The other night I succumbed to Si’s in-absentia blandishments and watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I knew it was going to be stupid, but I was willing to believe him when he assured me that it was stupid and fun. Alas, I just didn’t enjoy it that much. The whole production seemed to shoot for “so bad it’s good,” and it overshot its target — it’s so bad that it missed its chance to be good, and ends up just really, really bad. I’m always willing to cut Keanu Reeves a break (among the various actors of the “make a quizzical expression and that makes it really profound” stripe, I prefer him), and I appreciate pop-cultural gestures toward acknowledging the value in academic knowledge, and I’m not an entirely humorless old grouch, but Bill and Ted just made me wonder how long the movie would drag on. Best parts: Clarence Clemons, Fee Waybill, and Martha Davis as the three governing people in the future, and the scene(s) where Bill and Ted meet themselves traveling through time. The rest? As Pippa frequently says, “I want my two hours back!”
The other thing I didn’t want to know came to my attention in the course of my research for the Theology Cards project. I was looking into the numerous examples of virgin-martyrs in early church history, most of whom turn out to be legendary. I wanted to pin down just which ones were more likely fictive, and which had a plausible claim to factuality. As I scanned down the list I came to St. Catherine of Alexandria, a wildly popular saint whose stature seems to serve as a displaced compensation for Christian complicity in the lynching of Hypatia. The Wikipedia confirmed my recollection that “Historians believe that Catherine probably did not exist.” It also, however, provided the answer to a question that had troubled me since I was a youth. though I knew that Catherine had been tortured on “the wheel,” and that the wheel was variously associated with spikes and with “breaking,” I could never figure out what wheels had to do with torture (and iconographic treatments of Catherine were of little help). I’ve asked medievalist friends and ancient historians, but no one I asked has ever had a clear idea how this torture worked. Now I know, and it took my an hour or so of queasiness to pull myself together again.
I noticed recently that I’ve gotten more sensitive to cruelty in my advancing years. Margaret and I went to see Mr and Mrs Smith, and we both appreciated many aspects of the movie (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the tension in their relationship, Vince Vaughn), but Margaret was troubled by the plot holes. The plot caverns, to be more precise. I, in turn, was almost sleepless over the way the movie could invite us to delight in a couple’s love to such an extent that we were expected simply to disregard the staggering quantity of people whom they killed.
That experience catalyzed my latent horror at the ways our culture
deals with denies mortality. (I may have disabled my capacity to enjoy the spy/thriller movies that our family has long enjoyed.) But reading about Catherine, watching the Smiths in action, I couldn’t help thinking about the U.S. government’s determination to sacrifice lives and torture captives in order to buy a respite (ephemeral at best, illusory at worst) from fears that its own belligerence reifies and magnifies.