Saturday, January 15, 2011

Beyond Rangoon (movie review)

No, I hadn't seen this movie before. I took it as a work of historical fiction, even if based on real adventures, in the fashion of Logicomix, about the life and times of Lord Bertrand Russell.

I watched it with a "girl scout" in training (BH/FNB LW), who provided running commentary about what she would have done in similar high stress situations. Build a debris hut? Stay on that train?

Being a wild card tourist galavanting about is not always considered an ice breaker. Laura's desire to escape the city to learn more of the heartland sets off a cascade of tragic events. Thailand ends up being the hospital for her motley crew, escaping the hounds of hell.

We're maybe to think her naive in saying she can't imagine her passport being stolen, with the characters saying over and over how valuable they are.

That little girl in the first demonstration, who snuggled up next to her: wasn't that a golden opportunity to win some prosperity for her family from a rich American who could just waltz into the embassy and get it replaced? That's what Laura ended up doing, by then already off the deep end.

Or maybe she knew very well the little girl was helping herself (why she smiled) and had already resolved, at some level, to stay behind and learn more. Her other life was over anyway. She felt her calling to practice healing (medical arts) among an admirable and wise people, without much need for more certification.

The film seemed theatrical and choreographed, almost like a musical in places, like when the nurses came running out half way between the armed and unarmed, all pretty, young, and uniformed for the child-like sacrifice.

But then Burma seems somewhat that way (caught up in kabuki dances), as does any nation in a war of mass stereotypes (masks): students, monks and soldiers in this case, with shopkeepers and commercial shippers somewhat ancillary, except as weapons suppliers (not a focus of this film, except for that one pistol).

Although women were proclaimed to be equals (by the professor) they seemed more like flight stewardesses asking if you'd be wanting a pillow, slim and secondary. The only woman brandishing a gun, unholstered (though still in a pillowcase), was our not-so-quiet, freedom-loving American, still grieving and a tad reckless, and now caught up in a first person shooter with bad guys, a Jodi Foster, a Neo in The Matrix.

The irony here is that vesting all one's hopes in one personality is, in some sense, the antithesis of democracy. A democractic architecture distributes the load, is more sphere-like than apexing to some bottle-neck pinnacle. But then so is a faceless company of armed controllers antithetical to democracy. These seem more Brazil-like.

Lindsey remarked that the weapons looked American-made, which was probably on purpose. When our hero goes to the embassy for her passport again (sheesh), it's the Burmese army which is both guarding it, and denying her access, symbolizing how Uncle Sam is in bed with the bad guys, perhaps with hands tied.

Democracies tend to be polytheistic in the sense that Hollywood is: one celebrates many celebrities at once. Like Christianity, Buddhism has many bodhisattvas or saints. That's the more democratic layer. Burma probably has all the right ingredients, if any nation has them.

Aung San Suu Kyi is in the company of other Nobel Prize winners, such as Linus Pauling and the sitting president of the USA, but that's a fairly lonely club at the top of the world. One wishes her plenty of R&R with the blessings of her people, already the beneficiaries of her selfless example.

As for "new nations" coming into being (not that Burma isn't one already, at least in English language science fiction), the whole claptrap of nationhood has somewhat lost its luster. One may covet a territory with a flag, some staff cars, a front row seat at the UN, but does this prove really soul satisfying at the end of the day?

We know we're Earthlings, a species of two-legged (like ostriches) and that the true the front lines are not between us, but between a round campus and airless space at some -451 Fahrenheit degrees. The biosphere itself is our shared fortress, and promised land (samsara).

The movie contains a lot of dharmas about suffering and appreciating happiness if you're lucky enough to have any, and accepting change. There's an implied foray into Buddhism for newcomers, starting with a more superficial tour guide, then learning more from the horse's mouth as it were (the void of existentialism), from life itself.

As a contribution to our spiritual literature, it's working hard to teach some hard lessons. When we lose another crew member off the bridge, but not the professor, our American hero is diplomatic, saying "I am sorry for your loss" or something to that effect. Anyway, the movie is about her, not these extras.

There's too much suffering in Burma, that much is obvious. Just having a lot of foreign journalism going doesn't necessarily address the underlying problems though. The whole world needs to be a lot safer, as these outwardly violent student-military confrontations are not isolated to Rangoon.