by Christopher Toussaint

The following contains highlights from a Learning Annex panel at Agape Spiritual Center in Santa Monica in November 1997 called “Metaphysics in Movies”.

The three panelists included Stephen Simon, of Metafilmics, producer of the Christopher Reeves film “Somewhere In Time” and more recently the Robin Williams starer “What Dreams May Come”, a love story set in the afterlife to be released soon; Michael Murphy, the founder of Esalen and author of several books on consciousness; and Bruce Joel Rubin, meditation teacher and Academy Award winning screenwriter of “Ghost”, “Brainstorm”, “Jacobs Ladder” and “My Life”.

A New Genre
Stephen led off the panel acknowledging that “this new genré” of films with metaphysical themes like “Phenomenon” or “Ghost” has for sometime now been defined by 1 or 2 movies per year that have been “wildly successful.” He suggested that the answer to why there aren’t more of them is “not because all studio execs are Philistines” but because they are not passionate artists, nor even free spirited entrepreneurs like in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

He lamented the fact that most movies set in the future show a distopia, or fall of civilization, while conjecturing that perhaps this may be explained by our collective “sense memory” from a prior collapsed civilization (Atlantis, anyone?). Still he saw hope coming from the advance of lower-cost technology, independent financing and the “leaderless evolution” direction society seems to be moving towards.

Bruce Joel Rubin reminded us that the movies have always bordered on religious experience, being communal, yet personal to each of us, “being alone in the dark sharing the same journey.” He cited “The Wizard of Oz” and “Star Wars” as examples of movies that take us on a journey and then admonished writers and filmmakers “you have to go into your journey and tell that truth.” Unfortunately, many metaphysical movies fail because they want to teach — send a message, instead of telling a story, he admitted. On top of that, he quipped, “The problem with spiritual films is that audiences very rarely root for someone to transcend.”

Michael Murphy elaborated upon Rubin’s “religious experience” track with an overview of the performances of the Greek Mysteries preceding Plato, through numinous displays in dark caverns where revelations appeared in the smoke and mist of early priests and priestesses. I reflected on how medieval cathedrals and Eastern temples are not so different from Mann’s Chinese & Egyptian Theaters and even how corn was sacred to indigenous peoples and Freemasons, though obviously not in its altered state of “pop”ness. Bringing us right up to the present he drew the parallel between different states of consciousness and “how we all are constantly making movies every day.”

Still, the panelists all saw a lot of room for improvement from the medium. Simon faulted today’s films for relying on a “technology that has outstripped our creativity” and for not taking a leadership role. “We have been genetically programmed to deal with the negative,” he said, which inhibits our ability to pay enough attention to the positive things that are happening.

Even though the industry may be behind the book publishing industry as far as green-lighting provocative metaphysical stories, Simon feels that there are individuals in key Hollywood studios who have “the power to say something positive for humanity, do something wonderful for the world.” Hopefully, he adds, they can resist the prevailing cynicism, the notion of trying to figure out in advance what audiences want and introducing compromises during the development process in an effort to control their investments — human fears which interfere with the creativity of Spirit.

® 1997 Christopher Toussaint Permission to reprint in part or in full in print or electronic forms is granted only to non-profit organizations and individuals. For commercial uses please contact the author. (C2saint@verizon.net)