Viewing Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s Nanking is emotionally devastating. The film is a record of the Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937, which entailed unimaginable cruelty. In addition to the wholesale slaughter of the Chinese, the Japanese committed 20,000 acts of rape in the first month of occupation, according to the Tokyo Tribunal on War Crimes, convened after World War II.
So here we go again. The grit of darkened seasons past between the eyes, across the brow. The purple cloths of grief, tall cloistered candles, numbered days. Six more weeks of wintered trudging through a wilderness bereft of alleluias. All this to show that everything we know— and are—is dust and will return in just the way it came and always has come. Yet, here and there, bent brave above the snow the clustered Lenten rose bleeds color from pale sunlight, gently points itself toward a cross, an emptied cave, that bright unending summer glimpsed in childhood, and forever after longed for past the terminus of measured time.
There are few tasks more daunting for a filmmaker than straddling the line between comedy and tragedy. It is hard enough to establish a tone for a movie without the added challenge of making the funny stuff and the melancholy moments work together like the ingredients of a magic potion.
A curving trail—the callused field obscures it until we shovel out the clotted brick, lug a ton or two of sand to fit trenches, level rumpled earth, correct courses. A mallet stuns a thumb, new blisters bud as self-impressed we shout, “This row is done!” but then a kid names names, prefers George Toad, Kate Cricket, slaps William Mosquito, pats Barkly, unleashed, our best company. We rest and share cold drinks. David brings homemade muffins, burned, blueberry plenty. Sun flickers around us, summer’s wings. Yet sand, we need more sand! Deer watch from trees while we adjust the pathways on our knees.
Philosopher Michael Ruse is an ardent evolutionist and unbeliever, but he often comes to the defense of believers who are under fire from militant atheists like Richard Dawkins. Ruse says his sympathetic stance toward religion is partly due to his Quaker upbringing. “I grew up surrounded by gentle, loving (and very intelligent) Christians. I never forget that,” said Ruse. He also objects to what he regards as bad atheist arguments. Evolution explains the existence of religion as an adaptive mechanism, but that doesn’t necessarily explain it away. “It is as plausible that my love of Mozart’s operas is a byproduct of adaptation, but it doesn’t make them any the less beautiful and meaningful,” Ruse said (New York Times interview, July 8).