3 Stars – Insightful
Presenting the spiritual journey allegorically is difficult to do. From Pilgrim’s Progress written by John Bunyan in the 17th century to Pilgrim’s Regress written by C.S. Lewis in the 20th century, we now add Masterless, the 21st century film version written and directed by Craig Shimahara. Similar to those of written form, this cinematic allegory is both obvious and yet enlightening. Using the concept of doppleganger twin in the spiritual world, Shimahara also uses the concept of a rōnin, a samurai with no lord of master during the feudal period (1184-1868) of Japan. Thus as we watch the actual life of Kane Madison (Adam LaVorgna) we see interlaced the allegorical journey of his doppleganger rōnin in the spirit world.
The tale is a simple one on both levels. A child of Christian missionaries, Madison has rejected their faith and placed his hope in the world of commerce. A brash young architect, Madison is on the verge of breaking through when he is laid off from his work. Entering into a month of depression he is confronted with the two directions his life journey can now take, a life with or without God. His wife played by Kaho Minami presents his life with God and his wife’s mother played by Okiko Saito presents the life without God. At the same moment, within the mirrored battle depicted in the spiritual world, Madison’s rōnin meets the Dark Lord who wants to become his master. Sensing deeply that he does not want to join with darkness and reject God, Madison begins to study Scripture while his rōnin receives a special sword from a mysterious older teacher. This symbolic receipt of a sword allows us to see visually the spiritual battle that the truth of scripture is on his journey toward faith in God.
Though we won’t spoil the journey and its several distractions and temptations depicted both in the physical and spiritual realms, the allegorical partnership works. Like Madison, we all live at multiple levels, those we can see with our eyes and those we cannot. Both are very real but to present things unseen on the screen requires an imaginative acceptance of the allegory. Not everyone will do so, but for those who will there are some helpful reminders that the path is not easy but we are not alone.
In both the physical and spiritual realms, if we will risk the adventure we will see more than we can ever imagine as we find what we seek. Since we are not, as Teilhard de Chardin notes in his theology, “human beings having a spiritual experience” but “spiritual beings having a human experience”, the journey toward faith is the only journey that reaches the depth of who we are and is therefore the only journey worth taking.
- Did the rōnin, the ancient samurai warrior, work as an analogy for you? If you were to attempt to visualize your spiritual battle what analogical representations would you use?
- The seductive temptation of the garden and its intoxicating fruit almost destroyed Madison. How do such temptations and seductions come in your own life?
- The fool (Yutaka Takeuchi) eventually reveals himself to be Madison’s own doubts. Do you find your own mind to be your hardest spiritual battle or your most faithful companion? How do you deal with intellectual questions? What is your hardest spiritual battle?