Sweet citizen of Starkville heading for the biscuit shop. When she was younger, Mrs. Tate would raise money every year to make up the amount needed after fundraising for the local school to take kids on a trip to D.C. In two days, she would be able to pick up enough aluminum by herself to raise about 600 bucks. She still walks everywhere and still collects cans. Now, she buys a load of Christmas presents to bring to a children's cancer hospital in Jackson every year. Mrs. Tate introduced herself as "The Black Santa Claus" when she first met Ann. She is very important for Starkville, Mississippi, and once told me "I really love all the crazy people who walk up and down this road." That road is North Montgomery, the central North/South road that runs through Starkville.
Using 240 fps I can see that the millipede groups its many legs into just a few cones – it uses these few composite pseudo feet to move forward, just as a creature with many fewer legs would use. All the legs appear to be "walking" at normal speed, but in slow motion you can see that they are all either in the process of joining together in a cone or moving apart to form the next one.
I put the Twitter app back on my phone. I realized that I’m not getting news anywhere else. I even missed the Biola U conference and had no idea about the Delta State shooting until days later. But I learned the habit of reading my kindle app instead of Twitter, so I think the trick was useful.
I’ve tried on countless pairs of dress shoes to find a replacement for my black wingtips that have holes in the sole. Nothing really has worked out. One of the nice men’s stores in Starkville has only split-toe oxfords! I wanted to try on cap-toe oxfords and maybe some more wingtips that were less ornamented than my Florsheims. I finally ordered some today from Amazon that I hope will work out okay. The last ones I ordered arrived and looked very cheap, so I had to return them. I wear my dress shoes six days a week, for about 9 hours a day, almost every week of the year. So it makes sense to buy some decent shoes. I wish I could do the “shoe rotation” thing, but that’s an advanced technique of manhood. Imagine owning two pairs of black shoes at the same time! That’s like exercising regularly or scheduling haircuts regularly. Really, who can be expected to keep those kinds of standards up?
Alright, gotta run. Eli has invented a board game he wants me to play.
Here are some expressions / terms I’ve heard (in the wild) lately. I was (very) familiar with some of these, but a few are new to me:
“He was such a good lawyer he could get a charge of sodomy reduced to following-too-closely.”
“Boy, I’m gonna slap you naked and hide your clothes.”
“Boy, I’m gonna jerk a knot in your tail.” (variation: “in your head.”)
Dragonflies described as “snake doctors” and a myth that when they fly near you it is important to close your mouth because “if he sees your teeth, he’ll sew your lips shut.”
I was in the backyard all yesterday doing yardwork; it was a pretty interesting day. At one point, a wasp flew into view. He hovered over the surface of the pool, then landed on the surface of the water with his wings raised in a V like Jeremy. Then the wasp quaffed deeply for about 10 seconds. I actually could see him drinking. Then he took off very skillfully, beating the wings but never touching them to the water. I had no clue that wasps could land on water and stand on surface tension.
I also removed a few yucca plants and found this guy:
I think he must be some kind of tree frog, but I’m not sure. I carefully cut this blade of the yucca out and put it under the shrubbery. He stayed on it almost the whole morning. I had almost gotten so frustrated with the weeds in this yard that I was getting close to using some round-up, but seeing this little guy solidified my commitment to not use anything that could harm amphibians in the yard. I like the frogs, the tiger geckos, the anole lizards, etc. It’s amazing to have so many fascinating critters in the yard.
Thinking Through Intinction
Intinction is the practice of celebrating communion (aka, Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, etc.) by dipping a piece of bread into the wine and then putting the winesoaked bread into the mouth. This is becoming more popular in my own denomination. Hopefully this essay will help in thinking through the practice.
In any kind of important ritual like baptism or the Lord’s supper, we want to perform the rite in the proper way. In the Old Testament, through the prophets, God often critiqued both the way in which his people were partaking of the various ceremonies and the heart with which they approached these things. For instance, the temple was in Judah, not Israel, so often God’s prophets spoke against Israel’s presumption to create a rival altar. We’ll leave aside the “heart” issue in this post because we’re really asking more about the mechanics of the sacrament. How should we perform it? The mechanics affect the heart, but that’s a different post.
We have to figure out which items are so central to the rite that without them, the rite ceases to exist. For instance, it doesn’t take a great deal of thought to conclude that at least some amount of water will need to be used in baptism. How do we think through this with regards to the Lord’s Supper?
This diagram shows several concentric circles to assist in visualizing what aspects of the rite are central (near point A) and which aspects are more peripheral to the rite (near point E). One of the New Testament texts about the celebration of the eucharist is I Corinthians 11:23-34. The writer, the Apostle Paul, is dealing with a particular church and its celebration of the Lord’s Supper. He is writing to tell them to clean up their act – all the rich people are eating together and leaving out the poor, some eat before the others, etc. In other words, they had corrupted the rite – using it to distinguish one group from another. In the process, though, we learn a lot about the rite itself:
I Corinthians 11:20-34: When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, uanother gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise vthe church of God and whumiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
First thing to note – Paul based his instructions about the Lord’s Supper on the celebration of the rite that Jesus had along with his disciples on “the night he was betrayed.” Thus, we should take the gospel accounts of the Last Supper into consideration too. There are three parallel accounts:
Matthew 26:26-30: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
Mark 14:22-26: And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
Luke 22:17-20: And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
Now, taking into account all this biblical data, we see several things that make up the rite. I will list some aspects of the rite without comment and without implying any kind of centrality. I’m sure we could list even more if we tried, but these are the major aspects.
1. Communion has a meal context; all of the action takes place after a meal, sitting around a table.
2. The rite involves some kind of bread
3. The rite involves some kind of wine.
4. The rite involves eating
5. The rite involves drinking
6. The person leading the rite gives thanks twice: once for the bread, once for the wine.
7. Two gospel writers think to mention that Jesus and his disciples sung a hymn after the rite.
8. The bread and wine are distributed to the partakers somehow.
9. The supper, instituted at night, came to be celebrated in corporate worship.
10. There are words spoken – “this is my body, etc.”
11. There is an order to the proceedings: take, talk, pray, distribute, eat bread, take, talk, pray, distribute, drink cup
Historically, the church has considered the various aspects identified here to be more or less central to the rite, depending upon the branch of the church. If we think about intinction, it affects a great number of these areas:
First, there is the question of eating and drinking. Obviously, putting a soggy piece of bread into your mouth is not eating and drinking, but does this matter? Second, there is the question of ritually separating the eating and drinking, and separating the distribution and thanksgiving for each element. If it is part of the essence of the rite to eat and drink separately, then intinction makes this impossible. Third, there is the problem of the order of the rite. In Jesus’s celebration of the rite, he gives thanks for the element, distributes it, then they eat it. He does this twice, once for bread, once for wine. In intinction, very often a “common cup” is used. That means, the bread is distributed and broken apart so that everyone has a piece of bread. Then, the cup is passed around and the congregation dips the bread into the cup prior to partaking. In that scenario, the pastor can take, pray, then distribute both elements, but this cannot achieve the ordering of take, pray, distribute, consume, take pray, distribute, consume. The consumption is always reserved for the end of the process.
Back to our analogy with Baptism for a moment, we would probably not consider a real baptism to have taken place if someone were doused with sand in the Triune name. Or, at the very least, we would introduce doubts as to whether a real baptism has taken place. This would be pastorally dangerous, and it wouldn’t be an improper impulse for the one baptized with sand to wonder if he or she really was baptized.
What could we do to the communion rite to put it into that category – of a celebration where the congregation could legitimately be left wondering if they actually just had communion. Let’s go through the aspects of the rite one by one:
1. Communion as a meal.
This is one of the most frequently brushed over aspects of the supper. For example, some churches practice the meal aspect rather strictly. The soft form of this is to take communion while seated in the pews (as opposed to marching everyone up to the front of the church to partake while kneeling), and the harder form is to actually bring plank tables down the center of each aisle and then have everyone gather together around those tables in the aisle for a more meal-like situation. Once church in St. Louis encourages its members to talk during the communion meal because this is more like a meal where people are carrying on polite table conversation. This doesn’t really affect the intinction discussion, but it is important to note this aspect of the supper along the way. Intinction is a very pointed question, but the larger issue of how to properly perform the rite of the Lord’s Supper is worth considering. If we turn communion into a private act of devotion, say at a rail, where all the elements are distributed by a single ‘waiter’ to a single eater, then we lose the communal aspects of the meal and we make it that much easier to fall into the problems Paul warns about at Corinth, not discerning the body of believers properly and eating and drinking by ourselves.
2. The kind of bread
This is an interesting discussion and it really all comes down to two questions – what kind of bread did the early church use in its celebration of the Lord’s Supper and what kind did Jesus use. This gets into a technical discussion about what “unleavened bread” is in the scriptures. Some think that unleavened means “without yeast” and some think it means “without starter.” A starter is a living lump of yeast-dough that you might use to make sourdough bread. Using a starter links the new loaf to the old loaf and it gives a good character to the bread’s flavor. One of my favorite pancake places is in Birmingham, AL, and they actually age their batter overnight and allow the yeast to begin imparting a bit of fermentation and character to the batter. When Jesus warns about the leavening of the Pharisees, he might be using an analogy there to break with the old lump and bake bread with fresh yeast – break with the traditions of the Pharisees, in other words. Elsewhere in the scriptures we are “one loaf” but I suppose you could have a loaf of yeastless bread. There’s also the problem that in the ancient world (and in our world) it is very hard to do anything without yeast. Yeast is everywhere and every kind of bread has some degree of yeast in it. This doesn’t affect intinction, but it is interesting. Personally, I think it is important to use some kind of bread, not a cracker, and the happier bread the better.
3. The kind of wine
This is also an interesting discussion and it is conducted with a lot of passion in America with its peculiar history of prohibition. In fact, “grape juice” was invented in America by a dentist who figured out how to bottle it and stop the fermentation process. Notice I said “stop” the process because as soon as grapes are crushed, fermentation begins as the yeast in the environment goes to work. And as soon as you open a bottle of grape juice, the fermentation begins again. You have to try hard to not make wine when you’ve crushed some grapes. The only relevance to intinction here is that in studies of disease transmission in the various modes of communion, intinction is the least safe. People’s cuticles and the areas under their fingernails are crawling with germs and if the piece of bread is too small you end up dunking the filthiest part of your body into the cup. And so just be sure to use a very strong, fortified wine if intinction is your thing because human fingernails are scary places. As for how central this is to the rite, that’s a good question. Jesus used wine, he made wine, and the bible is full of the symbolism of wine’s making the heart glad. Grape juice is not wine, it is a precursor. It would be like using grain sheaths instead of bread. Plus, wine is a product of human technology. Both of the elements of communion are the result of human ingenuity – baking bread and making wine are parts of culture that apparently God wants to spread all over the earth. Having bread and wine implies the presence of a whole complex of supporting institutions and it is the fruit of human labor. Wine is important. Is grape juice a “kind” of wine? Because you can’t avoid fermentation, I guess so, but here’s the “kind” of wine that grape juice is: bad wine. Do you want to have bad wine at a happy meal with the king of creation?
4. Eating and Drinking
This seems to be important. Over and over Paul says things like “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” The eating and drinking are tied very closely to Jesus’s body and blood that serve as the central ritual aspects of the supper. A “Jesus centered” Lord’s supper would focus intently on the aspects of the supper that point plainly to the symbolism inherent in the sacrificial aspects of Jesus’s work. Paul seems to have in mind that you eat bread and drink wine. Of course, the fact that it never occurred to Paul to dip the bread into the cup and drink/eat all at once doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong, but again, we’re trying to figure out which parts of the supper are more central, not necessarily wrong or right (though we have to be open to the idea that there are wrong ways to celebrate the supper, surely). I think we can assume that intinction is not eating and drinking, it is some third thing. It reminds me of the old Anglo-Saxon wine-sop tradition. And so if eating and drinking are central to the rite, then intinction potentially derails the sacrament.
5. The person leading the rite gives thanks twice: once for the bread, once for the wine
Listen intently in your church service to see that God is thanked for each element separately. This is something Jesus did very plainly and Paul repeats. It is hard to know why this is important and how it ritually changes us, but there is something going on here that we should probably not tinker with too much. Certainly, you can do this in an intinction service, and so this point does not really count either way, but it is worth emphasizing that this is important. The Puritans, for instance, were real sticklers on this point, requiring two separate prayers. And this is wise. It isn’t always clear why a ritual changes us, and when something is so plainly an important part of the ritual, given by example of Jesus, then it is vital not to do otherwise.
6. Two gospel writers think to mention that Jesus and his disciples sung a hymn after the rite.
Hah, no need to comment here, but it is interesting. After I really noticed this, I stopped telling my kids not to sing at the table. I simply say “we can’t sing at the table unless we’re all singing the same song.” The rite of communion is happy. It should not be penitential. If you don’t feel like singing afterwards… If you haven’t drunk a little wine… If you don’t feel like you just ate dinner with the king of all the world, then something is wrong. Far worse a problem than the “mode” of communion in my denomination is the mood of communion. It’d better be happy and too many Presbyterian churches have morose communion.
7. The bread and wine are distributed to the partakers somehow.
The mode of distribution will of course differ depending upon the size of the crowd, the shape of the room, whether people are sitting or standing, whether the people come to the front, whether the elements are distributed to them, etc. A few comments. When people come to the front, they are continually served by the host. When elements are passed out in the pews, they are serving one another. It gives an opportunity to ritually introduce some table conversation. Often this is done with “the peace of Christ” said to the person as you hand them the tray. So distribution is important and it needs to support the aims of whatever aspects of the supper you think are central. If the meal aspect is central, then distribution needs to not get in the way of that aspect. It’s important that the ritual logic of your distribution matches the aims and goals of the ritual itself. With intinction, the only issue here is that you have to figure out how to get each person a piece of bread prior to their getting a cup. Not a real problem.
8. The supper, instituted at night, came to be celebrated in corporate worship.
From very early in the church, the ‘breaking of bread’ came to be done at the early morning, first-day-of-the-week worship services (Acts 2:42). Jesus instituted the supper at an evening meal and from pretty much then on Christians have done it when they gather (usually in the morning). This shows us that the ritual setting for the supper is more important than the time of day. It is a meal with Jesus and not simply a biological family meal. And when we gather together is usually in a corporate service to strengthen the whole body. This proves to us that the meal has more or less central aspects. Thankfully we don’t have to figure that one out – the bible records the deviation from the original event very clearly. But it shows us a pattern for adapting the supper to various contexts.
9. There are words spoken – “this is my body, etc.”
Ususally in Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper we repeat these words of Jesus. Often, we do this by quoting from the passage of Paul’s letter where he reminds the Corinthian church about the supper. This is central to the rite in most churches – a silent meal would be strange. It probably doesn’t make sense to focus on the centrality of the words; that’s not something that has ever been in doubt. But the words are in a context and that brings us to the next part – the order in which the words, prayers, distribution, and partaking happen.
10. There is an order to the proceedings: take, talk, pray, distribute, eat bread, take, talk, pray, distribute, drink cup
The order of a ritual is extremely important in its meaning. Think of the ritual of making gumbo. You have to get the roux the color of a copper penny before you can begin adding the other ingredients. It would be hard to get a roux looking right if you’re constantly stirring okra around the pot over the butter and flour. In the Lord’s Supper the ritual order in both Paul’s presentation and in the gospel accounts has Jesus talking about the element, thanking his Father for it, distributing it, and then the crowd consuming it. Then he does this again. Thinking of the best possible intinction order of service possible, we would have this: minister takes element, talks, prays, distributes, minister takes element, talks, prays, distributes, and then consumption is added at the end – both elements are eating/drunk together. This is definitely a different order of the service. And so if ritual order is central to the sacrament’s celebration, intinction presents a signficant problem.
Bringing this All Together
If you’re thinking through whether intinction is a good idea, then the way to proceed is to look at the list of communion aspects above and try to assign a letter to them from A to E that will help you plot the aspects of the supper onto our centrality chart. The nearer an aspect is to the center of the chart, the more closely you need to hew to the example in scripture in order to do the rite properly. Go ahead, drag the elements around in the chart if you’re using a decent browser, I’ve defaulted them to a random positioning:
(Go ahead, drag these aspects around the chart)
Intinction implies that the order of the ceremony is not in the most central place. It also implies that true eating and drinking are not as central as some other aspects of the rite.
Order in rites is something God takes very seriously. We know this from the book of Leviticus where we see God’s taking pains to teach the people the proper way of approaching him through a series of different kinds of sacrifices. And inside of each sacrifice, God does things in a particular order – animals are slaughtered on tables, drained of blood, then the blood is sprinkled here and there and certain parts are put on the altar fire, etc. God shows himself to be the kind of God that when he gives a ritual, he expects it to be performed in a certain order. Or, put more positively, God shows himself to be a teacher wanting to take his students through a particular story over and over, and he wants them to get this story right so they don’t get the wrong idea about him. I’m not sure exactly how moving all consumption to the end of the rite of communion changes the story, but my uncertainty about that gives me pause when considering whether or not to depart from the example given by Jesus.
As for eating and drinking, we are not gnostics, as Christians. We believe that our bodies are important and the things we do with them are important and the order in which we do them is important. And so eating with our jaws, and drinking with our lips – these are really meaningful activities. Intinction changes the relationship of the human body to the elements from the original celebration’s example. This is not trivial.
It is clear from my comments here, that the way I would assess the centrality of the various aspects of communion leads me to think that intinction is a bad idea. If you do not put “eating and drinking” and “order of proceedings” into the most central place in your consideration of the ritual of the Lord’s Supper, then I would recommend a few things: be sure that you do two prayers; this couldn’t be clearer from Jesus’s example. Also, try very hard to make the celebration as meal-like as possible. Use a good strong wine to avoid any problem with cuticles (yuck) going into the common cup. Be sure that you get as close to the order used by Jesus as possible. Remember, you are making the choice to differ substantially from that order in order to use intinction as a method. May as well do your best to adhere where you can. Use a good strong bread so that the jaws are involved. You can at least have eating even if drinking is harder. To me, the worst of all possible combinations is to have communion at a rail with intinction. You lose the corporate aspect of the prayer and distribution, you lose the meal-like aspects, and you lose eating and drinking. Do it with grape juice and you might as well be inventing a new rite altogether.
What do you think? Is intinction licit? Is it wise? What might be the long-term effects of a liturgical change like introducing intinction into a congregation? What have been the long-term effects of taking wine out of the rite in America?
This movie is growing on me like lichen. At the end when Miss Cross takes off Max’s glasses, I cry every time. Though I still think the scene editing is better in Royal Tenenbaums, I think Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums are truly peers; I would have a hard time now saying which is the better film. I still have a greater affection for Royal Tenenbaums because I have lived with it longer, but I’m getting toward 10 viewings of Rushmore now and I’m starting to understand how it works better.
I’m not ready to give my “observations on rushmore” but I have noticed interesting things with the names. Herman Blume has an interesting name. Herman could be literally “Her man” – the love triangle is the center of the story. Less literally and more by derivation, Herman means “Army Man” and that’s at the center too. Herman was in Vietnam, and he seems to get the brunt of the affect of Max’s final play. There is also the fact that he and Max are in a war for Miss Cross. Rosemary Cross is an interesting name too. First, again very literally, Max and Mr. Blume center their attention on her, there is a crossing of interests, and she is a crossroad in both of their lives. Max loses Rushmore on account of the first groundbreaking for the aquarium (all for her) and Blume loses all of his fortune on the second groundbreaking (all for her). Also, she has the name “Rosemary” – if she married Mr. Blume she would be Rosemary Blume! There is flower imagery there. Also, “Cross” as a reference to the cross she bears for Edward Appleby. Also, she is the locus of Max’s ultimate sacrifice; he sacrifices Rushmore for her, and finally, he sacrifices his own happiness for hers. Max’s name is like the Scottish guy’s name – “Max” and “Magnus” are related. Max Fisher – he is the most important fisher of men in the movie. The name connotes the same imagery that his involvement with the aquarium connotes. And then there is the idea that in the end he lures people together — all the reconciliation culminates at his Vietnam play. I can’t help but thing that these names have this meaning intentionally given Anderson’s other patterns of naming and how the names here are revealed rather dramatically and often visually. Max’s chapel partner, Dirk Calloway, has a name that can refer to a kind of knife (remember that Dirk gives Max a knife as his present and the knife is engraved like a tombstone with the from/to dates of Max’s Rushmore careers) – he is the observer of betrayal and is betrayed in the movie by Max – and the name Dirk relates to rule. Dirk is the one that reconciles Max and Mr. Blume to each other by arranging the hospital rendezvous. He heals the rift between them that he started by telling Max about Blume. I think Margaret Yang’s name tends to connote that she is finally the proper companion for Max – the yang to his yin, though in Chinese philosophy, yang is usually the male part of the opposing forces. Anyway, those are just a few thoughts on some of the names in the movie. Another part that makes me almost cry is when Herman Blume meets Bert Fisher. It is like he has come home.
Observations about The Royal Tenenbaums after way too many viewings (revised 12/31/2003):
Because Wes Anderson meticulously plans every aspect of his movies, the following observations are about things in The Royal Tenenbaums that almost undoubtedly are intentional in the movie:
1. There are a lot of Odyssey-themes. Royal (“King”) returns to his home after a long absence (that even included adultery) and tries to dispatch his wife’s suitor. Royal’s sons also have the names of British nobility – Chas (Charles) and Richie (Richard). The Chinese masseuse in Royal’s hotel is named “Sing Sang” which could make her a kind of siren, keeping him there until he can no longer pay and is evicted. Another similarity is that when Odysseus returns, he meets up first with a loyal servant (Eumaios) who is his swine-herd. Royal’s loyal servant Pagoda is there and still remains loyal. Further, Royal restores his own rights to the household by the symbol of re-hanging his Havalina Boar’s head by the stairs (Richie hangs it). Remember that the suitors in the Odyssey were eating up all the swine. One possibly unintentional reference is that the house is at “Archer Avenue”. In the Odyssey, Odysseus’s contest with the suitors culminates in an archery trial; who can bend the bow, who can shoot an arrow through the rings on the axe handles, etc.
2. Other Greek themes include Helen of Troy. In the background of the whole movie is Royal’s filial piety toward his mother, Helen. Helen is his motivation – visiting her grave is the beginning of his attempts at reconciliation with the children. Margot’s middle name is Helen, and Richie is in love with her. The movie begins with Richie on a ship and when he hears of Royal’s illness, Richie transfers to the Halifax and then to the Helena before meeting up with Margot. Halifax means ‘holy hair’ (perhaps Margot’s), and Helena is an obvious reference. At his destination, the fair-haired Margot comes toward him to a beautiful Nico song. Helen’s portrait, hanging behind Royal when he initiates reconciliation in that scene with Margot, Richie, and Chas, features Helen wearing a Nurse’s uniform and there is a Red Cross on her shirt. The same red cross hangs behind Richie in the hospital bed after his suicide attempt. The sign above Richie’s port of arrival is “Royal Arctic Line” – Royal again – kingly. Etheline, Royal’s wife, has the sound of “helen” in the middle as well.
3. Everyone wears a uniform in the entire movie. Richie has his Bjorn Bjork tennis look with the khaki jacket, Margot wears a Lacoste dress with a fur coat and penny loafers, Chas and his sons wear matching jogging suits (for safety and mutual visibility, according to Wes Anderson), Henry Sherman wears the smart suit with a matching hankerchief, Royal dresses as a lawyer. The hotel staff wear uniforms, the hospital staff wear uniforms, Etheline wears a skirt/suit, Royal’s mother Helen is wearing a nurse’s uniform in the one shot of her that we get. Their friend, Eli Cash, wears the uniform of a cowboy poet. At the wedding when everyone is in tuxedos, Henry Sherman’s son is dressed in his military uniform. In the flashbacks of Etheline’s various suitors, every one of them wears a uniform. The “redemption” themes in the movie are hinted at by changes of uniform. Richie changes his uniform – he shaves his head and adds an under-vest to his khaki suit. There is a ritual as Richie removes his sunglasses, shaves his beard and hair, and then attempts suicide. He is okay, however, and emerges looking different. Mordecai, Richie’s hawk, also changes uniform. When he returns to the roof-top where Richie and Royal are talking, it is clear that he has more white feathers due to stress. Royal changes uniform from that of a lawyer to that of an elevator operator. By becoming a servant of all, Royal actually becomes the king again. When Richie goes to Royal for advice, they ascend to the roof of the hotel where Mordecai returns. The ascension themes, and the themes of the return of Mordecai evoke the story of Jesus and the story of Noah. The bird returns. Eli’s change of uniform to the face paint he wore in the childhood scene at Royal’s vacation house is a regression. His last desparate attempt to be a Tenenbaum by force. The loss of Chas’s dog completes the tragedy of the airplane accident; his wife and dog are now dead, and Royal gives him a new dog (Sparkplug) to generate the beginnings of a new respect for his father and a new life with his sons. Chas sees that death can come anywhere, really, no matter what precautions are taken, and other people can help – Royal – not just impersonal security systems. I think there must be some symbolism with Margot’s being clothed in animal skins – perhaps some reference to Eve.
4. There are some christological themes with regard to Royal. His “death” brings the family together, and even though a ruse, his “resurrection” allows him to then become the servant of the family, and ends up “saving them” as the tombstone says (and the maritime metaphors are there too as Royal is said to save them from a sinking battleship) . Further, Royal is pierced in his side by Pagoda. This is not the only time Royal is pierced; Pagoda was sent to kill him in calcutta, but ended up taking him to the hospital afterward. Richie is constantly drinking bloody mary’s – I think this might have some kind of eucharistic imagery because it seems to preserve him, and he is constantly adding salt to the drink.
5. The same font is used throughout the movie. Anytime text appears on buildings, it is in that font; this is evidence that the text itself is far from incidental and should be examined as I have done somewhat above.
There are some things that I haven’t quite figured out yet – Margot’s missing finger, Raleigh’s name, etc. It is obvious, though, that Raleigh’s character is based on Oliver Sacks, the famous sociologist/psychologist.
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