April 22, 2012

Mr Movie Fiend: Tempting Providence

The Asphyx (1973)

Poster for The Asphyx (1973)
Death is scary. Despite being inextricably bound with life, it has vexed and mystified humanity for as long as we’ve had the capacity to reflect and to wonder. One almost ubiquitous constant in all this grappling with Death through the ages has been a belief in some form of afterlife. (Of course, the afterlife isn’t always reassuring. The ancient Greeks believed that the “shades” of all those who had died dwelled in Hades, which was not a nice place at all.  Today, belief in a literal hell is still very high in the U.S. Interestingly, according to one survey, percentages of responders who absolutely did not believe in hell rose steadily the older — and closer to death — they got. [Baylor Religion Survey, 2007]

Perhaps because of the uncertainties of the afterlife, the concept of physical immortality has similarly captured the human imagination, at least since the Epic of Gilgamesh. In an earlier post on Count Yorga: Vampire, I speculated that at least some (if not most) of the staying power of the vampire in popular culture is due to the innate fascination with being young, sexy and powerful forever. Lately, science has titillated the public with research suggesting that the aging process can be slowed or even halted, or that we might someday be able to upload our consciousness into machines.

The Asphyx (1973) takes both the spiritual and material aspects of fascination with eternal life and combines them into a very interesting, quirky and horrific morality play. The film is set in the late 19th / early 20th century, a period marked by the industrial revolution and an explosion of inventions and scientific discoveries that upended traditional lifestyles and man’s conception of his place in the universe. Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens) is a man of contradictions: as a patrician country squire, he represents the past and a declining aristocracy; on the other hand, he is a relentlessly curious scientist who’s invented his own movie camera and “light booster” (a fancy name for a spotlight). He’s also devoted himself to psychical research, and possibly proving, through scientific means, the existence of life after death.

See the full post at Mr Movie Fiend. 

"The Asphyx: More than a myth... more than a maybe..."

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