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Dr. Who: Flesh and Stone (delayed)

Angels Unaware

I've pondered this for a while, long enough to be unfashionably late to the dance at Meta Essay Hall. For those who are interested, though, this is a poor explanation of why I loved one aspect of "Flesh and Stone" (and "The Time of Angels" as well) so very, very much.

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Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies?
And even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror,
Which we are just able to endure,
And we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.
- Rainer Maria Rilke



I think the fear of unthinking destruction is deep in humans.

We fear things that destroy us for no reason, and without reason. We fear fire and flood, we fear that the earth can move and destroy us without the chance of us reasoning with it, convincing it not to destroy us. Perhaps that's why we created gods, because we knew, we just knew, if the earth understood us, if the fire could listen, if the flood could be argued with, we would convince them of our worth. We could make them love us, and not destroy us.

Our imaginations can take that fear and imbue almost anything with it.

(I, for instance, am afraid of insects and zombies - both fears laughable, and both fueled by the same thing; the fear of something that can hurt me without reason, in both senses of that phrase. I could even argue that zombies are a recursive distillation of fear. Fear of unreasoning death, and fear of death itself; a thing which doesn't think, but which moves, and which moves only to kill, and which is already dead - it really doesn't bear thinking about, and yet I do. Which is the curse of reason. But I digress.)

But what if that deep and abiding fear in humans was misdirected, at least a bit?

By which I mean, what if there was something of which we should be far more frightened, and aren't? What if, beyond unreasoning destruction by that which doesn't reason, there are things which knowingly destroy us, and do so because they know they can? That reason, but with which we still cannot reason?

That's not the earth moving and covering us. That's not the fire consuming us. That isn't the whirlwind or the flood. That isn't even zombies.

Those things ... at least we know that the fire and whirlwind don't set out to destroy us. They don't enjoy hurting us. They hate nothing, and if they don't love us, they at least destroy us in a pure act of unknowing, the pattern of which is beyond us, but doesn't actively negate us. We can approach a sort of cautious and fearful detente with that kind of terror. 


He spake well who said that graves are the footprints of angels.  - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


But a reasoning being  who delights in destroying other reasoning beings is a perversion that goes far beyond zombies.

It's every child that pulls the wings off flies because she likes to do it. It's every boy who hits a smaller one because it makes him happy to make his victim cry. It's every girl who tells her best friend she's a fat loser. It's every adult who threatens to put a child in the dark where the devil will get her, because it's fun to frighten a child. It's every boss who chews out employees with insults and put-downs because he can, and for no other reason.

When it grows up, it's Hannibal Lector. Worse, it's Ted Bundy. It's Brady and Hindley, it's Irma Grese.

It hurts us because it wants to see us scream. It destroys us, but not without telling us what it's doing. And it speaks. It reasons.

I think that's why we humans fear it less - and why we should fear it more.

We are lulled by reason. We're lulled when someone speaks to us, no matter how horribly he is treating us. Somewhere inside us we're convinced we can change his mind, because he has a mind. We're certain we can make her understand our side, convince her of her fellowship with us and thereby convince her to stop hurting us. We believe that we can appeal to the better angels of their nature.

But we can't. We find no brotherhood, no sisterhood. They look like us, but underneath, something is off, something is broken, something is missing. Just enough so that they delight in destruction and pain and fear. We can't appeal to their angels, because their angels are fallen. And we can't help them back up, because they are busy killing us; in the flesh or in the spirit.

Perhaps someone else can raise them back, some god can return to them their wings. But we won't know it, because they have destroyed us.


The angel of the Lord came upon them ... and they were sore afraid - Luke 2:9


And before we go, they delight in that airless moment when we understand our pending destruction. When they move toward us and we can see it, and they know we can see it.

And that, friends, is why the angels in "Flesh and Stone" frighten me far more deeply than they did in "Blink." 

The angels in Blink, fangs and all, are the whirlwind, the unknowing and unknown destruction of the moving earth that covered Port Au Prince. They are a mystery, and a terror, but ultimately pure and disinterested, as Rilke said.

Rilke's angels are terrifying, but the comfort of which he writes - so appropriate and applicable to Blink - is worse than wrong when it comes to Flesh and Stone

The angels in Flesh and Stone are Lector and Bundy and Grese, as they speak with the voice of a frightened boy, and tell us what they did to hiim.

They are fallen angels, and they remind us that we are all too often the fallen angels of our own dark natures.


The only angel who sees us now watches through each others eyes - Rickie Lee Jones


-30-





Comments

( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
azalaisdep
May. 23rd, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)
That's a really interesting thesis. And I am fascinated to look back at my gut reactions to the Angels over their various appearances and note that I actually was more frightened of them in Blink. I was pretty scared in the recent two-parter - more in the first part than the second, I think, though I'm inclined to blame Karen Gillan's acting for some of that - but I remember being absolutely terrified by Blink. Unable to turn the light off, that sort of thing. And I think your idea about the complete blank unknowability of them was spot on in that respect. They were less frightening when they started speaking. Is that just because as soon as a creature starts to communicate the odds are that the Doctor will work out a way to get the better of it?...
kaffyr
May. 23rd, 2010 09:33 pm (UTC)
Most people whose opinions on all three episodes I've read agree with you. They were more frightened by the Blink angels, and their blank unknowability.

I, on the other hand, was less frightened by those angels. For me, they were forces of nature, abetted by good film editing - and forces of nature, as I've said here, can be frightening, but the terror is of a sort with which I can come to a shaky detente.

The deeper danger, for me - and thus, ultimately, the deeper fear - came from the knowledge of something that was knowingly wicked, and which delighted in generating fear, and hurt, and death.

I know I'm in a minority, and part of this was me wondering why, and wondering if that's because we humans forget that the deepest horrors are done to us by those who think. Including ourselves.

Edited at 2010-05-23 09:41 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
kaffyr
May. 23rd, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
I'm with you there. We may, however, belong to a very exclusive club when it comes to the angels. Heh.
(Deleted comment)
kaffyr
May. 23rd, 2010 11:57 pm (UTC)
If you choose to examine the possible reasons, and do so in an essay, I'd be really interested in reading it. *hints broadly*
apolliana
May. 24th, 2010 12:18 am (UTC)
Me either! The Vasta Nerada, on the other hand.... Shadows are everywhere, after all. Not so many angel statues around where I live.
kaffyr
May. 24th, 2010 12:31 am (UTC)
There was also a feeling from the Vashta Nerada that they rather enjoyed doing what they did.
apolliana
May. 24th, 2010 05:17 am (UTC)
True. The "Angel Bob" thing and the empty suits walking around in FoTD are very similar. And both the Angels and the Vasta Nerada are communicated with indirectly, through people they've killed.

I also agree with your more general point that there's something terrifying about things we can't reason with (or maybe "feel" with--Daleks and Cybermen are very rational). But the latter two probably wouldn't do anything "for fun," either. Maybe there's something particularly creepy about having the capacity to enjoy confusing its victims as well as simply destroying them.
kaffyr
May. 24th, 2010 03:26 pm (UTC)
Your last point is precisely what I was trying to say, and you said it far more succinctly and clearly than I did.

And I think you reminded me that there's a third type of destroyer: something that's neither a force of nature, nor sadist. The Cybermen do reason, but they do what they do without emotion. On the other hand, we might move Daleks out of this new category and back into that of sadist, because their every move is generated by hate, an extremely strong emotion - and they have been known to do a great many cruel things out of that hate.
gwaithgweneth
May. 24th, 2010 12:10 am (UTC)
Hallo from [info]doctorwho!

I totally agree with pretty much everything you said. Blink scared me a lot, certainly, and I couldn't turn the lights off after I watched it, but when the angels started laughing in Flesh and Stone...things that hurt because they can frighten me most, partly because I see so much of myself in them. After that is probably things like the Daleks, which hurt because they believe they should, and things like the Doctor, which hurt because they believe they should, because they don't realize they are, and because they think they must. And I think there's several levels left before I reach things that hurt because it's what they do, and do not reason.
kaffyr
May. 24th, 2010 12:34 am (UTC)
" ... partly because I see so much of myself in them."

Therein, however, you've shown yourself to be better than the angels (pause here for various Biblical reverberations); you have a conscience. I don't suspect that the angels are ever frightened of something because of that reason.

I like your concept of different levels and intensities of hurt based on the reasons of whoever is doing the hurting.

Edited at 2010-05-24 04:09 am (UTC)
jrsz
May. 24th, 2010 11:29 am (UTC)
(from doctorwho... i think)

I found this very, very fascinating. I'm one of those who was more frightened by Blink, for nature of the monsters themselves (yes the unknowability, but also just the episode generally, if you get what I mean ;) and I found F&S less frightening because I felt the Angels lost that really alien (bad word to use) quality by being given a voice and also because they didn't really have a purpose - like in Blink, they were trying to take over the TARDIS, but in F&S I got the impression they were just getting Dalek-y, but I see what you're saying about it and I think that it's a fantastic idea! (not fantastic in the happy sense, but yeah...?) Like not the fear of what they look like and what they can do, but the repulsed terror of why they do it.

And that's made me think, in Blink I guess part of what made them scary was the idea that they were so esoteric, that they were so powerful - they took the image of Angels and were almost like something divine. But in F&S, they're given a voice, kinda stripped of that 'divinity' (I'm hopelessly articulate, yes) so we just see that cruelty, taunting Amy for 'fun'.

And it's also interesting in your outline of the two types of 'destruction' because by the end the Angels were terrified of the crack, which is the unthinking type (or not! ooooh). The unreasonable vs the unreasoned. Eheh...
kaffyr
May. 24th, 2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
" .. in Blink, they were trying to take over the TARDIS, but in F&S I got the impression they were just getting Dalek-y .."

Part of what prompted my feverish thoughts on this one went back to the point where the Doctor realized that one angel had organized a rescue of its brethren, with the idea of getting them all off world.

In the angel's first discussion with the Doctor it became clear that it foresaw their going from planet to planet and ultimately "eating" the entire universe. And that's when I thought to myself "Dear god; they aren't dispassionate hunters any more. They are sadistically insane, or insanely sadistic."

(That last is because I am not certain whether they weren't driven insane by hundreds of years of isolation and hunger. And, since I consider sadism to be a particularly virulent type of insanity, it still plays to my point.)

I like your suggestion that some aspect of the angels' terror comes from our emotional assumption of divinity based on their forms as angels. Your last point is also excellent; when they faced the crack in time and its seeping power, they were indeed face to face with something as far beyond their power to resist as humans were before themselves.
jrsz
May. 26th, 2010 07:47 am (UTC)
Mm, don't have much to add but I do agree with your point about insanity and sadism; there was little justification to most of their cruelty except that. Also, just another thought - going back to the idea of 'divinity' as in the form of Angels, but then how their cruelty was revealed when they took on a human voice may be an interesting point - it's Bob's voice, someone who you could show compassion to and reason with, except he was just reciting all the thoughts of the Angels.
kaffyr
May. 26th, 2010 02:30 pm (UTC)
Insanity disguised as the divine, using the further disguise of humanity to mask its insane voice. I like that. Academically, I like that, I mean; if it were standing in front of me, I think I should scream my lungs hoarse.
jrsz
May. 27th, 2010 02:27 am (UTC)
Teehee, yeah, I think I was thinking along the screaming lines whilst watching than anything halfway intellectual ;)

Also, may I add you as a friend? For this lovely discussion :)
kaffyr
May. 27th, 2010 05:23 am (UTC)
Why thank you! Of course, I'm always honored and delighted to meet new folks, and I hope you'll allow me to befriend you as well.
jrsz
May. 27th, 2010 08:06 am (UTC)
Yay! Added you then :)
hermitknut
May. 24th, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC)
Intriguing point; I found Flesh and Stone less frightening and I couldn't work out why. We kid ourselves. :)
HK
kaffyr
May. 24th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you found the essay interesting! Most people did find FaS less frightening, and I think it was my trying to work out why it frightened me more, and why others didn't feel as I did, that generated what I wrote.

And yes, kidding ourselves is indeed part of what figures into my postulate. Heh.
r0ck3tsci3ntist
May. 24th, 2010 01:24 pm (UTC)
Here from doctorwho. Fascinating meta! I'm loving both it and your references.

Very little TV frightens me so I actually didn't find any of those eps scary but I am really intrigued by the concepts behind the angels.
kaffyr
May. 24th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
The concepts intriguing, but for me, concepts must be clothed in flesh, reason and reasons to even begin to have the power to move me. Hence, I found Blink intellectually admirable, but not emotionally resonant.
zenitt
May. 26th, 2010 12:18 am (UTC)
Rilke, ok. I recalled it from Elizabeth Smart: "Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic orders?" (which is an alternative translation). One off-topic intertextual riddle solved.
kaffyr
May. 26th, 2010 01:00 am (UTC)
And now, of course, you realize you will have to tell me about Elizabeth Smart ....
zenitt
May. 26th, 2010 01:30 pm (UTC)
It's from 'By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept', poetic prose tour de force. Learnt about it via Morrissey - more than half of The Smiths songs have quotes or paraphrases from it.

There's also the phrase "my angels with sadist eyes", but I'm really taking it out of context.

"Farther off from the centre of the world, of all worlds, I might be better fooled, but can I see the light of a match while burning in the arms of the sun?"
kaffyr
May. 26th, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
zenitt
May. 26th, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC)
That will be £1.05 from you. Thank you for using our services.
kaffyr
May. 27th, 2010 11:08 pm (UTC)
*snort*
zenitt
May. 27th, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
Yes, yes, we're cheap.
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )

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