A PRAYER FOR ELASTICITY
Mendy: A Question of Faith first came out in 2003 and drew attention at several film festivals. Dealing with a young Hassid in exile form the Hassidic community and encountering a hedonistic lower east side/alphabet city NYC, it questions how modern religion (or rather, religion not modernized) fails to provide an in-between for those torn between extremism and an identity that allows personal spirituality into modern life. Adam Vardy's film is not the most sophisticated perhaps, shot inexpensively and written in rather earnest tones, is still quite brave in the questions it asks, it's unwillingness to settle for easy answers, and for the very fact that it's a film that while pointed will always have a hard time finding its audience. (Those who are religious will balk at the sex, the drugs, the rock and roll. Those who would be hip to the world portrayed will resist looking at a film that deals with religion and spirituality. Much of it is in Yiddish with subtitles. Not at all an easy sell.) But while the story's a bit schematic, a terrific performance by Ivan Sandomire at its center keeps it watchable, and it's a film that strangely becomes more and more a part of your thoughts the further you move away from it. It has staying power in your brain.
Which leads me to elasticity. It seems that the problem the world has now, more than any other, is its blind faith in absolutes--I'm right, he's wrong, it's got to be all one way. This bleeds into any discussion of the situation in Iraq, into politics, religion, even (to some degree) the horrifying massacre this past week at Virginia Tech. (In that case, rigidity calcified all the way into depraved indifference for human life.) Most philosophies and religions are ideas for life, and life takes so very many forms. Yet we seem to view things in concrete--a substance created by man. It is said that if you chip away at religion, chipping off the parts you don't like to accommodate the present, you soon will have nothing left. Maybe. But God (or your concept of God, fill in your own blank) created trees and plants that bend in the breeze so they won't snap, and a carefully pruned plant actually grows back stronger, healthier, better able to sustain life. When religions fail to incorporate the changes that have happened in life to our society and culture in the name of remaining pure, they are ultimately failing their purpose, which is to provide security and spirituality to those who turn to them for guidance. Absolutes maybe easier to understand or to swallow, but they are not healthy to follow. Views of women, of sex, of education, of culture--these have changed considerably of the past few centuries, and while the seeds of most religions provide wonderful tenants to construct a life, the rigidity of most "organized" religions fail to give a livable road map that can help people live realistic modern lives. Religion should not be an all or nothing thing but rather a guidance system, a place where man can get in touch with his deepest spirituality. Instead, it uses guilt to control a mob who are afraid to think for themselves or are too confused to know what is best for their own lives. Denial of reality depletes energy, even in the service of only maintaining pure or positive thoughts. Elasticity serves best in any relationship, be it between man and woman, man and man, or man and God. It allows one to find the best in each other and in ourselves, it encourages forgiveness and understanding. It accepts, even as it controls and provides boundaries. Pray by all means--but pray for the ability to flow with the changing times and follow the bungee cord so that you can find your way back to solid ground.
Mendy: A Question of Faith is now available on DVD.