Burned at the Theater

Earlier this week I went to see the Coen Brothers’ film, Burn After Reading, starring George Clooney, Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt. As is typical before the film, the theater played about 15 minutes of previews. I usually love the previews if I am going to a romantic comedy or drama, but this time I should have been smarter. I should have skipped the previews.

There was everything from Kid Rock promoting the National Guard through a hard rock music video ad called “Warrior” to Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris as a pair of hired gunmen trying to “clean up” a dangerous town in a film called Appaloosa. The previews’ focus on military, weapons and violence was tremendous. I felt like I had to protect myself from what was being shown on the screen, and by the end of it — I had felt violated. I came to see what I thought was a satirical comedy, but here I was feeling like I was going through a bloody battlefield. Yes, I could have gotten up and left the theater – but I kept on waiting for a non-violent and hopeful preview to come up.

The movie itself, Burn After Reading, had what I considered, a distasteful amount of violence. I understood that in some way, like Pulp Fiction, the over the top nature and absolute idiocy of the violence was potentially a way to make the point that we have become a culture so outlandishly obsessed with violence that we are in fact desensitized to it. On the other hand, I wonder if the Coen brothers actually meant for the violence to BE the entertainment.

Seeing this film and hearing so much military talk in the media lately has led me to think more about the nature of violence and why I feel so disheartened and sad when exposed to it.

The day after the barrage of unsettling movie previews, I had lunch with a very good friend. I spoke to her about my experience and how I was grappling with trying to understand the polarization between peace and violence, light and dark. She suggested that aiming toward the light so much and cutting off from the dark in fact cuts us off from our own power. She said, “In my experience, the light and the dark are the same…they are two sides of the same coin…If you believe the darkness will hurt you, it will. If you witness it, accept it, and release it you won’t be held prisoner by it.”

I am still contemplating all of this.

Should we face the violence and try to understand it? or should we stand up and try to eliminate it from our every day lives?

What’s your take?


7 thoughts on “Burned at the Theater

  1. I have been having a similar discussion with my friends, about emotional violence in relationships. I agree with your friend that one cannot have the light without the dark. Sometimes we choose people or experiences because they reveal to us a dark side of ourselves that needs to be exposed. However, there are personal and social limits to this: just because you experience great bliss with someone, for example, does not make it okay for them to hit you. I have not been in a physically abusive relationship, but I can find excessive arguing very destructive – partly because I have not yet learned how to express my own anger in ways that enable me to let it go. I think that as individuals and as a society, we need more tools to understand our light and dark natures, and especially we need to learn ways not to be driven by the dark, or to feed it, as those films and trailers seem to do, but to accept it with compassion for ourselves and others, and also sometimes, to use it in the service of the light.

    We all need a lot of spiritual and psychological help and healing, which we can find in dialogue with others on a similar path, and in our own spiritual and creative practices. It’s true though that we can only change ourselves, not others, unless by our own example. Sometimes we need to know when to walk away and channel our energy into more constructive endeavours. For me, its a paradox in some ways: if I are deeply sad and discouraged, I might give up on a path – to keep going at anything important I need a bit of grit and fire, perhaps even anger or ambition. Conflict or competition can be a catalyst for my growth, so I hesitate to denounce those energies in others, though I also think that as individuals and as a society we need to discuss the healthy limits of those dynamics, and balance them with mutual aid and respect for all creation.

    Maybe, Tabby, with your Kali shirt you will go on a journey this year into your own dark energy and power. May Kali protect the planet from the cynics and the heartless destroyers. May the blessing of peace and abundance allow us to express our full range of human emotions, in life and in art, from our rage to our joy, and to thus discover the serenity that allows us not to be defined by our extremes.

    Very best wishes to all,


  2. Naomi,

    Thank you for this. You speak/write eloquently and your reflections make great sense to me. You are so right about the Kali shirt and going on a journey into my own dark energy and power. I feel that journey upon me.

    I found your final statement, “May the blessing of peace and abundance allow us to express our full range of human emotions, in life and in art, from our rage to our joy, and to thus discover the serenity that allows us not to be defined by our extremes,” a great blessing itself. THANK YOU!

  3. I think you have to know the enemy/darkness to defeat it. Case in point…..do we “know” the culture of the terrorists we fight? Our President barely off the ranch in Crawford underestimated knowing who we were fighting and the long history of these people. Can we win the hearts and mind of the people if we don’t know the people we’re trying to win over?

    I think we do have to peer into the darkness and take what we can from it, it’s part of us, but it has to be tempered with the balance of the light. Look at the yin and yang symbol. Over simplified? Maybe. Maybe not. The ancients long ago knew about balance in all things and this culture barely pays any attention.

    As a Goddess Advocate the end of the year is the dark time of the year. It’s the time after the literal or metaphoric harvest. It’s the time to go within. To take stock of the past year. It’s from the darkness life springs forth in the dark soil or within the womb. We can derive many gifts from the dark. I for one look a people or incidents I might deem “harmful dark” and see them as symbols of what I’d never want to perpetuate. I think about how hard and dark times have made me stronger, more passionate, more determined, more aware.

    I’m just thinking out loud. Thanks for letting me ramble.

  4. This is so great Karen. Your comment about looking at people or incidents you might deem “harmful dark” and see them as symbols of what you’d never want to perpetuate hit home. Peering into the darkness and taking what we can get from it — receiving the gifts of the dark — while tempering with the balance of the light — this is all making sense to me. Thank you for your yin and yang analogy. I think simplicity can be so revealing.

  5. Well, as I’m sitting here thinking about how peaceful it can be to sit in the dark – to contemplate, to create and let the juices manifest and flow. How sometimes that alone time in the darkness feels like a gift or a luxury – though it can feel very isolating – depending on our perspective and where we’re at in our lives – I’m also thinking about too much light. What does having too much light look like? It can make your head hurt, give you a migraine, burn your skin. Too much light/heat can scorch the Earth and we have drought. I wonder how those people in Alaska do it as they go through those long periods of light, followed by darkness. It must be so disconcerting. So there can be too much light as well. Both dark and light can create and destroy. Again — we’re back to balance. Somehow I feel as I’ve digressed a bit from your original premise though.

  6. Hey Tabby, I feel compelled to reach out and say hello( its been along time) and also throw a thought into the pool of dark and light. The universe always seems to give us what we need to keep our balance in check. It is such a blessing for these things to show up, and we should be grateful that we have been blessed enough to see them when they do. I find it hard not to automatically reject things as dark and “bad”. The ego labels them as bad, and the ego is happy for you to hold to the judgmental interpretation of it and simply reject it, only to miss out on the opportunity for growth. This approach will usually guarantee that a similar situation will show up again. I believe the reason we are here is to do the hard work, we are the spiritual warriors, and this is the hard road. To grow can cause pain, to accept the pain or discomfort with grace is what we practice on our yoga mat. Embrace the resistance; accept it as a learning opportunity, and you can happily move on to the next challenge.

    We don’t have to look hard to find the darkness in this world it’s all around us, I don’t believe we are here to change it; there are plenty of people who need it to learn from. Imagine what the world would be like if we all found some light and accepted the dark as a very important part what we need in this life.

  7. Recently we were told that we were hypnotists as yoga teachers, since we put thoughts into someone’s head, sending them strong messages through our spoken word. I believe movies do the same thing, since it is a constant wave of communication into our brain. These violent and dark features then serve only a negative purpose. I am so glad that you took notice, and I am very proud to call Tabby a friend!

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