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True Hell: William Blake and Baskin

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I watched Baskin after much hype from friends. “Erin, you have to see this!” they unanimously told me. I felt confident going in, too: I had yet to have a clunker recommended to me by this lot, so I figured what the hell and rented it from Amazon. And while I wasn’t completely in love with the ending, director Can Evrenol managed to get me thinking. A LOT. In particular, I could not stop thinking about the character The Father (Mehmet Cerrahoglu). I followed every word he spoke, every mannerism. You see, The Father reminded me of something I had read. Something that was so much a part of me that I wrote part of my Master’s thesis on it: William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In particular, the section of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell called “The Proverbs of Hell.” You see, while they don’t appear to be unlikely allies, Blake and Evrenol make the same case when it comes to truth: is that nature of truth something that is truly hellish? And if so, what does this say about us and our search for the truth?

Let’s step back from Baskin for a moment and take a look at Blake. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell features a section titled “The Proverbs of Hell,” which outlines the truths according to Hell. The proverbs make some excellent points, including٭:

  • “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.” (Plate 7)

  • “A dead body, revenges not injuries.” (Plate 7)

  • “The fox condemns the trap, not himself.” (Plate 8)

  • “The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” (Plate 9)

  • “Weak in courage is strong in cunning.” (Plate 9)

  • “Prayers plow not! Praises reap not!” (Plate 9)

Have to admit, nothing Blake states is inaccurate. He speaks of perspective, the certainty of death, displacing blame, and the use of power and action. We can all relate to these statements, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that would argue their validity. However, there are those that don’t want to admit that what he’s saying is true. One could argue that he’s merely stating observation; however, the rub here is that he’s dictating proverbs – which are meant as short statements of truth or advice – which are specific to Hell. If this is the origin of these little nuggets of gold, that means that the very nature of this knowledge is hellbound. The implication: just like in the Book of Genesis, all knowledge is related to hell, and the fact that we critically think damns us. Cut to Han Solo telling us “it’s all true” and we’re suddenly standing on the precipice of the inferno’s ninth ring. Not exactly comforting.

So what the hell does this have to do with Baskin? Let’s loop back to The Father. While he looks strange and heads up a cult that cuts out eyeballs and disembowels folks that mildly aggrivate him, you have to admit that his speech patterns are calm, even and, well, completely parallel to Blake’s proverbs. “Hell is not a place you go. You carry Hell with you at all times. You carry it inside you,” he tells the cops he has captive. And you know what? He’s right. He’s absolutely right – Hell is something that you make for yourself, every single day, from a poor mindset to perpetuating a bad circumstance to refusing to face your inner demons. His words manage to get even more truthful when he digs in deep and tells us: “The human soul is corrupt. It only worships power. It keeps searching for new things to worship. Because it has boundaries, drawn by its masters. ” Have to admit, The Father has a point there, and it’s evident in the ways that people will lie, cheat and kill in the name of climbing to the top. It’s easy to see his perspective because it’s all around us. So when he tells our boys, “You die as you sleep, you resurrect as you wake up. So, fear not,” we’re almost lulled into a type of contentment; after all, The Father is making some pretty solid points in terms of his observations. That’s what makes this really scary: we’re not behind the good guys at this point because they’ve been joking about having sex with elephants; they’re the guys that have beaten young kids and had screaming panic attacks in bathrooms. Even Arda (Gorkem Kasal) doesn’t come off as terribly trustworthy because he constantly goes back to a dream state to talk things over with Remzi (Ergun Kuyucu). We’re asked to trust the guy that flits in between a dream world and a hell dimension, but we’re never sure which one he’s fully in. In this respect, our hero – the good guy – is an unreliable narrator, and he doesn’t come off as terribly stable. The one that’s making the most sense and speaking something that sounds close to the truth is the short, scarred man standing on a stepstool in order to face his victims as he tortures them. The nutcase with the ceremonial dagger is the one that makes the most sense out of the bunch because he’s rooted in one spot and saying things that make a lot of sense. We know that when we close our eyes and reopen them, The Father will be there, even if he’s waiting to stab our eyes out. We come to trust the inevitability of this as truth. And that’s scary as hell, because in this midst of the torment and death, he’s still smiling, calm and stable while making insightful commentary into the nature of man.

This is the truly terrifying part of Baskin meeting The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: both point to the notion of truth, and the result isn’t freedom. For all of their proclamations, Blake and The Father don’t offer much in the way of leadership toward forging a better person. They state little snippets to us that resonnate and make sense, but really, what are they offering? Blake doesn’t give us much more than a simple statement that we’re all going to Hell in the same handbasket; he may have lovingly stitched it, but make no mistake, this elevator is going down if the words on the page (inevitability) make sense to you. In a similiar vein, while The Father does make sense and speaks of guiding his charges (“There’s nothing we can do but guide you”), he turns around and mutilates those same lambs he’s supposedly shepherding in the same breath. Each truthful statement leads to something bad happening to torture one of our police officers. With both of these works, the conveyance of knowledge equates to death and damnation. There is no happy ending for anyone; only the comfort of one’s knowledge, which, let’s face it, is not going to save you from any type of harm. Like Arda, you need to have a magic key in order to unlock the physical in order to stop the physical torment. This isn’t the most feel-good parallel out there.

“Open your heart to us. Don’t stop, and it will open,” The Father tells Yavuz (Muharrem Bayrak). “It should be wide open. Otherwise, it’s no good. Open your mind.” It sounds like something we’d tell a friend: be open to new possibilities in order to receive a greater sense of self and, ostensibly, a larger reward in the physical realm. Yavuz is then rewarded with getting his eye stabbed out and being forced to have sex with a surrogate goat before he dies. This is where the comparison is apt and damning: it may be the truth, but it doesn’t bring us any closer to Heaven. In fact, in both Baskin and Blake, the truth only works to drive you further into a cyclical Hell from which there is no escape, with the knowledge that you’re in Hell as your only comfort.

٭Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Dover Publications: New York, 1994.

About Erin Miskell

Erin Miskell writes about movies and passes for normal in Upstate New York. An avid fan of inappropriate humor and schlock horror, you can find her rambling at www.thebackseatdriverreviews.com and @bsdriverreview on Twitter.

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