South Korean Thriller

SVAHA: THE SIXTH FINGER, a South Korean thriller on Netflix, revolves around a series of cult-inspired murders and the religious investigator, who runs an organisation that exposes fringe religious groups.

I’m new to Korean film, but from what I have heard they excel at laying the foundation of seemingly separate stories, slowly developing them and then finally linking it all together in a grand climax. SVAHA follows that pattern with a highlight on the “slowly” part. I enjoyed it, but it took a while to find its footing. All the ingredients are there: from the foreboding atmosphere, supernatural elements, multiple murders, and even a quasi-monster. However, the pacing really made the first half of the film a bit of a slog.

Right Action vs Result

Some people think of Stoicism as a passive philosophy. What will be will be, so why get worried about it. I’ll admit there is something to that, but at the same time, one of Stoicism’s strongest proponents, Seneca, also forcefully endorsed rising to meet challenges head on.

How does it help…to make misfortunes heavier by complaining about them…The more precarious his situation, the more immanent his fall from power, the more firmly he should be resolved to stand and fight. It isn’t manly to retreat from fortune.

So yes, life happens, and complaining doesn’t improve anything. However, that doesn’t mean you just sit and let the world walk all over you either. You rise to meet your challenges. But here I think is where the real value of this philosophy shines, because even though you fight, you do not become wedded to the result. Our purpose is to live and live well, and that will sometimes include standing up against misfortunes. But the results will be what they will be. Our goal was achieved when we decided to act virtuously, regardless of result.

Patterns

I remember reading some time back, I don’t remember where, that one of the reasons our brains tend to slip a bit as we age is because so much of our lives revolve around habits. We wake up at the same time every day; our morning routines are seemingly set in stone. Take the same route to work; and work itself is a day-in-day-out experience. We drive the identical route home- how many times have you been road hypnotized on the way home and forgotten whole stretches of the ride? Then, dinner and sit in front of a screen and watch the same shows week after week. All this habitual behavior seems to make the brain atrophy a bit. (I make no claims to scientific truth here, and I am not talking about real mental failure, just the slow dulling that seems common with age.)

Then more recently I heard a corollary to this phenomenon. It is due to these monotonous patterns that we follow as adults that time seems to go by so quickly. In our youth, everything is new so the brain takes lots of “footage” so we can remember things. The highlight film is long. When your 40+ there is little new so the brain goes on autopilot a lot- no new footage. So when we think back there is no highlight reel to watch, time just seems to have flown by.

All of this certainly does not sound ideal, so what do we do about it? Epictetus has a simple solution. “What assistance can we find in the fight against habit? Try the opposite!” Simple right? We just need to find ways of doing things a little differently each day, even something as simple as taking a different route to work will probably help.

Time for me to make a list.

Ask for Help

“Don’t be ashamed of needing help. You have a duty to fulfill just like a soldier on the wall of battle. So what if you are injured and can’t climb up without another soldier’s help.” _ Marcus Aurelius

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the occasion to watch not only Saving Private Ryan (during a theater screening for the anniversary of D Day) but also an episode of Band of Brothers. One of the big takeaways from each work was the relationships that develop on the battlefield. They truly do become like brothers and asking for help isn’t the slightest bit shameful, it is a necessary survival technique. Quite literally, no one wins a war alone.

As we go through life it should be no different. We are fighting a battle, every one of us. The exact nature of that war and how it takes shape is different for everyone, but that doesn’t make it any less real. And, no, there is no shame in asking for, and expecting, help from our brothers-at-arms.

Why Philosophy?

“The impregnable wall of philosophy helps us tame the mad frenzy of our greed and tamps down the fury of our fears.” – Seneca

In other words, it is philosophy that allows us to gain true perspective on our lives. Perspective to see that our anxieties most often do not come to an actual evil fruition. Perspective to see that our desire for more, at its core, is not really a desire for material wealth, but instead for meaning and purpose.

Philosophy then is the greatest aim of the human mind, if done consistently, and done well. A noble pursuit that will benefit not just the participant, but those around him as well.

Calm Down

One of the running themes that can be seen throughout Greek philosophy, but especially Stoicism, is the concept of calm detachment. Whether it’s Marcus Aurelius, Seneca or Epictetus, they all stress the same thing- that when you remain calm, those around you do as well. And it is through a calm investigation of the facts, of the situation, that progress can be made. Progress in a steady, methodical fashion.

Unfortunately, this is probably one of my biggest weaknesses. I’m a worrier, a panicer, someone who is the exact opposite of calm in stressful situations. But it is also a blessing, because I have something significant to work on. Something that could bring real change to my life if I can master it.

The Power of Now

“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything up close.” Chuck Palahniuk

Who knew the author of Fight Club was a closet Stoic, because this sentiment is mirrored by none other than Marcus Aurelius when he says, “Stay focused on the present situation and ask yourself why it’s so unbearable and can’t be survived.” In other words, when you pay attention to what is right in front of you, you can handle just about anything.

Struggling under crushing debt? Just deal with your next paycheck and pay off what you can. Make that small dent, and over time you’ll work your way out.

Over weight with health problems? Don’t keep thinking about losing 50 lbs and running a 5K, just walk around the block, just pass on that ice cream. Just do what you can now.

The power of now really should be considered a super power when you think about all it can help you accomplish.

Reading: Ever read a short story and think it should be made into a full length novel? That’s the exact experience I had when I read Painless by Richard Larson. It is about a man who can’t feel pain and has been bioengineered to be a killing machine, but he refuses to give in to his fate. It’s gritty, cyberpunkish, in parts shocking and it left me wanting more.

I’ve been reading and blogging my way through Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic, which is something I do from time to time- must be the amateur classicist in me. I also stumbled across this great explainer on the whole Stoic idea from Dr. Donald J. Robertson. If you were ever curious about what exactly stoicism is, this is a great place to start.

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Watching: Three things to share in the film department. First, I saw an interesting art house horror film, HAGAZUSSA, a German language film available on Amazon and Shudder. This is a haunting, intentionally paced, auditorily stunning, terror. Reminiscent of 2015’s THE WITCH although bleaker, and at times harder to watch, but I couldn’t turn away either. Chilling.

Second, I saw a one night only theatrical release of the classic Kevin Costner film FIELD OF DREAMS this past week. Aside from being a baseball fanatic this movie is special to me because I proposed to my wife while watching it all those years ago. And yes, I still cry at the end when he plays catch with his dad. #noshame

Finally, we went to a pre-release screening of the upcoming film YESTERDAY. (I’m a big deal like that). The movie has a unique premise: the entire world has forgotten The Beatles ever existed except for one down-and-out singer. He then releases the songs as his own. There is a low grade rom-com subplot as well. Cute film with a killer soundtrack- obviously.

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Listening: Chelsea Wolfe’s HISS SPUN album as preparation for her upcoming release BIRTH OF VIOLENCE.  Her work has blended elements of gothic rock, doom metal, and folk music. I know that sounds odd, but it works.

Reading: Finished ARISTOTLE’S WAY: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life and it was just meh. On the one hand it was nice to get back to a classic thinker that I really enjoyed reading in college. On the other hand there was just too much modernizing going on. It was Aristotle-as-life coach with a dash of the liberal elitism that is the telos of most modern self-help books. I kept waiting for something deeper to come out but it was just a cursory overview of his thinking with plenty of platitudes and pop psychology. Oh well, if nothing else it has motivated me to go back to the source material, so it wasn’t a total loss.

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Watching: I REMEMBER YOU- Icelandic ghost story combined with just enough Nordic noir to make it perfect for a foggy morning viewing.

The film, based on a novel of the same name by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, tells of the entwining fates of three victims of horrible, and perhaps otherworldly, misfortune. This type of film is totally in my wheelhouse and I strongly recommend it. (Unless of course you can’t handle subtitles. But, really, you should be able to handle subtitles. You’re missing out on so many great films otherwise.)

Went to see a one day theatrical showing of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN with my 13-year-old for the anniversary of D Day. It’s been over 20 years since I have seen it on the big screen and it really does hold up. Gut-wrenching cinematic experience, but one that I think is important to pass on to the next generation. Sparked some great conversations later that night.

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Listening: GAETIR THE MOUNTAINKEEPER – Ritual / Norse ambient channeling of the Old mythos. Inspired by mythology, ancestral life & Nordic landscape. So cool.