Faith, individuals and the focus of the Insight Film Festival

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We are delighted to welcome Lexi (Ting Wang) to the Insight team. She works with us in Manchester, England and is fresh from China, so it seemed like a good idea to ask her for some initial thoughts on Insight’s theme. This is what she has to say …

Rand; Fountainhead

Watching some films from previous Insight Film Festivals, I noticed how different movies reflect various definitions of ‘faith’. Some look at religious beliefs, others at attitudes towards life. Some are positive about faith, others display it as a negative. There is no clear definition of this central focus of Insight’s theme, and here I’m discussing my own understanding of the subject.

Faith case study: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

I read a book several years ago, called The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, a famous American right-wing writer. The hero, Howard, is very egotistic. Rand admits that she tried to shape Howard as a ‘perfect man’, but the perfection is nothing to do with his characteristics – he is not handsome and his temperament can be said to be frosty. He is perfect in the sense that every time he has to make a choice between his own principles and other peoples, he always chooses his own:

➤ He would not have been expelled from school if he…;
➤ He would not have become a quarryman, if he…;
➤ He would not have been prosecuted, if he…;
➤ He would not have lost a huge sum of money, if he….

When he faced up to his principal, his peers, customers, critics, capitalists, and even in court, when he was standing in the dock, he chose himself. In Rand’s world, success has nothing to do with fame or money. Success is a person who defends his or her own integrity in life.

When explaining her philosophical concepts, Rand pointed out that morality can be only established on the basis of individual rationality and so should not be on the basis of any religions, emotions, societies, nations, classes, or any forms of collectivity. From her perspective, religions, democracies, welfare states or any political ‘isms’ are trying to bury the doctrine of individual freedom, and thus to destroy the essence of ‘for man why stays man’. Rand also argued that the reason why the spirit of capitalism is worthy to be praised is that capitalism insists on the human spirit, championing the ‘existence’ of individuals. This kind of individualistic ‘faith’ may be somewhat selfish, but it maximises the creativity of human agency.

In the film industry, some movies may also demonstrate similar values. This may not seem entirely healthy as they may be said to be lacking moral sensibility. On the other hand, respecting diverse interpretations of faith, and encouraging people to express their perspective on ‘faith’ freely, is what the Insight Film Festival has been advocating since it was established in 2007. I really admire this ethos.

Faith case study: And the Spring Comes, a Chinese film by Gu Changwei

Howard reminds me of Wang Tsai-ling, the heroine of the Chinese film And the Spring Comes. Such two seemingly unrelated characters are like the cousins at a spiritual level​​. Tsai-ling, a music teacher in a remote county school in contemporary China, believes devoutly in her own talent of singing, just as Howard believes in his talent in architecture. She could have been like any other married female townie who lives in ‘a life of dullness, of drab, unvarying monotony’. But, instead, she sits in her small shack, singing Italian opera every day.

But fate guides these two related characters in completely different directions: Howard eventually builds a skyscraper as his top achievement; while Tsai-ling quietly grows older and lonelier in the small and inconspicuous county, due to her ugly physical appearance, her lack of resources and local ignorance of her talents.

I think the director of And the Spring Comes, Gu Changwei, may have an obsession with the ‘small town mentality’. He seems enthusiastic about the contradictory relationship between ‘small places’ and ‘dreams’. Perhaps the ‘faith to dream’ is not simply about ‘happiness’ or ‘pain’ in the context of a rural town, but rather it is a ‘pain’ that may become something truly bitter: you may live with ‘faith’ in a dream that might not come true – you may remain forever in an unknown place until you die, still unknown to the world.

One impressive scene is on a train, where Tsai-ling says: ‘Every year when spring comes, it doesn’t actually mean anything. But even so, I feel like something big happening and my heart is constantly ready for something. But once spring is over, and nothing at all has happened. I feel disappointed as if I have missed out on something.’

And the Spring Comes is a sad story. But I think a life of faith is better than facing each day without hope. Even if Tsai-ling’s life can be seen as tragic, in my mind she is still a giant of a character. She has a powerful strength to pursue her dream, devoting herself daily to changing her own destiny – perhaps this is the essence of her faith. Such thwarted ambition is full of pathos but is not pathetic.

There are so many faiths in this world. We can never judge whether they are good or bad, right or wrong. We just need to know that faith is something that supports a person to live out their life. If we had more compassion and understanding – and less judging – when we consider the faiths that other people follow, would the world become a simpler place?

Product links: The Fountainhead (UK only)

Book: Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (2007), Penguin Modern Classics, paperback

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Insight’s guest blogger policy

The Insight Film Festival publishes articles to our blog from guest bloggers on an ad hoc basis. The Festival is delighted to publish a range of views on the themes of film and faith, but the personal views expressed in such blog articles do not reflect the views and opinions of the Insight Film Festival itself, which is an organisation that comprises individuals of many different faiths and none, all of whom have their own personal views and opinions on films, faith and other subjects.