Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Midnite Madness: The Mephisto Waltz

I loathe literalism in all it's forms.

I'm constantly annoyed by people suggesting they aren't scared by this or another supernatural creature or concept because they "aren't real". Well, of course they're not. They respresent something that is, however, and, when done right, in a more powerful and evocative manner than merely exploring the literal fear.

But where it really gets on my nerves in theology, and nowhere more painfully then when it comes to the incarnation of evil.

Look, the idea of a literal devil is preposterous. It's especially galling that most people who believe in such a beast don't even know what it is they believe in or are supposed to believe it. They speak in some combination of "facts" gathered from The Bible, The Divine Comedy and their ass, with little differentiation between which is from which and which of those sources has been proclaimed by what body to have what theological importance.

But let's take the notion of Faust, or more generally the Faustian bargain, and examine it's value.

If one supposes for the sake of argument that the devil, as it were, is real, and takes the story of this being coming to various among us and offers people to gain their dreams in exchange for their soul literally, how much value does it offer to give or continually repeat this warning? How many people do you know for whom this bargain has literally been offered? Certainly if anyone I know has received such an offer, none has mentioned it to me. I would find it a remarkable enough event that most would indeed mention it.

Compare that to the figurative take on the story. How many people face opportunities and temptations in which our malicious or apathetic actions toward our fellow man, which function as "evil" in our world, might benefit us and offer us the opportunity to achieve the things we want from life, that we might in that way damn ourselves and lose some part of our humanity in the process? I'm going to speculate that it's every single person on the planet, but that could be give or take one here and there.

So, even if one assumes that there is a literal truth there, the metaphor remains vastly more useful.

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with The Mephisto Waltz, a low budget 1971 shocker from the director of Gidget?

Because it, as well as any movie I've seen on the subject of Satanism and deals with the devil, understands what it is to desire something and to be willing to give up a piece of one's humanity and, in fact, to do so.

It also happens to be a solid movie as a whole, surrounding a very skillful performance by Alan Alda and featuring a particularly creepy Jerry Goldsmith score. Definitely worth taking a look.


Jeremy Richey said...

I'm really looking forward to getting this disc as "Mephisto Waltz" is one of those films from my youth that I love revisiting...I recently found the creepy original one sheet of it and it's hanging in my apartment...underrated little film...

Neil Sarver said...

Thanks. It really is an interesting movie. Perhaps I'll write more on the movie itself one day.

I did enjoy seeing the trailer on the DVD in fullscreen, as it shows Jacqueline Bisset clearly in a body stocking in a scene in which her character is clearly supposed to be naked. I found myself wondering how often the movie itself played on TV that way, as apparently many complaints on IMDb involve seeing the boom mikes that are, of course, masked out in the proper framing.

cinebeats said...

I really like this film, but I haven't seen it in years. I picked up the Midnight DVD recently and hope to review it soon for Cinedelica. I watched House on Skull Mountian last night... fun stuff!

Neil Sarver said...

Thanks. I'll look forward to reading your review. I enjoyed it quite a bit. House on Skull Mountain is near the top of my Netflix queue, under a whole bunch of Long Waits, so I may be reviewing it very soon or not for a while, depending on how that hashes out.

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