Saturday, July 27, 2013

Paddy Chayefsky and the Wonders of the Invisible World Part III

Welcome to the third installment in my examination of the final two film projects involving legendary playwright and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, Network and Altered States. Despite Chayefsky's involvement in either film they are rarely linked together by the public and not without reason: Chayefsky himself disowned his involvement in the latter film, being credited for the screenplay under the pseudonym of Sidney Aaron (Chayefsky's real first and middle names), while the respective plot lines of either picture are seemingly worlds apart. Altered States is a cult drug movie while Network was one of the most critically acclaimed films of its era, winning multiple Oscars for its jet black satire of the television industry.

And yet Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the principal character in Network, goes through a transformation that is every bit as strange as anything found in Altered States. As discussed in the second installment of this series, Beale seemingly begins to simultaneously go mad and become endowed some type of mystical insight --In point of fact, he shows the characteristics of individuals who have experienced a sudden period of illumination after undergoing some type of supernatural or high weirdness-laden event, in terms of both the madness and the insight he displays.


And indeed the change in consciousness Beale undergoes was spurred by an encounter he claims to have had with a disembodied voice that requests that Beale become a vessel through which it can speak to the American public via television. Certainly Network is ambiguous as to whether or not this encounter is real but Chayefsky would also incorporate such a notion --that the abnormal states of consciousness the insane occupy, specifically schizophrenics, are not merely hallucinations --into Altered States, his next project.


While Altered State is primarily concerned with the effects that entheogens and sensory deprivation  have on consciousness the lead character, Edward Jessup (William Hurt), first becomes interested in such things due to visions he experienced as a child laden with Christian symbolism. Upon the death of his father of cancer Jessup ceased having these visions at the age of seventeen but developed a keen interest in the altered states of consciousness the insane, specially schizophrenics, occupy. As the film opens Jessup has even begun to wonder if the visions of schizophrenics are merely hallucinations, or a glimpse into some type of metaphysical state.

Such a notion --that schizophrenics are both mad and visionaries simultaneously --was not a new concept. Insanity, especially varieties such as schizophrenia, were treated as cases of possession in countless ancient cultures. More recently the Surrealist Movement toyed with the notion that schizophrenia offered profound insights into altered states of consciousness. In the 1970s at least one prominent psychiatrist pondered whether madness and profound spiritual transformation at times worked hand-in-hand.
"The surrealist perspective is echoed in that of Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing who, in his controversial and thought-provoking essay The Politics of Experience, makes many of the same points concerning schizophrenia and the possibilities of spiritual growth through madness. It should be noted that Laing also began his medical career in the army, in this case the British Army, where he worked as a psychiatrist before going to the Tavistock clinic. Laing agrees with the surrealist when he states that '... we are bemused and crazed creatures, strangers to our true selves, to one another, and to the spiritual and material world --mad, even, from an ideal standpoint we can glimpse but not adopt,' and, 'We are potentially men, but are in an alienated state, and this state is not simply a natural system.' The Politics of Experience includes a final section, entitled 'The Bird of Paradise,' that would have satisfied many a surrealist, as it seems to be a free-association account of a journey into and out of madness. Concerning the voyage into madness, Laing is unequivocal:
We can no longer assume that such a voyage is an illness that has to be treated... Can we not see that this voyage is not what we need to be cured of, but that it is itself a natural way of healing our own appalling state of alienation called normality?
In other times people intentionally embarked upon this voyage.
Or, if they found themselves already embarked, willy-nilly, they gave thanks, as for a special grace.
"Thus Laing, more than forty years and a World War after the first Surrealist Manifesto, is seen endorsing what is really a surrealist agenda, except he is doing so as a trained, experienced, and respected member of the psychiatric profession and not as an artist. He recognizes that 'in other times people intentionally embarked upon this voyage,' the condition of voluntary madness that is a hallmark of poets like Rimbaud and Artaud, as well as of occultists and shamans, and people like Breton, Masson, Ernst, Duchmp and so many others. The energy of the surrealist movement perhaps finds its accumulation and Laing; we are certainly living now in a state of the denouement in which the ideas of Laing have been discarded or ignored by a profession that seems to have found its savior in chemical therapies that treat symptoms, and make the neurotic and psychotic more productive members of an increasingly unhappy and alienated society."
(Sinister Forces Book III, Peter Levenda, pgs. 100-101)  
R.D. Laing

Altered States takes place at the tail end of Laing's era, in which psychonauts like Timothy Leary and John C. Lilly were briefly given significant university/financial backing to pursue a host of bizarre and incredible fields (frequently under the auspices of the US intelligence community). Altered States is almost like a sampler of virtually every major fringe theory the scientific and mental health professions pondered in the 1960/1970s era even as it foresees the "market-driven" philosophy the Reagan revolution would bring to countless fields.

The Edward Jessup character is in some ways a stand-in for the fading idealism of that age. I can't help but feel that Jessup is also a stand-in for Chayefsky himself, who seems to have moved on to entheogens and other "derangements of the senses" after crafting the "mad prophet of the airwaves." As we shall see, this was in many ways a logical progression of interests. Before going any further, however, I feel I should first address the issue of Chayefsky's involvement on the film.

Because of Chayefsky's disownment of the film and how radically different it is from the scribe's prior work more than a few movie buffs have wondered over the years if director Ken Russell had made significant changes to the screenplay. After all, the adaptions of Chayefsky's prior scripts had all been directed in a rather dry, almost documentary-like fashion. Reportedly Arthur Penn was initially attached to direct Altered States and his style would certainly be in keeping with prior Chayefsky films. But Penn ultimately dropped out (as did reportedly over twenty other directors, some of them big-name types) and British filmmaker Russell (who was best known at the time for The Devils and the adaptation of The Who's Tommy and who went on to direct the cult classic Liar of the White Worm) ended up getting the nod.

Russell was a director who was known both before and after Altered States for his surreal, sensual and at times horrific visuals but with the significant financial backing that came with the Altered States gig he was able to indulge himself on a scale he would never again be able to. Where as all prior Chayefsky films had been driven by dialogue Altered States was a total special-effects driven visual tour de force. Thus, some have wondered if Russell altered Chayefsky's script significantly, a charge the director has long denied.

Despite the visual nature of the film the dialogue is most definitely Chayefsky's while the profound philosophical questions the scribe no doubt wished to be at the center of the film still shine through. Reportedly the major dispute between Russell and Chayefsky was not over changes to the script, but rather how Russell was directing the actors to recite Chayefsky's dialogue. The New York Daily News notes that the "writer apparently despised the way Russell directed the actors to speak his dialogue in a hyper-caffeinated manner."

Given the complex philosophical and spiritual topics discussed in the dialogue it's easy to see how this direction changed the nature of the film. No doubt Chayefsky envisioned many of the chief exchanges to be more drawn out so that the audience could better contemplate the ideas examined in the film with the voyages into inner space briefly puncturing this contemplation. Russell takes the opposite approach, opting to rely on the visuals to convey the film's rich philosophy as much as the dialogue. For practical purposes I believe Russell had the right idea as many of the concepts Chayefsky explores in his script would be a little too far out for general audiences to take seriously in an overly dramatic fashion.

So much for the feud between Chayefsky and Russell. Let us now briefly consider the chief characters of the film, specifically in terms of their symbolic and synchronicist associations. The last name of the lead character, Edward Jessup, is a variation of the name Joseph. The name Joseph is of course highly significant in Christian mythology. The patriarchal Joseph, the most beloved son of Jacob (Israel) and the founder of one of the legendary twelve tribes, is the most well-known. Dreams and the interpretations of them played a major role in Joseph's life. He was sold into slavery by his brothers after he told them of two dreams he had, the second of which they interpreted as a vision of Joseph's eventual lordship over them. His brothers received twenty pieces of silver for this act (Judas later received thirty after betraying Jesus).

Joseph being sold into slavery
Joseph became a slave in Egypt and was eventually thrown in prison after being falsely accused of trying to rape his master's wife. During his stay in prison Joseph encountered the chief baker and cup-bearer for Pharaoh. Joseph masterfully interpreted their dreams for them and some years later, when Pharaoh was troubled by his own dreams, the cup-bearer recommended Joseph to his master after all of his wise men had failed to interpret the dreams. Joseph succeeded and spared Egypt from a terrible famine as Pharaoh's dreams proved to be visions of things to come. For this not only was Joseph granted his freedom but he was also made the Vizier of all of Egypt.

Joseph in Egypt after being reunited with his brothers

An interpreter of visions is certainly an apt description of Edward Jessup. According to the legendary poet and mythologist Robert Graves the Tribe of Joseph was also associated with the introduction of orgiastic rituals into the ancient Israeli spring festival now known as Passover.
"The Passover appears to have been a Canaanite Spring festival which the tribe of Joseph adopted and transformed into a commemoration of their escape from Egypt under Moses. At Carmel, the dance with a lamp must have been sympathetic magic to encourage the appearance of the God with a bull's full of who was armed, like Dionysus, with a torch. 'Baal' merely means 'Lord'. The annalist refrains from mentioning his real name; but since the priests of Baal were Israelites it is likely to have been 'Jah Aceb' or 'Jacob' --the Heel-god. Jah Aceb seems to have been also worshiped at Beth-Hoglah --'The Shrine of the Hobbler' -- a place between Jericho and the Jordan south of Gilgal and identified by Epiphanius with the threshing floor of Atad, mentioned in Genesis... as the place where Joseph mourned for Jacob. Jerome connects this place with a round dance, apparently performed in honor of Talus the Cretan Sun-hero --Hesychius says that Talus means 'Sun' -- to whom the partridge was sacred. In Athenian legend Talus was thrown down by Daedalus from a height and transformed into a partridge while in the air by the Goddess Athene. The Arabic word for 'hobble' which gives its name to Beth-Hoglah is derived from the word for partridge; the deduction being that the dance was a hobbling one. The partridge is a Spring migrant, sacred to the Love-goddess because of its reputation for lasciviousness (mentioned by Aristotle and Pliny) and the dance must have mimicked the love dance of the cock-partridge which it carries out, like the wood-cock, on a regular dancing floor. It is a war dance, performed for a hen audience: the cocks flutter around in circles with a hobbling gait, one heel always held in readiness to strike at a rival's head. The hens look on, quaking with excitement. The proverb quoted by Jeremiah: 'The  partridge gathers young that she has not brought forth', means that Jewish men and women were attracted to these alien orgiastic rites."
(The White Goddess, pg. 327) 
Jacob and his Ladder
While Jessup doesn't exactly introduce orgiastic rites to academia they are none the less incredibly mystical and most certainly heretical. But it is a another biblical Joseph --specifically Joseph of Arimathea --to which Jessup has the strongest linkage. Those of you familiar with the Grail myths are well aware that Joseph of Arimathea is an integral part of one of the most mystical (and frankly pagan) strands of Christianity. For the uninitiated, here is a brief recap of Joseph of Arimathea's involvement in the Grail mythos:
"According to legend, the body of the Christos (the Spiritual Law) was given into the keeping of two men, of whom the Gospels make but brief mention. These were Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both devout men who, though not listed among the disciples or apostles of the Christos, were of all men chosen to be custodians of his sacred remains. Joseph of Arimathea was one of the initiated brethren and is called by A. E. Waite, in his A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 'the first Bishop of Christendom.' Just as the temporal (or visible) power of the Holy See was established by St. Peter (?), so the spiritual (or invisible) body of the faith was entrusted to the 'Secret Church of the Holy Grail' through apostolic succession from Joseph of Arimathea, into whose keeping had been given the perpetual symbols of the covenant  -- the ever-flowing cop and the bleeding spear.
"Presumably on being instructions of St. Philip, Joseph of Arimathea, carrying the sacred relics, reached Britain after passing through many and varied hardships. Here a site was allotted to him for the erection of the church, and in this manner Glastonbury Abbey was founded. Joseph planted his staff in the earth and it took root, becoming  a miraculous thorn bush which blossomed twice a year and which is now called the Glastonbury thorn. The end of the life of Joseph of Arimathea is unknown. By some it is believed that, like Enoch, he was translated; by others, that he was buried in Glastonbury Abbey. Repeated attempts have been made to find the Holy Grail, which many believe to have been hidden in a crypt beneath the ancient abbey. The Glastonbury chalice recently discovered and by the devout supposed to be the original Sangreal can scarcely be accepted as genuine by the critical investigator. Beyond its inherent interest as a relic, like the famous Antioch chalice it actually proves nothing when it is realized that practically little more was known about the Christian Mysteries eighteen centuries ago than can be discovered today."
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly P. Hall, pg. 588)
Joseph of Arimathea
This is of course but one variation on the myths surrounding Joseph of Arimathea. Other popular accounts have him founding his church in France and not Britain, for instance. But virtually all such quasi-mystical accounts of the life and times of Joseph of Arimathea portrayed him as the founder of some type of esoteric order centered around the Grail. For our purposes here this is especially interesting as more than a few researchers have suggested that the actual Grail was a psychedelic mushroom and not a chalice.
"The central image the myth deals with is of course the vessel itself, whether chalice or dish, which also supplies the most obvious fly agaric correspondence: the fully mature mushroom becomes a literal cup (if it is deep) or dish (if it is shallow). If the cap gets wet at this stage rivulets of red run down the cup's interior and pull at the bottom. It looks like a chalice of blood mixed with water. Even without water the mushroom gives the impression of being a cup of blood... Joseph survived imprisoned by eating a 'host'  placed in the cup by a dove. The dove and the cup both correspond to a mature fly agaric specimen, and the host corresponds to a dried mushroom. Putting it in the cup as the dove did symbolizes that the host became a liquid and is drunk.
"Joseph left the Middle East and went to Europe, where the fly agaric is found in abundance. Once there he started a cult centered around the mysterious cup of blood, taking great pains to identify it with the story of Jesus. The details of the mystical 'mass' celebrated by the participants were kept secret; an empty seat representing Judas was to remind everyone what happens when the cult secrets are made public or revealed to authorities. The images of the Rich Fisher and Fisher King are a clear tie to Jesus but may also represent dried fly agaric bobbing in the water like so many fish. With these mushrooms one person can feed many.
"The Grail was considered a source of food and with good reason. Actual cups or chalices never produce food or drink on their own, and certainly no one would ever consider eating a cup or chalice. The mushroom-cup, however, contains both food and drink and is itself edible. Not only this, but when it is eaten one becomes 'full,' that is to say one becomes temporarily anorexic, full physically as well as spiritually, and perfectly content with the food afforded by the mushroom."
(Magic Mushrooms in Religion and Alchemy, Clark Heinrich, pg. 157)

While I've been unable to determine when exactly the Grail was first linked to entheogens it seems highly probable that such an association would been made by the time that Chayefsky began to work on Altered States. At least two groundbreaking works that had linked Christianity to entheogens, John Allegro's The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross and to a lesser extent Andrija Puharich's The Sacred Mushroom: Keys to the Door of Eternity, had already been published by the time Chayefsky had begun working on the Altered States project. This combined with the obvious visual similarities between the mythological Grail and fly agaric certainly make such a deliberate association possible. And indeed Jessup threatens to become the founder of a most heretical academic strand throughout the picture, not unlike the Gnostic cult attributed to Joseph of Arimathea that clearly dealt in the "derangement of the senses."

Such rich symbolism does not seemingly appear in the name of the character of Emily Jessup (Blair Brown), Edward's wife and possibly the hottest anthropologist in the world at the time. According to Wikipedia the name Emily derives from the Latin name Aemilia, one of the legendary patriarchal noble families of the Roman Republic. Two major roads, the Via Aemilia and the Via Aemilia Scauri, were named after this clan during the Republic. Probably the most well-known member was Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, a member of the Second Triumvirate who was distinctly the weakest party behind Mark Antony and Octavian (soon to be Augustus Caesar). Despite the fame of the Aemilia they did not seemingly contribute many legendary figures in the ancient Republic.

Marcus Aemilius Lepidus
In some translations the name Aemilia means "rival," but this may be the result of a folk etymology. This would be the most synchronicistic interpretation, however. Emily Jessup is in several ways involved in rivalries with Edward. For one, she is also brilliant (their first encounter involves them comparing their whiz kid credentials) and capable of matching his intellect. After their marriage she also finds herself in a rivalry with Edward's work for his attention. In several instances of the film's religious imagery Emily is depicted as Eve to Edward's Adam (and possibly even the Scarlet Woman to his Jesus, but more on that later). Ultimately it is Emily's willingness to compete with Edward's spiritual quest that saves his life (or at least his material form).

The name of the character Arthur Rosenberg (Bob Balaban), by contrast, has some quite striking synchronicistic associations. The name Arthur of course immediately brings to mind the legendary British king who was closely associated with both the Grail and Glastonbury Abbey (which in some traditions was founded by Joseph of Arimathea, as noted above). The mythological figure of Arthur has a great degree of esoteric significance as well.
"In the personality of Arthur is to be found a new form of the ever-recurrent cosmic myth. The prince of Britain is the sun, his knights are the zodiac, and his flashing sword may be the sun's rays with which he fights and vanquishes the dragons of darkness or it may represent the Earth's axis. Arthur's Round Table is the universe; the Siege Perilous the throne of the perfect man. In its terrestrial sense, Arthur was the Grand Master of a secret Christian-Masonic brotherhood of philosophic mystics who termed themselves Knights. Arthur received the exalted position of Grand Master of these Knights because he had faithfully accomplished the withdrawal of the sword (spirit) from the anvil of the base metals (his lower nature). As invariably happens, the historical Arthur soon was confused with the allegories and myths of his order until now the two are inseparable. After Arthur's death on the field of Kamblan his Mysteries ceased, and esoterically he was borne away on a black barge, as is so beautifully described by Tennyson in his Morte d'Arthur. The great sword Excalibur was also cast back into the waters of eternity -- all of which is a vivid portrayal of the descent of cosmic night at the end of the Day of Universal Manifestation. The body of the historical Arthur was probably interred at Glastonbury Abbey, a building closely identified with the mystic rites of both the Grail and the Arthurian Cycle."
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly P. Hall, pgs. 590-591)
The last name of Arthur Rosenberg is a Germanic one likely meaning "mountain of roses." The rose is also symbolically associated with the Holy Grail.
"In Christian iconographic, the rose may be either the chalice into which Christ's blood flowed, or the transfiguration of those drops of blood or, again, the symbol of Christ's wounds. A Rosicrucian symbol depicts five roses, one at the centre and one on each of the four arms of the Cross. This conjures images of the Grail or else the 'Heavenly Rose' of the Redemption. In the Rosicrucian context, it should be observed that its emblem sets a rose in the very centre of the Cross, that is, where the Sacred Heart, Christ's heart, is located."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 813)
While the character of Arthur Rosenberg does not exactly live up to such lofty symbolism he is nonetheless a mostly faithful companion of Jessup and ultimately follows him on his quest. In some traditions King Arthur was a follower of the cult founded by Joseph of Arimathea centered around the Holy Grail (which itself was possibly symbolic of entheogens) and so too does Arthur Rosenberg ultimately relate to Jessup.

Emily (left) and Arthur (right)
And last but not least there is the character of Mason Parrish (Charles Haid). It goes without saying that this character's first name has quite a bit of symbolic significance. His last name, however, also has religious associations, a parish being the name of a church territorial unit. Sometimes congregations are called parishes. In general the concept of the parish is a very ancient one within Christendom, likely even predating it.

And now on to the first name, which brings a certain secret brotherhood to mind immediately. Some strands of Freemasonry claim its origins lie with mythological builders, masons, of ancient times.
"The checkerboard floor upon which the modern Freemasonic lodge stands is the old tracing board of the Dionysiac Architects, and while the modern organization is no longer limited to workmen's guilds it still preserves in its symbols the metaphysical doctrines of the ancient society of which it is presumably the outgrowth...
"The Roman Collegia of skilled architects were apparently a subdivision of the greater Ionian body, their principles and organization being practically identical with the older Ionian institution. It has been suspected that the Dionysians also profoundly influenced early Islamic culture, for part of their symbolism found its ways into the Mysteries of the dervishes. At one time the Dionysians referred to themselves as Sons of Solomon, and one of the most important of their symbols was the Seal of Solomon -- two interlaced triangles. This motif is frequently seen in conspicuous parts of Mohammedan mosques. The Knights Templar -- who were suspected of anything and everything --are believed to have contacted these Dionysiac artificers and to have introduced many of their symbols and doctrines into medieval Europe. But Freemasonry most of all owes to the Dionysiac cult the great mass of its symbols and rituals which are related to the science of architecture. From these ancient and illustrious artisans it also received the legacy of the unfinished Temple of Civilization --the vast, and visible structure upon which these initiated builders have labored continuously since the inception of their fraternity. This mighty edifice, which has fallen and been rebuilt time after time but whose foundations remain unmoved, is the true Everlasting House of which the temple on the brow of Mount Moriah was an impermanent symbol.
"Aside from the operative aspect of their order, the Dionysiac Architects had a speculative philosophic code. Human society they considered as a rough and untrued ashlar but lately chiseled from the quarry of elemental Nature. This crude block was the true object upon which these skilled craftsmen labored --polishing it, squaring it, and with the aid of fine carvings transforming it into a miracle of beauty. While mystics released their souls from the bondage of matter by meditation and philosophers found their keenest joy in the profundities of thought, these master workmen achieved liberation from the Wheel of Life and Death by learning to swing their hammers with the same rhythm that moves the swirling forces of Cosmos. They venerated the Deity under the guise of the Great Architect and Master Craftsman who was ever gouging rough ashlar from the fields of space and truing them into universes. The Dionysians affirmed constructiveness to be the supreme expression of the soul, and attending themselves with the ever-visible constructive natural processes going on around them, believe that mortality could be achieved by thus becoming a part of the creative agencies of Nature."
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly P. Hall, pgs. 573-574)

And yet the character of Mason is the least metaphysically inclined of the three academics (the other two being Jessup and Arthur). Mason is a literal craftsman with little interest in speculative things, being chiefly concerned with his own career advancement. He ridicules and mocks Jessup's quest to discover the "First Self" throughout the film yet finds himself drawn in eventually. One suspects that he opts to join Jessup in his examination of inner space in the name of grant money as much as out of genuine curiosity. Jessup is the true speculative mason with Arthur as a reluctant partner and Mason as the increasingly dreary "voice of reason." They make quite the trinity indeed.

On a deeper level the name of the Mason Parrish character can also be read as a comment on the abandonment of entheogens by both mainstream as well as alternative religions. After all, much emerging New Age-type spiritualism desperately tried to disassociate itself from drug culture after the collapse of the counterculture in the 1970s. In general, it would not be until the 1990s that more philosophical discussions of entheogens would once again become semi-acceptable in polite and respectable society.

Altered States itself was also a last hurrah for this type of subject matter, at least in terms of big budget productions, for many decades. The X-Files would occasionally wander into Altered States's Technicolor landscape of derangement of the senses, entheogens, ancient religions, and science fiction but such elements would not be given series bucks or series treatment at any length again until the launch of Fringe in 2008 (at least to the best of this author's knowledge). Naturally, as fans of the J.J. Abrams' produced series are probably already well aware, Fringe heavily incorporated elements of Altered States (including actress Blair Brown, who played key character Nina Sharp on the series) wholesale into several of its plotlines, especially during the first season. Even Walter's isolation tank seems to be modeled after the one used in Altered States' final act.

Blair Brown on Fringe (top) and the show's isolation tank (bottom)

And it is here that I shall wrap things up for now. In the fourth installment I shall break down the highly symbolic and synchronicistic plot line of Altered States. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Paddy Chayefsky and the Wonders of the Invisible World Part II

Welcome to the second installment in my series examining the films Network and Altered States, both of would sprang from the pen of screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. Despite this connection these films are rarely linked together, and not without reason: Chayefsky famously disowned the adaptation of Altered States, even going so far as to have his name removed from the film and replacing it with the pseudonym Sidney Aaron (his real first and middle names respectively). Beyond that, the plot lines of either film are seemingly worlds apart: Network is a brutal depiction of the news media and television in general while Altered States revolves roughly around experiments with, and the spiritual implications of, entheogens.

And yet both films ultimately involve altered states of consciousness. I already began to examine how this relates to the film Network in the first installment of this series by breaking down the symbolic and archetypical nature of several of the major characters, but for our purposes here I want to focus in on one of Network's key plot points (those of you unfamiliar with the storyline are advised to read part one where I gave a brief synopsis or check out the Wikipedia entry on it as I'll be working from the assumption at this point forward that readers are aware of it) and its implications of altered states of consciousness: the disembodied voice that instructs Howard Beale (Peter Finch) to become a prophet on television.

This encounter comes at a time when Beale's fortunes are fading after the media sensation that was caused initially by his threat to commit suicide live on air and his later rant about everything being "bullshit" are wearing off. UBS opted to keep Beale on the air for his "mad prophet of the airwaves" routine but he does not seem up to the task of performing it day in and day out after those inspired initial outburst. Then one night, just as Beale's then-boss Max Schumacher (William Holden) is about to go back to "straight" news, Beale wakes from his sleep and seemingly stares wide-eyed into the emptiness of his bedroom. He then asked something to speak up and a moment later says "okay."

Beale being awakened from his sleep by the voice

The next day he goes on air and explains this episode to his viewers thusly:
"Last night, I was awakened from a fitful sleep, shortly after 2 o'clock in the morning by a shrill, sibilant, faceless voice. I couldn't make it out at first in the dark bedroom. And I said, 'I'm sorry, you will have to talk a little louder.'...And the Voice said to me: 'I want you to tell the people the truth, not an easy thing to do because the people don't want to know the truth.' And I said, 'You're kidding. What the hell should I know about the truth?' But the Voice said to me: 'Don't worry about the truth. I will put the words in your mouth.' And I said, 'What is this, the burning bush? For God's sake, I'm not Moses.' And the Voice said to me: 'And I'm not God. What has that got to do with it?'  
"And the Voice said to me: 'We're not talking about eternal truth or absolute truth or ultimate truth. We're talking about impermanent, transient, human truth. I don't expect you people to be capable of truth, but god-dammit, at least you're capable of self-preservation!' And I said, 'Why me?' And the Voice said: 'Because you're on television, dummy! You have 40 million Americans listening to you and after the show you could have 50 million. For Pete's sake, I'm not asking you to walk the land in sackcloth and ashes preaching the Armageddon. You're on TV, man.' So I thought about it for a moment, and then I said, 'Ok.'"
This is one of the major turning points in the movie for from here on out Howard Beale becomes a bona fide phenomenon after initially appearing simply as an aging and unstable man who caught lightning in a bottle with his suicide pledge and "bullshit" rant afterwards. Beale is suddenly capable of keen and perceptive insights and at one point even seems poised to spur an actual populist revolt.

Thus, a pertinent question emerges: Is Beale simply insane and having a breakdown or did he have an actual encounter with some type of entity? The film itself is coy on this matter --director Sidney Lumet shoots the encounter as though Beale is merely talking to himself while none of the characters (except for possibly Arthur Jensen [Ned Beatty], but more on that later ) seem to seriously believe that Beale heard anything. And yet the perception and magnetism that Beale suddenly possesses is undeniable even as his actions become more and more unstable.

Beale "listening" to voice

Could it then be possible that Beale is both going insane and actually communing with an entity? Certainly more than a few schools of thought over the years (some of them very ancient) have believed that madness is a doorway into altered states of consciousness and that the insane are simply more in tune to those things beyond our everyday perception of reality. Indeed, in many traditional societies a period of madness is necessary for anyone wishing to walk the path of the shaman.
"For modern psychiatry, every mental breakdown -- every mental illness, every mental disorder -- has its origins somewhere in the patient's life. A person does not go insane for reasons that are not part of his personal history... How could a person go insane -- how could his personality disintegrate to that extent --due to an external influence? There is either an organic reason (such as a hormonal imbalance or some other chemical reason, or physical trauma of some sort, such as a blow to the head), or there is a precipitating cause in the patient's immediate environment. Yet, in the context of shamanism, the precipitating cause is the summons of a spirit. Even more threatening, the shaman is a person who has gone 'through' madness and has become 'cured' without the benefit of modern psychiatric techniques. Even more astonishing, this person who had once been mad is now a valued and even a revered member of his society, and all due to the fact of his madness and subsequent cure.
"The controversial Scottish psychiatrist... R. D, Laing wrote in 1967, and The Politics of Experience,
When a person goes mad, a profound transposition of his place in relation to all domains of being occurs.... Nevertheless, he can often be to us, even though his profound wretchedness and disintegration, the hierophant of the sacred. An exile from the scene of being as we know it, he is an alien, a stranger signaling to us from the void in which he is foundering, a void which may be peopled by presences that we do not even dream of. They used to be called demons and spirits.... Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be breakthrough.
"Madness and psychic disintegration (dissociation?) leading to... spiritual breakthrough, psychic powers, attainment, illumination: the shaman, the medicine man, the magician."
(Sinister Forces Book III, Peter Levenda, pg. 55)
the highly controversial psychiatrist R.D. Laing

Howard Beale does in fact become a valued and even revered member of his society, much to the shock and horror of individuals such as his old friend Max Schumacher. And yet this was historically how the mad who had displayed perception, insight, and even visions had been treated, a prospect that seems the definition of madness in our modern world. Certainly it adds to the incredible air of surrealism running throughout Network's second half.

Incidentally the Surrealists were one of the chief modern movements to value madness, especially schizophrenia, as offering some type of profound insight into the world. Edward Jessup, the lead character of Altered States, becomes interested in entheogens after becoming convinced that some schizophrenics are experiencing states of consciousness that are as real as "our waking states," but more on that in the next installment.

Beyond the fact that Paddy Chayeksky would incorporate such concepts into the project that followed Network there are other indications that he means for us to take Beale's experience with the disembodied voice seriously. Consider the description Beale gives of his state of mind to Schumacher after making the faithful broadcast in which he reveals his encounter:
"This is not a psychotic episode. This is a cleansing moment of clarity. I'm imbued, Max. I'm imbued with some special spirit. It's not a religious feeling at all. It's a shocking eruption of great electrical energy. I feel vivid and flashing, as if suddenly I'd been plugged into some great electromagnetic field. I feel connected to all living things. To flowers, birds, all the animals of the world. And even to some great, unseen, living force. What I think the Hindus call prana. But it's not a breakdown. I've never felt more orderly in my life. It is a shattering and beautiful sensation. It is the exalted flow of the space-time continuum, save that it is spaceless and timeless and... of such loveliness. I feel on the verge of some great, ultimate truth."

This is consistent with the descriptions individuals have given of the sense of illumination that overtakes them after completing some type of occult initiation or surviving an experience seeping with High Strangeness.
"Illumination is basically a sudden, overwhelming insight into the whole structure of the cosmos and man's relationship to it. Suddenly, for a few brief seconds, the percipient understands everything with incredible clarity. In some cases the process occurs over a long period in the form of short flashes of insight that gradually add up. In others it takes place instantaneously with the percipient seemingly bathed in a reddish glow or caught in a beam brilliant white light cast down from the skies (thus we have the ancient phrase, 'He has seen the light').
"No one is ever exactly the same after an illuminating experience. Mediocre men become great leaders, preachers, statesman, scientists, poets, and writers overnight! Others divorce their spouses, quit their jobs, and embark on new careers that catapult them into unexpected prominence. Some fear for their sanity at first because the experience is so overwhelming. Some are unable to cope with that and disintegrate into various kinds of fanatics."
(Our Haunted Planet, John A. Keel, pg. 201)
Sudden, unexpected illumination, the type of which that frequently follows some type of supernatural experience or even UFO encounters, can be especially destructive as the recipient is unprepared for it. Christopher Knowles recently speculated that encounters with the legendary Men in Black may not in fact be sinister in nature but are in effect a type of warning for individuals who are too unstable to survive in the Fortean realms without succumbing to madness or worse. Amusingly, Howard Beale even begins to dress like a Man in Black once his nightly news programs transforms into The Howard Beale Show.

But back to the matter at hand: If Beale did in fact have a genuine encounter, then with what pray tell? According to Beale, the entity itself said to him: "And I'm not God. What has that got to do with it?" Nor does the entity claim to be an angel or anything commonly associated with the Christian realm. Indeed, Beale's encounter more closely resembles descriptions of entities known as daimons in the ancient world. Daimons are Trickster-like beings which, from early times, were understood as manifesting bother externally (i.e. the physical world) as well as internally (psychologically). Unsurprisingly, these creatures were eventually incorporated by Jung into his concept of Archetypes.
"The great authorities on the intermediate world of psychic reality were the Neoplatonists who flourished from about the middle of the third century A.D. to the middle of the sixth. Following Plato's most mystical dialogue, the Timaeus, they called the intermediate region the Soul of the World, widely known in Latin as Anima Mundi. Just as the human soul mediated between spirit and body, so the world-soul mediated between the One (which, like God, was the transcendent source of all things) and the material, sensory world. The agents of this mediation were called daimons... who, as it were, populated the Soul of the World and provided the connection between gods and men.
"Christianity later, and unjustly, pronounced the daimons demons. But originally they were simply the beings who thronged myth and folklore, from the Greek nymphs, satyrs, fauns, dryads, etc. to elves, gnomes, trolls, jinn, and so on...
"Daimons were essential to the Gnostic-Hermetic-Neoplatonic tradition of philosophy --which was more like psychology (in the Jungian sense) or a mystical discipline than the logical exercises philosophy became. But the daimons of myth evolved into a sort more suited to these philosophies, whether angels, souls, archons, thrones, or powers -- many of which later infiltrated Christianity. Ever-flexible, the daimons changed their shape to suit the times, even becoming abstractions when necessary (the Neoplatonic henads, for example) but preferring if possible to remain personified. Jung's cast of archetypal personages --Shadow, anima/animus, Great Mother, Wise Old Man -- placed him firmly in this tradition.
"Never quite divine nor quite human, the daimons erupted out of the Soul of the World. They were neither spiritual nor physical, but both. Neither were they, as Jung discovered, wholly inner nor wholly outer, but both. They were paradoxical beings, both good and bad, benign and frightening, guiding and warning, protecting and maddening. Plato has Diotima described them in the Symposium, a dialogue devoted to the most neglected of topics and modern philosophy --love...
"Jung was clearly just a man. In his terms, the daimons are archetypal images which, in the process of individuation, conduct us towards the archetypes (gods) themselves. They did not have to convey messages; they were themselves the message. The Greeks understood from early times that daimons could be psychological, in Jung's sense. They attributed to daimons 'those irrational impulses which arise in a man against his will to tempt him --hope, for instance, or fear.' Daimons of passion or jealousy and hatred still possess us, as they always have, causing us to cry forlornly: 'I don't know what got into me. I was beside myself.' But while daimonic activity is most noticeable in irrational, obsessive behavior, it is always quietly at work behind the scenes."
(Daimonic Reality, Patrick Harpur, pgs. 35-36)  
an early depiction of a daimon

Daimons have also long been associated with nature-spirits commonly referred to as Elementals.
"Just as visible Nature is populated by an infinite number of living creatures, so, according to Paracelsus, the invisible, spiritual counterpart of visible Nature (composed of the tenuous principles of the visible elements) is inhabited by a host of peculiar beings, to whom he has given the name elementals, and which have later been termed the Nature spirits. Paracelsus divided these people of the elements into four distinct groups, which he called gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders. He taught that they were really living entities, many resembling human beings in shape, and inhabiting worlds of their own, unknown to man because his undeveloped senses were incapable of functioning beyond the limitations of the grosser elements...
"The Greeks gave the name daemon to some of these elementals, especially those of the higher orders, and worshiped them. Probably the most famous of these daemons is the mysterious spirit which instructed Socrates, and of whom that great philosopher spoke in the highest terms.
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly P. Hall, pgs. 329-330)
the elementals

This is of course just scratching the surface --Much more information on daimons can be found here. But back to the matter at hand: While daimonic beings were hardly the stereotypical demons of Christianity many students of the arcane have advised against communing with such entities and not without reason.
"Those who sought to control elemental spirits through ceremonial magic did so largely with the hope of securing from the invisible worlds either rare knowledge or supernatural power. The little red demon of Napoleon Bonaparte and the infamous oracular heads of de Medici are examples of the disastrous results of permitting elemental beings to dictate the course of human procedure. While the learned and godlike daemon of Socrates seems to have been an exception, this really proves that the intellectual and moral status of the magician has much to do with the type of elemental he is capable of invoking. But even the daemon of Socrates deserted the philosopher when the sentence of death was passed.
"Transcendentalism and all forms of phenomenalistic magic are but blind alleys --outgrowths of Atlantean sorcery; and those who forsake the straight path of philosophy to wonder there and almost invariably fall victim to their imprudence. Man, incapable of controlling his own appetites, is not equal to the task of governing the fiery and tempestuous elemental spirits."
(ibid, pg. 317)
Socrates and his daimon

While Hall is perhaps to sever in his judgment most accounts I've read on such beings suggest that their motives are frequently to unfathomable for the human mind to comprehend. Thus, those who form a bond with such beings are frequently led to ruin and this is exactly what happens in the case of Howard Beale. While Beale seems to acquire incredible understanding and wisdom he also begins to have a full-blown mental breakdown (if one was not already occurring), leading to increasingly erratic behavior.

Not that this adversely affects Beale's ratings --in point of fact, it's totally in keeping with the revamped Howard Beale Show where the mad prophet is joined by such nightly regulars as Miss Mata Hari and her skeletons in the closet, Jim Webbing and his "It's-the-Emmes-Truth-department" and of course Sybil the Soothsayer (who prophesied to Diana [Faye Dunaway] of her coming relationship with Max). Beale begins each show behind the backdrop of a strange symbol: four circles forming a cross with four more circles in a similar cross-like pattern within each of the initial circles. At the center of the larger four circles is another circle featuring what appears to be in eight-pointed flower within it.

It's tempting to link this symbol to the Rosy Cross of the Rosicrucians (and many other orders, both real and imagined) but there is little resemblance between either. In point of fact, the "Beale cross" does not seem to overtly echo any occult symbol that I have been able to uncover. Probably the most curious aspect of it is the eight pointed flower at the center. Eight arrows arranged in a radial pattern has been adopted as the Symbol of Chaos in recent times, certainly fitting for the character of Howard Beale. The number eight is also highly significant in Crowley's Thelematic tradition where it is linked to the Trickster figures of Hermes, Thoth and Mercury (all of them "messenger" gods of antiquity).
"Cheth is the number Eight, which is the Seal of Hermes-Thoth-Mercury, the God of Magick. The figure 8 is, by shape, the Caduceus of Mercury and the emblem of Infinity. In The Book of the Law, Hadit (or Set) declares 'I am eight, and one in eight'. The identification is with Sothis the manifestator of the Seven Stars of Polaris (the Great Bear constellation which symbolizes the Dragon-Nuit). She is the Mother of the Primal Gods, and her formula of Change, or Magick, is manifested in One, her Son, i.e. Sothis or Sirius, who, in his occult character symbolizes the Son behind the Sun.
"Magick is spelled with a 'k' because Cheth, its Hebrew equivalent, is the number of the Great Work, and the letter of Hermes, or Hermetic Science.
"Cheth (8, 418), 'k', being the number of the Great Work, is a formula used by occultists, as well as alchemist, to denote the consummation of the marriage of individual and cosmic consciousness..."
(The Magical Revival, Kenneth Grant, pgs. 22-23) 
Hermes and his Caduceus

A "marriage of individual and cosmic consciousness" is certainly a fitting description of Howard Beale at this point in the movie, for clearly his consciousness has been altered by his encounter/bonding with the daimonic being that came to him that faithful night. His road to ruin is also assured at this point but if it is folly to follow daimonic beings then it is complete and utter madness to turn the ideology of corporate titans into a philosophy, as Beale attempts to do after his encounter with UBS/CCA head Arthur Jensen.

Strangely, Jensen is the only character in the film who seems to have any appreciation for the transformation that Beale has undergone. Beale's longtime friend Max Schumacher simply sees his transformation as a mental breakdown when it is clearly not that simple while Diana Christensen and her boss, Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall), only pay lip service to the metaphysical implications of Beale so long as it is necessary to keep him on the air and out of the nuthouse. But Jensen, almost immediately upon meeting Beale in person, seems to have accurately sized up his magnetism as well as how to manipulate him.


Indeed, throughout the legendary encounter between the CEO and the mad prophet of the airwaves  Jensen comes off as being nearly as "eccentric" as Beale himself. Many have long wondered if Jensen is simply "acting" during his encounter with Beale (Jensen begins by saying: "I started as a salesman. I sold sowing machines and automobile parts, hair brushes and electronic equipment. They say I can sell anything. I'd like to sell something to you.") in order to get through to the unhinged news anchor or if the CEO is something of a freak of nature as well.

Upon escorting Beale into his boardroom, which Jensen refers to as "Valhalla," the CCA head dims the light so that he appears to be engulfed in a spotlight (as well as giving the effect of being in a cave, the site of countless types of occult initiations the world over) and informs Beale that he has tampered with the "primal forces of nature" and that he must "atone" (this meeting occurs after Beale stopped CCA's deal with an Arab conglomerate after he urged his viewers to flood the White House in telegrams demanding that the deal be stopped). Jensen then goes on to outline the corporate globalism that will bring utopia on earth:
"You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state, Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that... perfect world... in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused."

While we, the little people, can reasonably dismiss Jensen's musings as a complete crock of shit in the twenty-first century there are undoubtedly any number of globetrotting CEOs (and other members of the so-called global 'Super Class') still drinking this particular brand of Kool-Aid as well as their mouthpieces on network and cable news. It is to the latter group that Beale becomes a fully converted member of after his encounter with Jensen, which ultimately proves to be even more mind blowing (and destructive) then his daimonic experience.

Jensen shows not the slightest trace of humility when he says "You just might be right, Mr. Beale" after Howard proclaims he has seen the "face of God" while gazing at Jensen. But then again, their encounter ultimately takes on the trappings of the most solemn of rituals: Death and rebirth. Of course the experiences of death and rebirth are the cornerstone of countless occult initiations.
"... I have undergone a number of occult initiations and have become aware of the basic similarity of such rituals in all traditions. This is the pattern of death-rebirth which even today appears symbolically in the Roman Catholic mass and the Masonic 'raising' ceremony. The Investigators is betraying no secret when we say that, in serious occult orders, such performances are not mere rituals but real ordeals. Insofar as possible within the law, the candidate is often brought to a state of terror similar to the emergency condition of the nervous system in near-death crises. What occurs then, and is experienced as rebirth, is a quantum jump in neurological awareness.
"Obviously, the first shamans had no teacher; they simply went through the illness-rebirth transition accidentally, as it were. Later, schools of shamans developed techniques (psychedelics, rituals of terror, yogurt, etc.) to catapult the student into such experience. In most of these schools there is great reliance upon an entity or entities of superhuman nature who aid in the initiatory process, sometimes for years. ('A real initiation never ends,' Crowley said once.)"
(Cosmic Trigger Volume I, Robert Anton Wilson, pg. 139) 
Clearly Beale went through this "traditional" type of initiation inadvertently during his encounter with the daimon but then appears to go through a similar process again with Jensen. Beale is "reborn" from his encounter with Jensen not unlike he was reborn after his encounter with the daimon. So to is Paul Hackett, the UBS head who compared himself to a sun god when he thought the axe was about to come down over the Arab flap. Beale is reborn to become Jensen's mouth piece while Hackett is reborn to more precisely impose Mr. Jensen's will (after the Jensen encounter Hackett seemingly has no moral qualms about plotting Beale's murder other than preventing the network from being implicated). Of course, the results of such "resurrections" can only be an abomination for Jensen has no interest in initiation or illumination beyond how such things can enhance his bottom line.

Jensen seemingly puts Beale in the same type of trance-like state the daimon put him in

Beale's ratings begin to plummet immediately upon his taking up the mantle of Jensen's corporate cosmology. Not long after Diana Christensen, Hackett, and the Ecumenical Liberation Army (who have Beale as a lead into the Mao Tse-Tung Hour, the equivalent of ratings suicide) conspire to assassinate Beale live on air after Jensen refuses to allow him to be taken off. The plan goes through and brings things full circle by enabling Beale to die on air, the prospect of which being the catalyst to all of the high weirdness that he eventually experienced. It is also as fitting a depiction of how those of incredible wealth and power use and ultimately destroy the sincere and gifted in a perpetual pursuit of greater profits as ever there was.

And it is here that I shall wrap things up for now. In the next installment I shall begin my examination of Altered States. Stay tuned.