The Railway Man – A true film of war, torture, healing, love and redemption

railwaymanThe Railway Man is a 2013 British-Australian film directed by Jonathan Teplitsky. It is an adaptation of the best selling autobiography of the same name by Eric Lomax.

The story concerns the British officer Lomax (played by Colin Firth), who seeks to heal his long-suppressed war-trauma from twenty years earlier, assisted by his new love (played by Nicole Kidman) and his best friend. During World War II both men had been captured by the Japanese and sent to a POW camp, forced to work on the Thai-Burma railway in the Malaysian peninsula.

During his imprisonment Lomax had built a radio and was brutally tortured by the Japanese, leaving him with PTSD which threatens to derail his new marriage. Supported by his new wife and best friend, Lomax decides to return to Burma to confront his war-time enemy and torturer and exorcise the trauma demons from his psyche.

I appreciated this film/story’s truthfulness and authenticity in many respects. While it does show the emotional and personal trauma of war-violence – it does not dwell on them more than the minimum necessary for the story (unlike the films of Quentin Tarantino and many war-movies). It shows the psychological truth that to really heal the effects of PTSD, rather than just cover them over, the empathic trust and love of a friend or partner is essential.

In the film, it is Lomax’s new wife who plays that role. His fellow-veteran from the war, who has no one he can trust, hangs himself.  In therapy situations that are successful, it may be the therapist can play that role. The empathy needs to be genuine – it can’t just be pretended – and for torture situations that’s really difficult. I also appreciated that the film and Lomax’s story do not use his confrontation with the Japanese officer who tortured him for revenge or pay-back, which would simply continue the karmic chain, but for truth-telling with sincere remorse.

This reminded me of the truth-and-reconciliation rituals developed in South Africa and other places; and of the movements, in the US and elsewhere, where families who have lost loved ones to murder, step out of the cycle of “an eye for an eye”, and seek to connect with the perpetrators, opposing the death penalty for all capital cases. See the film – you won’t regret it.

William Blake’s Visionary Poems Sung as American “Roots” Music

This CD  – Martha Redbone Roots Project – The Garden of Love –  is an enchanting  revelation, matching Blake’s visionary poetry with a contemporary folk-blues interpretation. From a review by Jonathan Widran:

Martha_Redbone  “A truly hypnotic and eloquent roots Americana exploration, The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake beautifully and unexpectedly matches two powerful voices, two centuries, continents, and cultures apart. The mastermind is Martha Redbone, an Independent Music Award winner, renowned for blending Native American vibes from her Cherokee and Choctaw background with R&B grooves, blues, and dashes of Appalachian folk.

Her muse is the compelling poetry of English poet William Blake, who died in 1827. One of the fullest expressions of her stark and powerful, stripped-down aesthetic, Redbone — working with producer John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band — pits her vocal incantations and harmonic textures against a swampy ambient acoustic guitar background on the title track.

Her vocal modulation is interesting, as tunes like “Hear the Voice of the Bard” and the rollicking “I Rose Up at the Dawn of Day” feature urgent gospel-influenced shout-outs, while others like the lyrical, swaying singalong “How Sweet I Roamed” and the easy-rolling “A Dream” and sparsely eloquent “Sleep Sleep Beauty Bright” feature a sweeter, more romantic approach. Appropriate for its subject matter, “I Heard an Angel Singing” is a haunting, ethereal piece with chamber music instrumentation.”

A Scholar of Religion Looks At California Psychedelic History

This is a most interesting paper/presentation on the “California Religion of Psychedelia, 1960-1972” by Professor Josef Chytry, who teaches at the University of California Berkeley and is a senior adjunct professor in critical studies at the California College of the Arts.

This paper was presented at the Religion in California Conference, UC Berkeley, April 2014:

From Castalia to Mowie Wowie

By Josef Chytry

One of the more provocative features of the decade of the 1960s (the so-called ‘”Sixties”) was the rise of the phenomenon of a “psychedelic culture,” often interconnected with the concept of a “counterculture” yet distinguishable from it.  An important aspect of such a psychedelic culture was its claims of helping to initiate a new religion or religiosity inseparable from the luminous experiences presumably granted by the effects of a host of psychedelic potions, including mescalin, psilosybin and particularly LSD…

This paper takes a look at such an ambition by focusing on some of the texts that played a key role in its development during the earlier stages.  The first set of texts covers the history of the idea of an alternative culture, (such as) … Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s account of a “pedagogical province” in Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years, Hermann Hesse’s vision of a future community called Castalia in The Glass Bead Game…

The second set of texts includes contemporary writings by such intellectuals as Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts during the 1950s and early 1960s that developed such themes and sometimes even envisaged possible “psychedelic” utopias such as Huxley’s Island. The final set of texts covers traditional ”sacred” writings that were seen as invaluable guides of what might emerge as the facets of a psychedelic religion.  Such texts included the Chinese I Ching, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te King, the Hindu Bhagavat Gita, and the Christian New Testament.