Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Majestic (5 Stars)

"In a place like this the magic is all around you. The trick is to see it".

Jim Carrey is best known as a comedian. That's understandable. The majority of his films have been comedies. However, if anyone asks me which films are his best I say "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", "The Truman Show", "The Majestic" and "Man on the Moon". None of them are comedies. All four show Jim Carrey's talent as a serious actor.

"The Majestic" is a love story. It's a film about the magic of cinema. But more than anything it's about the American way. It's about the contrast between the American ideal and American reality.

When I was in school I studied the history of the Roman Empire, from its founding up to the death of Julius Caesar. Something amazed me at the time. I tried to talk to my Latin teacher, Dr. Jameson, about it, but he didn't understand what I was trying to say. What fascinated me was that many people in the first Century B.C. considered the Roman Empire (or simply Rome) to be the highest form of civilisation on Earth. In particular the orator Cicero, whom I greatly admired, praised the greatness of Rome. At the same time others, for instance the people of Israel, considered Rome to be the most evil force that had ever existed. Rome offered Israel peace, but the Jews fought to the death rather than accept the Pax Romana. How was this possible? How could the same empire be considered absolutely good by some and absolutely evil by others?

The same is the case today. Many Americans believe in their country and the American way of life, calling their country the best on Earth. Many people, especially those in the Middle East, consider America to be the Great Satan. Even a large number of Americans think their country is polluted. This number has become even larger and more vocal since the last presidential election.

The United States of America was founded with great ideals. It was a country based on the principles of equality and freedom, at a time when gross inequality was common in all the European countries from which the American settlers came. The problem in comparing America with the European countries is that they have progressed greatly over the last 200 years and now give individuals more freedom of self-expression than America does.

But sticking with America, we have to make a distinction between the promises made by the founding fathers and the way they've been put into practice today. For instance, it's often taught in school that anyone can become president. In practice, if you have poor parents your chances of becoming president are zero. The first amendment to the United States Constitution (quoted in "The Majestic") guarantees the separation of church and state, but in practice churches have strong influence over communities throughout America, especially in smaller towns.

The difficulty is that America was founded on Christian principles. Church and state were to be kept separate, but it was expected that everyone would nevertheless act according to Christian moral values. To take an example, when the Constitution was written 200 years ago it was the general consensus that homosexuality was wrong, and those who thought otherwise kept their mouths shut. Today the churches, on the whole, still have this view, whereas people who are either non-Christians or less serious Christians believe homosexuality is acceptable. This new division between Christian morals and non-Christian morals is making it difficult to justify the division between church and state. Christian groups want laws to be passed to impose Christian morality on everyone.

In addition, there are many ways in which America doesn't offer the equality that it promises. There have been repeated incidents in recent years of black people being treated worse than white people, even being shot unjustly by the police. This has led many Americans to refuse to swear the pledge of allegiance to the United States and its flag.

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all".

People who refuse to swear the pledge of allegiance on grounds of conscience misunderstand what the pledge is for. America is a county of immigrants. With the exception of native American Indians (which is a topic for another day) everyone or his family has come from other countries. I believe that America should worry less about immigration. Anyone who swears the pledge of allegiance and wholeheartedly believes what he pledges is a true American. Anyone who refuses to swear the pledge of allegiance should be viewed with suspicion as a potential traitor.

Pledging allegiance isn't claiming that America is perfect. It's not saying "I'm pledging allegiance because everyone in America enjoys liberty and justice". The pledge says "I'm pledging allegiance because America is a country which has the principle of liberty and justice for all". Refusing the pledge is to say "I'm not pledging allegiance because I don't believe that everyone deserves liberty and justice".

This is what Jim Carrey stands up for in the courtroom at the end of "The Majestic". He was living in 1951, a time when America had lost its way. People with different political convictions weren't receiving the liberty and justice they deserved. Rather than do something stupid like throw a bomb or disrupt civil proceedings he stood his ground and called people to heed the original American ideals. As we see in the film, some listened to him and others didn't. It will always be that way.

The film theatre after which the film is named, the Majestic, is a metaphor for the state in which Jim Carrey finds America. When he arrives in the town of Lawson the Majestic is a wreck. When he leaves it's a palace.

As I quoted at the beginning of this article: "In a place like this the magic is all around you. The trick is to see it".

Does America have magic? One man can make a difference. If we start out with one man seeing the magic he can tell others about it, and soon everyone will see it.

One place where we can't find any magic is the local newspaper. It repeats the same five paragraphs over and over again in different orders. Click the picture to enlarge it. Sloppy.

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