DVD: Heaven on Earth
Theatrical Release: 2008
DVD Release: 2009
Starring: Preity Zinta, Balinder Johal, Vansh Bhardwaj
Director: Deepa Mehta
A Hamilton Mehta Production in co-production with The National Film Board of Canada
A Myth Within a Fable Within an Actuality
?The demon locks Chand up in his castle. It starts to rain for seven days and seven nights. The sea rises and enters the castle, breaking down the castle door. The water carries with it a black cobra. The snake has a golden crown on his head. The snake says to Chand, ?Come Chand, I’ll take you home to your mother.??
Heaven on Earth
A group of beautifully dressed women in a large room in India is joyfully singing, clapping, and dancing. Chand sits among them, a lovely, dimpled girl brimming with happiness, self-confidence, and love.
Chand, still composed and self-assured, takes a plane to Canada to meet her husband, Rocky, and his family for the first time. She is warmly welcomed in a series of beautiful (and obviously expensive) ceremonies ushering her into her new family in Brampton, Ontario. The romance and beauty of these scenes prepare the heart for the jarring scenes that follow.
After a brief honeymoon during which the consummation of the marriage is interrupted by Chand’s whiny, jealous mother-in-law and Chand receives the first of many blows, Chand is forced to work in a factory, her wages paid directly to her husband. She has no money of her own and must quietly put up with the insults of her mother-in-law, who seems to take pleasure in watching her son beat his young wife, seeing it as solid evidence that Mummy comes first.
Bhardwaj subtly and brilliantly reveals the repressed anger Rocky feels toward his overbearing and utterly selfish mother, anger that he releases on his new bride. The character Rocky is a clear representation of how domestic violence correlates with greed, sexism, exploitation, colonialism, and racism.
The close camera work, vivid cinematography, and Zinta’s sensitive portrayal of Chand lend an immediacy and realism to the story. But nearly halfway through the story primitive, mythic elements emerge as if to challenge the horror of Chand’s reality. A shape-shifting cobra soon takes a central role in the story.
The story of the shape-shifting serpent that appears malevolent but eventually reveals itself as the personification of love itself can be found in several world mythologies, notably the Zuni story The Serpent of the Sea. In this myth the river god Kolowissi takes revenge on a hyper-clean maiden who dirties his water with her constant bathing. While she is grieving having to leave her family to go live with a monster, the serpent is transformed into a handsome and loving prince who ushers her into paradise.
Carl Jung pointed out the frequency with which snakes appear in hero tales and in paintings and sculptures of heroes. The snake in this context can be seen as a symbol of the hero’s shadow side, that tendency of the hero to believe himself above ethical considerations. The snake presents itself to the hero, and the test is not to deny its power; only the hero who lifts the snake is worthy of glory.
In Heaven on Earth the heroine bravely brandishes the snake as she speaks the truth about her alleged guilt. Like snake-handling Baptists, Chand thus proclaims her spiritual invincibility, affirming a refusal to acquiesce to the moral degradation to which she is subject.
There may be no more fitting portrait of the abused woman as hero.
Heaven on Earth manifests 11 of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it confronts existing injustices; 3) it renews my enthusiasm for positive social action; 4) it gives me tools enabling me to respond with compassion and efficacy to the suffering around me; 5) it makes me want to be a better artist; 6) it gives me tools that help me be a better artist; 7) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 8) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 9) it is about attainment of the true self; 10) it stimulates my mind; and 11) it poses and admirably responds to questions which have a direct bearing on my view of existence.
The Bard could use some help scouting out new material. If you discover any books, compact disks, or movies which came out in the last twelve months and which you think fit the Bard’s criteria, please drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I agree with your recommendation, I’ll thank you online.