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Black Death (2010): Netflix Scares off Converts

Updated on April 3, 2013
enemies on the same side
enemies on the same side | Source

Black Death (2010) is actually a good film, though its audience is defined and constricted. It is not a film by Netflix, of course, but can be found there. It is unlikely that movie fans will start a search for rentals with the Bubonic Plague in mind. But for some reason, all Netflix does is put one such film out there, hardly mainstream -- but not uninteresting -- and it miraculously finds an audience. What is appealing is purely mental. The story asks, as it were, what if this horrible disease drove a group of people away from "true religion" and then the contagion lifted, rather than the other way around?

There is nothing very nice going on in the infectious 1300s, as shown herein. As it turns out, two kinds of thought have gained power during the epidemic. One is the prevailing Christian version, which, not surprisingly, has to do with maintaining the faith throughout this latest ordeal. The other is the polar opposite: renunciation and submission to cultish usurpers. But the independent-minded viewer may well wonder if it would not have been better then, and possibly now, to avoid the faithful as well as the faithless altogether. They are very much alike, these paired mirror-opposites. The self-flagellant and the infidel both vie for power. As presented in Black Death, the two are equal to one another in terms of excess and self-aggrandizement. Put differently, without penicillin, conversion under these circumstances only exemplifies behavior in extremis. The "witch" at least knows about herbs, and the bishop, who sends an armed envoy to break her, does not. His idea of a cure includes the stake.

God's rival is a woman who controls the lucky town, spared by the plague. As mentioned above, the film is very good for its sort. It is bold, too, in its own way. After all, not everyone has a taste for the dark side of humanity coupled with the Dark Ages. Black Death is moody, creepy, chilling, and yet fascinating. As unrealistic as it occasionally seems, the movie serves as a reminder of how much progress has actually been made since these awful days that ultra-conservatives would have us return to. They are, as a whole, rational enough, it has to be allowed, and cling to the old rugged cross. But a film such as Black Death sets the record straight, although it is only in the aftermath of what happens in the village that the true nature of the unbridled zealot comes out. If it were not for the young monk Osmond (Eddie Redmayne), the small but able Christian militia, pikes and all, might have carried the day.

And so, universal conversion will simply have to wait. Even if Christian theology is perfect, why get involved in its practice if the sort of brutality reflected by the film might chance to recur? Why not keep one's spiritual preferences to oneself? Why pray and praise all weekend? By the end of the next millennium, who knows? By then maybe all concerns, reservations, doubts, and hesitations will have been ironed out. And by the way, there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with belief systems in the West (I know nothing of the East). But when they are piqued and tweaked to an unholy pitch, as expressed in the film's violence, whose text and sub-text owes as much to video games as to medieval history, it becomes readily understandable why anyone might want to curb the enthusiasm.

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