Perhaps one of the keys to understanding the album as a whole is Del Rey’s cover of Nina Simone’s “The Other Woman” at the end of the album. In many ways Del Rey (either autobiographically or as her persona) views herself as an outsider, an interloper in her various relationships with men. To me that is the connecting thread, how lonely, unsatisfied and powerless one is being in that position of the other woman and the very human ways she tries to find satisfaction and gain power over her situation.
This identity takes various meanings and forms on the album, from actually being the other woman in “Shades of Cool” and “Sad Girl”, conflicted as to who she is in “Ultraviolence” (is she deadly or submissive), one of many women in “Cruel World” or the woman who is other (“I am a dragon, you’re a whore”) because she “passed the test” in “F*cked My Way Up To The Top”.
The album begins with her giving herself up to a man (“Share my body and my mind with you”) but when we come to the end she is alone (“And as the years go by the other woman will spend her life alone, alone, alone”). The journey from surrendering herself to these relationships to isolation plays out in dichotomies between power/weakness, submissiveness/femme fatale, violence as beauty/using beauty for violence, spiritualizing relationships and self/dismissing God, trusting in money/money doesn’t satisfy, etc. I can relate with Del Rey because I have given all of myself to someone before, felt the multitude of conflicting emotions that Del Rey has and used language about God in the context of that romantic relationship while refusing to seek out God.
Patti, leader of the Guilty Remnant, prophetically scribbles on a notepad to Kevin Garvey near the beginning of the episode, “There is no family.” “B.J. and The A.C” on the surface is an episode about the further relational splitting of one family, the Garveys. Laurie finally reaches out to her estranged husband, speaking through a written letter read by Meg, but informing Kevin that, “I think I’m supposed to be broken. Maybe we all are.” Then she gives him a sealed envelope with divorce papers. He refuses to sign it.
Jill encourages her dad to find the missing baby Jesus stolen from the town nativity but was the one who stole the baby doll in the first place. In addition, her gift to her mom of a cigarette lighter inscribed with “Don’t forget me…” is initially thrown down a storm drain but later, Laurie reclaims it from the sewer. And Tom, on the road protecting pregnant Christine until he receives a call from Wayne, no one has spoken to in months and is unreachable.
Patti is right, Kevin has no family.
However, the Guilty Remnant’s evangelizing is not limited to Kevin. During the town’s annual Christmas celebration, they break into various Mapletown homes and remove family photos from their frames. Family, the central core of stability in any society, the GR believe is dead.
Underlying this story of familial distancing are two babies, one a symbol of a perishable façade unable to save (Baby Jesus doll) and the other the promised hope of a destructive future (Christine’s baby, the A.C. of the episodes title, possibly meaning antichrist).
Baby Jesus, in the nativity placed in the center of town, is a manufactured Aforda baby boy doll (presumably, shorthand for affordable) purchased from a big box store. Cheap, replaceable and no longer meaning anything post-Sudden Departure, other than keeping a Christmas-time tradition. Jill after stealing the plastic savior from its crib is the one appointed by friends to set ablaze the doll on the waters of the lake. As her friends prep the baby Jesus for its demise, they mock the idea it represents yelling, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Jill can’t bring herself to complete her appointed task and her twin classmates drop off the rescued baby Jesus on Kevin’s doorstep. When Kevin presents to the town at the Christmas celebration the retrieved baby Jesus, announcing his intention to place him back in the nativity, the townspeople collectively yawn. No one cares and in the end, neither does Kevin. Upon returning the baby to the nativity, he finds that Reverend Jamison has already replaced baby Jesus. Kevin then proceeds, on his way home, to toss the doll out his truck window.
The message is clear, furthering the themes of last week’s episode, no wants Jesus because no one believes he can meet them in their daily struggles for understanding. Thus why the Black Keys song “I’m Not The One”, playing against images of the doll being created and then placed in the manger, states about this hollow savior, “I’m not the one/No I’m not the one /You wanted it all/But I’ll give you none/Cause I’m not the one “. And why the ending credits are set to Lin Greenwood’s “I Must See Jesus for Myself”. Mapleton and the world cannot believe in a savior without seeing him with their own eyes, after experiencing the unexplainable disappearance of 2% of the human race.
Then there is the real baby being carried inside the womb of Christine, the Asian girl entrusted to Tom Garvey’s care. A crazed lunatic, naked from the waist down, screams at her, “I know what’s inside you” and “You walk over the dead”. Are the hopes of the world contained there inside her as she carries Wayne’s baby? Or is something more sinister occurring, perhaps she is carrying the antichrist a la “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Omen”? What is the third eye (target?) painted on their heads as they walk shoeless so as to remain “invisible” to the outside world? Questions abound with Christine’s child and the cult around the mystic Wayne but there is a sense that none of it is good.
Two potent, cutthroat symbols of the spirit of the post-Sudden Departure age. One hollow, empty, a relic of the past and not able to save. The other an omen, a sign of a promised reckoning because the grace period is over. God is dead, families are dying and each individual has died inside. They’re still here but maybe they’re all supposed to be broken.
Nora: What do you believe in, Matt? Do you know where my family went? Do you know what it was?
Matt: It was a test. Not for what came before, but what came after. It was a test for what comes now.
Nora: Well, if it was a test, I think you may be failing it.
The Leftovers continues to upend our expectations and only three episodes into its premiere season; viewers get an episode entirely dedicated to one character, Pastor Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston). We find out that he is more than a October 14th truther (exposing the misdeeds of the departed to prove that the rapture of the bible did not occur) but a man who has endeared a great amount of suffering and loss. His parents died in a fire when he was a child, his wife suffered massive brain injuries on the day of the Sudden Departure and he is losing his church.
And this is what the episode fixates on, Matt trying to save his church from the bank foreclosing on the property. So that there remains a place for the handful of faithful Maplton residents to worship their God on Sunday mornings. A god that Matt still believes in a post-October 14th world. One who Matt believes, despite the suffering around him, continues to work in the world, in his life and the lives of others.
After a long and frustrating couple of days, including being physically beaten mid-sermon, he lays on the ground next to his invalid wife staring at Albrecht Durer’s “Job and His Wife“on the wall, begins to weep over his long-suffering life and prays to his God, “Help me”. Then an idea flashes in his mind (presumably, from God) on how he can pull himself out of the dire situation of losing the thing he holds most precious, the Episcopal church that he leads.
Job is a fitting character to associate with the pastor, since in the biblical narrative Job loses everything, from his family to his possessions and even his own health. A comparison that the writers of the show are intentionally drawing with that poignant moment of realization Matt has staring at Durer’s painting. In addition, the official blog for the show details all the ways Reverend Jamison resembles Job, drawing closer the parallels between the two. In essence the episode is a re-telling of that narrative contained in the Book of Job but in a more familiar post-modern context.
In the Book of Job after everything is taken from Job, his wife sets up the question the rest of the book tries to answer, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” The same thing is asked of Jamison in a dream sequence while making love to his wife, “Why do you persist?” That is the question everyone in Mapleton is trying to answer but Matt finds those answers through his Christian faith. His response to those mocking his faith in a God that no longer seems present would be like Job’s, “You speak as one of the foolish… would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
Evil has come his way, yet he still believes in an age of disbelief. He continues his crusade to separate the good from the wicked among the departed. He steals, gambles and commits an act of violence in order to save his church from being take. He lovingly cares for his wife. But most importantly, he believes that God still matters in a world of leftovers.
His journey is messy, full of contradictions and people who are opposed to Matt’s calling (as Matt’s sister yells about his flyers on the departed, “People need to punch you in the face”). At one moment he is bludgeoning to death someone who tried to rob him and then a few hours later coming to the aid of two Guilty Remnant who were attacked in a drive-by stoning. Then ends up being stoned like them.
In the end, Reverend Jamison’s suffering becomes greater as his church is taken from him and he discovers that the LLC who purchased the property are the Guilty Remnant. The foil to the faith of Jamison, since they saw the futility of their lives, accepted their fate and reached a place of contended acceptance without needing God. They have become the absurd men and women of Albert Camus’ book “The Stranger” (briefly shown in the first episode) and their philosophical outlook is ruling the day while the pastor, church and God are vestiges of a pre-Sudden Departure culture.
Now that all is gone for Matt Jamison, will he like Job pass the test, continue to persist and remain faithful to God or will the Guilty Remnant convince even a man of the cloth to embrace the absurdity of life?
“We’re doing the Lord’s work believe you me,” the stranger tells Kevin Garvey about killing the once domesticated dogs now roaming the town and surrounding woods. A stranger that Kevin’s institutionalized father claims was sent to help. Possibly sent by The Departed or maybe his father really is crazy. Coherent one moment, then hearing voices the next. But what about Kevin? Is he going insane himself like his father?
Wayne’s compound is bombarded. No arrests are made. Orders are shoot to kill until the mystic, the holy one is found. But Wayne’s not around and Tom Garvey is the only one who can save the young Asian girl that is of great importance. Meeting up later, Wayne offers Tom a hug of salvation to release Tom from the inevitable physic torment he will encounter from killing another person. Tom refuses to which Wayne replies, “You’re all suffering and no salvation.”
Meg is chopping down a tree and Laurie is watching her. Meg yells at her that she “[doesn’t] want to feel this way anymore.” Laurie scribbles quickly on her notepad, “Okay”. This is only the beginning of the process to become one of the Guilty Remnant. Later on, Meg gives up her grandmother’s sweater to Laurie as one of the last items from her former life. Putting off her old self to put on the new self in the likeness of the Guilty Remnant.
But back to Kevin. That penguin. That inflatable punching bag his therapist tells him is for children to let out their aggression. There it stands beside the therapist as if mocking Kevin. He is clearly bothered by its presence but it is a bagel machine that receives Kevin’s wrath. In the bagels go and nothing comes out. They disappear. Is he seeing things? Does the strange man who hunts dogs really even exist?
As wise master Yoda once said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” And they are all suffering. Kevin is afraid he will become like his father. Meg is afraid of her feelings. Tom is scared of what Wayne’s power could do to him. Kevin releases his anger on the bagel toaster, while Tom screams profanities at his stalled car and Meg aggressively chops away at a tree. It remains to be seen what they hate but the suffering is there, ever present.
And where is their salvation? It isn’t found in the Guilty Remnant as Laurie tells Meg that they are “not a cult”. Tom has reservations (suspicions?) about Wayne’s ability to save. And Kevin is not finding any respite burying himself in work nor with the stranger who murders dogs, supposedly doing God’s work. No one understands. No one seeks God. The leftovers are like what the apostle Paul wrote: “in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” (Rom 3:16-17) Holy Wayne was right, all suffering and no salvation.
The elusive search for meaning amid suffering in a post-Sudden Departure world continues to play out with the leftovers letting their fear overflow into anger. Wound up and all bursting out in their own ways. October 14th has turned all of them into the stranger. Strangers united by the guilt they feel. Strangers protecting the important one. Strangers on a mission from God. Strangers who were once a family.
Perfect strangers. All lacking the dance of joy of their salvation.
I’m not ashamed to admit as a 34-year-old man that I love Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It is beautifully animated, has some fantastic songs and Belle, in my humble opinion, is the best Disney princess. As the beautiful daughter of a eccentric inventor, she is more than a pretty damsel in distress but a strong, independent and intelligent woman. She refuses the advances of Gaston (the prototypical “prince” character, who is actually the villain), self-sacrifices her freedom to save her father, chooses to fall in love with the hideous Beast and in the process she saves him from himself. Disney with this film laid the groundwork to question through creative narratives the tropes of fairy tale romances, a subversive move, I believe, only now coming to fruition with two recent Disney films, Frozen and Maleficent.
However, Beauty and the Beast is not without its flaws, despite the positive trend towards a more complex and assertive female character. For instance, many have suggested that Belle is a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, falling in love with her abusive and violent captor. My own personal issue is that while the film starts to chisel away at the typical fairy tale narrative, in the end it still adheres to the idea that romantic love fixes everything. All one needs is true love’s kiss to live happily ever after. Cue music. Sprinkle pixie dust. Ride off into the sunset with your new found love. The End.
But let’s be honest here, who of us can claim any innocence when it comes to believing that finding “the one” will make our lives more fulfilled, meaningful and plain better? Isn’t that the dream we all secretly hope for? That finding love would be true for me as it was for Belle, Cinderella and Snow White? As Michael Novak, Catholic philosopher and journalist, writes at First Things:
Suddenly the baby stops crying. She looks back to the car seat firmly attached to the backseat of the Suzuki. Screaming out with tears gushing from her eyes, she pleads in painful bewilderment wondering who took her baby. But something more mysterious is occurring here. In the midst of her shrieks, a confused boy calls out for his dad from the sidewalk and then suddenly and violently a car without a driver collides into another. What’s going on here? Where did these people go? Why am I left behind? This is the story of the 98%, those unlucky souls in a now graceless world, questioning how will they rebuild and recover. They are the leftovers.
2014 seems to be the return of that classic of Hollywood film genre, the Biblical epic. From Mark Burnett’s Son of God to Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and later this year, Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. In a wider purview, films centered on faith pulled in large box office numbers this year such as God’s Not Dead starring Kevin Sorbo ($60M gross is not to shabby for Hercules) and Heaven is for Real ($89M gross). The small screen is seeing similar explorations of biblical themes with Resurrection and now the upcoming HBO series The Leftovers premiering June 29th.
The Leftovers is based on a book by Tom Perrotta and produced by Lost writer Damon Lindelof. After delving into Evangelical sub-culture with his book The Abstinence Teacher, Perrotta became fascinated with the Evangelical belief in an event called the rapture. According to those who subscribe to this belief, Christians will be taken away to heaven in an instant, vanishing like a vapor. Those who are left on the earth suffer through the Great Tribulation, a period of time where God pours out his wrath on those who were not chosen to be raptured into heaven.