What follows is taken from an email from Abe, a regular commenter at this blog who read my long essay on The Counselor and came back with his own fascinating observations
If anyone else would like to contribute to the discussion, send me your thoughts and I’ll be happy to consider it for a future guest post.
I haven’t watched movies for years, but now that I watched this one, read your thoughtful essay, and contemplated the issue, I’d like to offer you my own observations; there are many things I’d like to say, too many for an email, but here it goes: first of all, the German reviews are – unsurprisingly – as devastating as the Anglo-American one’s which makes me sad because this movie offers a door to salvation, of which the first step, of course, is the acknowledgment of one’s own damnation. One female critic even called the movie “Quatsch”, the most inept word imaginable, proofing one of the lines: “Women don’t want to fix anything. They just want to be entertained.” I guess this makes us men!
Be this as it may, there is a subtle double meaning in “Black Magic Realism”, based on the cabbalistic recognition of the identity of Satan and the Holy Spirit, depending on the soul’s (un)readiness in receiving the divine influx as a consequence of spiritual insight. To complement your sketch of the satanic side, let me focus on the divine side: a key scene of the movie has been deleted, as I noticed, the monologue of the diamond dealer: “There is no culture save Semitic culture. There. The last known culture before that was the Greek und there will be no culture after that. The heart of any culture is to be found in the nature of the hero. Who is that man who is revered? In the classical world it is the warrior. But in the western world it is the man of God. From Moses to Christ. The prophet. The penitent. Such a figure is unknown to the Greeks. Unheard of. Unimaginable. …”
The diamond dealer talks about the future prospect of the Counselor, and mine and yours as well, respectively of the viewer. As you pointed out so aptly: this movie will not let us be unimplicated! By shocking us into reality awareness, it imposes upon us a choice: to become a man of God! It is very Jewish, in a good way. Spiritually speaking, a Jew is not “chosen” but “choosy”! And “sin is a choice”, as one line on the movie poster has it. Greek culture is a demon infested world. The Greek gods are the human passions, particularly greed and lust, desiring blood sacrifice. Most people do not want to awaken because they shun the responsability that comes with such an awakening. In fact, there are only two cultures, based on either heroic or religious myths. Otto Rank writes in Truth and Reality (1929): “the contrast between these two myths, the religious and the heroic, signifies … a contrast … between two world views, or better said, between two great principles, which we here seek to comprehend as experience and knowledge, living and knowing. The hero myth represents experience (living), the deed, the will, which consciousness could only restrict, but the hero comes to grief and must come to grief in the fact that he cannot know beforehand and does not even want to know (*) so that he can act. The religious myth represents “knowing”, the knowledge of God, that is, self knowledge, and here man suffers again in that, knowledge about himself interferes with naïve action, restraints him and torments without affording him the satisfaction and liberation which the deed grants. He cannot accomplish through action any more because he thinks, because he knows too much.”
(*) ESCORT I think you’ve told me more than I wish to know. MALKINA Then I say no more.
In short, the Counselor stands “at that crossing” between the two great principles of acting and knowing, what makes that crossing possible is grief, and – ideally – turns into compassion. Alchemically speaking, grief is melancholia, is materia prima, is the philosopher’s lead turned under immense pressure, remorse, suffering – fixation, immobilisation, crucification – into the philosopher’s gold of compassion and love, resp. salvation and redemption!
JEFE Grief transcends every value. And yet with it you can buy nothing (read: knowing).
JEFE You may dedicate your life to grief or not. (read: become a man of God or not)
WESTRAY The only thing ultimately of worth your concern (!) is the anguish of your fellow passengers on this hellbound train. (read: become compassionate and loving)
The metaphor of the “crossing over” is also a Buddhist theme, from Samsara to Nirvana. There are many other analogies, too many to be counted.
As to Westray’s death – at one moment, if you noticed, Westray was laughing (!) – beheading has also a very deep spiritual meaning: in Christianity we have John the Baptist, the initiator of Christ (aka the Counselor), and in Shia Islam we have the very significant martyrdom of Imam Hussein. “And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: ‘They are dead.’ Nay, they are living, though ye perceive it not.” (Qur’an 2:154)
The head represents the “intellect”, the Spirit, the Atman, the immortal Self, and further the head represents the hidden, the esoteric order of things (heaven), while the body is the manifest, the exoteric (earth). The separation of body and head is the irreconcilability of the esoteric with the exoteric order of things: one is the veil of the other! “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat; …” (R. Kipling) This is a very deep secret, although it might sound banal at first glance, but has very deep ramifications, as was known by the Wise.
WESTRAY If you think you can live in this world and be no part of it, all I can say is you are wrong.
DEALER What was meant to be a union remains forever untrue and we see a troubling truth in that the forms of our undertakings are complete at their beginnings. For good or for ill.
DEALER You can only have a man of God, not a man of Gods. And this God is the God of the Jewish people. There is no other God.
The spiritual significance is as follows: the Gods are the passions, the Jewish people (Israel) is the soul (psyche), the one God is the Spirit (Atman). But because of the irreconcilability of the esoteric and the exoteric order of things we have also such a thing as ordinary, clueless Jews, which reminds me: MALKINA is an aggregation of MALkuth (Kingdom of God) and SheKINA (Divine Presence). In Orthodox Christianity it is believed that every man will meet the Divine Presence in the afterlife. The good man will see and feel beauty and love, while the sinful man will see and feel wrath and anguish. “Sin”, by the way, literally means “missing the mark”, living beneath the dignity of man, “depravity” in the words of the movie.
The term “Counselor” is an ironic choice, as you noticed, because he doesn’t counsel anybody, on the contrary, everybody lectures him, which makes sense if one takes into account that:
JEFE The world is in fact oneself.
The counselled one is the Counselor, which is the Thou Art That (Tat Tvam Asi) of the Ancient Vedantic tradition, again not an individual human being, but the Atman, the immortal Self. The Black Magic of the movie is of course the unproven suggestion that you are your body and your mind is your brain. This is the Gordian Knot to be cut by the sword (power of discrimination)!
WESTRAY You don’t know someone till you know what they want.
ESCORT What is it that you want? MALKINA My own life. I own very little. Some jewelry. A few clothes.
Double meaning once more: my own life can mean “survival by all means for as long as possible” or it can mean “My True Self”!
WESTRAY But time is not going to stop, Counselor. It’s forever. Everything that exists will one day vanish. Forever. And it will take with it every explanation of it that was ever contrived.
JEFE The world is in fact you. It is a thing which you have created, no more, no less. And when you cease to be so will the world. There will be other worlds. Of course. … Your world – the only one that matters – will be gone. And it will never come again. The extinction of all reality is a concept no resignation can encompass. Until annihilation comes. And all grand ideas are seen for what they are.
What is wrong is that you consider yourself to be limited to this body and shape.
Death is considered to be a traumatic experience, but understand what happens. That which has been born, the knowledge ‘I am’, will end. That knowledge, which was limited by this body, will then become unlimited, so what is to be feared?
When the body drops down, the knowledge ‘I am’ will subside there only – what remains is the Absolute.
‘Maya’ means ‘I am’, ‘I love to be’, It has no identity except love. That knowledge of ‘I am’ is the greatest foe and the greatest friend. Although it might be your greatest enemy, if you propitiate it properly, it will turn around and lead you to the highest state.
That feeling of love must be understood and then love will unfold itself. Love for the Self, this consciousness, ‘I am’, those who have understood this as the true love, have themselves become love. All has merged in them.
All this profound talk is nothing but mental entertainment. As you go further into spirituality you will realize that ‘I am’ is the very God or soul of an infinite number of universes, but the ‘I am’ is again entertainment. All my talks are conceptual entertainment.
Only one in ten million goes to the crux of the matter, analyzes what it is, comes to a conclusion, and gets liberated, all by himself. The one who gets liberated is the consciousness, there is no entity.
The Ultimate state in spirituality is that state where no needs are felt at any time, where nothing is useful for anything. That state is called Nirvana, Nirguna, that which is the Eternal and Ultimate Truth. The essence and sum total of this whole talk is called Sat-guru Parabrahman, that state in which there are no requirements.
Any thought that you have reached or are going to reach that state is false. Whatever happens in consciousness is purely imaginary, an hallucination; therefore, keep in mind the knowledge that it is consciousness in which everything is happening. With that knowledge, be still, do not pursue any other thoughts which arise in consciousness. What is necessary is to understand with sure conviction is that all is temporary, and does not reflect your true state.
You are afraid because you have assumed something as ‘I am’, which actually you are not. Suppose you find a diamond ring on the road and you pocket it. Since it is not yours, a fear overcomes you. When you put on an identity that is not yours, you are afraid. Presently you are this ‘I am’, but this ‘I am’ is not the truth. Whatever you are prior to the appearance of ‘I am’, that is your real nature.
There is nobody who can have the knowledge of the Truth, the Eternal. It is one’s eternal true state, but is not a knowledgeable state – you cannot know It.