Thursday, February 03, 2011

About "Groundhog Day" and "Buddhist Themed Movies" and "Wabisabi"

I cannot believe that some folks in the blogosphere are still pointing to that movie and saying "See? It's got Buddhist themes!"  I appreciate the spirit of Kyle's post on the subject, but I think I'd like to go a bit further.

It was Soen Nakagawa who mentioned that even tabloid headlines could be read as sutras in the right view, or something like that.  (Yeah, that's right, that was  Eido Shimano's teacher, who died tragically in some event following a depression resulting from a brain injury.  It was very Zen.)

Hey, I'm not immune to putting forth my own nominees for "Buddhist Themed" films.  But frankly, because of the viewpoint I kind of inherited I don't want to watch a movie because I think it's got some "Buddhist" theme. I want to watch a movie because I hope it's a great movie, and can appreciate the skills of all who came together to make the movie.  I never watched "Groundhog Day" because Bill Murray gives me that praecox feeling.  I am not inclined to laugh at someone because they're jerks.  Unless of course they're genuinely humorous, and frankly Murray doesn't cut it for me.  But I digress.

The notion of explicitly "Buddhist" themed films (think "Kundun" or "Seven Years in Tibet") as well as allegorical "Buddhist" themed films  is fraught with the identical sad baggage that plagues so-called "Christian" themed films: quite simply such films suck at least in part because it would look like somebody's trying to say "See? Buddhism is so great!" rather than making a damn fine work of art.

That is not to say that one can't bring Buddhist principles and sensibilities into their work.  In fact, one might think that it would sort of be incumbent for a Buddhist trying to practice Buddhism  to do so, and one would be right in this regard.  Two might even be right as well, but there I go again.

And I think that's where wabisabi comes in; rather than a long detailed bit on esthetics, I'll just say: go to the Wikipedia link.  My point is any kind of over-arching themes like Buddhism such be done in a manner in which it's understated - to the point where someone watching the film - or reading the report - doesn't realize there's "Buddhism" behind it.   Or, to put it another way, self-consciously trying to include "Buddhism" in a film - especially a Zen flavor - would have the very effect of undermining a message of Buddhism in the film.

It is, in fact the surest way to transform something into a Dharma Burger is to infuse it  in a heavy-handed way with Buddhist themes.  On the other hand, if there were to be  a movie that simply "nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect" (as quoted in the reference from the Wikipedia link) that might have the potential to be simply a damn good film.

Get it?


Kyle Lovett said...

Ah, so that's what a dharma burger means! :-P Yep, I agree with you, kind of why I was making fun of looking for 'Budhist' themes in movies.

Leslee said...

Nice to find your blog! (thru Precious Metal :) Leslee Hare

Dwan said...

Yeah, I get it. ^_-

Enjoyable post - thanks!

Mumon said...

Thanks all for the comments!