War of the Worlds, Part I: What the Bleep Do We Know?

Many of us have really taken to lambasting a couple of things that most of us know next to nothing about: Scientology as practice and theory, Tom Cruise’s seemingly ecstatic inner love-life, etc. What’s most disconcerting, or telling perhaps, is that this nearly uniform, rabid attack would seem to function only as self-defense mechanism for the devout. But it comes not only from the conservative media at large but from many corners that define themselves in strictly secular terms. Yes, the concept sounds patently ridiculous: aliens populated Earth eons ago, connecting to our souls somehow, or spirits maybe, and it is the human struggle ever since to shed the last vestiges of their being from ourselves, or something like that. It really sounds to me like nothing more than a 12-step program on a grandiose scale, a way for the less intellectually-inclined rich and famous to reconcile their own self-centeredness (and they are the center of our universe in a pretty damn literal way) with a belief system that allows for it while instilling some sense of moral awareness.

Like I said, I know little to nothing about the particulars. But what’s the difference between the "nutty-as-a-fruitcake" alien legend, and, say, some dude long ago being nailed to a cross, ascending to the skies, and subsequently returning to imbue each and every one of us with a distinct purpose, or, say, the belief that your distinct group are the "chosen people" who must return to the holy land that is rightfully theirs, and fuck everyone else. Dangling payess from our sideburns? Eating crackers and drinking wine as the body and blood of that crucified dude? Crashing low-flying planes into skyscrapers to get closer to God? Well, ok. You make the judgment call, but it’s somewhat disingenuous for the most atheist among us to lambaste something that simply represents another set of blissfully deluded principles.

But this is after all a movie blog, ostensibly, so what does this all mean for Spielberg’s War of the Worlds? Having seen it last night, I feel compelled to reject all of the already-tired-after-one-day-of-release criticisms that try to create a link between the film and the church of Scientology, and how this is somehow insidious for our culture. Jessica Winter’s Village Voice article, which proudly displays the poster next to the similarly designed Dianetics cover art, is simply a dead-end: "According to Hubbard, ailments ranging from the common cold to leukemia could be classified as merely psychosomatic; in Wells, the Martians have eliminated illness entirely. Were Wells's aliens the proto-Scientologists?" Well, uh, no. But thanks for asking.

Even worse, the question has filtered so much into our approach to Tom Cruise’s star persona that David Thomson says in his interview with Rob Nelson for City Pages this week: "I could conceive that War of the Worlds might be a very good film--even though it's certainly possible that [its star] Tom Cruise will have influenced it in profound ways." What the…? Oh oh, it must have been that time that Cruise incited a singalong prayer session onset with Kirstie Alley and that butch gal who voices Bart Simpson. God knows that Spielberg has proven himself time and again to be quite a Godless filmmaker, his films so often bereft of spirituality of any sort, why of course he’d need to fill in the gaps with Scientologist rhetoric! Michael Sragow of the Baltimore Sun REALLY has it in for Cruise: "eventually, the actor's relentless drive to be taken seriously pushes this escapist apocalypse past its tipping point, into irredeemable weightiness." Uh oh…need to be taken seriously in a two-hour film about the death of millions. And then: "Spielberg has said that he loves the ideas Cruise brought to this film, but they're lousy in essence or in execution." Does Cruise really come across as that bad an actor to Sragow (has this prick seen Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia, Born on the Fourth of July, Minority Report, or nearly anything else this most passionate of American actors has been in? It’s fun to bash him for his sheer belief in his roles, but how many other check-cashing actors can you say even that about?), or does he feel the need to protect his own beliefs from this marauding Hollywood "cultist"?

The media bombardment of the Cruise Crazies has really revealed a lot about a truly self-loathing culture, righteous in its own lack of beliefs yet not comfortable enough in its own skin to refrain from creating hierarchies within those accepted or dismissed systems. War of the Worlds is at its essence a film about the breakdown of all of that, its image of the facade of a city church ripped from its body says more about our tenuous connection to any shared faith than anything these uninformed yet authoritative writers can hack out.


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