Monday, June 11, 2018

Movie Review: To Dream of Falling Upwards

This is both a magick post and a movie review, for the film To Dream of Falling Upwards by Anterro Alli, author of Angel Tech and several other works on modern occultism. As I've mentioned previously, Hollywood movies tend to get magick hopelessly wrong. The usual practice is to replace the "science of the magi" with lots of flashing colored lights and garish CGI, with sigils flying all over the place and things exploding. Real magick doesn't work that way. It is less flashy, but deeper and far more profound than anything mainstream films usually address.

Here's some background before I get started with my review. Have you ever wondered why the world now has both New Falcon Press and Original Falcon Press, which look like they sell books from some of the same authors? That's a story unto itself - two weeks before the death of Christopher Hyatt, his estranged biological son somehow managed to get him to sign over the company. The folks who were previously running New Falcon along with Hyatt started up Original Falcon, and recounted their side of the preceding events here.

To be clear, I have no inside information regarding the veracity of these claims and am not trying to push one side or the other. I don't know if the legal issues are still ongoing or if they have been mostly resolved now, ten years later. If you really want to know, you'll have to read up on the situation and decide for yourself.

But the story as presented by Original Falcon is significant to my review because Alli loosely bases the setup for To Dream of Falling Upwards on it, replacing a publishing company with a Thelemic magical order. When the Chief Magus of the Temple of Horus dies, his estranged son takes over the order with plans to commercialize its teachings. Jack Mason, the Chief Magus' chosen successor, is thus cheated out of his rightful position and vows to take revenge. He performs a sex magick operation against the son and hires a Russian hit man to have him killed. The assassination succeeds, but Mason finds himself haunted by a demon that takes the form of the deceased son and must find a way to exorcise it.

What's most refreshing is that while I have a few technical quibbles with some of the magical ideas presented in the film, they still basically work the way real magick does. There are no flashing lights or CGI sigils flying through the air. The closest is the sequence toward the end in which the demon is defeated, but the film also makes it clear that this happens in the astral realm and thus behaves more like a dream sequence. That also is accurate. It's also kind of fun to see Thelemites rendered onscreen tossing "93" back and forth and discussing things like the Holy Guardian Angel in reasonably accurate terms.

To Dream of Falling Upwards is not a high-budget Hollywood movie, and it shows in places. The sound design in particular is a bit of an issue - the incidental music is a little too loud and the dialogue is a little too soft. Also, certain music choices feel odd and a little out of place. On the other hand, the acting is generally quite good and some of the scenes are beautifully shot. In particular, the scene of the sex magick working is quite well done, and unlike anything you're very likely to see in a mainstream film. Overall, the pacing of the film could have been tightened up a bit, too, especially in the beginning. But it picks up and flows nicely once the son is dead and Mason sets out to rid himself of the demon.

The landscape is also shot and employed to good effect. I don't know where Alli found his locations, but many of them are striking and contribute a great deal to the atmosphere of the film. In some scenes the land seems to become a character of its own, from the remote house set among flowing, grassy hills that serves as the headquarters of the Temple of Horus, to the desert labyrinth around which the witch who eventually exorcises the demon slowly and deliberately walks at the opening of the film (shown above), to the remote location where the demon is eventually defeated.

Despite the serious subject matter, the film also has a lot of comic elements interspersed throughout. Some of this is provided by two of Mason's students who work as clowns. I'm not much of a fan of clowns in general, but the actors playing them are quite good at it. One thing I didn't know before I saw the film is that Alli has a theatrical background in clowning, and that's probably where he knows these actors from. Excerpts from one of their clowning performances are shown throughout the film, and while I personally feel like they could have been shortened a little, if you're a fan of clowning you probably will enjoy them.

The film also has some other amusing general weirdness, like a professor trying to learn about magick who has to wear a cabbage strapped to his head in order to converse with his teacher. I found the professor's arc to be a little out of place in the film, and probably something I would have cut to make the film shorter - but then again, if I did, those silly cabbage scenes would be lost. My guess is that Alli wanted to be sure to include them, so the professor's part needed to stay in the mix. They are funny, especially if you happen to be familiar with the Principia Discordia, in which the initiate is asked, "ARE YE A HUMAN BEING AND NOT A CABBAGE OR SOMETHING?"

I think that occultists and especially Thelemites will enjoy this film. Alli's take on and presentation of magick is much closer to authentic than just about anything else out there, and while I wouldn't necessarily take some of what it presents as literal magical instruction (for example, some of the "devil as subconscious mind" stuff that Hyatt was into, but which I think is nonsense because I don't believe in a "subconscious mind" in the first place), it is great to see this material discussed and presented at all in the context of a reasonably accessible film. I would really like to see Alli make more movies like this one, and if he decides to do that, I am looking forward to seeing them.

You can order your copy of To Dream of Falling Upwards here from Original Falcon Press.

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