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17 June 2012

Immortals (Review) "Why Gods Should not Interfere"

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Director Tarsem Singh’s said that the original “Immortals” script started out with Henry Cavill’s character, Theseus, as being a king’s son.  In the finished film, Thesues became a peasant son of an outcast mother instead. This is not an arbitrary decision but part of a larger message that Singh wanted to deliver in “Immortals.”  On the surface, “Immortals” seemed like another run-of-the-mill period action movie, cut from the same mold as Zac Snyder’s successful “300.”  The difference between “300” and “Immortal” is the latter is put together by a director who has a profound understanding of human existence.

Singh’s films are simply not just visually spectacular but they are also ripe with meanings.  His collaboration with the legendary costume designer Eiko Ishioka significantly helped propelled his visuals into another level.  In Singh’s movie, a house might not just be a house; a mirror may be more than just a simple mirror, the different hues of color splashed before your eyes are not just mere visual stimuli.  They usually mean something.  It is up to us viewers to decipher his intentional or accidental codes.  Some of his visuals may just be cinematic Freudian slips.  Perhaps, a house is just a house and we are just over reading; however, that is the delight of watching Singh’s films, at least for me.  Interpreting his symbols is very subjective. 

It is understandable if viewers get lost in all his images and Singh sometimes has been unfairly criticized for relying more on well-executed shots than on a solid script and complex characterizations.  Nevertheless, for me, Singh is more like a conceptual artist than a traditional storyteller.  The true meaning of his film does not solely rest in the story, which sometimes seems thin, with the exception of “The Fall.”  His films are layered and the script is just one layer.

In a nutshell, “Immortals” tackles the importance of free will in faith.  If there is an almighty being then why does he or she or they come out already and fix the world’s problems? Why don’t the gods interfere?   In Signh’s own words, he explained:

I have been an atheist since I was nine years old. I blasphemed just about anything that you can think of and I was giving my mom some crap and she turned around, about three years ago, and she turned around and said, “How do you think you are successful as you are if it wasn’t for my praying?” And I thought, now, that was an interesting situation. I die and I go up there and there is this old conventional bearded guy in the sky and he goes, “You f***! I’ve been wanting to screw you up forever but because of this woman…” and I thought now that is a situation. And the only thing I could think of is if god does exist, how do you justify the kind of horrors in the world? So I couldn’t figure that one out. The moment I came up with a reasoning of that. I just thought. Why don’t they just show up in front of the White House lawn and say “Take us to your leader. Don’t be bad to each other. We exist.”[1]

Then he explained that free will is the reason why gods do not interfere. He continued.

[But] if they [the gods] interfere directly, you will just worship them like dogs…. Your true nature will never come out.  If Muhammad walks through that door and Jesus through this door, I would never ever be able to walk into a toilet with a barely legal magazine again…. It has to be taken on faith. The question of faith came out. And I just thought. If I keep that in mind and just think the gods don’t interfere because they respect free will above all.  Your true nature will never come out if they just show up… The gods are not interfering only for one thing.  They can try to, kind of like parents who know the exam and will keep feeding you questions from the back but they won’t tell you because you won’t be prepared for life. They’re trying to help a human but he doesn’t know that the person helping him is a god. [2]

“Immortals” also negate the very cliché notion of being “The Chosen One.”  By turning Theseus from a King’s son into a son of a mother who was raped, the movie further reinforces its message.  As Singh’s puts it, “if you are really hardworking, you’re the right guy.” Theseus was a nobody; he was a complete untouchable who became a leader, and then elevated into a demi-god.  The film also slightly tackles women issues.  The oracle Phaedra (played by Frieda Pinto) sees her power to foresee the future as a curse than a gift because it impedes her from living her own life.  In the end, she rejects her supposed “destiny” and takes control of her life. Bottom line, "Immortals" is deeper than you think. It only looks deceptively like a pop corn movie.  (First published in “The Chair” Blog)

Left: R.E.M.'s Losing My Religion. Directed by Tarsem
Singh. Right: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio (1601-1602) 
Caravaggio's painting part of public domain. / Use of R.E.M. video image
is part of commentary. For use of non-free media, click this.

[1][2] Interview of Tarsem Sigh in Comic-Con 2011.  [Please note that my transcription is not completely accurate.   I had a hard time transcribing the entire interview because of the background noise interference. You may view the complete interview in YouTube.


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