Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why I Find Martyrs To Be Truly Horrifying

This is probably the most personal post I've ever written on this blog in its almost 4 years of existence. I was inspired to do it by the fabulous Rachel, the proprietor of Rach's Media Opinions. Her outstanding review of Martyrs spurred additional thought and I came to the realization why it is that this film is one of, if not THE most horrifying film I've ever seen. Before my thoughts on that, a little background on me.

I was born and raised in a pretty conservative Catholic household. Not overly beat you down conservative (my love for all things horror and rock n' roll came from my father) but I was certainly spoonfed a large serving of the religion and its belief structure every Sunday. And when I was of age, I went to a Catholic grade school where religion continued to be spoonfed. But instead of a message of a caring and loving God, I got word of a wrathful and punishing one. And I was instilled with something else that all of us Catholics have to deal with: Catholic guilt. If that wasn't enough, I went on to an all boys Catholic high school where I continued to receive ample heapings of dogma. I was looked at cross eyed when I raised my hand in Old Testament class one day and asked 'So if some kid lived out in the middle of nowhere, secluded from civilization his entire life and never came to find Jesus but ultimately lived a good life, then he'd go to hell?' To which an administrator of 'higher' education replied with a resounding 'yes'. My question extremely hypothetical? Yes. Ultimately revealing in the narrow minded 'my way or the highway' mentality that is organized religion? Yes. So began my disenchantment with structured faith and spoonfed prophecies.

Continuing onwards up until now at the ripe old age of 31, I've become increasingly more disenchanted with organized religion. I see televangelists every Sunday (increasingly more so now that I live in Texas) getting crowds worked up into a frenzy. Asking for money and 'charitable' donations so that God will be pleased. Going beyond that, I've seen and heard many a people in my lifetime put someone down or immediately judge someone who's of a different faith and hasn't taken Jesus as their personal savior. I've seen far more uglier sides of religion than good. Not to mention the institution itself taking its lumps over the last few years with money laundering men of the cloth and molesting monsignors.

I would go so far as saying that I now seriously doubt the existence of God. But something in the back of my mind says that there might be something else out there. What it is I don't know. Is it the ghosts of years of having word and gospels ingrained into my fiber? Maybe I actually want to believe there is something else out there and proof that 'it' exists. And that is where the completely mind melting horror of Martyrs steps in.

What this movie represents is the penultimate expression of trying to prove the existence of God (or the existence of an afterlife), at whatever cost, in order to have a closer 'oneness' with your faith. What else do you do when you have everything? You have the legion of followers, the money, and what you deem a 'personal connection'? What's the next logical step in justifying your faith? Your existence as a human being? How this movie frames and presents this concept is truly horrifying on every level imaginable. And it doesn't matter whether or not you are a firm believer or have previously ascribed to a particular religion or belief structure. When this idea hits, it hits hard and its difficult to walk away from this movie watching experience without thinking about it for days. The lengths to which the characters in the film go to, in torturing and pushing victims to the very limits of what their body can handle, coming within mere inches of actually dying, is the single most heinous act (in my mind) that one human can inflict upon another. Mutilation and torture of another to prove the existence of THEIR creator? To justify THEIR existence and everything THEY'VE believed in during THEIR entire life? I don't think for a second that its not possible for something like this to take place or quite possibly, it could be happening already. Afterall, I think people are the most self-centered and self-serving creatures on the face of the planet.

This movie shook me to the very core and it will do the same for you. Whether you are a firm believer in something greater or not.

Cortez the Killer

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CRwM said...

I don't have a particular dog in the God/no God fight. But I don't think we saw the same flick.

I thought part of the point of the flick is that the bizarre cult was not religious, in any conventional sense.

They hypothesized that there was some sort of existence beyond death, and felt this hypothesis could be tested through experimentation. They didn't have faith or a belief in god, but rather a body of evidence that they take to be material proof of that existence. They torture victims in the hope of, essentially, launching an explorer into that space and getting them to report back.

But they do this not because they have some holy text or prophecy telling them to do it. In fact, it's clear that they have no idea what happens after death. That's why they are determined to get reports from the other side. They don't have faith, they want data.

The religion angle is dismissed by the villains within the film. They mention that people mistakenly take the transcendent to be a religious state, but that's because they mistake correlation with causation: religious martyrs see the transcendent because they've been painfully and violently martyred, not because they are religious. That's the point of showing "martyrs" who reached the transcendent through mundane methods of pain, such as a car accident.

It's also why the filmmakers give the endnote definition of a martyr as "witness," rather than somebody persecuted for religious beliefs. In the context of the film, the torture victims are meant not as sacrifices to God, but as sacrifices to the knowledge of what happens after physical death. They cult view themselves followers, but rather explorers.

Finally, their lack of religious faith is revealed in the answer the cult member gives when asked by the leader what happens after death. He answers that he doesn't know.

Faith doesn't need proof. That's the secret of its awesome and terrible certainty. The baddies in Martyrs want proof. They aren't crazed religious nuts. They're mad atheist scientists.

Rev. Phantom said...

I think part of what makes this film great is that can be interpreted in different ways...I can certainly see your take on it, as well as CRwM's. Your upbringing obviously had in an influence on how you interpreted it--which is really the beauty of a film like this--people can make it their own, in a way, and take from it what they want.

Cortez The Killer said...

@CRwM, so even though a God wasn't spoken of per se, or a certain religious, dogmatic message needed to be validated, it was still rooted in proving that something beyond our comprehension existed. And thats ultimately what made this a terrifying film. Great points all around and now I feel like I need to watch this for a 3rd time. But even though the guy at the end admits that he doesn't know, doesn't preclude them from having some sort of religious or spiritual faith (there is a difference, so even though they may not overtly claim a religious faith, they still believe in SOMETHING). And the fact that he says he doesn't know makes the film that much more gut punching. All that work for naught. But you've given me some great points to think about and like I said, I want to watch this again.

@Rev, my sentiments exactly. You can take from it what you want based on your own personal experiences. And thats what makes it such a brilliant film.

Chris Hallock said...

I appreciate the personal history and insight you've brought to this review. It's the sort of writing I seek out and devour when reading about horror films. I, too, think this is one of the fiercest, most uncompromising, and intelligent horror films I've ever seen.

I think even though something may not fit into the textbook definition of religion, it can still be religious without the addition of a god, saint or savior in a biblical sense (or the doctrine of your choice. That's why dogmatic scientists bother me just as much as extremist religions. At their core, they are (some, not all) participating in some horrifyingly destructive practices with their "faith" being the driver.

B-Movie Becky said...

I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts on Martyrs, as well as the personal background. I didn't really like Martyrs, but I can admit that it is a powerful film. However, I think the ideology of the film is a bit confused. It's a deconstruction of the spirit, and also nihilistic in its outlook as the director has stated. So in some ways, that makes it tough to read. Where does the film stand? It seems to remove meaning from life, forms, etc. Is it really condemning the "bad guys" for their actions? Or is it saying that none of it really matters? Is it making moral judgments? Or constructing a world where morals have no value?

I also agree with CRwM's point that the group may not have been religious, but rather atheistic scientists. That's more of the impression I received from the film. But I can see it going either way.

Anyway, interesting stuff. Great post!

the jaded viewer said...

Awesome post CTK. As always both views are equally valid but I'll say this.

I tend to lean towards the devout aspect as I think this "cult" when so far to justify their torture for all that is religion.

When they are told "the bad news" that faith gets destroyed and everything they did to justify their actions is meaningless.

Thats my 2 cents

Rach555 said...

Hi! I feel like I'm the last to find out about this post, lol!

I really appreciate the shout-out, and really enjoyed the review. It's interesting to hear the different things that were taken from this film by different people.


Cortez The Killer said...

Great points all. And thanks for contributing your own thoughts. Ultimately why I decide to do this post, there is so much to take from this film. Probably the most 'make you think' horror film that I've ever seen. Simply brilliant.

Emily said...

Great post. I need to revisit Martyrs soon and hear more interpretations like yours. Before I watched it, I'd successfully manage to avoid every bit of writing I could so as to not hear spoilers, but I think it's the kind of film that's important to view again with these kinds of thoughts brewing in your head. This is one of my favorite articles on the film thus far.

The Film Connoisseur said...

I havent seen Martyrs yet, but thanks to this review its now the next film that I will be watching!

As for organized religion, I hate it myself and Im not afraid to say it or shout it to the four winds. I grew up (thanks to my parents) on christianity and continued to be a very religious person myself for a great part of my life...until I started to despise how they think the rest of the world who is not christian, is evil.

I did not agree with this because I personally knew many people who were great, even better human beings then a lot of the christians that I knew.

Many other factors helped me see that its all an illusion filled with the perfect answers to everything. Even though non of these "answers" that religion offers can be proved. They are simply tall tales that we have to take for granted on "faith" which is really just believing blindly on something without any proof.

I started to realize that Id never heard the voice of God (even when I demanded to hear it) or that Id never seen a ghost or an angel, or a demon or the afterlife. Ive never seen anything supernatural in my life, and until I do, I wont believe there is anything other then this life we live.

Weird thing is, after you leave religion behind, then what do you believe in? After a while, you realize all you have to believe in is nothing.

I simply enjoy life, try to be the best human being I can. Im good to everyone and help out in society as much as I can. Push things forward to make the world better.

The only real evil in the world is man. Not Satan, cause there is no such thing as Satan.

Some choose to live in the illusion, others choose to live an all too real existense who's main belief system is based on a resounding "I dont know"

Cause really, who knows anything at all about the true secrets of the universe? About how it all began and where we go when we die? Nobody knows, religions are just ideas we humans have made up to fill that big void we face when we realize no one truly knows anything about the big questions in life.

The world would be better without religion. It would be better if we taught kids to believe in themselves, instead of relying on an invisible force that doesnt exist or show its face even in the midst of tragedy and chaos.

Believing in one self, and deciding things for ourselves, whats best for us is what we should believe in.

Sorry if I rambled a little too much Cortez!

Cortez The Killer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cortez The Killer said...

@Emily, thank you. That means a lot coming from a great writer such as yourself. I look forward to hearing what you think about it.

@FTC, wow, thank you for sharing your personal beliefs and take on religion. I myself am starting to lean that way, more self-reliance rather tha on anything that can't be seen or readily proved. Although thats a tenant of faith, I can't ascribe to something anymore which has done more harm in the world than good. I also look forward to hearing what you think about the film.

Robert Ring said...

Very good post Cortez. I can say as a Presbyterian that I'm horrified by some of the very same things.

As for the film itself, I haven't seen it, but from what you've said it sounds reminiscent of The Vanishing. In that case, it's a man testing his own morality and humanity as opposed to trying to prove the existence of a God, but it's generally the same concept of immersing yourself in your own evil in an attempt to find its limits.

TrG said...

I had a similar reaction when I saw this film. I grew up Protestant, not Catholic, but I saw it as a critique of religion.

As Christians, we are taught that Jesus suffered and died for our salvation. These scientists or cultists in the movie are trying to find God through someone else's suffering. Which is the basis of Chrisitianity.

And by seeing it literally and calculatingly played out is revolting.

Which is the point, I think.

I gave my two cents over here: