Sunday, January 12, 2014

Themes of Freemasonry in film

Since becoming a Freemason, one of the things that has truly struck me is how often I see elements of the Fraternity and its ideas in everything around me. Sometimes these are deliberate nods. Sometimes they're not. But no matter how intentional, it's always fascinating. Below,  I'm going to analyze some of the films that I think hold the most Masonic "flavor" and why I think that's important.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Spielberg's masterful take on the alien influence / abduction craze of the late 1970s was ground-breaking in many ways, but there's one underlying theme that I think many people who watch the film miss: the idea that the connection between symbolism in art and otherworldly forces is part of our everyday experience. This is certainly  an important theme in Freemasonry where the idea that we can discuss the divine through symbolism is central to everything we do, and it goes back to traditions that pre-date the Fraternity as far as recorded history can trace.

The iconic moment in the film where our hero carves a mountain into his mashed potatoes and says, "this means something," should be a moment familiar to any Freemason who has reached that point in his studies where he realizes that the most innocuous phrase or image has deeper and profound meaning. I specifically enjoy the fact that the film points out that each person expresses this message through their own gifts. A painter uses that medium, but a sculptor uses stone. It's only a matter of the lens through which you see the world and communicate with it.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Okay, I'm sure you didn't see that coming, but I mean it sincerely when I say that this is one of the most heavily Masonic of the 1980s films. True, it's not religiously or mystically themed in an outward fashion, but what are its themes? Understand that the character of Ferris is not a literal one. He is aware of the audience and seems to suffer no consequences of his actions. Ferris is Puck in a way. He's part narrator and partly pure story. It is his friends who receive from him the lessons that each requires that the story is truly about. To Cameron, the gift of brotherly love is given. He is lost in his own fear and self-doubt at the start of the film, but Ferris pulls him out of it, and in one of the film's most symbolic moments, Cameron plunges into a swimming pool, emerging a new, aware man after appearing to die.

Ferris's sister is similarly influenced. Her jealousy and envy are overcome by her love for and desire to protect her brother. The simple act of charity that she performs frees her from the cycle of self-loathing that she's spiraled into and allows her to re-connect with her life and family.

Overall, the movie is about hope, and what value cold be more Masonic?

The Matrix

Much has been said about the spiritual and metaphysical themes of The Matrix, and I won't belabor those, here. What I do want to point out, however, is the relationship between Neo and Morpheus.

Morpheus explains to Neo that he has always been searching for something that he can't explain. The experience of waking up from The Matrix is very much the experience of becoming a Freemason. You awake to new possibilities, the comradeship of your  fellow Freemasons and the hope for the perfection of the individual, rather than the acceptance of the rough and imperfect person that you are. Morpheus literally re-builds Neo's body and trains him through a series of three ritualized events that everyone else who watches has already undergone. In fact, if you watch the scenes after Neo wakes up very carefully, you can see many of what I feel are deliberate references to the rituals of Freemasonry, some of which are somewhat archaic, but pertinent none the less. For example, before being brought in to his first lesson with Morpheus, Neo is left alone in a small room where he contemplates his situation. Other examples are perhaps less appropriate for me to go into in this venue, but consider what each of the three lessons Neo undergoes teach him and what happens to him. Consider the final lesson and what happens in it, especially. I think you will come to the conclusion, as I did, that the similarities could not be wholly accidental.

The Man From Earth

A somewhat obscure direct-to-Netflix indie film; I won't spoil the idea that the movie revolves around, but here's how I see it: the main character is a metaphor for something very primal in humanity. It is that same primal element of ourselves that Freemasonry manifests from. With that in mind, see the film. There are obvious elements of the teachings of the Fraternity in the discussions the characters have and in the history of one of the characters, but I think it's the larger themes of where these insights come from and how old they are that truly makes the movie special.

That should do it for now. I might do another list of films another time or just go into one of these in more depth, but we'll see. I have a lot of things that I want to write up.