Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Until the Light Takes Us



Our son, Nat, insisted that we see Aaron Aites' and Audrey Ewell's "Until the Light Takes Us," so we did. Wow. It's haunting, beautiful, and disturbing all at once. The core of the film lies in the contrast between two strange and brilliant musicians: Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes of the one-man band Burzum, and Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell of the equally distinguished Darkthrone. They were among a tiny group of very young men who, circa 1990, originated what is probably the strangest musical style to currently enjoy a mass audience: Norwegian Black Metal.

As Fenriz tells us early on, he and Varg parted ways years ago: he went more and more into the music as music, while Varg focused more and more on "the politics." If you think that "politics" here means something like joining the Social Democrats and participating in democratic elections, you couldn't be more wrong.

The one most disturbing aspect of the film emerges in Varg's disquisitions as he sits in a surprisingly gemuetlich cell in Trondheim maximum security prison, where he was at the time serving a sentence for first degree murder and multiple acts of arson (church burnings). (He was released on parole after the film was completed.) It is disturbing because I find myself irresistibly drawn in by some of his statements. In this film we get a Varg's-eye-view of Varg, and it is strangely attractive. He is often insightful, eloquent, even funny. Then I am brought up short by reminders that there is something seriously wrong here. I think many people would have the same experience, though the aspects they find seductive will no doubt differ from one viewer to another.

I find myself seduced by his blistering attacks on Christianity's 2,000 year history of destroying indigenous cultures all around the world, often by very brutal and arrogant means. But some of his reasons for rejecting Christianity seem inescapably racist to me.

Christianity, he says, is a form of Judaism. In his view, Christians are Jewish heretics. Basically, this is correct. But what follows from this? Judaism, he believes, is "a Middle Eastern religion," and in Norway is simply a foreign imposition. We have our own gods, he says, like Odin, Freya, and Thor.

After 1,000 years of Christianity, including 500 years of Lutheranism, what would it mean to say that Yahweh is a foreign god? Obviously, he is thinking that history and culture are not what is decisive here. What matters is aspects of a people that persist throughout that length of time and do not change. That, of course would be their racial characteristics. He is attributing ethical and religious characteristics to a race, and that is exactly what racism is.

Of course, loving a race you think is good is not the same thing as hating a race you think is bad. I would imagine some of Varg's fans would lean heavily on that point.

Below is Burzum's only music video. The lyrics:
When night falls
She cloaks the world
In impenetrable darkness
A chill rises
From the soil
And contaminates the air
Suddenly...
Life has new meaning.

Note: Burzum and Dunkelheit both mean "darkness," though not in the same language.

Post a Comment