Love, and it’s Meaning in The World?


Watching the classic controversial movie, Natural Born Killers, I was struck by the guilty feeling one gets from liking the cold-hearted murderers, Mickey and Mallory. Woody Harrelson plays Mickey for laughs – the film was intended as a satire, on media fixation with pointless violence – but he is just too damn manly and rugged; the viewer cannot simply write off his performance as a comic turn, he is an attractive anti-hero.

Meanwhile Juliette Lewis plays Juliette Lewis very well indeed, meaning the beguiling beauty that can famously do ugly, yet somehow never stops being sexy. Oh to be ugly-sexy, we would all love to manage that, and the first part is so easy…

Consequently, there is no denying the misgivings critics had about this movie. There are scenes where the viewer is onside with a pair of adorable psychopaths – who are killing for kicks. It’s just their visceral way, a testament to their love for each other, everyone needs a hobby…

It works purely because Mickey and Mallory are in love. If they would just stop killing (mostly) innocent people and have another narrative, then we could happily relax into the mood of their wondrous feelings. As it stands, the film is uneasy. A rotten cop, a tabloid scumbag and a few other nasty victims help muddy the feelings.

It wouldn’t have worked if Mickey and Mallory’s way of sticking two fingers up to the world was shoplifting. And nobody would have crossed the road to watch Natural Born Litterbugs. The ultimate buzz of murder is needed to make the viewer uneasy.

Harrelson and Lewis score because we perceive ourselves to be living in an unfriendly world. Sadly, people do not regard strangers with much interest, let alone concern.  Unfortunately the film-maker Oliver Stone deploys sledgehammer subtlety and dreary piety when drawing attention to this sadness. And thus the viewer doesn’t much care. Our instinct and knowledge tells us that this murdering malarkey is wrong. Stone just tells us he is very pleased with himself.

Nonetheless that movie – which has remained zeitgeisty and controversial for two decades now – touches on two big facets of modern life. And both are familiar to any counsellor.  People’s disregard for each other, as strangers, is on the upswing, and it chills people when they sense this. In other words we know it’s wrong even though we feel it too (though hopefully never as much Mickey and Mallory…)

Five years ago, a ground-breaking study was published and eulogised in Scientific American; “The research, led by Sara H. Konrath of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor… found that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years. To make matters worse, during this same period students’ self-reported narcissism has reached new heights, according to research by Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University.”

We’re getting meaner, seriously mean… such that we can watch fictions about fellow humans being murdered quite realistically and very cruelly – and we only find it mildly traumatic, merely ‘controversial’. The Classical Greeks would baulk at us…

This is a matter of love, and in the modern world we think of love between a couple as the most important form of love, and sometimes the only form of love worth a mention. The Greeks called that love ‘Eros’ but they had six words for love. Another love they exalted was ‘Agape’ which meant the love of all people, whether they were close companions or complete strangers.

Agape was translated into Latin as caritas, and hence we have “charity”; which the Christians extolled as the most important form of love. Indeed, all the big religions emphasized a similar idea and thrived on it, but at some indeterminate time we just lost interest in that sort of vague, selfless love. CS Lewis mourned its demise as long ago as 1960 in his seminal book of essays, The Four Loves.

Meanwhile modern charity, like Mallory and Mickey’s murders, is often little more than a self-congratulatory media show – not a bad thing, but not quite unseen compassion either…

However, Mallory and Mickey have that other Greek love – that God – on their side; Eros. The Greeks feared, revered and desired Eros, just as we do. They understood that Eros – erotic passion and romantic love – is beyond the control of humans. It has power over them and it is lawless. This is beautiful and true – what are humankind’s trite laws, our written rules of negotiation contrived to help sustain our not-very-special society, when compared to the eternal power of love?

We tend to fail when we wrestle with Eros. We know this too well and have a litany of failed relationships to prove it. We make a mess of sexual and romantic love; trying to catch it devours modern lives. And the consequent sadness and frustration fills counselling rooms across the civilised world.

We desire Eros. It is a natural, unavoidable obsession most people feel in their bones. However, it has contributed to the alarming state of affairs whereby we can now watch a movie like Natural Born Killers and feel merely uneasy. So innocents get killed and the world is ugly, as we thought. But, hey, the murderers are in love, so it’s not all bad…

The Ancient Greeks would sneer at our clumsy and often disrespectful and selfish dealings with Eros. And they would despair at our lack of Agape.  But this is where we are at… apparently…






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