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November 13th, 2008


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10:57 pm - Apparitions
I just watched the new BBC supernatural drama, Apparitions, and I have to say I thought it was absolutely appalling. I decided to watch the whole episode right through, just in case its crassness and smugness was somehow intended to be ironic, or might be softened slightly. Nope, went right through like the word Blackpool through rock. It starred Martin Shaw as a too-perfect beardy priest. I tend to find him a wee bit smug in any case. It presents a universe where good is fighting evil, and the Catholic church is the sole bastion of good. There are no other types of Christianity, no other religions have any validity, and atheism is only presented associated with demonic possession.

A little girl becomes convinced that her father is possessed by demons because he is an atheist (he reads Dawkins). The priest kidnaps her and won't let her father have her back unless he submits to catholic religious rituals of various kinds. All this is presented as morally correct - when the atheist finds his daughter reading a Bible he strikes her so hard she bleeds. The priest tells the little girl to go with him because her father is possessed by evil - this is never presented as anything but 100% right. The covert baptism of Hindus and Moslems is portrayed as an unequivocally positive thing - the only objections are from a man possessed by evil. In a subplot a different man is struggling with 'homosexual tendencies' - he succumbs to the demons when he enters a 'bathhouse'. He doesn't find love, or come to accept himself for what he is. He gets skinned alive by a demon. That'll teach him eh?

I think this type of shallow splitting of the world into good and evil people is very common, and people use exactly the world view presented in this show to justify child abuse, torture of moslems, denying human rights to gay people, and so on. I think it's irresponsible.

Joe Ahearne also wrote Ultraviolet, the 1998 vampire series. I know a lot of people loved that, but I had issues with it, to do with its one-sided presentation of a very narrow religious outlook, and which partly spoiled my enjoyment. I felt this drama had all the problems of Ultraviolet, without any redeeming features.

(26 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:iainjclark
Date:November 13th, 2008 11:11 pm (UTC)
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Okay, that sounds pretty terrible.

I quite liked Ultraviolet, even though I found most of the characters cold and annoying, because it had some extremely strong set-piece scenes and the pseudo-scientific approach to vampires seemed unusual. The religious aspects weren't any more overt than your average Hammer Horror movie, I didn't think.
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From:communicator
Date:November 14th, 2008 09:21 am (UTC)
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It may be that all of this will be overthrown in the next episode, and given a more nuanced interpretation. To my mind, though, that needs to be front-loaded in the first episode. The religious aspect is a bit funny anyway, because it seemed by the end that the little girl was being targeted by the demons because she's the reincarnation of Mother Theresa *shrugs*.
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From:kerravonsen
Date:November 13th, 2008 11:34 pm (UTC)
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That does sound dreadful. And it saddens me possibly even more than you, because it makes me wonder if it will make people hate Christianity even more than they do already. (sigh)
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From:communicator
Date:November 14th, 2008 10:34 am (UTC)
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I don't think you would agree at all with the way religion was used in the show
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From:kerravonsen
Date:November 14th, 2008 10:56 am (UTC)
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Exactly. And people will think that it's really like that. (sigh)
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From:iainjcoleman
Date:November 14th, 2008 02:19 am (UTC)
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It worked in Ultraviolet, because the setup was very much "Vatican vs. Vampires", with little or no mention of other religions (IIRC), and with indications that the two sides didn't precisely line up with Good vs. Evil.

I missed Apparitions, and on the strength of your review it's just as well. An atheist hitting his daughter for reading the Bible - where do people get this from?
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From:communicator
Date:November 14th, 2008 09:25 am (UTC)
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I suppose that an apologist for the show would say that the hitting wasn't atheism, it was the sign that he was possessed by a demon. However, I think with issues like this, that reflect real divisions in society, it should be handled more carefully. One can easily imagine a situation where church people would try to remove a child from atheist parents - I'm sure its been tried in the past.
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From:toft_froggy
Date:November 14th, 2008 04:04 am (UTC)
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My god, that sounds AWFUL! What were they thinking? Ugh!
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From:communicator
Date:November 14th, 2008 10:33 am (UTC)
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It may be that I am being too harsh, or taking it too seriously, or something, but the scene with the gay guy being skinned alive was awful. Truly. And the way the bathhouse was portrayed - every man in it was a total hunk, and all indirect blue pastel lighting, so while it was being condemned it was also being exploited visually (this was how it struck me anyway).
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From:espresso_addict
Date:November 14th, 2008 08:11 am (UTC)
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It looked dreadful from the ads. I suspect I'd have avoided it anyway -- I find Martin Shaw, in his recent roles, almost uniformly unwatchable.
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From:communicator
Date:November 14th, 2008 09:29 am (UTC)
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He seems so self-satisfied. This may not reflect anything about his real personality, but he always seems to be cast that way. This was Judge Deedes (or whatever his name is) but smugly celibate instead of smugly skirt-chasing.
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From:kerravonsen
Date:November 14th, 2008 10:58 am (UTC)
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I find Martin Shaw, in his recent roles, almost uniformly unwatchable.
That's sad. The last time I saw him was in The Scarlet Pimpernel as Chauvelin, and he was terrific in that.
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From:quillori
Date:November 14th, 2008 08:37 am (UTC)
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Apparitions sounds awful. It also supports my view of Ultraviolet, which was that much as I liked it, it was a good thing it never got a second season. As it stands, Mike has such limited sources of information that I'm free to assume any one-sidedness is on the part of the characters, not the writer, and that I the viewer am intended to take it as evidence there's a great deal of important information Mike just hasn't been told. I imagine a second season would have blown that interpretation out of the water, and as I'm rather attached to it, and not at all attached to what I think Ahearne was really trying to do, I think it was a lucky escape.

I'm grateful you struggled through an entire episode of Apparitions so that none of us have to.
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From:communicator
Date:November 14th, 2008 09:35 am (UTC)
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Ahearne directed some Doctor Who episodes (Bad Wolf, Boom Town and Dalek for instance) that I think were OK. Perhaps he should keep away from the scripts.
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From:dfordoom
Date:November 14th, 2008 08:40 am (UTC)
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Joe Ahearne also wrote Ultraviolet, the 1998 vampire series. I know a lot of people loved that,

Me! Me! Me!
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From:communicator
Date:November 14th, 2008 10:35 am (UTC)
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A lot of people on my f-list felt that way too. There were, to be fair some excellent performances, and it was bags more interesting than 99% of what is on normal telly.
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From:dfordoom
Date:November 14th, 2008 10:43 am (UTC)
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Yes, it was different to the usual run of modern vampire movies and TV, which rely a bit too much on the "aren't vampires sexy?" thing. And the religious aspects to the story were definitely interesting, because they were actually taken seriously.
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From:gfk88
Date:November 14th, 2008 09:09 am (UTC)
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God - sounds like it was a good job I was out last night.

If you want Martin Shaw being really smug, go watch some old episodes of Judge John Deed....
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From:communicator
Date:November 14th, 2008 10:30 am (UTC)
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No thanks - the trailers were enough to put me off.
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From:sugoll
Date:November 14th, 2008 09:12 am (UTC)
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Eak. I'd been planning to watch this on the basis on Ultraviolet, until I read in SFX that it was intended as horror rather than fantasy. I was still in two minds, but now I don't think I'll bother...
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From:communicator
Date:November 14th, 2008 09:35 am (UTC)
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If you do watch it I'd be interested in your views. My reaction was so indignant, I was expecting a comment from someone who had watched it saying 'you have interpreted it too harshly'.
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From:mraltariel
Date:November 14th, 2008 03:41 pm (UTC)
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Actually, I think it is worth giving a go - for us, it lived very neatly in the uncanny gap. It provides a fantasy where the lead (and his acolytes) very clearly believe in an old-school "angels v. demons" religion, which is equally clearly not that of the (no so fluffy) realpolitik of the church.

The whole thing was, for me, a text about delusions (the title "Apparitions", as A. pointed out, is a pointer to this), and the certainties of definite world views (our POV character representing one, Dawkins as represented through a copy of 'the god delusion' another, the mother, with a delusion of her own family life a third, the church a fourth etc.)

We only ever see "clear" evidence of possession through the eyes of the POV character - for everyone else it could all (as is suggested in the text) just be people behaving as people do - from good to profoundly evil. We see the officialdom of the catholic church behave as we know it does towards a gay character, we see the response of what might be called a more 'liberal' priest, but we also see the conflict and pain that those attitudes cause in the man himself. I would suggest that the whole run up to the bathhouse scene is a profound condemnation of what both kinds of attitude - from "accepting, but repressing" to "condemning" can cause.

What is very clever is the way that they use this particular world view as a fantasy setting, and then use aspects of its underlying assumptions to unsettle and challenge us - discussing, rather than endorsing. For instance, the head honcho demon is presented as a homeless man - who attracts our POV character because it allows him to demonstrate his largesse and charity - a very clever and subtle form of temptation.

Plus, the whole thing is shot beautifully, performed very well (especially the little girl and the mother), and with some very interesting supporting characters (the nun PA-type-person is particularly well drawn with little dialog but an excellent performance).

I understand how this subject matter can really push buttons - in fact, it usually does in me - but I think this is a really good attempt at a fantasy/psychological horror show.

(I *quite* liked Ultraviolet, but felt that it was a bit *too* pro-Church for my taste.)
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From:communicator
Date:November 14th, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
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I'm glad you posted to give the other point of view, but personally I think this is generous. As in Ultraviolet, there was a nod in the direction of liberalism, of questioning orthodoxy, but this is quickly ravelled up and retracted. So there is a nod towards sympathising with the gay man, but he is damned - literally damned. I don't think the run up to the bath-house scene is even handed - I think it makes a nod towards it 'yeah, it must feel awful to be rejected' but then this is overtaken by events and the church is vindicated.
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From:mraltariel
Date:November 14th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
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I, on the other hand, think you're being too harsh :-)

The church - even the self-appointed 'liberal' end - completely fail to help this person that they've used, and utterly screwed up, and *precisely because of that* he ends up sliced like offal at the hands of what the so-called liberal guy thinks is a demon, and what (when not presented through his eyes) is simply a psycho-murderer. There's nothing supernatural about his death - it is a squalid, physical, earthly murder that has come about because he has been morally and physically abandoned by those who profess to be 'good', because they can't get past his sexuality. That seems pretty unequivocal to me.
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From:pinkdormouse
Date:November 16th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
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I just watched the first 15 minutes and gave up in disgust at te appalling script.
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From:communicator
Date:November 17th, 2008 10:15 am (UTC)
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I am so glad I am not the only one who had that feeling

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