Friday, September 25, 2015

Dekalog 2: "Do not Take the Name of the Lord in Vain"

A woman whose husband is dying in a hospital and a doctor debate about the future.  She wants to know what will happen so she can make a fateful choice, and he tells her that it does not look good, but he doesn’t know for certain.

The ten commandments has some controversy in it.  There are different points of view as to what the ten “words” actually are, how they are divided.  The Jewish and Protestant point of view is that the second command is to not worship idols, but the Catholic interpretation has the commandment about God’s name as the second.  The Dekalog was filmed in a mostly Catholic country, so their point prevails.

There are a number of issues that come under this command.  One is that one must not swear falsely, for God’s name is tied up in one’s word and promise.  Another has to do with being a leader or a prophet and speaking for God—to speak for God casually or without regard to what God really says is a sin.  This short film deals with both aspects of this command.

The doctor is in the place of God.  Not that he is God, but he is lofty, lonely, full of knowledge and has the utmost authority.  To hear his voice is to hear the voice of God.  The woman is in the place of humanity, the typical human.  She is stressed, torn and unable to make a fateful decision.  So she becomes destructive, sometimes without her will, sometimes with it.  She destroys what is good so that she can deal with the chaos that her life has become.   She demands to know the future, so she can have less stress and stop the path of destruction she is on. When the doctor tells the truth to the woman, that he does not know what will happen to her husband, she accuses him of sin.  This is a normal relationship between a human and God. God doesn’t tell the future, and the human is angry at God for the destruction that is caused.

Of course, most of the destruction is caused by our own hands, because of our own inner needs.  God has nothing to do with it.  We blame God, because we have to blame someone.  Someone not ourselves.

Here we go into spoiler territory, now:

But the doctor uses his authority, his voice of God, to lie to her.   He does this in order to prevent her from having an abortion.  Why?  Because he lost his children in the war, and he knows that he will ruin her life if she continues to follow the path of destruction she is on.  So he lies, he takes the voice of God and uses it for an untruth, in order to create peace for another.  Is this wrong?  Did he do wrong?  He broke the command.  But he created a bond of family that wouldn’t have been there if he had told the truth.  His arrogance, his presumption, placing himself in the throne of God… is this for the good?

It is said that the writer of fiction creates questions, not answers.  Kieslowski is good at that.

There are other details that are brought up.  The observer is in the hospital, wearing an orderly’s outfit in the dying man’s room.  But he isn’t even noticed by the wife when she goes in.  Is he seeable to the human eye?  Or is she just distracted?  The leak that is right about the dying man’s bed I have a number of questions about: Is this speaking to the condition of hospitals in general?  That they don’t really notice or care about patients?  Was the leak making him worse—it certainly prevented him from resting.  And his wife notices the water on his face.  Does she see the leak?  If so, why doesn’t she say anything about it to get it stopped, or to have her husband moved to another bed?  Is this part of the path of destruction she is on, to get her husband killed? 

Finally, the image of the bug crawling out of the dirty water to live another day.  Okay, Kieslowski says that he doesn’t have allegories, that things just happen.  Right, sure.  As if the bug doesn’t represent the man getting better on his own, crawling out of the disease, despite him receiving no help from anyone.   Sure you don’t use allegory.

Dekalog 1: "You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me"

The Dekalog, a Polish TV series by famous film director Krzysztof Kieslowski, is an odd duck.  It is ten hours with ten stories, focused on different characters.  But sometimes a character in one story will show up in another, and a sad-faced young man often appears throughout the series.  All ten take place in the same set of apartment buildings in Poland.  The depth of writing is a norm for Kieslowski, dealing strictly with the practical, but the stories have deep philosophical and moral questions, which are left as questions.  It is quite possibly the most significant TV series ever made.

One might think that the ten stories have to do with the ten commandments in the title, but they don’t firmly rest on one story or another.  Although they could be understood relating to a particular commandment, more often than not they question the idea of commandments with moral quandaries that don’t give us clear answers.  Yet there are such immense value in the questions, in the stories we are presented, we become richer people just by considering each item in the set.

Dekalog 1
“You shall have no other gods before me.”

We see scenes of a great dad raising his kid with the help of his sister.  The kid is borderline genius and is joyful about almost everything in his life, chess, his computer, feeding pigeons crumbs.  The only disagreement between dad and aunt is a matter of faith.  She believes in God, the soul, the church, and dad doesn’t.  But they work it out.  If Pavel wants religious education, that’s fine with dad.  When dad says something is true, aunt doesn’t disagree with him. 

Underlying all of this is the question of knowledge v. faith.  Everyone: dad, aunt, the computer all admit that there are realms in which they do not have knowledge.  The government official displays a distinct lack of knowledge about the milk he is providing free for schoolkids.  Dad’s “faith” is in knowledge, the fact that truth can be measured and determined, and if it cannot be measured, then it cannot be known or believed in. 

Yet, in the end, we are shown that no matter how careful we are in knowledge, we cannot depend on it. There is a range of knowledge, but we are limited as to how much we can trust that it is true. 

There is a place for faith.  Faith may or may not express truth, but it can help us appreciate and embrace mystery, the realm where our minds cannot go.  It creates community to help us when we cannot express our emotion.  And it helps us meet the broader universe, who is honestly concerned with our crises and tragedies.  Religion is the realm of the in-between, the unknowable but real. 

Is there a “god” replacing the real “God” in this film?  It is not the computer, whose “I am ready” communicates service, not lordship.  The computer is in the film to illustrate how difficult it is to express our thoughts to another, working with different languages or assumptions on how the world works.  The only false “god” in this film is dad’s reason, his ability to make determinations.  He seems so wise, and to Paval, he seems to know everything.  But we see his irrationality when he is stressed, his inability to draw a conclusion when it is obvious to the rest of us. 

We are weak, and we need something to fill the gaps, to help us and comfort us when we are in error.