September 18, 2011: Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
What with flicks like The Dunwich Horror and Dagon, we’re certainly no strangers to Lovecraft inspired movies here at the B-Movie Catechism. But Lovecraft inspired comedies? Yeah, not so much. I suppose that’s because tales of near omnipotent cosmic aliens whose very existence causes madness and mutations in those who perceive them just doesn’t seem like the kind of material designed to induce belly laughs. But you know what, The Last Lovecraft manages to pull it off for the most part. It does so, like a number of recent movies, by taking the template of Sean of the Dead and replacing certain superficial elements while keeping the overall tone. So, instead of Sean’s circle of underachieving working class Londoners, Last Lovecraft gives you a handful of underachieving aging comic book fanboys. And instead of zombies, you get fishmen. Gooey fishmen. Suckered fishmen. Hapless half-breed gill-slitted fishmen. Lots and lots of fishmen.
Now, it’s true that The Last Lovecraft never quite generates the same level of emotional investment in the characters that Sean of the Dead does, but the humor mostly makes up for it. If you’re at all familiar with H. P.’s mythos, then you’ll probably find plenty to smile about. There’s the cliff notes style animated history of the elder gods versus the dinosaurs, the sequence in which the boys train to battle Cthulhu using swimming pool noodles as tentacles, and, of course, the reclusive Captain Olaf, who lives in an RV in the middle of the desert (because there’s no water around) and beguiles strangers with his charming tales of “whole heapings of fish rape”. But even if you’re not up to speed on the entire Lovecraft library, you can still laugh at the all too real stuff such as the portly comic book freak in his XXL “my other pet is a shoggoth” t-shirt who tries to flee from the fishmen only to run out of breath after about 20 yards.
Okay, so that last one sounds a little mean, but it’s all in self-deprecating fun. The movie actually lovingly plays up to the fantasy of every comic book geek in the world… the chance to defeat a great evil and save the world. In that aspect, the movie leans more towards August Derleth’s interpretation of the Cthulhu mythos than it does to H. P. Lovecraft’s original vision, at least according to the various works cited on the Cthulhu Wiki. “Common themes in Lovecraft's fiction are the insignificance of humanity in the universe and the search for knowledge ending in disaster. Humans are often subject to powerful beings and other cosmic forces, but these forces are not so much malevolent as they are indifferent toward humanity. Lovecraft called this viewpoint Cosmicism, a doctrine which holds that humankind's religious beliefs are a mere conceit and that ultimately humanity is alone and defenseless in an uncaring universe.” In contrast, “Derleth had his own take on the mythos and tried to make it conform to his own Catholic values and dualism. Instead of a universe of meaninglessness and chaos, Derleth's mythos is a struggle of good versus evil… Derleth further distorted Lovecraft's vision by concocting a parallel to the Christian narrative of Satan warring against Heaven, pairing the devils of Lovecraft's mythos (the Old Ones) against a race of benevolent Elder Gods with humanity's fate hanging in the balance.”
Well, whether Mr. Derleth distorted or (gasp) improved on Lovecraft’s Yog-Sothothism is an argument I’ll leave to the frothing fanboys, but the comparing and contrasting of the two approaches is telling in some respects. You see, a lot of the horror in Lovecraft hinges on the sheer alien nature of the old ones and the inability of the human mind to comprehend them. What you don’t understand will drive you mad. But things don’t quite work that way when you overlay Christianity on top of it all. And it’s not because religion offers answers to everything. You see, while the Catechism makes it explicitly clear that God “calls man to seek him, to know him”, this week’s first reading reminds us that our knowledge of God has its limits. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” In a certain sense, excepting what small portion of Himself He’s reveals through Christ and The Holy Spirit, the eternally omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, omniscient, Christian God who exists both inside and outside of time and space is just as ungraspable and alien to the human mind as any fictional elder god poor old Lovecraft’s fevered little brain could ever cook up.
The difference is that while Cthulhu and his pals, consistent with Lovecraft’s real life atheistic worldview, couldn’t give a rat’s ass about humanity and see us only in utilitarian terms, the vast unimaginable creative force behind the universe that is God knows each and every one of us individually. And while that’s scary in its own right, especially if you’re up to something He doesn’t like, it’s also comforting because, as this week’s responsorial Psalm points out, “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works. The Lord is near to all who call upon him.” So go ahead and keep searching for God, keep trying to grasp what little of himself He has revealed to us, even if there’s no way in this life you’ll comprehend but a fraction of it all. Trust me, the amount of peace and love you’ll find in that little bit is more than enough to bring about a continuous tentacle-free transformation in your life. Really, given the benefits, the only madness in searching for God is not searching at all.
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