Monday, October 7, 2013

Mr. Vig


As a rule, I am not a very emotional observer of motion pictures and documentaries.

Whatever strings within me are pulled by sounds and pixels I view on the surface of my monitor do not make a habit of manifesting in the outside world.

There are a few exceptions.

In most of these cases tears don't actually leave my eyelid but much of the other symptomatology is present. I rest my head in my arms and take a few moments.

In all the cases the movies that caused these reactions are good ones. I don't feel like crying at shitty shows.

Here is a list of exceptions.

1) the final scene in Pan's Labyrinth
2) My Architect, a 2003 documentary about Louis Khan made by his son
3) The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun, a 2006 Danish documentary

The first two occasions happened a few years back when I was living in Seattle, Ivan's emotional landscape was not too good at the time and in the proceeding future saw a cataclysm which unraveled my life on my beloved west coast and forced me to move back to Ohio.

Much like a failure to produce an erection by an older male can be a signal of underlying heart issues, my uncharacteristically weepy moods while watching films seems to foreshadow bad happenings.

Recently when I finished a biography of FDR that ended abruptly after his death, I felt very sentimental and sad and had to take a breather. Something about the passing of this cheerful, liberal president with dictatorial longevity in power caused my heart pain.

But a more intense episode happened about a week ago during the conclusion of the documentary The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun. 

The film was about Mr. Vig, an eccentric, old Danish misanthrope, who in his old age decided to turn his ancestral estate into a small Russian Orthodox monastery. The Moscow Patriarchate indulged him and the documentary chronicled his uneasy relationship with a willful Russian nun who journeyed from the motherland to oversee the project for the church.

Unlike the other two entries on my list of Ivan's trail of almost-tears, this film did not receive near-universal critical acclaim.

This has to do with the protagonist Mr. Vig. A Seattle film critics has described him as a psychopath. This is unnerving because I saw more than a little of myself in him.

Mr. Vig appears to have spent his lengthy life totally out of sync with humanity. The only person he liked and admired was his forceful father who spent his time criticizing Vig's mother to the point of tears. Mr. Vig never married or even admitted ever having carnal relations with a woman; his preoccupation with human noses and their imperfections was one of the reasons he cited.

The touching part of the story was Mr. Vig's attachment to the Russian nun and his subtle need for her company. In one of the last scenes of the movie the nun makes a religious procession around the new church. In Orthodox countries, these processions include crowds of people who led by the priest circle the church.

In the movie, the nun carrying an icon of the Virgin Mary was followed by a lonely figure of Mr. Vig following her like a small boy does his mother.

Any loner embraces and fears total solitude. You roll the dice hoping to make a human connection. My attachment to most people is incoherent like a bad radio reception defined by static. Much of the time I want that dial in the off position.

I have Leonard Cohen songs, clouds of nicotine vapor coming out of my electronic cigarettes and a flickering Buddhist faith.

I don't know. Something needs to change but that something may never alter the fundamental alienated condition of my life and that's a sad thought.

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