In 2006 Rhonda Byrne released a book called The Secret that taught it’s the readers the power of belief. Her book tells us that if you want something badly enough, so badly that you can successfully transform your desire for something into a belief that the fulfillment of your desire is preordained and just that the universe will rewrite itself to achieve your heart’s goal. It was massively successful, selling over 19-million copies, penetrating the mainstream consciousness and modifying the thoughts and behaviours of thousands. Five years later, in 2011, an indie director best know for crass and heartfelt comedies from the days of the Generation X auteur released a small horror film about teenagers trying to get laid, a church trying to purge the world of sin and law enforcement trying to cover its own ass. That director was Kevin Smith and he called his movie Red State. He chose to finance and release the movie completely free of any involvement from any Hollywood studio and it missed the mainstream entirely. From a distance these two endeavors could not appear more different but, in reality, they share a fundamental core: they are both about the power of belief. They just diverge completely in regards to what that power can do.
Full disclosure: I think that The Secret is fully and totally worthless. Beyond the most basic elements regarding the articulation of one’s goals, I believe that The Secret was a calculated and cynical move to whisper sweet nothings into the collective ear of dissatisfied white women of a certain age and tax bracket. Its triumph is one of market isolation, assessment and exploitation. It is a cruel capitalist prank; a travelling faith healer; a subprime mortgage; snake oil. You can, of course, feel free to disagree with that assessment but then you would be defending The Secret which, in and of itself, is really embarrassing so you may want to do it silently.
As you can see, I’m pretty aggressive about this. I’m also six years too late, but that’s less impressive than my assertive attitude so can we just focus on that more masculine part, please? Thank you. I appreciate every angry, equally late-to-the-party tweet.
But let’s just take a moment and discuss what The Secret is. The Secret, you guys, is something called The Law of Attraction, a natural law of the cosmos whose primary assertion is that “like attracts like.” This is to say that you are essentially a transmission tower and that your every thought and deed sends frequencies out into the universe. These frequencies attract other thoughts, experiences and events that resonate at the same frequency back towards you. So, if you are truly happy with your every waking and sleeping thought and choice you will only every have happy experiences. You will never get sick. You will never pop a flat. Your dog won’t get cancer and those adult sized Green Lantern Underoos that you love so much will actually become fashionable and get you some serious action with those hot blonds you’ve always imagined as being behind the velvet rope at the clubs. The universe itself will actually repaint the canvas of creation according to your desires. Obviously.
The example provided in the book is actually dumber than Underoos functioning as sex magnets. There is a gentleman wants a specific type of new car. In this hypothetical situation the gentleman could want anything, a cure for diabetes, the end of hunger but what he wants is a new car and tells you so, so much about The Secret but anyways. This guy who could want anything but wants a car wants this car so badly that his desire transcends desire and becomes something more. It becomes belief. He does not just want this car he believes that he will get it, that he deserves it, that its entry into his life is certain. He believes in spite of the facts that exist around him that he will get this new car and, as believers so often do, he acts like a crazy person. He goes to the dealership and takes this car he can’t afford on a test drive. He saves this nonexistent car a parking space in front of his house and refuses to let anyone else park there. With every single fiber of his soul and mind and heart and loins he believes that this car will come to him and, like magic, external events are rearranged by fate or God in order to make it so.
Let’s just take a second and remember that this thing sold over 19-million copies. Let that percolate in your brain and then try not to punch a stray cat. Just imagine it punching itself. Put it on your visioning board.
So why write about this culturally irrelevant thing whose brightest day has come and gone? Because I think it’s basic thesis persists and I think that thesis is dangerous.
The Secret promises you the world so long as you believe irrationally. But we’ve lived long enough as a species to see the damage that irrational belief can bring. It has, at its utmost, caused Children’s Crusades, segregation and murder. John Travolta believed, in spite of all evidence, that Battlefield Earth was going to be amazing. He really, really did and he could not have been more wrong. Go YOUtube that trailer. I dare you.
Indulge me for one more second on this: There is nothing in this world more dangerous than a true believer who believes in something other than kindness and the humanity of others. However they choose to articulate it.
And that leads us nicely into Red State. Kevin Smith, the writer and director of the film, has said that Red State is a movie about a purpose – audience manipulation. It’s about creating horrible characters, tricking you into caring about them and then tearing them away from you. It’s about tricking you into feeling comfortable, thinking that you understand the narrative, before throwing you out of your chair and rewriting the rules of the story. Kevin Smith would have you believe that Red State is Lucy Van Pelt with the football and we as the audience are Charlie Brown constantly being tricked and retricked into trying to kick that ball but always falling flat. He would have us believe that the movie is an exercise about nothing more than its ends. He would be wrong. Red State is a movie about the corrosive powers of belief.
By its very nature, Red State is a very difficult movie to summarize without spoiling, but I’ll do my best. The movie opens with three high school students looking for sex on the Internet and accepting an invitation received through an online dating service. They drive to meet the woman who sent the email and are drugged into submission. As they awake, the boys find themselves in the sanctuary of a small church, hidden away from help and safety on a fenced-in and isolated religious compound. This church is called The Five Points Trinity Church and the people who now surround the boys are a zealotous and hateful group. After their leader, pastor Abin Cooper delivers a sermon the boys, locked in cages, witness the execution of a gay man whom the church also found online. After that execution a series of events draws the local sheriff’s department and then the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) into the action, seemingly, at first, to save the boys kidnapped inside but eventually proving to be interested only in self-protection and positive media spin.
The movie twists and turns through the lives of its characters, accentuating their flaws and humanity in startling bursts and jerking the audience through the action quickly, assuredly and surprisingly. As a movie, Red State is not content to be something that you can categorize and pack away. It demands that you view it on its own terms, refusing to conform to the confines of any easily recognizable genre or story structure. It is unsettling, vulgar, rude and ultimately terrifying in its honesty. In Red State, people are the monsters and they look like you, live near you, work with you and are friends with your kids. Red State shines a light on the awesome and destructive power that every living person possesses. It shows just how bad we can become when we lose ourselves to the power of something’s name.
The movie can be split into three basic strands of belief: religion, sex and law. Abin Cooper and the Five Points Trinity Church believe in their interpretation of God’s word. They believe that it is their duty as God’s followers to purge the world of sin and they will do so, one sinner at a time. The three sex boys believe in their natural masculine right to hunt and prey upon women. They focus entirely on this goal, becoming terrible and monstrous as they abandon all ethics and sense in their quest. ATF headman Joseph Keenan believes in the righteousness of the law and, by extension, the structures of government that create and uphold those laws. He will follow orders, regardless of the consequences to the people those laws and structures were supposedly made to defend, so long as he and his fellow believers are protected. Every character in this movie has given their soul away to something, a cause or quest or structure, and lost their ability to independently reason and empathize as a result. As humans, they have become less; belief has rendered them hollow even as it has filled them with power and purpose.
The Secret asks you to believe. It asks you to abandon rationality and give yourself up entirely. Red State shows us the consequences of that level of dedication to an ideal or mission. It shows us that we can’t give that fully of ourselves without losing our intellect and compassion. It affirms your status as a powder keg while denying your abilities as a transmission tower or magnet. It dares you to live outside of yourself and remember the significance of the people and world around you.
Theodore Wiebe is a writer living in Calgary. You can follow more of his important nonsense on Twitter: @TheodoreWiebe
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