Tuesday, December 11, 2007

THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS

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TYPICAL REVIEW

"It's hard to say that this is a good movie, but it's certainly entertaining in a delirious sort of way." - Mark Zimmer, Digitally Obsessed.

THE PLOT

Nuclear scientist Steve March and his pal Dan track the source of a mysterious radiation to, um... Mysterious Mountain, where they encounter Gor, The Brain From Planet Arous. The immaterial (and quite eeeevil) Gor wastes no time in incinerating Dan and seizing control of Steve's body. Steve's fiance Sally senses something odd is going on; a fact confirmed when a second floating brain appears, announces himself as a policeman, and possesses the family dog. The new brain, Vol, explains that Gor is an escaped psychotic killer and can only be harmed during the one hour a day he must become corporeal in order to recharge his powers. With only that bit of knowledge, it's up to Sally and the dog to find a way to stop Gor before he can follow up on his threat to blow lots of things up.

THE POINT

John Agar is indispensable. If you have an infestation of mole people, giant tarantulas, invisible invaders, swamp creatures, women from a prehistoric planet, or even just that lame jackass Zontar The Thing From Venus, Agar is the go-to man to put things right again. And unlike other heroes, he does it as woodenly as humanly possible without forcing on you the slightest hint of overbearing charisma or personality. (And that's actually pretty refreshing considering today's post Will Smith ego driven era of heroism.) John Agar speaks kind of softly and acts like a big stick. Which is the main reason The Brain From Planet Arous is kind of fun, because for just this one movie, John Agar gets to go nuts!

Of course, most of the Brain From Planet Arous is business as usual as far as 50's sci-fi goes. You get ridiculously bad effects (The strings holding the huge paper mache brains are clearly visible.), extremely questionable science (Would a nuclear scientist really rush to a highly radioactive area dressed in nothing but Dockers just to see first hand what's leaking those gamma rays?), and obvious cost cutting in production (Gor threatens to destroy the world with archival footage from U. S. atomic bomb tests.). But whenever the Brain takes command of Agar's character Steve, things really get kicked up a notch. Brain-Steve is maniacal, supremely confident, and downright jolly as he indiscriminately roasts people with his heat vision and blasts toy airplanes out of the sky. Brain-Steve has such a good time being a sociopath, you're sorely tempted to start cheering for him instead of the good guys.

But it's not all work for Brain-Steve. After using Steve's mouth to plant a big sloppy kiss on Sally's lips, and then another and another, Gor decides conquering the world can wait just a few days while he checks out this whole physicality thing. (Apparently immaterial brain creatures don't see a lot of action where they're from.) "There are some aspects of the life of an Earth savage that are exciting and rewarding! Things that are missed by the Brains on my planet, Arous!" exclaims Gor. And just in case Steve doesn't get the point, Gor adds, ""We will take the young female for a ride in your car. I will enjoy being you tonight!" You know, Gor's excitement isn't really surprising. The Kinsey Report (conservatively?) claims that 54 percent of men think about sex every day, sometimes several times a day. I guess if you're a disembodied brain the size of a VW Beetle who has only just begun to experience physical sensations, then you're REALLY going to think about sex. Enthusiastically. (In contrast, Vol the brain policeman doesn't turn into a sex fiend, but since he possessed the dog, he was probably neutered.)

This is the kind of thing which makes speculative fiction (even goofball attempts like The Brain From Planet Arous) so much fun. It gives you a chance to explore questions like what might happen if a non-corporeal entity suddenly took bodily form and experienced all of the physical input we humans do? Of course, if you want to indulge in those kinds of musings, you could just go to church. I mean, in a certain sense, that very question is part of what we're asked to consider during the second half of Advent isn't it? That the omni-everything God we believe in somehow miraculously incarnated himself into the restrictions of time-space by assuming a human nature. And that by doing so subjected himself to all the bodily weaknesses to which the rest of us are subject to; things like hunger and pain and even death. And beyond that, as the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, became “one who in every respect has been tested as we are." Which should mean that, not unlike Gor, He was at the very least confronted with the temptations of the flesh.

But whereas Gor turned into something of a horn-dog when he "became man", God, in the person of Jesus, didn't. Why not? Sometimes, it's easy to dismiss the question because, well, Jesus is God and all that. It's not quite that easy, though. The Catechism reminds us that "because "human nature was assumed, not absorbed", in the mysterious union of the Incarnation, the Church was led over the course of centuries to confess the full reality of Christ's human soul, with its operations of intellect and will, and of his human body." Being fully human, that should mean in theory that the temptations were real for Jesus also. So what is it about Jesus that allowed him to remain sinless while The Brain From Planet Arous failed miserably? (I'm juxtaposing Jesus with a fictional brain creature from outer space. Does anyone else ever have those moments where you step back and wonder, "Is there something seriously wrong with me?")

The difference lies in the unique relationship of Jesus' divine and human natures. While it's true, notes the Catechism, that "Christ possesses two wills and two natural operations, divine and human... They are not opposed to each other, but cooperate in such a way that the Word made flesh willed humanly in obedience to his Father all that he had decided divinely with the Father and the Holy Spirit for our salvation. Christ's human will "does not resist or oppose but rather submits to his divine and almighty will." And as the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, this total surrender to the will of God meant that Jesus "endured temptation only from without, inasmuch as His human nature was free from all concupiscence," that inclination to choose evil which is the consequence of original sin. Basically, His human will was so totally of one mind with His divine will that it was simply impossible for Jesus to choose to sin.

Which is swell for Jesus, but what about us? (I'm making the assumption that the rest of you are sinners like me, I hope that's okay.) Well, as Father John Trigilio writes about Jesus, "It is NOT His alleged vulnerability to sin [susceptibility to temptation] which makes Him like us, but in that He shares our human nature, intellect and will." In short, we have the same weapons Jesus had to combat temptation, we just have to learn to use them the way He did. As we briefly noted earlier this week, one of the very reasons the Catechism gives for the Incarnation occurring in the first place was so that Jesus could be our model of holiness. So how exactly do we go about modeling our intellect and will on that of Jesus?

Sadly, only with lots of practice. In his encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI writes that "the “yes” of our will to His will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all- embracing act of love. But this process is always open-ended; love is never “finished” and complete; throughout life, it changes and matures, and thus remains faithful to itself. Idem velle atque idem nolle - to want the same thing, and to reject the same thing - was recognized by antiquity as the authentic content of love: the one becomes similar to the other, and this leads to a community of will and thought." 

This community of will and thought sounds a lot like what the Catechism meant when it said, "The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature". (It's enough to make a person think this Pope actually knows what's in the Catechism and believes it.) The Pontiff continues, "The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God's will increasingly coincide. God's will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself."

Cool. And you know, that concept of a slow increase in communion of thought brings up another interesting point. In this week's movie, The Brain From Planet Arous shows up, imposes his will on us, and things go all to hell. In the Incarnation, God shows up, teaches us how to voluntarily conform our will to his, and things get holier as a result. Cool also. And that's how things go during Advent season. In this period of contemplation on the Incarnation a person could go on and on thinking (and blogging) about the ramifications, never exhausting new avenues of discovery (although possibly exhausting readers who might be wondering when a simple movie review will ever end). It's almost enough to make a person sometimes wish they really could be a giant floating brain, just to have more resources to throw at the task. But then you see this week's movie and realize how stupid we'd all look if that were the case. Best to stick with the tiny brains what God gave us and trust that they're enough to get the job done.

Here's wishing everyone a thoughtful Advent season.

THE STINGER

Just because the process of becoming a "community of will and thought" is open-ended like the Pope suggests, that doesn't mean it's exactly leisurely. After listening to some disciples complain about the difficulties of following Christian teachings, St. Paul wrote rather scathingly, "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood." Which kind of suggests that you somewhere along the way the task becomes so difficult you'll end up sweating blood. Sorry. If you want an easy religion try Oprahism; the only requirements there seem to be daily television viewing and a book club membership. Nothing about having brains at all.

2 comments:

Rocket Scientist said...

"He does it as woodenly as humanly possible without forcing on you the slightest hint of overbearing charisma or personality...John Agar speaks kind of softly and acts like a big stick." Too true! Is there something wrong with me that I own every one of his B-movies? I laughed all the way through this post.

EegahInc said...

"Is there something wrong with me that I own every one of his B-movies?"

Around here that's considered a sign of good character.