Mar 11, 2008

Thunder Rock

The picture above is Michael Redgrave as David Charleston in Thunder Rock. This is a film with multiple layers of meaning, and deeply textured. It seems a bit improbable at first because while it’s a British production, and used British actors such as Redgrave and James Mason, it is set in Michigan. You’d think the British accents would be a drawback, but the plot handles the problem nicely.

Redgrave plays a British reporter in the days before the outbreak of WW II. He has been disillusioned by the resistance of the people to taking up arms against the fascist sea of troubles. As a result he has found employment in a lighthouse on one of the Great Lakes. He has also found the ship’s log of a passenger ship that was carrying immigrants from Europe and England.

He confides to Streeter (James Mason) that he talks to the ghosts of the Captain and some of the passengers. At the same time that he admits to talking to them, he also says that they are something he conjures up out of his imagination. We see his interaction with the ghosts. The Captain is the only ghost who is aware that he is a ghost, and that the year 1939 rather than 1849. The ghosts act out a scene, and the Captain protests that the passengers were not really like that. This is ambiguous. If the ghosts are psychological phenomena, they should have no access to the interior life of the real passengers. If they are real ghosts, Redgrave should not be able to control them.

The passengers act out significant episodes from their lives. This includes a doctor who is opposed by the Church, the RCC naturally, which as Lenny Bruce once said is the only capital C “Church,” for using anesthesia. Now here we have what appears to be a bit of atheist propaganda. If what is recorded at this site, is accurate, opposition to anesthesia is a myth that appears some years later. (Obligatory note: This is apparently an ID site. I’m not a supporter of ID. If the report they cite is accurate, however, it nullifies the idea that there was religious opposition to anesthesia.) I have a reference here (footnote on page 3) to Cardinal Wiseman’s 1835 book on science and the church. My recollection of Wiseman is that he takes a decided pro-science stance, and catalogues numerous contributions to science by Catholics. I’m afraid that the whole accusation about anesthesia smells wrong.

The rest of the passengers all have stories to tell. They essentially revolve around feelings of impotence, failure, and defeat. Charleston realizes that the people are running away from things. He tries to make them see that in the future, his present, things will be different. That there will be a religion of science, which I find problematic, that women will have equal rights, and so on.

Eventually he comes to the realization that he must resume carrying the anti-fascist message, and the ghosts disappear.

As long as you keep in mind that the anti-Catholic propaganda is not to be taken seriously it is an interesting film.