1 – Excalibur (1981)
“They made themselves God, and Christ has abandoned us!”
Perhaps my choice of number one occult movie will be a surprise to some readers of this blog, but nonetheless, John Boorman’s adaptation of Thomas Malory’s famous Morte d’Arthur stands head and shoulders above the rest of its class. Excalibur is so overflowing with symbolism, synchronicity and occult references that it’s difficult to truly do it justice in a short blog post such as this.
Boorman’s first and undoubtedly best decision was to abandon any attempt at historical accuracy and concentrate on the archetypal themes explored in this most famous of the chivalric romances. His second and even braver decision was to incorporate the music of Richard Wagner into the score. Thus Excalibur helps to re-establish one of Western art’s greatest triumphs in its true context by wrestling it away from the National Socialists who had so selfishly appropriated it for their own dark and desperate ends.
A stellar cast including Gabriel Byrne,
Patrick Stewart and Helen Mirren bring this timeless archetypal tale to life as each character struggles to find wisdom, bring peace and wreak vengeance in a world governed by the rules of blood, magic and honour.
What makes this film so very, very special is its endless attention to detail and the ever-deepening spirals of symbolism that can easily be lost on first, second or even third viewing. For example, the ever present and endlessly shifting symbolism of water is brilliantly exploited as both the sword and the young king rise from water. This idea or birth and rebirth is echoed later as Percival drowns and is yet saved, cleansed and reborn, emerging from depths to finally claim the Holy Grail which he has sought for so long. When considered in the light of Carl Jung’s remarkable work on the symbolic and psychological importance of water, this aspect alone can lead to many hours of thought, discussion and research.
Students of the tarot will delight in just how many of the Major Arcana are hidden in plain sight as the seekers of truth are hung from “the tree” while the exiled Lancelot is re-imagined as the embittered and yet hugely important hermit. The embittered hero re-imagines ancient rites of passage by throwing the blood of Christ into Percival’s face, before sending him on his journey to the mystical Grail castle. Indeed, cups are yet another theme that seems to radiate out from the archetypal Grail to echo and repeat through Arthur’s world.
Of course Lancelot is himself a walking, talking archetype in his own right, easily finding his place somewhere between Achilles and Darth Vader as the fallen hero at last redeemed through self-knowledge and ultimately self-sacrifice. The significance of his self-inflicted wound will not be lost on students of Christian mysticism either.
Indeed, so heavy is the harvest of hidden wisdom within this movie that an entire book would be required to explore it all fully and do it justice. Suffice to say that Excalibur is a story that evolves and develops just as the watcher evolves and develops. What was once thought settled and understood is suddenly seen through different eyes as the viewer brings his own history and knowledge to the experience of watching.
This movie is a truly timeless and archetypal work, and this is what sets it apart from its contemporaries and elevates it to the position of my all-time favourite occult movie.
Watch the re-imagined trailer by HiDef.com and enjoy what is undoubtedly one of the greatest stories ever told.