has meaning and death has hope of a life beyond this one, they are filled with disgust and rage and hate.

They live to crush dreams. Ray Bradbury described them once in SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, a film which could have taken place in the same universe as WINTER’S TALE, come to think of it:

“For these beings, fall is ever the normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth….Such are the Autumn People.”