A few thoughts on “Midnight Mass”
There are spoilers, so…caution if you are going to watch but haven’t yet.
When I was a kid, I was simultanously disgusted and fascinated by “Night of the Living Dead”, directed by George Romero. It was a fantastic movie and one of the kinds of films that was shocking as a younger person. The idea that people could die and then come back, after the adolescent realization that death is coming for every man, woman and child was incredibly powerful. Then, “Midnight Mass” appeared on Netflix, and honestly, this was a great film, a ‘film’ that is like “Night of the Living Dead” but more subtle. I am still trying to process it, which is what I am writing about.
These movies are really thought provoking. Zombie and vampires, while at one time were terrifying for what they were, started to become more terrifying as they became a power metaphor. Humans who are disturbingly focused on conforming to the ‘herd’ or the common perspective in a desperate attempt to avoid being thought of as different. Humans who are unwilling to spend time thinking, to distract themselves from thinking about the reality of the world with anything. We want to pretend that if we just go along with the group and don’t rock the boat, then everything will be…fine? Comfortable? Respectable? I don’t know what we are looking for, other than to be the drop that returns to the ocean.
There is nothing that is really ‘new’ about Midnight Mass on Netflix. The presentation was slick, well acted and included a component of religion. I felt that the issues of guilt, frustration, uncertainty, hope, hopelessness, absolute certainty, desperate failure and acceptance were a big part of the experience. The lack of willingness to let go of the past and seek acceptance of an unknown and different ‘then planned for’ future is so ingrained that it practically, by the middle of the episodes in the series, smacks you in the face with the idea.
Father Paul starts out with the idea that he is the savior, that he has been resolved by an angel to ‘save’ the world from death. This appears to be such a strange way but quite interesting to approach it like this. It had such a Stephen King like feel to it, seeing a traditional story from a unique angle that allows a story to express a wider range of perspectives. This was particularly interesting to me, that the priest arrived in Jerusalem seeking an opportunity to visit the Wailing Wall, the seat of God where He listens to the pleas and prayers of humans. It’s the remanent of the second Temple, destroyed by the Romans. Monsignor Pruitt is suffering from dementia and has come to the Wall as a spiritual leader without his own rudder. He is suffering from dementia, and the ‘Crock Pot’ has allowed this out of a desire to hold on to a better time.
I understand this — I live in the Rust Belt and the desire to return to a time when American manufacturing drove lives still stalks us all, like a ghost. ‘If the jobs would just come back, everything would be fine and go back to normal’. Except, the lives that our parents and grandparents lived, post World War II, is never going to return. Ever. The big company that employed thousands continues to filter out and disappear, ‘poof’ like it has never existed. The people are still here and all they know is graduating from high school, training to be a good employee and securing a retirement. People who had bought into the new world, post fascism, where they would be able to live in ‘this, the best of all possible worlds’ (Voltaire, 1759).
Communities grow and communities die, there is a lot of reason why someone might struggle with the situation when you get used to something and it gets changed or dies. The ‘Crock Pot’ is over, but everyone is hanging on out of the joy and connection it once was. The world has moved on. An oil spill, decline in fishing options, denial of climate change, frustration with the new Muslim sheriff — all indications that despite the world moving on, no one wants to accept it and build a life in the new world. I don’t mean to forget that there is also an issue with how those who are distressed with the way the world has changed, can be held responsible for the things that they are unhappy with that are occurring. Fishing so much can bring success financially, but at some point the behavior that is bringing success is revealed to be the destruction. Lamenting that the behavior has to change, is pretending that the destruction isn’t our fault. That we need to acknowledge that we are the owners of our future. Do we, as the ‘Crock Pot’ suggests, try to pursue more and more aggressive ways to ensure the past by pushing it into the future, or is it ok to accept that the future is not going to be like the past? That if the future isn’t the future that we expected, that it isn’t without worth? That is we make our own desires the most important that we are essentially destroying ourselves?
The eventual willingness, while singing ‘Nearer my God to Thee’, to die is interesting as well. Now that the people have what they want the most, to be special and unique and capable of returning to the ‘glory days’, that they are willing to give it up to protect the rest of the world. That there are costs that one can acknowledge that its ok not to pay. And Bev, digging into the sand, trying to escape her destruction — she was never really a ‘Christian’. She wanted the world to see her as pious and desirable, to be most laudable and above the rest and superior. Riley’s mother says it best…
God can love everyone equally. No one is over anyone else, they are just trying to feel worthy of the same level of value. Some can do so without being better than everyone else, or more important. I grew up with a younger brother and there were times that I know we were competing for Mom’s attention. When my mother would praise my brother, I would have to remind her that I was good too. The coversation would inevitably lead to the idea that, ‘you are just as good as your brother and praise to him is not minimizing your value’.
Lots of thoughts in this program. Interesting…