MOVIE ARTICLES - Enlightening Cinema
by Jed McKenna
"Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because
you know something. What you know, you can't explain.
But you feel it. You felt it your entire life. That there's
something wrong with the world. You don't know what it
is, but it's there. Like a splinter in your mind
driving you mad." -Morpheus, The Matrix
This isn't a movie review list and it's not comprehensive.
It's just some notes about a few movies I think are useful
for the purposes of awakening and why, or that aren't
and why not. With tools of understanding, bad is often
better than good.
Major themes represented on this list seem to be these:
- Nature of self/man.
- Death/rebirth. Cataclysm/epiphany.
- Untrustworthiness of mind/memories.
The only thing I might advise with regard to movies and
books is to raise the material up to the level where it
becomes of value to you. Orwell might have been writing
an anti-communist manifesto, but Nineteen Eighty-Four
is much more interesting viewed as the struggle between
man and his confinement. Apocalypse Now is about something
more than Viet Nam, How to Get Ahead In Advertising is
about something more than rampant commercialism, etc.
::: American Beauty
"I feel like I've been in a coma for the past
twenty years. And I'm just now waking up."
I've included American Beauty mainly for what's wrong
with it. Lester's major death/rebirth transition shows
promise, but what does he transition to? Backward to teenage
crap, not forward in any sense. A fear-based regression.
Stupid car, stupid drugs, stupid vanity, stupid skirt
chasing. Not at all redeemed when Lester sees his own
folly near the end or by sappy/smarmy dead guy voice-over.
The movie is slightly redeemed by the presence of the
quasi-mystical neighbor kid and his video footage of a
"That's the day I realized that there was this entire
life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force
that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid,
::: Apocalypse Now
"In a war there are many moments for compassion and
tender action. There are many moments for ruthless action
what is often called ruthless what may in
many circumstances be only clarity, seeing clearly what
there is to be done and doing it, directly, quickly, awake,
looking at it."
You'd think that Apocalypse Now Redux, the director's
cut, would be the version to watch, but all the stuff
that was rightly cut from the original has been wrongly
replaced. (Raising the interesting point that directors
and authors often don't understand the higher applications
of the stories they're telling.) Stick with the original
over both Redux and Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
Apocalypse Now is all about the Horror. A journey of discovery,
into the heart of darkness, arriving at this horror. What's
the horror? How do you get there? Why would anyone make
such a journey? Should you make such a journey? Why or
Note the powerful epiphanies that drive the film. The
first assassin's letter home, ("Sell the house, sell
the car, sell the kids..."), Dennis Hopper's youthful
exuberance, Kurtz's diamond bullet, Willard's "...I
wasn't even in their army any more."
::: Being There
"Spring, summer, autumn, winter... then spring again."
A lovely film ruined by a foolish walking-on-water stunt
tacked on to the end. Without that nonsense the viewer
would be free to think, to decide, to wonder. Instead,
the movie zips itself up tight with its clever little
dumb-it-down twist. Hit the stop button when Chauncey
is straightening the sapling, before the ruinous denouement,
and it's a fun, lovely film.
::: Blade Runner
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack
ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched
c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain.
Time to die."
Were you born five minutes ago? Of course not, and you
have the memories to prove it. You'd know if they were
artificial implants, because, uh...
::: Cast Away
"I couldn't even kill myself the way I wanted to.
I had power over nothing."
If a man screams on a deserted island and there's no one
to hear him, does he make a sound? Is it enough that he
hears it himself? What if not? What's left when you take
Self stripped bare.
This movie raises many intriguing questions about the
substance of self, or lack thereof, and includes a very
::: Dead Poets Society
::: Harold and Maude
"Vice, virtue. It's best not to be too moral... Aim
American Zen, master and disciple.
"For years I was smart... I recommend pleasant."
Elwood P. Dowd, wisefool. A sweet depiction of a higher
order of being misinterpreted as a lower order of being.
Would we know the Superior Man when we saw him?
::: How to Get Ahead In Advertising
"Everything I do now makes perfect sense."
A thwarted bid for freedom. A failed attempt to overthrow
Maya. Enjoy the insanity of the epiphany.
::: Joe vs the Volcano
"Nobody knows anything, Joe. We'll take this leap,
we'll see. We'll jump, and we'll see. That's life, right?"
Death and Rebirth. Unlike American Beauty, this is all
about moving forward, "away from the things of man."
::: Man Facing Southeast (Hombre Mirando Al Sudeste)
Watch especially for the visual poem of a man crumbling
a human brain into a sink while looking for the soul.
::: The Matrix
"Like everyone else, you were born into bondage,
born inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or
touch. A prison for your mind."
Plato's Cave for the people. As allegorically lucid as
Joe vs Vocano, Pleasantville and Star Wars.
::: Monty Python's Life of Brian
"No, no! It is a sign that, like Him, we must think
of the things of the body, but of the face and head!"
Sacred Cow-tipping at its best.
"Meaning of Life" also belongs on this list.
::: Nineteen Eighty-Four
"If you want a vision of the future, Winston,
imagine a boot stamping on a human faceforever."
This movie is unique in the sense that it's as good as
the book, which is an extremely intimate portrait of the
captor/captive, Maya/man relationship. Compare this to
Moby-Dick or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest which are
superb books but useless movies.
::: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
As with Moby-Dick, Hollywood castrated the book. They
stripped it of its archetypal dimensions and reduced it
to a meaningless pissing match between McMurphy and Nurse
Ratched. Great entertainment, but for meaningful insight,
read the book.
"There are some places where the road doesn't go
in a circle. There are some places where it keeps on going."
A cheerful tale of heresy in which no one is burned at
the stake and the new paradigm is, eventually, embraced
::: The Razor's Edge
"The dead look so terribly dead."
The razor's edge is what makes it interesting; seeing
Larry shakily balanced on the fine line between what he
was and what he's becoming. He is walking the edge between
two lives. The Bill Murray version is a bit unfocused...
stick with Tyrone Power or read the book.
Maugham supposedly used Ramana Maharshi as the model for
the novel's holy man.
::: Star Wars
"The force will be with you, always."
The first one, where Luke makes the transition from flesh
The Hero's Journey.
::: The Thin Red Line
"Maybe all men got one big soul everybody's a part
of, all faces are the same man."
A sublime inquiry into the spiritual nature of man. More
a sad/sweet song than a narrative film.
::: The Thirteenth Floor
"So what're you saying? You're saying
that there's another world on top of this one?"
Layer after layer. Turtles on top of turtles.
::: Vanilla Sky/Abre Los Ojos
"Open your eyes."
If you like Vanilla Sky, check out the original, the Spanish
film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes). These two films may
be the best of the bunch for our purposes; the closest
to an enlightenment allegory.
Of course, the interesting thing about enlightenment is
getting there, not being there, and that's what these
films are about; awakening from a false reality, opening
your eyes. They're not so much about what's real as what's
It's the story of the journey one takes to get to the
place where anything, even jumping off a tall building,
would be better than continuing to live a lie, even a
beautiful, blissful lie.
Note the presence of the true guru, explaining in clear
terms why leaping off the building is the best thing to
do, and waiting patiently for it to be done.
::: Waking Life
"They say that dreams are only real as long as they
last. Couldn't you say the same thing about life?"
Wide-ranging philosophical inquiry. Provocative. Amusing.
::: Wings of Desire
"When the child was a child, it was the time of these
questions: Why am I me, and why not you? Why am I here,
and why not there? When did time begin and where does
A lovely, intelligent, thought-provoking film. Can the
awakened being return to the dreamstate? Would he want
Some other films that reward thoughtful viewing are The
Wizard of Oz, About Schmidt, What Dreams May Come, Total
Recall, All the Mornings Of the World (Tous les Matins
du Monde), and, of course, many more.
About the Author
Jed McKenna is the author of "Spiritual Enlightenment:
The Damnedest Thing" and "Spiritually Incorrect
Enlightenment", published by Wisefool Press. Coming
in 2005: "Spirituality X" and "Jed McKenna's
Notebook". Visit WisefoolPress.com to learn more