You know the saying “you learn something new every day”?
I learned something new. I learned that just because something is labeled “kid friendly” that that doesn’t necessarily make it so.
I’ve seen at least ten “kid friendly” movies that I would never show to children.
Well, I wouldn’t. Unless I really hated that kid.
Because I like overthinking about things and I have nothing better to do, I decided to made up a little list of family-friendly movies (that aren’t):
The Secret Of NIMH
The Dark Crystal
The Neverending Story
Return To OZ
The Adventures of Mark Twain
Clash of the Titans (original)
All of these movies are more than a little disturbing.
Most I still won’t watch alone in the dark.
These movies were so traumatizing to me that I remember exactly when and where I first watched each movie. The first of these cinematic horrors I saw was The Dark Crystal.
I saw it when I was 8 years old.
I was at school.
The movie terrified me.
There was no way I could leave the classroom.
I would have been a total wuss if I’d closed or covered my eyes.
The funny thing about The Dark Crystal is that it was made by the same people who made the Muppets. The Muppets were all about being cute and cuddly and making people happy.
They kind of scared me, too.
I thought back then at eight years old as I do now – The Dark Crystal is like an episode of Sesame Street plunged down to the ninth rung of Hell. I’ve often suspected that, if you looked deep down inside of Bert’s mind, it looks a little like The Dark Crystal. That might explain why that “Bert is evil” meme was popular a few years ago.
The Dark Crystal came out a long time ago, so some of you might not remember what the movie is about (I can’t forget as it is seared upon my memory). In a nutshell, the movie’s plot kind of goes like this:
A creepy puppet dude named Jen (he’s actually the last of an extinct race of creatures called Gelflings) is bequeathed the task of finding a shard from an ancient and magical crystal.
Jen must place the shard back into place so as to reunite the creepier-looking Mystics and even creepier-looking Skeksis into one race (species?). Wait, I’m missing something…. Ok – let me backtrack a bit. You see, before the crystal broke the Mystics and the Skeksis were one race and when the crystal split, they split into the peaceful (but nevertheless creepy-looking) Mystics, and evil and truly too-frightening-for-any-child-to- watch Skeksis. The Mystics and the Skeksis have to be reunited to bring peace back to the land…. Or something like that.
Oh yeah, Jen finds out that he’s not the only remaining Gelfling. He finds another one, a nice (but no less creepy) female Gelfling named Kira. You know she’s a girl because she has wings. She also has a dog-like thing called “Fizzgig”.
That thing has piranha teeth.
In a kid’s movie.
Anyway, for reasons that I can’t quite remember (and I’m not going to watch to see why) the evil Skeksis wiped out the small and harmless Gelflings. Once the Skeksis get wind of Jen’s mission, they attempt to kill Jen as well.
Oh wait! Now I remember! The Skeksis want Jen dead because according to a prophesy, a Gelfling will mend the crystal and bring together the Mystics and the Skeksis. And the Skeksis don’t want to reunite with the Mystics.
Did I fail to mention something that looks like this is in this movie?
If you’re not already convinced this is the scariest movie ever made, there may be something wrong with you.
As much as The Dark Crystal is a relentlessly disturbing movie it’s also kind of a downer. Sure, Jen accomplishes his task; he shoves the shard back into the crystal and the Mystics and Skeksis are reunited.
But none of that happens before a bunch of terrible s#!t happens.
Mostly at the hands of the Skeksis.
Here’s a short list of all the bad s#!t that happens in the movie:
- Dozens of innocent creatures are ruthlessly slaughtered at a party.
- Jen and Kira’s long-legged, transport-thingies are killed.
- Adorable little creatures called Podlings (who look like a muppet Bob the Builder) are rounded up and drained of their “essence” – they literally have their life sucked out of them.
- Mystics die.
- Skeksis die (including the Emperor of the Skeksis, who literally disintegrates in front of his subjects).
- Augra is imprisoned and threatened with torture.
- The Gelflings are genocided until only two remain.
- Kira is stabbed in the back (by a Skeksis) and dies.
Never mind that Kira is brought back to life. She was stabbed in the back and died!
Throughout the movie, the Skeksis are nothing short of the embodiment of evil. Their only purpose (would you call that their telos?) is to destroy as much good in the world as possible. But at the end of the movie, when the crystal is repaired by Jen, the Skeksis aren’t punished. They’re rewarded.
The Skeksis are reunited with the Mystics and are returned to their original celestial forms. Everything ends happily ever after.
That got me thinking.
You see, when I first saw The Dark Crystal, I was too busy trying not to poop my pants to pay attention to what was going on. But as I got older, I realized that something was terribly amiss with the end of the movie. I thought the Skeksis got off way too easy.
There’s no arguing that the Skeksis weren’t evil. They were evil creatures that committed evil deeds. If our religious and legal systems are any indication of how we feel about evil and those who do evil, punishments for evil doing is well-deserved. The Bible says:
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)
Although I may have wanted to see the Skeksis burn in eternal fire for their evil deeds, luckily for the Skeksis they live in a world that operates under a different system of ethics. I didn’t notice it back then (probably ‘cause I was too busy being scared s#!tless) but The Dark Crystal has a bit of an Eastern philosophy vibe. The Dark Crystal has more to do with the philosophy of this guy:
Or this guy:
Than this guy:
Or this guy:
The skeksis and the Mystic’s need to be reunited; to throw off their worldly bodies, rejoin their fragmented souls and move on, as perfected souls, to the spirit realm, reflects the Eastern philosophical position that there is no eternal punishment after death, but that our lives are part of an eternal cycle of death and rebirth.
If you’re a practitioner of Hinduism you’re well aware of Samsara, the belief that humans can achieve higher consciousness, so long as we improve ourselves (that is accomplished by using lessons learned from one life to the next). Samsara is precisely what the Mystics’ their ultimate goal is – to regain their state of higher consciousness.
Of course, the Mystics’ goal is complicated by the fact that humans (and presumably Mystics and Skeksis as well) have free will. The Skeksis knowingly (and maliciously) chose a path of evil, and for that, the Skeksis were kept from moving on to a higher existence.
And because the souls of the Mystics were inextricably tied to the Skeksis, they were unable to move on as well.
In the film, we can see because the Mystics and Skeksis live apart (when they should be joined as one) that they are suffering.
By uniting the crystal, Jen finally releases the Mystics and Skeksis from their earth-bound suffering (Moska) and the united races are able to reach Nirvana, which is the state of liberation from earthly suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth. Buddha describes Nirvana as:
Where it is recognized that there is nothing but what is seen of the mind itself; where, recognizing the nature of the self-mind, no one longer cherishes the dualism of discrimination; where there is no more attachment to the external things.
The Buddha says when we abandon our desires and want of worldly goods; when we realize that we are not separate from others and see ourselves as one with all things, we can attain Nirvana.
Ok. So by the end of the movie everything is okay-dokey. The Mystics and the Skeksis are returned to their perfected state, the Podlings are released from captivity (with a minimal amount of essences drained), Kira is revived from the dead, peace is restored, and everybody lives happily ever after, right?
Well, no. Not for me, anyway.
There’s still the one thing that’s nagging me. I can’t stop thinking that the Skeksis got off easy. I may be totally Western moral systems about this, but I wanted to se the Skeksis suffer a little more than they did.
I mean, they stayed evil right up ‘til the end.
It doesn’t seem fair that the Skeksis could be so evil yet be allowed to reach Nirvana like the gentle, peaceful Mystics. It doesn’t matter if you follow the Ten Commandments or Buddha’s Eightfold Path, we’re expected to be good to others and to do the right thing. It seems karmically wrong that the Skeksis are not condemned to eternal torment or at least have to come back and live life over again.
When you get down to it, the Skeksis have no reason to do anything good.
So they don’t.
And at the end of the movie, they get to go to whatever paradise Skeksis and Mystics go to when their reunited.
That’s not only unnerving in the fictional world, it’s downright terrifying in the real world. The prospect that truly malevolent beings like Caligula, Pol Pot, Jack the Ripper, and Countess Elizabeth Bathory can go to the same Nirvana that awaits Dorothy Day, Caesar Chavez, and Miep Gies not only seems unfair, it seems wrong.
Imagine spending an eternity in Nirvana with the same S.O.B. Skeksis who just stabbed you in the back and killed you.
Assuming Kira was headed for Nirvana.
I suppose I’ve been a bit unfair to the Sksksis. Maybe they weren’t as much to blame for what they did as I think. Perhaps there’s another way of looking at the whole situation.
It’s entirely possible that the Skeksis, despite their unrepentant evil, were suffering. The separation of the Mystics and Skeksis may have been a source of great torment. The Skeksis were only half of what they were meant to be. That’s probably why the Skeksis were so cruel. The Skeksis were kind of like bullies. And like bullies, the Skeksis needed to hurt others to fill the void of their incomplete souls.
(We can also assume that the Mystics were suffering as well. This may be why, despite their peaceful and contemplative life, they sent Jen to repair the crystal).
In the end, the pain the Skeksis inflicted on others only amplified their own pain.
That’s why when Kira cuts the (Skeksis) Chamberlain’s hand, a Mystic’s hand also bleeds.
And also when one of the Mystics dies, a Skeksis also dies.
You know something, Western philosophy isn’t completely devoid of Eastern philosophical beliefs. The German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), also subscribed to Eastern philosophical beliefs.
Schopenhauer believed that suffering is an essential part of life (like Buddhists) but we can find relief from our suffering through contemplation, music, art, and philosophy. He also said we can find relief from suffering through the study of Eastern philosophy.
I guess Schopenhauer learned something new.
It’s plainly evident that the Skeksis were not satisfied as they were – that no amount of power, Podlings’ essences, genociding other creatures to extinction, or lavish robes and banquets could quell the deep pain the Skeksis felt. That’s why, at the end, the Skeksis needed to move on and let go of their belief that they were separate from the Mystics.
The Skeksis knew that the prophesy – wait, did I mention that there was a prophesy? – that the Skeksis and the Mystics would be rejoined as one race, had to happen.
They wouldn’t want to suffer forever, right?
So… if the Skeksis were indeed suffering, from an Eastern philosophical point of view the punishment-less ending of The Dark Crystal kind of makes sense.
Still… I think if Kira had got in a good roundhouse or drop-kick on one or two of those Skeksis before they merged with the Mystics, they could have called that whole decimating an entire race and stabbing-her-in-the-back-thing even.
NOTE: just in case you didn’t know, the Eight-fold Path is:
1. Right Understanding
2. Right Thought
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration
For more on the Eight-fold Path, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_Eightfold_Path