The Mindful Bard – Problem of Evil

Only Drowning Men Could See Him

Film:Problem of Evil

Directors: Ethan Kogan and Jessica Silvetti

Written by: Ethan Kogan and Jessica Silvetti

?And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him,
He said, ?All men shall be sailors then, until the sea shall free them.?
But he himself was broken long before the sky would open,
Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.?
– Leonard Cohen, from ?Suzanne?

The film’s title makes you think You’re in for another installment of a philosophical inquiry?briefly, the question of whether there can be a just God for an evil world. It’s a question as old as the hills but that really picked up steam when the Nazi holocaust photos started emerging. It gets revived every time we’re jolted out of our yeah-but-that-was-in-the-past complacency (e.g. after the photos from Syria started emerging). Generally, the conclusion to this inquiry is that an evil humanity cannot be presided over by a just God.

In my opinion this is more of an emotional reaction than a logical conclusion (It’s like saying bad children can’t have good parents), but then I’m no philosopher. What I love about this film is the way it communicates the rage, grief, helplessness, loneliness, and, at times, pure idiocy that lie behind that emotional reaction.

In the film, Jacob is a Jewish agnostic and refuses to seek false comfort in religious pseudo-solutions. However, he’s also one hurting dude who is desperate to keep from drowning in his own grief.

When asked to interview a woman who manages a community garden, Jacob becomes unnerved when she tells him things about himself that she has no way of knowing. She claims that her ?leader? had told her all about Jacob and had even alerted her that Jacob would be coming to visit her soon.

Normally skeptical, Jacob knows that It’s a common trick of cultists, psychics, and fortune-tellers to pronounce facts about a person’s life that are so general as to apply to anyone, however, unhinged by the recent loss of his beloved wife Rebecca, Jacob falls for the garden lady’s speech even as he vehemently resists it. He becomes obsessed with finding the cult’s leader in spite of himself, defending his quest with the claim of wishing to expose him as a hoax. When the garden lady won’t tell him how to find the leader, he steals her address book and starts phoning everyone in it. (Wouldn’t you?)

This film is in a documentary format and so ?interviews? follow, and some of the interview subjects are pretty darn interesting, enlightening even, providing a précis of the spectrum of human responses to profound loss. Some actually inspire us with their sincerity and wisdom. Others, not so much.

We meet a slightly paranoid comic book artist who’s named himself after Xolotl?the twin brother of Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl. He’s looking forward to an impending apocalypse in which all will not be destroyed but rather put right, which mostly means (surprise!) sexual freedom.

It’s a real stab in the gut to watch those who believe they’ve encountered the divine and then lost it, such as the mentally ill Eli. Eli lives in a room with nothing but liquor bottles, a Bible, and a pile of blankets, raging in agony because he believes that the angel he loved?and who he thought loved him?has abandoned him.

When Jacob finally wins an audience with the leader of the garden lady’s cult, a man the cult members insist is actually an angel (or at least a Nephilim or descendent of angels), It’s to meet a guy who acts just like the Jesus portrayed in films?too tranquil, wise, poised, attentive, and full of himself to be of any earthly good. Still, Jacob can’t help but be swayed. He’s a smart guy, but his need is simply too great to allow him to completely dismiss this call to transcendence.

Jacob’s desperate grasping after meaning does not spin the plot out of control only because of the grounding presence of his sage cameraman, whose gentle spiritual wisdom is the ballast in Jacob’s tempest.

The visual symbolism in the film is awe-inspiring, a rare treat in a world where commercial filmmakers insist they don’t have time to insert messages most people just won’t get. We often see, for example, a close-up of Jacob’s wife’s wedding ring leaning against Jacob’s ring, and Jacob toying with them with his thick fingers, trying to come to terms with the demise of a union that felt like it should have been eternal.

There’s another cinematographic metaphor worth noting, and That’s the large mirror that Jacob, in his hunt for Mr. Saintly-Face, has covered with maps and stickies, all scribbled over with arrows and notes à la John Nash. Clearly Jacob is busying his mind and body in order to avoid facing his true self. Of course in the end all that paper has to come down so that, like it or not, he can stare himself in the face.

This film was open-source funded through Kickstarter. A heart-felt thanks to everyone who supported it; if I’d known about it I would have supported it, too. It’s a significant and highly engaging commentary on human existence, delivered amazingly well on a very limited budget. And I really hope the actors get paid, because boy do they deserve it.

Problem of Evil manifests seven of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing.

It’s authentic, original, and delightful; it poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence; it stimulates my mind; It’s about attainment of the true self; it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.