Saturday, March 17, 2007


Some movies stick with you for days, weeks and sometimes, a lot longer. They can occupy a space in your mind that provokes a sudden chuckle while driving alone in the car. Other times, they reinforce the creepy realization that the world is filled with despicable souls, buttressing the presence of evil in the world.

Lost in the Cineplex this past week, I was caught in evil’s grip. I took in the epic Battle of Thermopylae, between East and West in 300 and the trail of a serial killer in Zodiac.

Both films were based on historical facts. Both are stories that resonate today.

One was a large-scale projection of a gruesome war and a film adaptation of a graphic novel shot against a Bluescreen to duplicate the imagery and style of the original book.

The other, a tighter, more focused lens on the evil of one depraved man, a demon who embodied a killer.

One was the socio-political battle between good and evil on a grand scale. The other, a psychologically twisted mystery, almost unbearable to watch, because it was so real in its depiction.

Both, while just movies, smacked of today’s headlines bringing them that much closer to home (literally, on my driveway.)

At the bus stop where I drop my son off and as I waited on the corner with all the children, I started to describe to a neighborhood mom the effect Zodiac had on me. In one particular scene, the murderer endangers a child. Her reply was, “I can’t watch those kinds of things.” I understood. In the theatre, there were times I had to turn away and not look.

But when I came back home and picked up The Baltimore Sun, my eyes were met with a monster’s and a headline that read, “Killer casts a shadow of violence.” According to The Sun, Lawrence Banks was convicted of shooting to death a friend in Pasadena and then his own son in Baltimore on the same day in 1991. He killed his son because the son and a daughter claimed that Banks had abused them, the daughter sexually and both of them physically.

In 1976, he had been sentenced to 15 years for throwing that daughter, then a 7-month-old, through a glass door during an argument with his wife. Just before Banks went to trial in that case, his wife was found dead in an East Baltimore apartment. Her body was so decomposed that the medical examiner could not determine a cause of death.

Reading this news I was stunned at the malevolence. I had to read it again; to be sure I was soaking it in. Moments earlier, describing what I thought was distant celluloid and so easy to dismiss, seeped back into my doorway.

That was the front page. On the one where movies are listed, I found that
300 has angered Iranians who say the action flick insults their ancient culture and provokes animosity against Iran. Remembering what happened a few years ago, after Danish cartoons set off riots throughout the Muslim world, I wondered, given the tension today, how “epic” things could get.

Our world is like one of those overhead projectors we had in high school. We read the news and think reality couldn’t get any worse. Then we layer on top it another sheet of cellophane causing us to see that same image, in a completely different, often more distorted, way.

Earlier this month, the French critic and theorist, Jean Baudrillard died. He theorized a world of hyperreality. Wikipedia defines hyperreality as a world of simulation where illusion is what is real and where a consciousness loses its ability to distinguish reality from fantasy.

Spliced between headlines and movielines, where global conflicts and metro crime are across the aisle, one can’t escape the intersection these parallel worlds pull us down into.

The reel is real and the real is reel.