Friday, November 27, 2009

Michael Caine does it again!

Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, Jr.’s (Caine’s real name which he always uses when not acting)once again turns in a brilliant performance. Yet again he outshines all other actors in the film Harry Brown which is now showing at cinemas nationwide. This wonderful film is directed by English director Daniel Barber who was nominated for an Academy Award in 2008 for his short film The Tonto Woman.

Now Barber has presented us with a wonderful masterpiece called Harry Brown. In this film we are introduced to a world of drug-fuelled gratuitous violence which takes place on a council estate that is controlled by young thugs who have the residents terrorised. Harry (Michael Caine) is a former marine living on the estate. The film opens with a very realistic and heart-rending scene where Harry wakes up in a double bed and is greeted by the empty space beside him where once his dying wife used lie. His loneliness and pain are palpable. We learn that is wife is in hospital dying a slow and painful death. At first, the ex-marine keeps his head down and doesn't interact with the gangs. He continues to live a quiet uneventful life and enjoys a quiet pint and a game or two of chess with his friend Len.

One possible criticism I could lay at the door of Barber is that this film in a sense "rips off" an aspect of the theme of Clint Eastwood's great Gran Torino - that is, an ex-marine or ex-soldier sorting out contemporary crime caused by gang warfare. However, that is a small criticism of a very good and entertaining film.

Now back to the plot: Soon Harry's wife dies and this is followed closely by Len's murder at the hands of the gang. It is at this point that our former marine becomes a vigilante and takes on the gangs. This is a grim film indeed, but for all that, very credible and all too likely to be true. Emily Mortimer comes across as a very naive and all too sensitive and emotinal Detective Inspector Frampton. One could never imagine a police inspector being so emotionally upset by her job. To my mind the director underwrote her completely. That said, she put in a good performance, which would have been transformed by firmer direction. This for me is a major weakness in the film as she is not believable at all as a police officer. The supporting cast are also noteworthy. Liam Cunningham, a very strong Irish actor, is simply wonderful as the barman Sid. Cunningham turns in a performance as strong as the one he presented us with in that great film The Wind that Shakes the Barley(2006).

However, it is Michael Caine who steals the show with absolutely brilliant acting. It would seem that as this veteran actor gets older and older he gets better and better. He turns is a very creidible and indeed creditable performance. Mike Sheridan has this to say in a recent review and I thoroughly agree with his sentiments:
Director Daniel Barber deserves credit for keeping the film grounded very much in reality, never descending to the hyperbolic fighting of something like Taken. Caine is in his 70’s now, so it probably wouldn’t have been a wise move for him to attempt some hand-to-hand combat. What he does is portray the obvious vulnerability of your average pensioner and the efficiency of a man who has killed before wonderfully. You are on this man's side from the start, despite the extreme measures he goes to, and Caine deserves an Oscar nomination for his brilliant performance. (See this link here: Review )
All in all this is a film well worth seeing for its realistic portrayal of contemporary society, but especially for its performance by one of the world's greatest living actors.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Culture of Secrecy and the Aphrodisiac of Power

Today marks another milestone, if not watershed in our coming of age as a nation. I refer here to the publication by the Irish Government of the substantial report of The Commission of Investigation into The Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. (See the following link for The Irish Times which not alone has a good history of the whole sordid affair, good commentary and insightful and good journalism to elucidate the matter for those of us concerned about the major issue of the scandal of the clerical abuse of innocent children in the Dublin diocese over the past forty or so years, but also has two links where the two parts of this substantial report can be downloaded. I have done just that and hope to peruse these objective accounts authored by a commission led by Judge Yvonne Murphy. See this link here: The Irish Times)

Firstly, let me send my good wishes to all the brave victims of child abuse suffered anywhere in the world at the hands of anyone indeed, but especially in this instance those abused by clerical sexual predators. Let that be said loudly and clearly. One could only have a heart of stone not to be impressed by those two courageous and wonderful human beings - Marie Collins and Andrew Madden - both victims of horrific sexual abuse at the hands of two priests of The Dublin Diocese. Their courage is extraordinary in its quality of moral fibre, honesty, sincerity, congruence as we say in the psychotherapeutic world, or more simply in its sheer authenticity. We need such heroes as these badly in the morally corrupt society we have the misfortune to live in.

Now, having paid my respects to these heroes of the hour - brilliant representatives of the counted and uncounted numbers abused, or to call a spade a spade, raped and sodomised by men who acted as ministers of God in his so-called Holy Church, I wish to move on, as it were to the nature of the beast.

Why am I not surprised? In almost 52 years on this earth, I have long come to the conclusion that the abuse of power is one of humankind's greatest weaknesses. I've seen it everywhere. The Rape Crisis Centre has long been reminding us that rape is essentially an abuse of power, an act of subjugating another human being

. And the culture of secrecy? It is everywhere. Why? Because secrecy allows powerful people to have their way. We all conspire in this abuse of power ourselves when we say: "This is hush hush," "Don't tell anyone, but..." That way we can have some power over our hearer. Okay, this is a very minor abuse of power. Systems - Banks, Church, Civil Service, The Medical Profession, and indeed The Legal Profession - are all essentially the same. They are made up of human beings who use and abuse power. In every one of these systems there are many who wield power with an authentic moral vision while there is not a few who wield it with just the desire to lord it over others, to have the upper hand, to subject others to their view of things and perhaps much worse. There are many cases where some eminent doctors covered up for negligent, and even immoral activities of some of their number. Why? Well, quite simply they wanted to protect "The Old Boys' Network", "The System", "The Profession," "The Church", "The Institution of the State."

There are no excuses for the abuse of power wherever it occurs, and we all must be strong to uncover it for its immorality and its unacceptability in enlightened society.

Now at this juncture, let me come to the Church. I myself was a member of a religious order for three years in the early eighties and thankfully never personally came across any paedophile priests. Perhaps I was not long enough in the outfit to discover anything amiss. However, I still have the highest of respect for the many good priests and brothers I have met in my time. However, that there was an abuse of power on other fronts - financial, mode of living, lifestyle etc - I was well aware of indeed. However, let this be said, and let it be said clearly, that it is surely a great insult to the legacy of Jesus Christ and all that he stood for that some of his ministers systematically raped and buggered little children and adolescents. Let this be said also, that it is surely an even greater insult to the legacy of that same Jesus Christ - who abhorred the abuse of all power, especially institutional power - that many of his bishops knowingly covered up that abuse of power. Let it be said even more clearly: His Bishops in the Dublin Diocese and in many other dioceses at home and abroad knowingly covered up the crimes of the rape and buggery of those "little children" who were very close to the heart of the founder of the Christian faith. I myself have long since ceased to be a practising Catholic and would call myself an agnostic Buddhist. I no longer wish to be associated with the institutional church. However, I will continue to count some priests I know my friends. My friendship has nothing to do with any person's cherished beliefs.

My sincerely held belief is that we humans have long over-estimated our very own nature. Evil lurks in the heart of the human animal. It is part of our very nature, along, indeed, with much good. We are essentially animals who have learned to live together and who have developed sophisticated cultures with all the values that go along with them. One of the values we have learned of late is the value of a person's dignity. After all, it was only in the wake of the horrific crimes of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen, not to mention those of the brutal Joseph Stalin, that we sat down as a collective of human animals to proclaim the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Homo Sapiens may be "sapiens" (that is wise or knowledgeable) but boy, s/he is a slow learner!) Indeed, I believe in the theory of evolution, not alone that we and all our animal brothers and sisters share a common ancestor in the primeval slime or primeval algae that allowed photosynthesis to promote the life of the earliest creatures that crawled from that slimy womb. Not alone has all life evolved but so has culture and with it our knowledge of Right and Wrong and Good and Evil. Philosophically, I believe sincerely that it is misguided to say that somewhere out there at the beginning of time or before the beginning of time (if even that immediate clause makes any sense at all) or somewhere beyond time (the mysterious world of the dubious metaphysical) there is some immutable Law of Right and Wrong engraved on some mysterious tablets as it were, if I may be permitted a rather tortuous metaphor here. We are slow learners indeed.

Yes, some Bishops (a good number, but not all. Take a bow, Archbishop Martin. You are decent and good man and that has to be said!) cover up the dark and deadly secrets of the crumbling Irish Catholic Church. Yes, let us say this, too, some politicians cover up the dark and deadly secrets of the political caste. Yes, let us say this, too, some bankers cover up the dark and deadly secrets of the banking elite. You can go on further through all the professions and you will find the abuse of power.

We are a weak species really, though we do have our flights of inspiration and fancy in the Arts and in Culture, but we do have deeply ingrained flaws. There are paedophiles amongst us. Yes, indeed. Our goal must be to prevent them from damaging future generations of our young people. That's why we need the great psychiatrists, psychotherapists and counsellors this last 100 or so years have given us: the great and wonderful Sigmund Freud, the equally wonderful Carl Gustave Jung, the self-effacing Carl Ransom Rogers and a host of other great psychotherapists to help us heal "homo sapiens", to help us understand this creature which we are, to help us build up other human animals into what they are truly, and may possibly become, whole human "beings", wanting to heal others and not hurt them. A pipe dream perhaps, but I am a dreamer.

I am shocked and shaken by today's report as I have been by the many other reports which make such sad and disgusting reading over too long a period of time. However, I am not surprised because no one who has read, or indeed is only partially aware of, let alone read, the sad history of the twentieth century, could ever be surprised at the depths of humankind's inhumanity to his fellow creatures.

However, my heart has been lifted by the two heroes I have mentioned above, both a worthy representative of either sex of our species, and both witnesses to the extraordinary courage and truth and integrity to which at our best we humans can truly rise. Well done Marie Collins. Well done Andrew Madden. You both represent so well the hundreds and hundreds of those abused at the hands of so-called ministers of God and aided and abetted by those who should have known better.

Above Marie Collins on the left and Andrew Madden below. Two brave souls who heralded the truth against the lies of t he Archdiocese of Dublin.