December 6th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Opposition tensions to resurface in 2009?

EDITORIAL: Left-liberals to dominate Obama Administration

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Disentangling the new world disorder

SUPERMARKETS: GroceryWatch is a white elephant

POLITICAL IDEAS: The realisable goal of property for all

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Giving to the have-mores / How long can Labor last? / Degraded educational standards / Future prospects

BANKING: The Medici — manipulators of money and soft power

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Abortion increases risk of pre-term births

EUGENICS: The menace of eugenics, yesterday and today

MARRIAGE: US battle to preserve traditional marriage

CINEMA: Depraved film the symptom of a sick culture - the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading

Australian Christian Lobby responds (letter)

Chechen terrorists (letter)

BOOKS: WARSAW 1920: Lenin's Failed Conquest of Europe, by Adam Zamoyski

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Depraved film the symptom of a sick culture - the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading

by Dr John Whitehall (reviewer)

News Weekly, December 6, 2008
Dr John Whitehall reviews the latest Coen brothers' film, Burn After Reading.

I came out of the cinema thinking, "The end is surely nigh". I had endured Burn After Reading (rated MA) to the end, immobilised by its poisonous drivel, and found no cleansing in the cool night air.

Was this America? Was this what the West had come to? If this was representative, we have lost.

My wife and I had gone to the movies because our son had given us luxury tickets as a present, and their time was expiring.

I rang Hoyts and a young man recommended the film as a kind of drama and comedy. He considered it "very good" and the Sydney Morning Herald had given it a four-star rating, so we drove into Sydney for a night on the town. We should have stayed at home.


The movie has a forgettable plot. Though it is only a week since we saw it, I cannot recall the fatuous details; but its genre is common: the innocent victim versus the murderous treachery of American security organisations.

This unceasing theme of Hollywood, alone, raises the question of just how much propaganda of disillusion can be drummed into the brains of younger generations without destabilising the nation upon which the West still depends.

The movie, unfortunately, has difficult-to-forget sub-themes of marital treachery, sexual treachery and individual treachery.

I doubt if monkeys are more inhibited than the humans depicted in the story, but would they be amused by a highlight of the film — a Heath Robinson contraption for self-penetration constructed in the basement of one of the heroes and unveiled to sniggers from the audience?

Moreover, I am not aware that monkeys are attracted to scenes of bludgeoning violence. Lucky monkeys in their tribes. Do they suffer from the aching loneliness of characters in this movie?

Is this where we are headed? Alone, betrayed by family, friend and government? Bewildered? Lost? Purposeless? With only a metal contraption for joy?

I suppose there could be some forgiveness if the movie was an exercise in diagnosis. Probing leprous decay should lead to therapy; but doing it for entertainment is sick.

In 1927, G.K. Chesterton feared that the ultimate threat to Western civilisation was not the "coming peril", Bolshevism, real though that was; rather, it was "vulgarity".

He explained: "The evil I am trying to warn you of... is standardisation by a low standard." The only defence for "culture and civilisation" would be the "deeper remedies" of Christianity.

With regard to this vulgarity, Chesterton did not know "whether it would be safe in such a connection to whisper the word 'America', now by far the wealthiest of States and, in the degraded conditions of our day, therefore the most influential".

Whether the land of "In God we trust" is still the wealthiest is arguable. Unarguably, there appears no limit to its vulgarity.

The only use for theology in this cinematic example of America's cultural exports was the incessant use of a triplet — the F word and the name of the Lord — as exclamation, adverb, adjective and noun.

Would Chesterton think there was any remaining hope?

— Film reviewed by Dr John Whitehall.

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