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Darrel Manson

Does pacifism ever win?

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Last night at a workshop on film in the church, I showed a clip from Witness where the Amish go into town and a group of rednecks torment them. The Amish do not respond, holding to their pacifism, eventually Book gets out of the carriage he's in and kicks butt. Some one asked if there are any movies where the pacifists win out - especially in an American setting. Any examples?

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I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for, but I often think of films in which the antagonist splits in two, warring against himself, while the pacifist watches on. This was a theme in "The LadyKillers", and perhaps many a Warner Bros cartoon.

And then there's "Ghandi."

Nick

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I had thought of Gandhi, but that is hard to translate into US experience. Some that don't make the grade are Destry Rides Again, where he eventually straps on the guns, and The Quiet Man where eventually John Wayne has to kick butt -- what kind of John Wayne movie would it be without that?

One that I;m thinking about, as strange as this seems, is Malcolm X. He always presents the threat of violence ("by any means necessary"), but never actually becomes violent. In his conversion to true Islam and the discovery of the unity of all people which in part leads to his assassination provides a sense of pacifism (although I'd never really categorize Malcolm X as a pacifist). And the veneration at the end of the film does represent a victory for his stance.

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I would have to think that any film that touches upon practicing non-violence would fit under a number of categories:

The one non-violent character has a transformation that causes him to see the necessity of war... (Destry, Quiet Man, 2003's The Rundown).

or

The soldier that sees the futility of war (any number of war films, esp. Platoon or Apocolypse Now, or perhaps Forrest Gump).

or

A true-life biopic of a non-violence activist that wound up being victorious despite all that was waged against him (Ghandi, any Martin Luther King Jr TV biopic, Passion of the Christ).

* * * * * *

This is because of the nature of storytelling. I'm sure that there may be a large number of films with the characters being non-violent pacifists, but unless there's an actual conflict in the film, there's no reason why such a characteristic would come up in casual conversation (unless the film is My Dinner with Andre, and I don't think it came up there).

Thus, I think your best bet is option 2--a film showing the futility of war. However, most of these films tend to be overly violent. Is it possible to have a film that shows the futility of war without a single shot fired?

Why, yes. Wargames (1983). The only way to win is to not play.

Amazing that the most true-to-pacifism film is one with the most technology (of its day). Quakers are gonna hafta compromise somewhere...

Nick

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SDG   

Actually, in Witness it is eventually the nonviolent Amish, not the violent Book, that triumph over Book's violent assailants. The killers are finally stopped, not by Book, but by the Amish responding to the ringing of the bell, which produces so many witnesses that the killers are stymied.

But only because they're willing to give up at that point. Otherwise, someone would eventually need to stop them by violent means.

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MattPage   

What about "The Vernon Johns Story"? Also what about that scene in the Apostle where he stops the bulldozer taking down the church

Both films are a bit hazy to be honest.

Matt

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Maybe the problem could be philosophical? As I think back through the history of pacifism as expressed by Anabaptists, the fruits of their work were always ripe for the plucking and they never fought back. Often, they'd pick up and move on, eventually ending up in North America where odd sorts are a little more protected by Canadian and American laws and customs. Yet, have not some sects in the Dakotas been roughed up in the past? And is the response something like the women tearing their own clothes off in order to shame the antagonists? This is hardly "winning". At the very least, they will have to clean up the mess and start over, or move on and start over. Their name escapes me..... Sorry.

It would seem to me that serious practitioners know full well the consequences of their stand and acept same. I would say that the Witness scenario existed only because not "kicking ass" would have been alien to the understanding of the popular film goer and would have rendered some of the "fight" scenes taking place before the community arrives either loutish (by comparison to previous behavior) or too cathartic. Besides, Book is found out through his actions. The local sheriff had already been told to watch out for him. He thinks to call Philadelphia on a hunch because of a report of an amish kicking ass. That doesn't happen. FWIW, my mother grew up among Amish and Mennonites in PA. When this film came out, she had a laundry list of anachronisms.

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Rich Kennedy wrote:

: As I think back through the history of pacifism as expressed by

: Anabaptists, the fruits of their work were always ripe for the plucking and

: they never fought back. Often, they'd pick up and move on, eventually

: ending up in North America where odd sorts are a little more protected

: by Canadian and American laws and customs.

Don't forget Russia! Catherine the Great invited the Mennonites to farm the land there, and granted them military exemption -- hence, out of gratitude, many Mennonite women, including my mother and grandmother, now bear the name Katherina. (Catherine did, however, eventually impose a war tax on them, which I'm sure caused some sort of resistance.)

As for American laws and customs, allow me to quote from my essay on this subject:

Pacifism and nonresistance appear to have survived best with those Anabaptists and Mennonites who left the homelands of the founding Mennonites and moved to countries such as Russia and America. As early as November 1644, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed an act against immigrant "Anabaptists ... [who] denied the ordinance of magistracy, and the lawfulness of making war" (Brock, 1991b, p. 13). The Mennonites did not establish a permanent settlement in North America until the founding of Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1683; within five years they had joined the local Quakers in protesting American slavery, declaring that "those who hold slaves are no better than Turks" (Estep, pp. 203-204). During the French and Indian War of the 1750s, the Mennonites asked the state for protection but, for the most part, refused to take part in the actual fighting; protection was a service that they expected as part of "Caesar's duty" to them (Brock, 1991a, p. 195). During the American Revolution (1775-1783), the Mennonite church in North America threatened to split over the issue of whether or not to pay the war tax; those who did not pay had their goods confiscated anyway (Dyck, p. 295). During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Mennonites and others were drafted into the armies of both sides, though they found ways to cling to their pacifism. Confederate General T. F. "Stonewall" Jackson remarked:
There lives a people in the Valley of Virginia, that are not hard to bring to the army. While there they are obedient to their officers. Nor is it difficult to have them take aim, but it is impossible to get them to take correct aim. I, therefore, think it better to leave them at their homes that they may produce supplies for the army. (quoted in Dyck, p. 296)

Churches were painted yellow and some Mennonites were even tarred and feathered for their refusal to fight during World War I (1914-1918); when World War II (1939-1945) approached, the Mennonites and other peace churches asked the U.S. government for provisions for conscientious objectors. Thus was formed the Civilian Public Service, whereby conscientious objectors were permitted to build dams and work on other projects (ibid., pp. 296-297.)For whatever that's worth.

: Yet, have not some sects in the Dakotas been roughed up in the past?

: And is the response something like the women tearing their own clothes

: off in order to shame the antagonists? This is hardly "winning".

That sounds more like the Doukhobors than like any Mennonite group I know of.

: FWIW, my mother grew up among Amish and Mennonites in PA. When

: this film came out, she had a laundry list of anachronisms.

Do tell! My parents were huge fans of this film when it came out -- partly because my mother, herself, was a Mennonite who had married "the English". smile.gif

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Another film where non-violence works is The Apostle. After Sonny kicks Billy Bob's butt, it just makes him come back with a bulldozer. Then Sonny stands him down by putting his Bible on the ground in front of the bulldozer.

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Seth   

I was watching an interview with Abbas Kiarostami today (the interview from the "Taste of Cherry" Criterion disc), and he commented that violence is almost intrinsic to and inseperable from American cinema...someone had asked him about Tarantino's films (apparently Tarantino and Kiarostami were both judges at an international film festival in '95), and he replied that he liked Tarantino the man very much, but didn't care for his films. the one valuable thing he saw in Tarantino was that Tarantino had brought some humor to the violence that permeates American cinema.

so i think this is something that we, as Americans, have championed, and it's something much of the world has noticed - we love violence, our movies are full of violence, and violence is often seen as the "only option" in conflict resolution in our films.

kinda works that way in our politics, too.

-seth

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I think it's kind of hilarious to suggest that American cinema is unique in its obsession with violence, especially if the example one cites is Tarantino, who happens to be a huge fan of Japanese samurai films and Hong Kong martial-arts flicks (as evidenced not only in Kill Bill, but by the possibility that his first film, Reservoir Dogs, ripped off a Hong Kong film with a similar storyline, and as evidenced by the samurai-sword scene in Pulp Fiction -- to say nothing of Tarantino's homages to Italian director Sergio Leone).

Speaking of Italian filmmakers, whenever I talk to my fellow Vancouverites about how local film critic Mark Harris often likes to spell out the history of film before he gets around to reviewing the film in question, I always cite a review he wrote of an Italian horror movie that starred Rupert Everett as a guy who works in a graveyard and kills the zombies every night -- sorry, I forget the title -- and how Harris spent the entire first paragraph talking about the warm, humanist tradition of great Italian filmmakers, and how he then spent the entire second paragraph talking about how Italian HORROR filmmakers, on the other hand, were an entirely different breed, and it wasn't until the third paragraph that he began to comment on the film itself. All of which is to say, foreign pop culture may well be a lot more like OUR pop culture than all the high-culture films that make it over here have led us to expect.

I think it's also kind of hilarious to suggest that Americans are somehow uniquely inclined to pursue violence in their foreign policy, too. I mean, as one Canadian commentator put it a year ago, it was strangely surreal to see how the Americans had saved the French (who are not exactly opposed to violence themselves -- it was the French, not the Americans, who blew up a Greenpeace vessel) from the Germans, and the Germans from the Russians, and now found themselves being thwarted by a "peace lobby" composed mainly of ... French, Germans, and Russians. (Many of whom, whoops, turned out to be on Saddam's payroll.)

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Seth   

nobody is claiming that American cinema is the only cinema in the world that obsesses over violence...reread my post, and you'll find no such claim. but violence has historically and consistently been part of American cinema, from its inception, in ways it hasn't been in Asian cinemas, most European cinemas, and pretty much any national cinema you can name. you cannot deny that violence is something that has always been more characteristic of American cinema than other cinemas.

naturally, Asian cinema has been very violent in recent decades - the most violent films i've ever seen are Miike's. but if you cite Tarantino's sources in Hong Kong as evidence that Asian cinema is traditionally as violent as American cinema, you're forgetting that most of those old Japanese samurai films were inspired by American westerns, and most of those old Hong Kong gangster films were inspired by American gangster films.

i also never suggested that America was someone "unique" in its inclination toward violence in foreign policy. traditionally, America is isolationist and Europe is warlike...that's an obvious historical fact. but i don't want to go into that because this obviously isn't the venue...i'll just say that, if you think that foreign policy should be conducted based on whether or not such-and-such a nation has helped us in the past, or that they should conduct their foreign policy based on whether or not we helped them fifty years ago...well, i'm glad you're not conducting foreign policy! everything in life, politics, and foreign policy is a lot more complicated than the pundits want to make it seem...

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Seth wrote:

: you cannot deny that violence is something that has always been more

: characteristic of American cinema than other cinemas.

True, but that's mainly because my knowledge of the histories of other cinemas is severely limited. Then again, there is certainly violence in e.g. early Russian films like Battleship Potemkin, just as there is certainly violence in early American films like The Birth of a Nation. And which nationality was it that gave us stuff like Un chien Andalou, which famously began with a tight close-up on an eyeball being slit open?

I guess what we're probably leading up to here is the centrality of the cowboy myth in American film, an archetype for which there is no obvious foreign parallel. Certainly, the cowboy movie (and other 'western' type films dating back to The Great Train Robbery) reflects certain unique aspects of American history and American culture, including the vast physical frontier, the skirmishes with Indian tribes, and the need to establish new societies and, with them, a monopoly on violence that is hopefully centred on honourable law-enforcement types. And we can probably say that the cowboy movie laid the groundwork for the modern action movie. And yet I would note that the action movie got a big boost with the rise of the James Bond movie franchise in the 1960s, which was basically British, and it continues to feed off the visions of foreign directors and stars such as John Woo (Chinese), Paul Verhoeven (Dutch), Roland Emmerich (German) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Austrian). And let's face it, these movies make money all over the world, so it's not like audiences overseas find it hard to relate to this stuff.

(E.g., The Last Samurai is an R-rated war movie set in Japan, while Elf is a PG-rated Christmas movie that reeks of Americana; Elf was the 7th-highest grossing film in North America last year, with $173 million, while The Last Samurai has very slowly clawed its way up to 22nd place, with $109 million; but overseas, Elf has grossed a negligible $46.3 million, while The Last Samurai is just a few mil shy of $300 million -- thus making it the 5th-highest-grossing movie of last year overseas, and 9th-highest overall in worldwide terms.)

: . . . you're forgetting that most of those old Japanese samurai films were

: inspired by American westerns . . .

This I had not forgotten.

: . . . and most of those old Hong Kong gangster films were inspired by

: American gangster films.

This I had not known.

: i'll just say that, if you think that foreign policy should be conducted

: based on whether or not such-and-such a nation has helped us in the

: past . . . well, i'm glad you're not conducting foreign policy!

Oh, I would never say that -- indeed, this is why I have said before, and possibly on this very board, that America needs ACTUAL allies (like Britain, Australia, Poland, Japan, etc.) and not TRADITIONAL allies (like France, Germany, Canada, etc.), and therefore I don't subscribe to the notion that America is "arrogant" just because it ignores a bunch of European countries who have arrogance issues of their own.

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Actually, Woo himself cites the American Musical Comedy and Stanley Donen of all people (at present; I believe his critical star will rise again; such things are see-saws) as influences and inspiration. He mentions little else, despite some obvious similarities to others.

Seth, I think that you are forgetting that the war that you imply between the lines follows 12 years of attempting to enforce a mutually agreed upon peace between us and an invaded country (who invaded a neighbor). That being said, I hardly think that violence as a solution is an only option in politics, is at all a reasonable summary of the case. I see the entire decade of the '90's as a clinic on forebearance, for good and bad, on the part of the U. S.

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