Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Classic 1970 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Documentary

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

Before you view the new film, Selma, make sure you view the recently-restored classic 1970 documentary, King: A Filmed Record. . . Montgomery to Memphis.

Here is more background on this historic film, preserved by the Library of Congress.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Film: Honor Diaries

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

The film Honor Diaries, which documents the accounts of seven women who have suffered some form of honor violence — beatings, genital mutilation, child marriage, etc. — is making news since critics, accusing the film of Islamophobia, have managed to have showings of the film banned at a small number of universities.

I have not seen the film, only the trailer.

Honor Diaries is available on iTunes here.

I may comment further after I have a chance to view the film.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Watch the Film Katyn

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

The 2007 Polish film Katyn, directed by Andrzej Wajda, which chronicles the 1940 Soviet massacre of about 22,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia at three different locations, is now available on Youtube with English subtitles. I highly recommend the viewing of this sombre and telling film. The end of the film is one of utmost violence, so I forewarn the sensitive.

In 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev and a number of authorities admitted that Stalin and the Soviet leadership were responsible for ordering the Katyn massacre, after 50 years of Soviet lies, suppression, exile, and execution of the relatives of the victims and of those who brought the truth forward.

During World War II, both Churchill and FDR and their administrations hid the truth about Katyn in order to keep the alliance with Stalin. Generations were compromised by the lies of Katyn.

The story of Katyn reveals the truth about history, politics, and of the amazing Polish people, to whom civilization owes a debt.

How anyone could remain a Marxist-Leninist communist after Katyn proves St. Thomas Aquinas’ theory of invincible ignorance.

More can be learned about the film Katyn here.

Here is an update on Katyn documentation from RT News.

If you are not afraid of the painful truth, watch this film.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Did God Finally Get a Thumbs Up from Roger Ebert? Or Is It the Other Way Around?

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Of the many fine essays that the late Roger Ebert wrote, three have interested me in particular.

The first was his 2013 post How I am a Roman Catholic, written only about a month prior to his death. The second was his 2009 post How I Believe in God. The third was his 2009 extended essay My Name is Roger and I’m an Alcoholic.

In all of these essays, Mr. Ebert refused to commit to belief in God, but he also refused to finalize his view. He as well rejected the label of atheist or agnostic. Despite Mr. Ebert’s lack of belief in God, he stated firmly instead that he was Catholic.

On several occasions, Mr. Ebert would mention how much he learned from his grade school nuns about trying to believe, and about asking God for help to do so. His recollections reminded me of the particularly striking statement by my seventh grade teacher, Sister M. Danile, OSF, then a Rochester Franciscan, who quoted Revelation 3:16 (not John 3:16) to us:

Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Revelation 3:16, New American Bible, USCCB website, accessed 4/5/13

Sr. Danile, who had tough love totally down, was also perhaps, retrospectively, among the most contemplative and deeply loving of my grade school teachers at St. Priscilla School in Chicago. [I have earlier written about my music teacher, Sr. Catherine Cecile Dwerlkotte].

By these words I mean, having been a teacher myself, that I have reflected on Sr. Danile’s pedagogy many a time over the past decades, and have concluded that Sr. Danile could only have said the tough and yet humorous things she said to us–and she said them by design–because she loved us students very deeply and completely and had obviously thought and prayed about what she taught us. I am sure that she spiritually struggled for us. I remember her as a living Beatitude: as pure of heart. Often I pray for her, in thankfulness for her witness.

So one day Sr. Danile made a special point of letting us know that we were put on earth to decide about God, and to commit one way or another. We could not be lukewarm, because Jesus Himself, as meek and gentle as He could be, would spit us out.

What a hard saying! But Sr. Danile specialized in delivering the hard sayings.

Perhaps Roger Ebert did not have the benefit of a Sr. Danile. While on a day to day basis Mr. Ebert did not fail to quickly give movies either a thumbs up or down, until quite near his own end he appeared to keep giving God a thumbs sideways.

Mr. Ebert surprised many by his March, 2013 blog which upheld the rights of a child conceived in rape. This conclusion followed his deep sense of fairness.

His reviews (e.g., Of Gods and Men, For Greater Glory) indicated that he saw Christian martyrdom as a waste. There was something about the sacrificial in Catholicism that challenged him deeply.

Roger Ebert shared very honestly (and simply) that he didn’t believe in God. He tried. He looked up at the stars, and wondered. But he couldn’t commit, at least as of March, 2013.

Mr. Ebert tried to come to terms with God. We should pray for him, and none but God can judge him. All of us depend on God’s mercy.

Like some contemporary Christians, Mr. Ebert apparently had little use for Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, or, more correctly, he only felt an affinity for Blessed John XXIII. In those places where Mr. Ebert very publicly rejected Catholic teaching, and there were several, I do differ with him.

But I have a theory that Roger Ebert didn’t want to give God a thumbs up until he had lived through the whole movie. Like St. Thomas the Apostle, another very visual man, Mr. Ebert may have had to see it all for himself first. This is in keeping with the famous line of St. Paul in I Corinthians 13:12

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

I Corinthians 13:12, New American Bible, USCCB website, accessed 4/5/13

St. Thomas Aquinas posited that we have a natural desire for the Beatific Vision, a desire to see God, called by Aquinas the desire for aliqua contemplatio divinorum. [Please see a related in-depth reflection on this natural desire by the Epistole blog here.] Roger Ebert seemed to have this desire. He stated that often he loved the questions.

But Roger Ebert’s statements also came dangerously close to the parodies of diffident believers in C.S. Lewis’s masterful short fantasy, The Great Divorce, each of whom condemned themselves for eternity. Several of Lewis’s parodied spirits thought the decision about God was all about them, and not about them asking God instead to reach out to help them.

Another way of putting C.S. Lewis’s point in The Great Divorce is that we are called to accept that God is our judge, and that we are not God’s judge: more directly, to accept that God is God, and that we are not.

None of us, except his dear family and loved ones, are privy to the final weeks and days of Roger Ebert. None of us will know, unless revealed to us by God, what goes on in another’s soul in the final hour of death. One very nice thing about gradual death is that as our strength goes, so often we come closer to the point of surrender to the Divine. I’ve read that Mr. Ebert’s last gesture was a smile. This seems to be a very consoling sign.

But it also would be just like Roger Ebert to have the surprise, thriller ending. I hope he didn’t cut it too close. I hope that the Devil was not in the side view mirror, for as we all know, objects there are actually closer than they appear.

Sr. Danile taught me years ago that it is God, and not us, who gives the final thumbs up. The very next year, Sr. M. Martin, OSF, exhorted us not to be a “doubting Thomas.” Easier said than done! Lord, help my unbelief. . .

Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

John 20:29, New American Bible, USCCB website, access 4/5/13

Some think there is no place in the Roman Catholic Church for those who, like Mr. Ebert, accept the Church in general, but openly do not accept God, or do not accept his or that Church teaching. But we might reflect that the Church is called Holy Mother Church for a reason: this Mother, wed to Christ, holds her arms ever open offering life, love, and salvation.

We, however, must ultimately–and thus for eternity–decide whether to accept the love of the Church and the love of God.

May Roger Ebert’s soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Illusions of the Family: the Street Gang and the Marauding Clan

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Contrary to popular cultural debates, the greatest threat to the traditional family is not the child-raising same-sex household, which forms an infinitesimal, teeny, tiny sliver of a 1% segment of USA and world households, but the street gang, which claims tens of thousands of members in each major developed city.

There are more gang members in some individual major US urban regions than there are same-sex parents in the entire USA.

The claim that a street gang is a family is what I call The Gang Illusion.

In free societies, the Gang Illusion is arguably the greatest everyday danger to not only “The Family” as a concept or institution, but to the health, safety, and welfare of the greatest number of individuals and actual families.

The Big Lie of the Gang Illusion is that the gang is a family. This lie is fundamental to the coherence of the gang, which in other respects usually progresses from origins in mutual defense to a drug-selling, extortion, war-making, and/or vice enterprise.

Mutual aid, mutual defense, lifetime commitment, loyalty, intimate knowledge, and kinship are cited by gangs to appeal to similarity with a family. These appeals are especially persuasive to those whose real families are broken, or who have no family, or who are intimidated by fear of the gang into joining it.

Those who have no loving home are falsely drawn by the promised support of the “homies,” but many who do have loving homes also migrate to gangs for reasons including fear, identity, personal loyalty, adrenaline thrills, and ambition.

Having a father and a mother does not in itself guarantee a religious, Christian, or Catholic family, nor does simple adherence to religious ritual. The mythical Corleone family of The Godfather fame also had a paterfamilias and a materfamilias to an extended family. The Sacraments of the Catholic Church were ruthlessly appropriated into the Corleone gang rubric in a particularly blasphemous way, depicted in the famous scene where the baby was baptized with continual cutaways to assassination.

The mythical Corleones and the real gang-bangers of today, while perhaps meeting the Wikipedia definition of “consanguinity, affinity, or co-residence” do not represent true families as understood
by Catholic teaching
.

Nor should street gangs be represented as families under the law. But as long as developed societies continue to expand in law the definition of family beyond the natural law definition that begins with man-woman-child as the family’s foundation, not only will polygamous relationships gain family status, but also will street gang and other clan-like social structures gain, if not increased legal status, greatly increased social power.

By driving natural man-woman-child families from the legal marketplace, we will merely further empower the unregulated off-market violent gang and marauding clan. (I include the marauding clan in this analysis to link the analysis to developing societies).

Displacing the natural man-woman-child family is not effective, enduring, or stable social change, but merely another extension of the temporary Gresham’s Law phenomenon into the social structure, with violent gangs and clans filling the void.

Avant-garde legalists never cease to follow the 18th century French thinker Rousseau:

“He who dares to undertake the making of people’s laws ought to feel himself capable of changing human nature.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses, NY, Dutton, 1973, pg. 194

Such hubris in reshaping and expanding the definition of the family by law will have an inevitable effect, not in the multiplication of same-sex parenting households, which are limited by the relatively small number of same-sex couples in society, but in the strengthening of violent clan-like structures like the street gang, which can grow exponentially as other more fundamental social structures decline.

The weakening of the natural man-woman-child family is a social problem primarily because it strengthens the street gang. We already have ample social evidence of this, and have not yet learned the lesson.

Perhaps we have been so entertained and distracted by false apocalypses on television and film, zombie and otherwise, that we do not see the true extent of human suffering caused by the violent gang or marauding clan which is ever around us.

The Rousseau-inspired social and legal engineers will continue to tinker away and redefine the family as they might. These elite social and legal engineers will never admit to their mistake, and will instead characteristically call for more and more radical measures along the same line, since for them “It is all about” their god-like powers to shape others. They will think that gangs grow solely because of lack of jobs and housing policy mishaps, and not family-saving policy disasters.

As this elite grows more and more radical, their numbers will shrink out of sheer public common sense, embarrassment, and other more pressing interests. This process may take the greater part of a century.

But in a sense, the actions of these elite social and legal engineers are irrelevant to the actual present human predicament: For millions worldwide, whether in the Americas, in Asia, in Europe, or in Africa, the family has been redefined as a some form of violent street gang or marauding clan.

In the end, as it was in the beginning, it will be up to pious non-violent religious believers to rebuild the natural man-woman-child family. To do this they will have to leap away from the tangle of every rejected revolutionary ideal since Rousseau and his forebears that has stumbled to its feet in a moaning, static chorus from across the Internet.

(Ideas do matter. And the Internet has exploded the ideas of past centuries across present humanity like clustered shrapnel.)

Those who attempt to change human nature, in this case the natural man-woman-child family, will in the end only unveil another manifestation of human nature, the violent and marauding gang or clan.

Those who wish to subdue the non-violent natural family will continue to unleash the Wolf in humanity, the homo homini lupus. So history is about to repeat itself again: Elite social and legal engineers are about to make Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents once again relevant. I’m just about to dust my copy off.

While our governments shift massive political capital to redefine the family, they generally ignore the street gang and the marauding clan which are problems world-wide for portions of the population much, much larger than the infinitesimal, teeny, tiny sliver of 1% of the population for which they are willing to expend political capital.

Perhaps our governments have realized that the much larger problem of street gangs and marauding clans are beyond their reach, and they must politically survive by pleasing coalitions of tinier and tinier constituencies.

So I suggest that natural man-woman-child families and their friends turn off the fake apocalypse shows and movies and watch the real violence on the news, and reflect on the origins of this violence.

Then, with some of the extra time gained, begin reading Blessed John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio.

I return again to Matthew 19:4-6:

He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

The Divinely-blessed human union above, the natural man-woman-child family, is the foundation of a non-violent and complementary human society. To the extent that we try to re-invent and replace this family in law and society, we will only in the end further propagate the violent gang and the marauding clan.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Implications of the Weapons from The Day the Earth Stood Still

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Reports over the past years have tracked the progress of non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons, which can disable most electronic components within a given area, reminiscent of the classic 1951 science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Here’s a recent update on the development of one such EMP weapon.

Such weapons have both offensive and defensive capabilities. A city hit by such a weapon would immediately be cast into the 1940s pre-transistor age, but without having access to the analogue technology of the 1940s. Not only would communications and vehicles not work, but neither would hospital equipment, furnaces and refrigerators built with modern digital components, nor would the utilities supplying electricity, nor would in some cases water and natural gas utilities function properly. The maintenance of human subsistence in such areas would decline rapidly. Supply chains of food and medicine would dry up. Police and public safety officers would not be able to communicate with one another, and the web of human care which has been so advanced by electronic technology would revert to verbal, paper, and the most basic forms of communications. Google and Facebook and cell phones would be worthless, transactions would revert to cash and barter, and it may be difficult after such an attack for a city to even effectively signal its own surrender.

I can imagine a scenario in which a nation constantly besieged by terror attacks would keep a permanent EMP zone around itself, to prevent coordination of terror attacks or the use of any but the most basic weapons against itself. I can also imagine a more strategic scenario in which an entire country could be kept in a permanent 1940s state by repeated EMP attacks, and be forced to remain totally dependent on other countries for technology and goods and services. The use of such EMP weapons will change warfare forever.

Preparations for civil defense against such weapons are just about non-existent. I remember what life was like without our present technology, and as a person who studies planning and systems, I shudder to imagine what society would become if the use of such weapons against cities became widespread.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Apoplectic Over the Film October Baby

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

The film October Baby, opening in hundreds of theaters the weekend of 3/24-3/25/12, has drawn both rave and rabidly hostile reviews, depending on which side of the abortion-is-murder / or-not fence once stands, because it is the story of an abortion survivor seeking to learn the truth about her life.

If one doubts there is such a person as an abortion survivor, please visit any of the talks given by abortion survivor Gianna Jessen–

Please also see the LifeSiteNews Article clearly establishing Barack Obama’s record against born alive abortion survivor protection legislation in Illinois, as well as the legislative history of his actions from the National Right to Life Committee.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Simone Weil’s 103rd Birthday and a Coming Theatrical Film Premiere

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Julia Haslett, producer of the award-winning film, An Encounter with Simone Weil, which I reviewed at length in July, 2011, has written to let S&SJ’s readers know that she’s celebrating Simone Weil‘s 103rd birthday on February 3, 2012 by kicking off promotions and fundraising for her film’s March 23, 2012 theatrical premiere at New York City’s Quad Cinema. Here’s the trailer for the film, An Encounter with Simone Weil.

Julia Haslett writes of Simone Weil:

“In a time of such political and religious polarization, she’s *one of those rare public figures who appeals to people from all ends of the political spectrum, a diversity of religious faiths, and a wide range of nationalities.*

Agreed!

Silvie Weil's photo album of her aunt Simone; used with permission

For several of S&SJ’s posts on Simone Weil, click here.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The Bells of Nagasaki, by the Saint of the Urakami

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

The time of 11:02 AM is of universal significance, for that morning hour on August 9, 1945 marked the solar scorch of plutonium fission churning high to toxic ash the Urakami Cathedral district of the Japanese city of Nagasaki.

Incinerated, irradiated, crushed, and swept away below were tens of thousands, and in those frantic following minutes, Dr. Takashi Nagai (1908-1951), Nagasaki University medical school radiology head–himself a nuclear physicist–gasped to pry himself from the death and debris that pinned him into a likely grave.

Like the passage in Matthew 24:40-41–

Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.

–those blessed to hit the ground at the right instant endured, while those who somehow shielded the pupils of their eyes preserved sight.

Dr. Nagai and his few surviving nurse and physician colleagues worked themselves past stumbling exhaustion in the blurred weeks of triage and death that followed. Some who seemed to have escaped unscathed instead sickened and died in the ensuing months from the short, merciless gamma waves that penetrated their internal organs in the first milliseconds past 11:02 AM.

Survivors witnessed ghastly epiphanies: heads separated from bodies forming a wide ring around the zero ground; an expectant mother split open with her roasted baby a few feet away, still linked by intact umbilical membrane; Nagai’s lovely wife Midori–a descendent of Catholic martyrs–rendered into charred bone; a delusional mother packing her headless child in her arms, walking to nowhere.

The Fat Man plutonium bomb, according to Dr. Nagai, had missed military targets and torched instead the Catholic St. Mary’s cathedral in Nagasaki, a home to Japan’s historic Catholic martyrs. Nagai placed great significance in this, for he as a Catholic convert saw the suffering of the innocent in the place of the military as sacrificial, an offering for eternal peace and life, instead of senseless death marked by retribution. In the compressed weeks that followed Nagasaki’s holocaust, Nagai emerged from a hard chrysalis of wartime determination to enlightened Christian generosity. He later wrote a technical report on atomic rescue and relief. His young son and daughter somehow survived, and tended to him as he–more and more bare and bound to a sick bed–wrote books, framed poems, and composed calligraphic art until he could do nothing more than pray. His sight ranged from science, to philosophy, to poetry, to prayer.

One of Dr. Nagai’s books in particular, The Bells of Nagasaki, passed US military censors to become a best-seller and film in Japan. Dr. Nagai endured in his hut, a place of pilgrimage for even the Japanese Emperor, until he was removed to die at his beloved medical school in 1951, where he had hoped even his carcass would provide insight into the prevention of suffering for others.

Major Oak Entertainment is producing and fundraising for a film following Dr. Nagai’s story, called All that Remains.

For more on the life of Servant of God Dr. Paul Takashi Nagai, please see the book A Song for Nagasaki by Fr. Paul Glynn, SM, and the related posts at the Why I Am Catholic Blog. I especially recommend Dr. Nagai’s Funeral Speech for the Victims of the Atomic Bomb, and also the separate film about Japanese Catholicism, Hill of Redemption.

I pray that nuclear terror may never claim another city.

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Simone Weil’s Incandescent Life

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Some saints or heroes are known to us like family, with everyday foibles and failed humanity. St. Peter, the cowardly lion of the Twelve, so blustering yet in the end so true as Cephas, the Rock, is one of these.

Other saints or heroes are indeed the Other, the perpetual unknown, calling to us from a mysterious, holy, and separate place. Simone Weil, 1909-1943, for decades and until recently appeared to many of her readers as one of these Others. Weil continues to inspire, to enrage, and to challenge.

A thinker of amazing clarity, an activist of rare integrity, and among the purest of hearts who nevertheless infuriates to this day, the twentieth-century philosopher, activist, and mystic Simone Weil grows in reputation as hundreds of books and articles multiply considering her legacy.

Now independent film artist Julia Haslett has written, produced, and directed one of the first English-language films on Weil, the documentary An Encounter with Simone Weil, premiered in 2010 and released in 2011 by Line Street Productions.

An Encounter with Simone Weil poster, with permission

Julia Haslett has just introduced Simone Weil to a new generation, a generation, like Haslett, who want “not to be an accomplice, not to lie, not to remain blind.”

Haslett’s passionate pursuit of Simone Weil parallels that of many other single-minded searchers for truth, authenticity, and justice to whom Simone Weil speaks so directly.

Weil, a brilliant, first-time teacher in a French town in 1931, found herself drawn to be the champion of the homeless and unemployed who labored at a public works project breaking stones close to her school. Weil anticipated, and in a way invented decades early, the lifestyle of the committed young activist-thinker of recent years, who might work as an educator for a time, or as an organizer, or as a writer. Weil attempted all of these simultaneously.

But Weil was more than this. She is now recognized, after the work of Peter Winch and others, as one of the most significant philosophers of the Twentieth Century, called by Albert Camus “the only great spirit of our time.”

While many on the Left are catalyzed by Weil, so are many on the Right as well. Raymond Aron, whose wife attended school with Weil, said of her–

“The message of Simone Weil is not a left-wing message, it is a non-conformist message, reminding us of truths which we were no longer accustomed to hear.”

Aron, Raymond. 2001. The opium of the intellectuals. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, pg. 50.

Simone Weil wrote with power. Her words can cast her audience into autobiographic reverie, and transform mere readers into, a least for a while, her devotees. These can recount, like the narratives of “What I was doing when Kennedy was shot,” or “Where I was when the 9-11 attacks took place,” their own circumstances when they first read Simone Weil and began to search libraries and archives for more and more obscure portions of her legacy and life.

Few match Simone Weil’s writing for brilliance, for clarity, and for pearl after pearl of insight. Even when she is terribly wrong–and she could be impetuously and stubbornly so–Simone Weil still somehow inspires. Scholars have, decades after her death, assembled multiplying volumes of Weil’s finely spun gold laced with wool that will animate and perplex poets, philosophers, and searchers for centuries. Academics already speak and write about “Weil Studies,” while bards, playwrights, and composers have generated art in her name.

Julia Haslett’s cinematic quest for Simone Weil is among the more visually compact treatments of Weil in any medium. Haslett, following Weil’s inspiration, does not separate ideas from people and situations, but directs her attention–a commitment so important to Weil–to the personal and concrete living predicament.

Haslett’s “Encounter” begins by introducing herself and her mission of universal attention to human suffering, by proposing as the first spoken words of her film, “What response does seeing human suffering demand of us?”

In order to answer that question, Haslett sought out Simone Weil, first by seeking memories of her, starting with the New York City apartment building in which Weil and her parents stayed in 1942. Haslett tracked down photos of Weil and of her life, film footage of contemporary events, and visited many locations associated with Weil.

Haslett also located those who had some kind of contact with Weil. She interviewed Jeanne Duchamp, a surviving student of the young teacher Weil from the early 1930s; Florence de Lussy, an editor of Weil’s complete works; Weil’s niece Sylvie Weil; Weil’s cousin Raymonde Weil (Nathan); Madame Thibaud, a witness of the small group of friends who hosted Weil in southern France in the early 1940s; and Fr. Jobert of Solesmes Abbey, where Weil had one of her mystical episodes. Along with de Lussy, peace activist and educator Anna Brown of the Social Justice program at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, and also noted literary-cultural theorist-critic Sylvere Lotringer provide their comments and reflections.

Sylvie Weil and Her Photo Album, posted with permission

Haslett’s Weil is Weil as the inviolate lonely truth-seeker activist, whose integrity separated her, in the end, both from established politics and conventional religion. While Haslett stated that Weil distrusted organizations of any kind, it is also true that Weil joined a teacher’s union and was very active in union matters during her first teaching assignment at Le Puy-en-Velay.

Haslett follows the accepted phases of Weil’s development (childhood through university education, 1909-1931, teaching and labor-political activism, 1931-1937, and religious exploration, migraines, and final writing frenzy, 1935-1943).

Haslett directs us to Weil’s student Jeanne Duchamp, who as a high-school student learned from Weil, when faced with a choice among several options, “Always do what will cost you the most.”

Haslett tells us that at six years old Weil gave up sugar in solidarity with French soldiers at the WWI front, at ten sneaked away from home to attend a labor union demonstration, and at twenty-five quit her teaching job to work at a factory.

Weil, as she has done with many others, also appears to have cast Haslett into her own self-examining narration. Haslett began her quest when after her own father’s death, and her subsequent call to witness to human suffering, she read Weil’s words, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

Throughout Julia Haslett’s film we learn not only of Weil but of Haslett’s commitment to attending to human suffering, and of Haslett’s own attention for her brother Timothy and his tragic struggle with depression. Haslett takes upon herself a particular burden of attentiveness: “If I don’t pay attention, someone might die.”

Unlike many biographies of Weil, Haslett’s film does not dwell on Weil’s relationship with her own older brother Andre, one of the Twentieth Century’s greatest mathematicians, nor significantly with Weil’s strenuous rejection of much of her own Jewish heritage.

Weil had a tendency, as de Lussy noted, to “rush to the goal she had set for herself,” to perpetually forge ahead. I call it, “diving in.” Weil once convinced Leon Trotsky, his wife, and his bodyguards to stay as guests in the Weil’s Paris apartment, and then proceeded to argue with Trotsky. (Haslett does not mention that Madame Sedov (Mrs. Trotsky) reportedly heard the ruckus from another room and said of Weil, “This child is holding her own with Trotsky!”)

Florence de Lussy spoke of Weil’s “union between the most demanding intellect and the heart.” According to de Lussy, readers of Weil “do not come away unscathed.”

Haslett prominently displays Weil’s dictum, “Truth is too dangerous to touch, it is an explosive.” (Catholic Workers will recall here Peter Maurin’s “Easy Essay” about the dynamite of the Church.)

Haslett imaged Weil’s pilgrimage from child and student (1909-1931); to teacher (1931); to visitor to Germany during Hitler’s rise (1932); to factory worker and labor activist (1934); to mystical experiences (1935-8); to Republican soldier in Spain (1936) and visitor to Assisi (1937); to renunciation of pacifism after Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia (1939); to flight from conquered Paris to southern France (1940); to work on the grape harvest and daily recitation of the Greek Lord’s Prayer with absolute attention (1941); to retreat to New York City with parents (1942); to passage to England to work on behalf of Free French government in exile (1942); and to death in Kent, UK (1943).

At several of these milestones, Haslett featured a Weil aphorism, such as, “It is not religion, but revolution, that is the opium of the people.”

While the heretofore pacifist Weil volunteered and briefly carried a rifle with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, she balked at the near execution of a priest and the summary execution of others by the anarchists. Shortly thereafter, the ever-clumsy, near-sighted Weil stepped into a scalding pot, and had to be removed from the front. The badly injured Weil then found her way to Assisi, where she experienced a transcendent, Godly presence.

Haslett highlights Weil’s reflection on how factory work makes things of workers, and bridges to Weil’s quote, “Christianity is preeminently the religion of slaves. Slaves cannot help belonging to it. And I, among others.”

Julia Haslett and Soraya Broukhim, posted with permission

Frustrated at a point in her search for Weil, Haslett hired bilingual actress Soraya Broukhim to live and research the part of Simone Weil, and to speak as Weil to Haslett.

(Warning: film spoilers. Stop reading here if you prefer to see the film first.)

One scene toward the end of the film depicts Haslett and Broukhim as the Weil avatar sitting on the floor and moving the Weil pictures in an alternating montage, in a way evocative of Weil’s own characteristic kneeling in concentration over a book or set of notes.

Among other important themes of Weil are suffering and affliction. Weil’s search for knowledge was participatory, through action. She therefore sought out experiences of suffering and affliction.

Lotringer noted that Weil “Never wanted to talk about, but to be part of what she was talking about. And she could only do it if she participated in it.”

Weil wanted to join the first wave in Czechoslovakia to fight the Nazis, and later, in the early 1940s concocted a scheme in which an elite group of battlefield nurses would also parachute into France to assist the resistance, a scheme she would share with anyone who would listen until her death in 1943. Similarly, she wanted to serve in the first wave of these combat nurses. Again, Lotringer: “She didn’t want to survive. She wanted to understand.”

Haslett’s film tries to balance the narrative between Weil the philosopher-activist and Weil the religious mystic. “Not a religious person” herself, Haslett, while feeling “betrayed by Weil’s turn toward God,” tries to understand how Weil could turn away from “political struggle” to a religious search.

Haslett brings us to the very spot behind the pillar at Solesmes Abbey where Weil perched contemplating Christian mysteries. Some clergy have this same nickname for “behind-the-pillar Catholics,” those whose worship is private and contemplative, and who, like Weil, literally seek out the spots behind the pillars.

Haslett’s narrative returned to Le Puy-en-Velay, where the young Weil first taught in 1931. This town has its own statue of a Red Virgin. (Was this posting of Weil in Le Puy, a town towered over by a reddish statue of the Virgin and Child, a joke on the part of Weil’s critics in the education establishment, or of God himself, since Weil was herself nicknamed the “Red Virgin” since her student days?)

Anna Brown and Haslett appear to agree that Weil had no where else to go but religion. Brown stated Weil turned to religion when “reason had been exhausted.”

In tears, Haslett saw at this later point in Weil’s life a philosophical dead end, and here Camus’ paradigmatic choice, after Hamlet, between life and suicide.

But something else beyond this choice appears to lead Haslett’s final narrative forward. Haslett notes that in one of her final writings, Weil stated:

“You think I have something to give. I too have a growing certainty that there is within me a deposit of pure gold that must be handed on. Only I become more and more convinced that there is no one to receive it.”

(The above passage forms the fundamental theme of Prof. E. Jane Doering’s very important recent book: Doering, E. Jane. 2010. Simone Weil and the specter of self-perpetuating force. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press. Doering contends that in her final writings Weil had accomplished a paradigmatic integration of her thinking about the source of force, and thus provided a clue to the reduction of human conflict. It is interesting also to note that Weil, marginalized among the Free French government in exile, did her most significant work while working alone toward her death in seeming near despair, in parallel fashion to her brother Andre (1906-1998), who made some of his most important mathematical discoveries while imprisoned in 1940 by the French government for choosing not to serve in the military.)

In these final segments, Haslett brings forward yet more Weil quotes on attention:

“The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to ask him, ‘What are you going through?'”

“The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing. It is almost a miracle. It is a miracle.”

Haslett then recalls Weil’s Platonic notion that every separation or wall is also a potential link.

Simone Weil, posted with permission

Haslett has successfully, if not rather bravely, blended two narratives, Weil’s message and life with significant events in Haslett’s own life. While not every critic so far likes this approach, I think it is one worthy of Weil herself.

Haslett has therefore crafted a moving epiphany of Simone Weil for a new generation.

Composer Daniel Thomas Davis deserves specific mention for some of his fine compositions that grace this documentary, as well as some well-chosen compositions by others, including Oliver Messiaen and Hildegarde of Bingen.

Since research is still evolving on Weil controversies such as her probable baptism and her strident views on Judaism, the Weil encountered in Haslett’s film is the heretofore accepted Weil as the perpetual outsider, who yet individually transcended human division. There is much more to Weil than this, but several films could not adequately address her complexity and gifts to humanity.

Is there very much more to Simone Weil than time permitted Haslett to reveal?

The answer to this question is emphatically yes, because the world is still catching up with Simone Weil. Witness how, even in her style of dress, minus the hat and with more modest shoes, Weil presaged the Annie Hall style by decades.

Sylvie Weil’s Contribution

The year 2010 saw not only the premier of “An Encounter with Simone Weil,” but the publication of several books which cast further light on her. I’ve already mentioned Prof. Doering’s above.

Perhaps the most significant of these books was the English-language release of Sylvie Weil’s At Home with Andre and Simone Weil by Nortwestern University Press (Weil, Sylvie, and Benjamin Ivry. 2010. At home with André and Simone Weil. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, ISBN 9780810127043 cloth, 0810127040 paper).

Sylvie Weil’s book goes a long way to revise our view of Simone Weil away from the Other I referred to at the beginning of my essay above, toward that of a very loved, gifted, and eccentric family member.

Sylvie Weil, whose graceful, self-effacing intelligence and beauty shone forth during Haslett’s interview with her, writes with irony, wit, thoughtfulness, and regret:

My insufferable aunt, my saintly aunt, that amazing one-woman outfit perpetually grinding out publicity about poverty, misery, and misfortune!

Silvie Weil, At Home with Andre and Simone Weil, 2010, Northwestern University Press, p. 154.

Sylvie, who is as we Americans put it a “dead ringer” for Simone, spent moments of her youth freezing Simone’s devotees in their tracks as if they had seen a ghost. But the young Sylvie Weil, torn between the moral paradigm of Aunt Simone, and, well, the other paradigm of Brigitte Bardot, took a very different path from that of her aunt, had her own bout with pneumonia and at a similar age to her aunt nearly died, but instead found not only love, but in the end the Jewish faith.

Sylvie Weil merited her own national recognition in France both as a student and as a writer-playwright. Sylvie provides an essential account of Simone, a lament of sorts, but also, most importantly, the healing of a memory.

Like cousin Raymonde in Haslett’s film, Sylvie repeats the family tradition that Simone’s mother went to heroic levels of deception to convince Simone that filet mignon was dog food, and that Madame “Selma” Weil had waited in line for hours with working women to get Simone the food which only they ate.

In many ways, Simone needed her parents–the effervescent Selma and her quiet physician father Bernard–to survive, just as she apparently somehow yearned to separate from them in order to die. From Sylvie we learn that Simone’s cult was established by Simone’s parents, who spent the rest of their days transcribing her notebooks, conveying them to the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, and making her, and their own Paris home a public shrine, consecrated by Camus’ visit prior to his Nobel acceptance speech. This cult split the family apart, with Sylvie’s father Andre substantially separating from his parents amid disputes and lawsuits over Simone’s literary legacy. Sylvie, who grew during these sad times of family separation, comes to terms directly with these difficulties, and in the end transcends them.

Sylvie Weil also confronts head-on the “Jewish question” as it pertains to Simone Weil, and reveals, like other critics, Simone as the disconnected heir of the Jewish tradition of charity, righteousness, and justice, tzedakah. Sylvie was livid with Simone for not writing directly of the Shoah when she was almost certainly in the know about it. It is Sylvie Weil, separated by two generations from the family rift with Simone Weil’s observant Jewish paternal grandmother, who reconnects herself, and thus in a way Simone and her admirers, with the gifts of Judaism.

With Sylvie Weil’s account, and with the credible story of Simone Weil’s baptism securely on video-tape (see my future post), Simone Weil as the perpetual Other has thankfully been brought back to earth.

Yet ironically, placing Simone Weil back onto the earth brings about the possibility that, with several more turns of the world, the world and even the Church may indeed formally recognize her, but much more soberly and realistically, for her heroic virtue.

Sylvie Weil is living proof of family love’s ability to heal memories over generations. As she aged past the death-age of Simone and joins the age of her own parents and grandparents, and as she researched the generations of her own heritage, Sylvie has, through the process of psychological re-parenting–the process of reviewing one’s own development as one plays out the role of parent–made a major contribution to the human family with her book.

Simone Weil studies will never be the same thanks to Sylvie, and that is a very good thing. After Sylvie’s contribution, it may not be necessary for so many young gifted geniuses like Simone to immolate themselves to seek the truth and to witness to it. The world makes martyrs of enough of these young gifted ones beyond their own doing.

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Other Sanity and Social Justice blog posts in preparation on Simone Weil:

Simone Weil and Judaism

Simone Weil’s Probable Baptism

Simone Weil and Lanza del Vasto

Simone Weil and the Question of Asperger’s Syndrome

Reflections on Simone Weil’s Eating Disorder

Trending Simone Weil and Simone de Beauvoir

Simone Weil, Attention, and the Ethics of the Nursing Profession

Simone Weil, Secrecy, and her Rejection of Sexuality

Answers to Some of Simone Weil’s Questions in “Letter to a Priest”

Links to reading with and about Simone Weil

And perhaps more. . . when I can get to them!

Please see my earlier post on Simone Weil.

For more about Simone Weil, see the website of the American Weil Society, and the online Simone Weil Bibliography in progress.

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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