I should be sleeping. I’m now working full-time, and my days start early.  But, beavers-dammit, the creative juices have always been a late-night flow for me.  My head is full of all kinds of weirdness that I thought was interesting, if not important, so I might as well get it out.

So, an old gal pal of mine came over on Feb. 4 (my first day off of orientation at my new job), to watch “The Silence of the Lambs” with me. It was her first time watching it all the way through, and for a first-timer, she handled the freakiness of the psychopaths pretty well; heck, we even ate some crackers with hummus and Laughing Cow cheese during the movie (ironic, because if you know anything about it, it involves gore, cannibalism, and more gore)!  As is usually the case after watching/reading a Hannibal Lecter movie/book, we both got to thinking, and we started talking about the nature of human depravity.

Have you seen “The Silence of the Lambs”?  If you haven’t, you might be under the impression that Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins) is a Ted-Bundy-like figure, only useful in a two-dimensional sense to create a bit of gory drama in an otherwise boring cinematic rendition of “CSI” made worse by the absence of an attractive male cast (not that Anthony Hopkins doesn’t have his charms. He does, they’re just the intangible, intellectual kind).  Actually, Dr. Lecter is uniquely scary; and that frightening feature is the fact that, while he’s violent and crazy, he’s also brilliant beyond human boundaries—to the degree that he doesn’t think he has to follow any of our rules.

That’s why he’s a fascinating character, and that has a lot to say about the nature of our own evil.  In one tête-à-tête between the incarcerated psycho/psychiatrist Dr. Lecter and the young FBI trainee, Clarice Starling (the ingenue-heroine played by Foster), Lecter helps Clarice to identify the motives of a serial killer using the Socratic method of teaching (i.e., asking questions and drawing out answers).  I’m going somewhere with this, but to do so, I’ll need to quote as directly as I can from the film, interpolating both from Anthony Hopkins’ performance and the directions from Ted Tally’s Oscar-winning screenplay where necessary.  In this scene, Clarice attempts to get Lecter to reveal to her the identity of the serial killer the FBI are currently pursuing. She believes Lecter may have known his identity because of a murder connected to one of Dr. Lecter’s old patients.

Dr. Lecter and Clarice have an intense interaction in "The Silence of the Lambs."

DR. LECTER (gesturing to the case file):  I have read the case files, Clarice. Have you? Everything you need to find him[the serial killer]  is right there in those pages.

CLARICE: Then tell me how.

DR. LECTER:  First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask: What is it, in itself, what is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?

CLARICE (thinking only of the facts): He kills women.

DR. LECTER (sharply, stopping her): No! That is incidental. 

DR. LECTER (cont’d, as he collects himself, pained by her ignorance):What is the first and principal thing he does, what need does he serve by killing?

CLARICE (flailing, and falling back to reciting an FBI psych textbook as she paces outside Lecter’s cell): Anger, social acceptance, sexual frust-

DR. LECTER (saving her):  No, he covets. That’s his nature.  And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer.

CLARICE: No. We just –

DR. LECTER (encouraging her):  “No” (he nods)–we begin by coveting what we see every day.

Ah, simplicity. Here, Lecter boils down the evil of a psychopath into one of the ten most basic human temptations. 

Ten?  Where’d I get that number?  Exodus, chapter 20, I think:  coveting is the tenth of the “thou shalt nots” in the Ten Commandments. 

Either Lecter’s Lithuanian Catholic roots are showing, or he’s onto something.  Josh Bales (the Tennessee singer/songwriter) would think so, or he did, back when he kept a blog.  I remember him writing something about Augustine (I think??) talking about how all of man’s temptations—the basic motivating desire behind the taboos in the Commandments—derive from one simple hunger:  We want what God has, and we don’t want to have to be holy and to patiently wait to die to get our instinctive sense of divinity fulfilled. 

Typical, isn’t it? We’re still taunted by the Forbidden Fruit.  Created in the image of the Almighty, we want to be “as God,”  just as that slithery Satan once promised our forebears in Parseltongue in Genesis.  We want power over the truth, so we lie and make up our own. We want that beautiful creature God made to be ours, so we seduce or succumb. We want to be parentless–unruled by a creator’s ties, so we dishonor our mothers and fathers. And we want to have things, have power, be powerful, and rule. So we dominate and control.  We make idols of ourselves and kill our fellow men with hatred or spite or actual weapons, ruling life and death.

But we do it, because we want to wear the crown of our universe. It’s awful.  We make pitiful gods by trying to be God.

Just my thought for the night: Do we, by failing to acknowledge this hunger to be God as a thing of reality, fall into sin?  And how the hell do we avoid Hell if that’s the case?

Anyone have an answer?

God does, and as we all know, he sometimes talks through people, especially people he’s obsessively blessing at the moment.

Can you feel it coming?  It’s that moment when I mention Robert Pattinson in a blog post. It’s finally here. I’m not just tagging him to drum up some extra hit counts for the blog during the short month of February here. I think the guy just said something profound in an interview with his writer friend, Jenny Lumet, in Details Magazine recently.  Actually, he said a lot of profound things between giggling about about flesh-eating bacteria and taboo terminology (it was a very interesting interview, to say the least).   But most importantly, he works up an answer for us that we lesser mortals somehow miss on a daily basis.

So here’s my little spin on a summary of the best bits of the article.   Let’s see if you can spot the answer to our question about curing our own hunger for God’s power…

Jenny Lumet, bless her, knew she’d hit pay dirt when she realized that behind the pretty, Rob’s actually got a brain. This is the moment when she realized it–when she started really watching him:

“Rob’s face is constantly busy—especially his kaleidoscopic eyes, which are continually rolling and dilating, because he is always thinking. Over the course of that latte, he contemplates Jimi Hendrix, French fries, girls, art, beer, his cousin the philosopher, girls, truth, God, his dog, girls, and whether this week’s stalker has followed him from L.A. I don’t think he could turn his brain off if he wanted to.”

Before Rob’s musings concerning the Almighty comes this long, but lovely, angsty rant about his own God-desire for control over his own life that I think a lot of us can identify with (Warning: remember that he’s British and believes in God-honest speech, so if you’re squeamish of the occassional expletive, just get over it now, or you’ll miss some of the gold in the dross):

“When I was 17 until, I don’t know, 20, I had this massive, baseless confidence. This very clear idea of myself and how I would achieve success, which involved making decisions. I saw myself picking up the phone and saying ‘Absolutely not’ or ‘Definitely, yes’. Having control. Except you have to figure out whether the way you think at 19 or 20 has any value. And eventually I understood, with all that control, which was probably illusory, I wasn’t progressing. So now I’m relinquishing a bit. I’ll be a tiny bit naked. Except tonight I won’t, because it’s f*cking freezing . . . Seriously, you eventually realize you can’t make every single decision. I was always building, always protecting something. At the same time, I seemed to be losing the ability to move. I’d protected myself into checkmate. Even mentally. . . Before [my fame came and my life fell out of my hands], I felt like I couldn’t break through anything, including myself. And now it feels a bit as though I’ve climbed along the side of my brain and am at least looking in. But I know it will take me at least another 10 years before I’m remotely satisfied with anything I do. But with acting you keep trying in the hopes you might be… great. But then I think, does wanting to be good or even great, or even just wanting to make art, cheapen the experience?”

Jenny cuts in here as the writer and adds, “I worry his head is going to explode. He answers questions with questions. Doors open onto more doors.  . . .Some people can have the ocean in front of them and just put their big toe in. Rob wants to swim until he drowns, and he’s going to try to drink it all up before he goes under. His striving is a source of worry because he can’t really tell anybody he wants more.”

 Rob interrupts, “Please don’t make this about me complaining. Please. I’m the luckiest bastard on the planet.”

Jenny adds in her journalist voice,  “He worries he might be selfish. He worries maybe he’s a nonhumanist-separatist-weirdo because his most profound moments have been with his dog. And he worries about whether he can be an actor who can reach the masses and still ask for anything.”
That’s when Rob pulls out the big guns and talks God.

“If it exists out there—this invisible-creative-spirit-idea [he’s called it God elsewhere in other interviews] thing—then you’re the medium through which it travels so everybody can touch it. But … what gives you the right to be the medium? What gives you the right to claim it–and then get an agent and say, ‘I want $20 million and a fruit basket to be the medium, thank you very much’? As an actor, you can elevate the human condition or cheapen it. I would assume it’s the same with anything you do—you try to elevate and maybe someday you will.”

Did you catch it?  Did you?  Rob’s answer is actually a question–which is usually how God answers people (see Job 38, and read the gospels to hear how often Jesus answers a question with another question). He says his question twice, in the context of  discussing our desire to “channel” God’s creative force for ourselves.

“What gives you the right to be…to claim it?”

What gives us the right, indeed?  Apparently, the only thing that is keeping Rob’s head from exploding is his own humility, his own anxiety over the fact that he knows he isn’t perfect and isn’t in control. It’s his internal sense of reality of the “human condition” that he talks about that keeps him in-check. It keeps him from being too in love with himself and his circumstances.  It keeps him from becoming his fame–and keeps his matinee idol status from distilling into idleness and self-satisfaction, and nothing more.

Rob owns his reality–and his focal point of sanity–up-front, and acknowledges the double-blessing:

 “I’m lucky.  Thank God.  And I’m conflicted.  Thank God.”

Jenny writes, “He tells me about a book he read called Eat the Rich, by P.J. O’Rourke …. He was drawn to a part that says something like: One man’s wealth does not mean another man’s poverty—and vice versa. Rob’s slightly embarrassed to voice this idea.
He is unsure whether to feel guilty [about his fame], to bask in it all, or both. Thing is, there aren’t any rules for a life as extraordinary as his is right now.”

That’s when Rob tells a metaphorically deep story about a circus elephant that picked him up with its trunk, turned him upside down inside its mouth, and started going through his pockets to find peppermints.  He talks about just letting it happen–and the experience being amazing–“beautiful.” And then he marvels over how elephants are designed:

“Did you know elephants purr? It’s completely scary if you don’t know what it is. They purr like cats, but their heads are so deep they sound like velociraptors. You feel it in the ground under your feet…Do you know how they die? The elephant guy told me their molars get ground down from eating wood but regenerate, like, six times. And after that they slowly starve to death. Which is poignant, but that must also be what gives them time to get to the elephant graveyard. They’re incredibly designed creatures. I mean, people hang on way too f*cking long [to this life]. If I knew that when my teeth fell out, that was it… Wow.”

It’s all about relinquishing control, and letting nature be nature, and God be God.  And it’s about being human and being out of your depth when the elephants of life swing you over their mouths.  It’s about worrying about wanting too much–and about that worry being a tool that keeps you from becoming a monster that doesn’t care. 

That’s all Rob’s saying. Bless his easily-distracted little heart.

Rob presenting at the BAFTA Awards last night on BBC. This is his impression of a kitten. No, actually, he was shyly giving a shout-out congratulations to a makeup artist friend who'd just won an award. Still a cute little face.

And I guess that’s all I’m saying. Today is now tomorrow…  So, goodnight.  Now dream of elephants.


*Rob’s interview is from this month’s Details Magazine.  It’s not safe for work, image-wise, because that magazine loves to surround celebrities with naked women to the point of the grotesque. Even Rob talked about being uncomfortable and even slightly sickened–his word implied developing an allergy–to all the female nudity by the end of the 12-hour shoot. The interview transcript, however, is divine.  Again, gold from dross. http://www.details.com/

*I should put up a citation for Demme’s film version of “The Silence of the Lambs”, but I’m too freaking tired.  Go to Imdb.com for more details on it.  Also, the novel was written by Thomas Harris, who incidentallly is a kick-ass writer.

* Re: St. Augustine. Help. I can’t find the actual quote from our ancient African theologian. Nor can I find Josh Bales’ old blog–because, dammit, he’s changed his website to something commercial and I’m scared he’s forgetting himself inside his quest for a good record deal.  Go visit some elephants, Josh!  Or at least, go fishing. You were happy when you fished, and God was closer. I still adore you and the fact that you can out-eat that wandering apologist giant, Mark Cahill.  Maybe you should have supper with him again.