Monday, June 29, 2009

The Once And Future King

Conan The Barbarian Directed By John Milius


"Conan what is best in life"
"To crush your enemy, see him driven before you, and her the lamentations of the women."
People always talk about this film as the mindless fantasy classic, but there's more going on here than meets the eye, at least I'd always thought so growing up. My suspicions were re-ignited when I realized Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay.
There's plenty of sex and violence, but Conan's enemy inspired by Hassan I Sabbah (the old man in the mountain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hassan-i_Sabbah ),and played oddly by James Ear Jones, spouts a philosophy of emptiness and the surrender of will and self, and makes a perfect foil, to Conan's self made man individualism, and materialism.
There's also a very literal crucifixion and resurrection scene here as well, followed by the film's end in a kind of public deicide, an act repeated more literally in "Conan The Destroyer".Here the battle is mainly an ideological one, between Eastern metaphysics and and Western materialism, or at least Oliver Stone and to a lesser extent Robert E. Howard's version of the two, at least when the battle is literally brawling and stealing. Conan is trained in the east, has an Asiatic friend who argues with him about which of their God's is greater; Conan's which is Crom the god of Steel who waits on a mountain and will ask him "the riddle of steel" when he dies and if failing to answer he will be cast out of Heaven, or his companions who's God is the wind, and who therefore is above and all encompassing of even of mountain's where Crom sits. As Buddhists and many a post-modernist claim that other religions are not incompatible with their own particular ideological brand name, and is all encompasing and empy as the wind, and Western existentialism is sisyphus-like, search for meaning, "the riddle of steel" ,"meaning of life", or "end of history".Conan eventually takes for himself a blond blue eyed female mate named Valeria, maximizing his western virility. Killing Jone's alter Thulsa Doom, Conan's raison d'etre (Tom to his Jerry)plants him an existential position, of obliterating not only the vengeance that his driven him, but his belief in the greatness of his own flesh, which finds a strange mirror in Jone's cult.Who's eastern hynotism and flagerent hippie outfits, are easy pickings for Conan, who thunders his way through the film, in typical kick ass with reckless disregard fashion. Thulsa Doom's philosophy is eventually revealed to be even a more radical form of nihilism in eastern dress "there is only flesh, but flesh is stupid. In it's stupidity is strength, which can bend steel. Flesh is an illusion sacrifice yourself, the world does not exist, etc.".For further reading imagine something along the lines of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_at_War
It's a simple philosophy in Conan, but one well told enough that I still remember it and could pick up on it as a kid, no God, no magic, no King, no object or steel, is of any value at the end, just will and an idiotic zeal for life.
Original author Robert E. Howard intended Conan to be a hero without magic, a man's man, who used nothing but his body and wits to tackle his challenges, he also invented wondrous phrases adjectives like "she-panther", but that's neither here nor there.
It's easy to pick on any film staring the current Governor of California, but this was one that crystallized the grim, Sword And Sorcery genre, and there hasn't been a better film since.
"Kull The Conqueror","The Scorpion King","Krull", "Beast-Master", etc., maybe not the greatest genre of films ever, but this one at least, may epitomized, the reactionary anti-thesis to science fiction, it's low-tech, blood and guts, and a bit more interesting, if only slightly, than you may remember it.This is the grandfather of "300".

1 comment:

moviesaremyreligion said...

Haha, this is a great analysis man. Makes me wanna see the movie! I can't believe I'm saying that but there it is.

James Earl Jones philosophy is eventually revealed to be even a more radical form of nihilism in eastern dress: "there is only flesh, but flesh is stupid. In its stupidity is strength, which can bend steel, etc.".

^Arnold was the perfect hero for this flick. That last shot of him on a throne, with the hellish red smoke around him, seems somewhat profound: the dumb, unstoppable king. I think a movie preaching that philosophy is gonna have its limitations but you convincingly defend the film as self-conscious of its philosophy, whereas the "Rambo" flicks are just naive and arrogant.

Anyway, your blog is linked to on my blog which should go online sometime later this week (or next). I'm lovin' the blog so far. That bulge-eyed cartoon of you is jokes. Who drew it for ya? And the music is cool. I'll look into that for my site... Keep up the good work!

- Karl