Science fiction seems to rule our box office. And it’s no secret that Gnostic philosophy has found a conduit for its contraband philosophy in speculative fiction movies. Such films as The Matrix, They Live, Dark City, and The Truman Show have become modern dacitic myths that reflect our current existentialist plights — and this includes Philip K. Dick’s Gnostic explorations manifesting in Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Total Recall. You can add much more to these mentions, from Alan Moore’s film adaption of V for Vendetta or Neil Gaiman’s Gnostic Gospel Coraline to many hit television shows like Westworld.
Some might say it’s raining Gnosis, hallelujah!
But among these potent, digital Gnostic Gospels (many already reported on internet listicles that include IMBD), we find some duds and turds that would even make Saklas shake his head. These cinematic attempts dare to venture into Gnosticism but end up in confusing letdowns. We should dare to look at them and some of the reasons why they failed.
First, though, it begs to ask why exactly is Gnosticism so well-weaponized in science fiction movies.
As many scholars have noted, Philip K. Dick had two primary questions that drove his works: “What is reality?” and “What is human?” You could accurately say that these questions are also the foundation of science fiction, a medium that rose to catch up with changes in the collective consciousness of western culture. The industrial revolution displaced man from nature; the nuclear age displaced man from his humanity; and the digital age displaced man from his identity. Today, across the social media and internet landscapes, fragmented moralities and human identities pool into desperate speculations to find some long-lost self and tech-coping skill, as well as some glimmer of a future escape of this protean species mess.
This is all very Gnostic. Like Dick but 2000 years ago, the Gnostics dared to question the notions of humanity and reality, knowing the answers were intertwined with the fate of haughty gods; and also declared that we were already displaced in so many ways, nothing more than digitized profiles within the social media domains of Powers and Principalities.
As Erik Davis wrote in Nomad Codes:
Gnostic text crackle with a peculiar energy, an almost sci-fi sensibility of ‘alien gods’ and supramundane universes of light. Though not the first cosmic dualists, the Gnostics may have been the first spiritual off worlders.
It’s a marriage made in the Pleroma: science fiction and Gnosticism. And it works so well in movies as Gnostic works tend to be evocative, visual, and sometimes downright psychedelic.
With that said, let us to the listicle:
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Oh, how have the Wachowskis fallen since The Matrix in 1999. Ambitious ventures like Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas just left us wanting. Jupiter Ascending, their recent return to Gnosticism couldn’t catch lightning in the Kenoma, even if they paired it with the trendy Ancient Astronaut Theory. Beyond many problems like the cast and plot holes, what went wrong? Does letting Sean Bean live in speculative fiction mean box off disappointment?
I contend that what makes a good Gnostic movie is not giving the archonic plot away (with some exceptions like Dark City, which can get away with it because it was so foundational). The viewer is meant to take the Red Pill along with the protagonist in a dark journey of discovery. Jupiter Ascending laser beams all nuance beyond some Game of Thrones antics in the narrative. Sean Martin wrote in The Gnostics that impactful Gnostic tales employ “allegory, ambiguity and irony to both reveal and conceal their meaning.” Jupiter Ascending fails at this and tarnishes both Gnosticism and the science fiction genre.
The Island (2005)
This Gnostic movie started with so much potential, a sorta Logan’s Run reboot where a dystopia is masked as a paradise, and then the protagonists find their existences are a nightmare created by despotic entities. Then the film turns into a crappy, bombastic action flick. But the joke is on us if we didn’t notice it was directed by Michael Bay. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson seem more lost in a bad script than in a false world created by the Demiurge. At least one of them kept their star status after this Gnostic abortion and mess of a movie…until the remake of Ghost in the Shell (the original was a proper Gnostic flick).
Glen or Glenda (1953)
Sometimes movies are so bad they’re good. Sometimes they’re so bad they’re directed by Ed Wood, transcending all labels and tastes and Rotten Tomatoes reviews. That is the case with Glen or Glenda. No, Wood isn’t a latter-day Simon Magus or Carl Jung, but even a broken clock can tap into the collective unconscious twice an eon. I’ll let the words of Robert Sullivan in Cinema Symbolism 2 make the case.
Billed in the credits as “Scientist,” Lugosi’s eccentric Demiurge pulls the strings of humanity to fix, or at least reconcile, cross-dressing men. While rationalizing transvestism, he admits that mistakes are made in the material world admonishing humankind to, “Dance to that which one is created for,” suffocating all notions of individuality. He has no problem tinkering with humanity to satisfy the needs of his narrow ego. Treading on notions of Gnostic-Manicheanism (cf. good versus evil, spirit and matter, light against dark, i.e. Zoroastrian dualism), Lugosi’s Demiurge describes the film’s two protagonists: “One is wrong because he does right, and one is right because he does wrong. Pull the string!” Lugosi’s Demiurge sees the sexes as illusionary: they can be (and should be, depending on the circumstances) distorted, altered, and rearranged regardless of consequence. The difference between Ed Wood’s films and those of Lucas, Ridley Scott, and the Wachowskis is that Wood knew next to nothing about Gnosticism, the esoteric, and its influence and impact on material culture.
Talk about the “female must become male” mysticism of the Gospel of Thomas or the hermaphrodite Archons and Aeons in the Sethian myths! They all got wood for Wood!
The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Don’t mean to pile it on the Wachowskis, but again, you set the standard with The Matrix and then puked Blue Pills all over it. I remember watching The Matrix for the first time. I was out of rehab and in the “pink cloud” daze that happens during early recovery. Out of friends and out of money on a moderate Houston night, I walked into the theatre having no idea what the movie was about. Then came Gnosis and something akin to originality in action films!
Along with Blade Runner 2049, these two films might be the most unnecessary sequels in movie history. Sure, the Gnostic themes are expanded with the appearance of the Architect and Neo’s apotheosis as he controls machines (matter) in both the world of the Matrix and the real world (although some have said it’s all the Matrix). But the first movie was a damn fine cup of coffee and the ending not so much an ending but a call to action to all our inner Prometheus to start a revolution.
Then again, Monica Bellucci, our favorite Mary Magdalene, was breathtaking in the sequels…
Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe (1990)
Okay, this movie isn’t Gnostic (or have much of a meaningful plot, for that matter). But it had to bring in my favorite (and most feared) deity, Abraxas, not even as a supreme being but a beefcake played by none other than Mr. Conspiracy Theory himself, Jesse Ventura. The plot centers on two intergalactic cops, Secundus and Abraxas. Secundus goes rogue in some quest to become a supreme being himself, traveling to Earth and impregnating a terrestrial woman (by placing his hand on her belly, so no randy Holy Spirit needed). Abraxas, as in any narrative, must clean up this cosmic mess.
Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe was the worst export from Canada until Yaldabaoth created Justin Bieber.
It should be noted that there is a subtle difference between Gnosticism and science fiction. Ray Bradbury said that he wrote science fiction not to predict the future but to prevent it. Gnosticism agrees with this to a point, but is also writes about the past to avoid it. The Gnostics obsessed over personal and cosmic pasts in their mystic psychotherapy, contemplating different beginnings and situations in history to find emancipating insights. A perfect example is the Sethian exploration of the creation myths and the Book of Genesis, as found in the Secret Book of John and On the Origin of the World.
This sensibility might be counterintuitive in our New Age-y “past doesn’t matter” culture, but perhaps that is why western society has become so neurotic. We don’t become whole until we understand every point in time of our existences. Also, as the saying goes: “We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us.” Or perhaps even better, it was author Tom Robbins who wrote:
It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
That was, in a sense, the Gnostic impulse, as they traveled vast universes of light to find their inner unborn savior. Gnosis is about self-knowledge, after all, not half-knowledge.
As can be seen, sometimes this exploration gives us movies as crappy as the crappy reality the haughty gods gave humanity.
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