The Shamanic Motion Picture
Part way through The Simpson’s Movie, after polluting Springfield’s lake and fleeing to the Alaskan back country, Homer Simpson has an epiphany.
He’s destroyed the environment, his family has abandoned him, Springfield’s encased in a Buckminster Fuller-like glass dome and President Schwarzenegger is threatening to destroy the city and declare the crater as a new Grand Canyon. Burdened with despair, Homer floats away on a piece of melting ice deep into the wilderness. A bear finds Homer lost and unconscious and is about to attack when a woman appears from the forest, casting the bear away by chanting and shaking a rattle.
The woman, a shaman, drags Homer back to her hut where she revives him with a potent brown liquid. “Now we will cleanse your spirit with the ancient art of throat singing.” declares the shaman. They both sing until Homer’s head swells like a balloon. It begins to open, rays of light stream from the cracks. He falls into a visionary world, suddenly transported to his living room, then suddenly sliding through the Escher-like maze of his mind. Upon reaching the bottom, Totem poles rise from the floor and the shaman appears, reminding Homer of his necessary epiphany.
The scene swirls and changes, Homer is in a forest, surrounded by trees. As he attempts to reach an epiphany, each insignificant guess warrants a slap from the trees when their branches turn into arms and hands. After several wrong answers the trees pick Homer up with their branch-arms and proceed to dismember him, pulling his legs, arms, eyes, mouth, head and torso away into separate parts. The trees hold the fragmented body out for Homer and the parts of him begin to melt before his eyes.
Seeing himself dissolve, he surrenders and says “Do whatever you want with me, I don’t care about myself anymore...” the shaman appears and urges Homer, he goes on “because other people are just as important as me...in order to save myself, I have to save Springfield!” At this the trees begin putting him back together, wildly cheering and clapping. Homer wakes in the hut, declares the vision “the most incredible experience of my life” and resolves to find his family, save his town and lose weight.
The entire movie is premised on the fact that Homer, with his careless, ignorant attitude, has caused an ecological crisis, bringing Springfield close to total annihilation. To gather the strength necessary to invoke a solution, Homer is then compelled into the wilderness to have a visionary experience mediated by a shaman, when and where the trees teach him a lesson. Otherwise, he would have floated on that ice-cap to his demise, leaving Springfield destroyed by politics and pollution.
Francis Ford Coppola’s most recent picture Youth Without Youth is an adaptation of a novella by Mircea Eliade. Authour of Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy and The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History, Eliade, in Youth Without Youth, tells the story of aging professor Dominic Matei, who survives a lightening strike and finds his youth miraculously restored. Pursued by authorities and forced into exile, Matei conducts intensive research into the origins of language.
"I was excited to discover in this tale by Eliade, the key themes that I most hope to understand better: Time, consciousness and the dream-like basis of reality.” -Francis Ford Coppola.
Before Youth... however, there was Apocalypse...
With Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in mind, Coppola created the epic Apocalypse Now, a grueling production that nearly destroyed both him and Martin Sheen. The film presents a crew of soldiers on a mission to assassinate a decorated officer thought to have gone insane. Through war and death they’re carried upriver on a patrol boat called Erebus. The offspring of the Greek god Chaos, Erebus is the personification of darkness and shadow. In some legends Erebus is where the dead must pass immediately after dying.
Long before production began, Coppolla along with George Lucas and John Milius, would discuss the stories soldiers were bringing back from Vietnam. Stories of craziness, hallucinations, drugs and surfing. Around this time John Milius was writing a script called The Psychedelic Soldier. Ten years later The Psychedelic Soldier became Apocalypse Now.
Initially it was George Lucas who would direct Apocalypse Now. Instead he elaborated the story of the Jedi, an ancient and noble organization, known for their talent in and observance of The Force.
“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things, it surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together. -Obi Wan Kenobi
Esteemed sound-designer Walter Murch remarked that “Star Wars is George’s version of Apocalypse Now, re-written in an otherwordly context.” In this other world and faced with an interplanetary dilemma, a young Luke Skywalker travels to a distant swamp to learn the ways of The Force as taught by a wise green elf.
For Star Wars, Lucas drew heavily from Joseph Campbell’s seminal work of comparative mythology The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In the book, Campbell describes a fundamental structure of myths throughout the world.
Stages in this “monomyth” include (1) a call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline, (2) a road of trials, regarding which the hero succeeds or fails, (3) achieving the goal or "boon," which often results in important self-knowledge, (4) a return to the ordinary world, again as to which the hero can succeed or fail, and finally, (5) application of the boon in which what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world.
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
In this light, Luke Skywalker and the Star Wars films can be considered among the most influential contemporary presentations of the vision quest.
On the outer fringes, call it childhood, call it DMT, are the bouncing, squeaking, multicolored Boohbahs. If anything on a screen so wonderfully references Terence McKenna’s description of “self-transforming machine elves” it is the sparkling, bubbling Boohbahs. Simply reading their names aloud invokes a cascading, alien, elf language; Humbah, Zumbah, Zing Zing Zingbah, Jumbah, Jingbah.
With lights for eyebrows, these little critters bop, dance and fly around, often holding hands like skydivers while beaming musical notes as flashes of colored light from their heads. In each episode a group of children bring a present for the Storypeople, who do not speak. Children blow the gift into the Storyworld with the power of Boohbah magic.
The show’s opening sequence depicts a shimmering ball descending from the sky and circling the landscape, eventually exploding into a rainbow vortex from which The Boohbahs emerge. Inside this ball of light are hammock-like pods where The Boohbahs recharge their energy through the laughter of children.
The Boohbahs were created by Anne Wood, who’s also responsible for the Teletubbies. A children’s television program where a baby’s face represents the sun and flowers talk.
Indeed, the entire enterprise of cinema, of all video and motion picture, is a grasp at exploring and creating visionary worlds. Jimmy Weiskopf, author of Yajé, The New Purgatory: Encounters with Ayahuasca describes the Yautja, extraterrestrial hunter in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Predator, as one of the most potent examples of the shamanic-artistic.
“The cinematic representation of this spirit is pure pinta (vision). It is a configuration of lights which transforms itself at a vertiginous speed. It changes from color to shade, from bird to snake, from animal to devil, from live being to abstract geometry. It leaps out of a tree as a warrior but blends into the vegetation when our hero fires his supersonic rifle, to appear in a different place in a different guise: pure shamanism of yajé.”
The cosmic serpent; provider of attributes, the self-fertilizing Ouroboros, the “all that envelopes” is beaming, from the edge of infinity, always and increasingly, high resolution dreams through the doors and cracks in our low-fi equipment. It is the intertwined shaman and artist who rips one’s ticket and ushers one to their seat.