Conan the Barbarian

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Mike Kich, modified 10 Years ago.

Conan the Barbarian

Posts: 170 Join Date: 9/14/10 Recent Posts
I just fuckin' figured it out why I've watched this film for years on and off from my hard drive; I've always sort of known but it just randomly dawned on me what colossally amazing symbolism the movie contains at its core. Behind the crazy bad acting and campy scenes and such, is a powerful metaphor at work. Anyway, at the end of the movie Conan confronts Thulsa Doom atop the mountain of power as he addresses his cultists. As he approaches from behind him, Thulsa Doom turns and confronts Conan, and simply tells him that, without him, he would never have been; without him, he would have had no father. Thulsa Doom tells him, "When I am gone, you will have never been." After a few moments of stunning realization, Conan beheads him in front of his followers, and tosses his head down the steps irreverently to their shocked and appalled masses. The illusion of his power as a god dispelled, Thulsa Doom's followers slowly file by the reflecting pool and extinguish their torches, until only Conan remains, sitting on the steps contemplating what his entire life has been, and what purpose he has now that his family has at long last been avenged. He stands up, and as he does so King Osric's daughter, sitting facing him cross-legged, slowly arces her outraised arms downwards and towards each other, completing a reversed image of Thulsa Doom's old banner, that of two emerald serpents facing each other (but, as Conan points out without knowing the significance way earlier in the film, the two serpents are as one). As she bows before him, Conan hurls one of the many flaming braziers out onto the top of the temple complex, and gazes on as the mountain of power burns down before him. He then triumphantly leaves with Osric's daughter, having realized his life-long quest for vengeance and having come to terms successfully with his own being.

I had always previously read the ending in particular in sociological and psychological terms - striking down his father, toppling organized religion, a commentary on the woes of materialist culture (reference Thulsa Doom's speech to his followers before being killed) etc. This time, it finally struck home through my dumb head that it's, more than that, a massive metaphor for the spiritual quest and Enlightenment. From the very beginning of the film, when his family is struck down before his eyes when he is yet a child, Conan's character experiences loss and fundamental suffering. In his own way, he is forcibly shown the dissatisfactory nature of the world and has an experience very roughly analogous to the four sights beheld by Gautama preceding his quest for Enlightenment. In terms of the 4-path system, his family being slaughtered is roughly analogous to the Arising and Passing Away. The entirety of his childhood and part of his adult lifespan then becomes a profound quest. It's masked by all the surface details - revenge against Thulsa Doom, his training and upbringing, his quest for wealth and power as a thief - but these are all circumstantial things that he believes in, but which obscure the real goal of his quest. His real goal is a single-minded pursuit of what he believes will resolve his "quest". His real quest, down beneath all the other stuff, is Awakening. His life up until that point then, could maybe be called Dark Night territory. It is real and crucial, but after the movie's over seems in retrospect an elaborate and fantastical dream. The accidental discovery of the Atlantean Tomb early on is a surreal experience, though it's difficult to put into Buddhist terms what exactly that experience symbolically connotes. I like to believe it symbolizes his obtaining a powerful tool towards Awakening. He does not consider it in those terms, but the Atlantean blade is like Meditation; it comes from an old dead guy (wonder what else that's like) and points out by his regally clad skeleton clad yet in jade armor in the deep shadows of his tomb, essentially a reading of Ozymandias by Shelly. The path of a truly great king ends in the same result no matter his grandeur, but that's not to say it doesn't point out worthwhile truths along the way. Whatever the end result or the vagaries of the road there, the Atlantean Blade (Meditation) enables a conclusion. Even more so, the entire character of Conan is a study in the potential of sheer will towards a goal to accomplish great things. Thulsa Doom even comments to him earlier on about the power of his body, of his sword-arm, of his discipline, all of which he has forged for himself from nothing into something magnificent and capable through willpower, saying, "what a waste" in comment to Conan's obsession up until that point on mere revenge and such comparatively petty things. You could say these things coordinate to Concentration ability in the Buddhist tradition; the sword is nothing without the hand that wields it and decides its usage, but it enables the path of Insight culminating in Fruition. To add to this even more, Thulsa Doom demonstrates "the power of the flesh" (read: the will) to Conan before sending him the the Tree of Woe by seemingly pointlessly ordering one of his followers to jump from a ledge and cave in a roof with the power of his long fall. This is pointless on the surface but is a hint to Conan that what he has achieved thus far in his quest in terms of his physique and his skill has more meaning than petty motives. The Tree of Woe is the depths of the Dark Night territory, being utterly forsaken and lost but unable to move forwards or backwards.

When he finally confronts Thulsa Doom, only to hear, "When I am gone, you will have never been", Thulsa Doom is shown to him as more than simply what he represents psychologically or as a character driving the plot. Thulsa Doom is the entirety of his being, up until that point; Conan's entire Self and the concepts which underpin it have revolved around Thulsa Doom's existence and what it means to his own life. When Thulsa Doom's being is extinguished, so is Conan. In that moment, Conan attains his equivalent of Fruition. With the extinction of Doubt, Conan comes to his senses and carries out his quest, beheading Thulsa Doom, no longer affected by arguments intended to seed doubt about courses of action. Finally, his burning down of the temple on the Mountain of Power is his destruction of the importance of Rites and Rituals. Kings Osric's daughter forming the inverted crescent with her arms is a metaphor for the circle being complete; where before Conan had sought for the banner of the twin serpents facing each other, but being as one (and not understanding the significance of that), he now understands form and emptiness, oneness and duality in the symbol of the banner. In every way, from his banner to his character itself, Thulsa Doom turns out to be Conan's greatest vehicle towards Awakening, despite being conceived of as his greatest enemy. This is analogous to the necessity of facing suffering head-on in order to come to an understanding of it. Now being complete and finished, Conan strides off into the valley below with King Osric's daughter in hand (also adding in a nice psychological metaphor for the joining of the sexes equating to Oneness/Completion of Being).

It's absolutely bonkers amazing shit, and it's the meaning which distinguishes this film from Conan the Destroyer, which truly is a heap of garbage.
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Bruno Loff, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Conan the Barbarian

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
If you haven't already seen them, I absolutely recommend Alejandro Jodorowsky's The holy mountain (1973), and El topo (1970). Cinema doesn't get much more mystical than that.

Three films that are deeply mystical, and show off gorgeous cinematography of the highest calibre, are Andrey Tarkovski's Stalker (1979), The sacrifice (1986) and Solaris (1972, stay away from the remake). No other cinematographer I know can so brilliantly convey the deep mysterious anxiety of being lost in the dream-like existence of "being someone." I remember my hair used to stand on end when watching his films (as in the hair in the back of my neck would actually move).
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Mike Kich, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Conan the Barbarian

Posts: 170 Join Date: 9/14/10 Recent Posts
I haven't actually seen any of those except for the 2002 remake of Solaris emoticon

I'll have to check out especially all three of the Tarkovski films to see at last what everyone's been referencing. Did you dislike George Clooney in the remake, or? I've read that the Tarkovski films came out roughly as a response to Kubrick's 2001, which is highly mystical in its own way (though more trippy oftentimes than anything).

Have you seen The Razor's Edge (the 1982 version) with Bill Murray? It's very romanticized but it's always struck a chord with me.
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Bruno Loff, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Conan the Barbarian

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Hey I haven't, I'll check it out sometime.

2002 solaris is just a space flick. 1972 solaris (or any of the listed Tarkovsky's) is a plunge into the human psyche. The fear of the vast unknown, the scary and the bizarre, the memory of a lost lover, death by mystic union...

The Jodorowsky films are more psychedelic-path-to-enlightenment themed. The hero, the quest, the renunciation of identity, the nice fractal patterns and vivid fantasies of mystical witchcraft rituals, "it's all an illusion," and so on...
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Jacob Henry St. Onge Casavant, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Conan the Barbarian

Posts: 698 Join Date: 5/22/10 Recent Posts
I've yet to find a copy of the '72 solaris to rent anywhere I've lived and have been on the lookout for several years. Finally I downloaded a copy earlier this summer which was supposed to have English subtitles-- but didn't. Yet it was so visually amazing, paced in such an affecting manner, that I actually watched about fifteen minutes (and I don't know a lick of Russian), totally enthralled. Can't wait to watch it with subs one day!

I've always found Terry Gilliam's movies to push those mystical buttons too, although in a more comical way usually.
-Jake

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