Euclid the Geometrician once met King Ptolemy in one of the shining white palaces that adorned the ancient city of Alexandria. The king was eager to know the mathematician's system, and he asked, without thinking, if there were a shortcut to learning Euclid's many theorems and postulates. "Sire," the great mathematician answered, "There is no royal road to learning."
Our "Old Embers" column tries to give its readers a shortcut to understanding politics through the medium of old books and movies. Politics is perplexing, and the nearer we approach our goal, the more difficult and obscure certain notions seem. It has been my hope, that with the right tools - a few good books and movies - we could hack through the dense undergrowth of deceit and confusion and mount back up into our rightful place - a high place from which we could survey the ruins of our lost civilization.
A work is considered difficult if it is subject to varying interpretations. No movie provokes such conflicting interpretations as "The Night of the Hunter."
The movie tells the story of Reverend Harry Powell, a very dangerous killer, who masquerades as a man of the cloth.
On his knuckles are tattooed the words LOVE and HATE. These words form the basis of a sermon which mesmerizes his victims, luring them to their destruction. His next intended victims are two small orphans. One of these small orphans has hidden a small fortune in a rag doll. Powell pursues the children along a mysterious river, a landscape populated by bright-eyed owls and giant croaking frogs, a world which the viewer experiences with immediacy and childlike wonder.
The real hero of the story, Rachel Cooper, played by Lilian Gish, does not make her appearance until near the end of the movie. Miss Cooper is a pious Christian who runs an orphanage; and she alone is capable of rescuing the children from the terrifying evil of Reverend Powell. Everyone but Miss Cooper is taken in by the subtlety and craft of the supremely wicked, snake-like Reverend Powell. Rachel's power to resist Powell comes from her reliance on love, and the world of the spirit.
Some will find in "The Night of the Hunter" a disquisition on the nature of good and evil. Others will find it a disturbing indictment of the unexamined assumptions of modern day America. One telling scene shows an orphan about to meet her end against a backdrop of glittering neon signs and blaring juke-box music, a comment on the superficiality and emptiness of modern American life. The movie is careful to make the point that only those who have rejected the evil inherent in a money-mad, mercenary society have the power to expose and defeat the likes of a Reverend Powell.
Nor does the movie spare those who would mystify the public with a Democrat/Republican, Left/Right paradigm. The words tattooed on Reverend Powell's knuckles - Love/Hate - are a spelling-binding irrelevancy which Powell uses to mystify, then destroy his victims.
The movie also reveals that it is precisely the politicians and other trusted 'establishment' figures who have opened the floodgates to evil in America. Indeed, evil which masquerades under an apparent good is shown to be the most terrifying evil of all.
Televangelists, Simoniacs, the smug and the self-satisfied, are certain to detest this eerily frightening movie. The true conservative is sure to treasure it.
"The Night of the Hunter" shows that true conservatism is based on transcendent values obtained from God. These values become real only when people act from altruistic motives- to protect the innocent and the weak. As the Bible says, true religion consists in protecting the widow and the orphan.
Indeed, the opening scene of the movie shows Rachel and her children portrayed as glittering stars, shining brightly above a very dark and fallen world.
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