Only God Forgives

Universally Condemned

In early 2013, speculation on a new film by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn featuring Ryan Gosling generated great anticipation amongst film critics and indie/art film enthusiasts. Their previous collaboration, Drive, was an instant success, and Gosling’s involvement suggested that the new film would be its spiritual sequel. Whilst some even suggested the coming of Drive 2, it turned out that Refn had something entirely different in mind. When the film was eventually unveiled at Cannes, it caused intense outrage. It not only betrayed the expectations shared by the audience and critics, but also offended them in such a way that they felt positively violated by Refn and Gosling’s second collaboration. The initial hostility which met Refn at the first screening was soon followed by universal condemnation.

It is fascinating to note the way in which this film was criticised. It was decried for its graphic violence. It was condemned for being ‘stylistically indulgent’. Ironically these are the very attributes that garnered his preceding work worldwide praise. Refn is known for his stylistically sophisticated display of violence, and he did nothing to betray his reputation in Only God Forgives. Neither Drive nor Valhalla Rising are typical weekend films; both challenge the convention of commercial films and strongly assert the director’s vision. This is the reason why they are so highly regarded amongst film critics and actors (It was Ryan Gosling who literally picked Refn as the director for Drive, and, in her own admission, Carey Mulligan had a wish to work with Refn for quite some time before joining Gosling and Oscar Isaac for the same feature). Only God Forgives has shown a great step forward in this regard by producing a film that pushes the boundary of cinematic convention. So why has the latest collaboration of Refn and Gosling singularly managed to invite such strong emotional reactions against it? To address this question fully, we must start by considering what the detractors’ complaints are. In this way, not only are we able to understand what exactly disturbed the audience to such an extent, but also we can uncover the essence of this great film in the process.

 

A Dream, Not A Make-Believe

Almost every critic finds Only God Forgives too slow and stylistically too self-conscious. As a result, they complain, violence in this film feels completely ‘unrealistic’. Interestingly, the same viewers also find the cinematic violence in Only God Forgives to be exceedingly graphic and unsettling. Whilst these characteristics are common with his earlier works such as Drive and Valhalla Rising, and thus its detractors appear to be hopelessly confused, there is one attribute which separates Only God Forgives from its predecessors. Once we grasp what makes it so different from its predecessors, we have a better understanding of what the director tries to accomplish with Only God Forgives. Only then, are we in a position to properly assess this work.

Firstly, we must note: This film lacks realism and it is deeply disturbing at the same time. Then, we must question: Is it able to have such an intense affective effect on viewers despite it being unrealistic, or because of it? The answer to this question is found in the unique characteristic of this movie. Otherwise, we cannot explain why this movie alone attracts such strong condemnation.

The key feature of Only God Forgives is its uncompromising anti-realism. Refn rejects all pretence of realism in this film, and, as a result, the movie transforms itself into a dream, whose effect lasts far longer than one’s comfort. The protagonist of the story, Julian (Gosling), seems to have a sixth sense, and he constantly experiences prophetic visions which also express the psyche of this tortured character. Julian’s perspective moves seamlessly between fantasy and ‘reality’ in that the audience, like Julian, soon loses the sight of the boundary between them. The film consists of a series of aesthetically impeccable, yet strikingly disjointed sequences. For example, in a scene where the police visit Julian, the first cut of the scene is shot in day time, and, for no apparent reason, the next cut is taken at night. In the next scene, Julian follows Chang (Vitaya Pansringarm) into the street. This scene follows a cut where Julian sees police leaving his premise. It appears late, perhaps close to midnight. This cut is followed by a shot of Chang, alone in a deserted square in the dead of the night, standing as if to anticipate Julian’s arrival. Then, suddenly, the following scene shows Julian stalking Chang in the bustling street of Bangkok during the busiest evening hour. Remarkably, the force of Refn’s cinematography is such that it takes a few viewings to become conscious of these details, because, despite its strangeness, the entire sequence flows naturally. This is only a sampling of the sequences that reflect Refn’s method, which is consistently employed throughout the film. This means one thing; Refn directed this film to be a dream. When dreaming, a dreamer rarely becomes conscious of the absurdity of one’s experience. In fact, it feels more natural and real than anything we experience in an awakened state. At the same time, a dream defies our normal spatiotemporal order, and thus, whilst intensely absorbing, it always leaves us confused. Thus, in Only God Forgives, Refn wanted to see us plunging into the subconscious of Julian. And, judging from the reactions of critics and the audience, his strategy pays dividends in a spectacular manner, with what must be considered the most absorbing performance by Gosling in his carrier. (I am quite sure that Refn does not mind negative reactions at all so long as they are emotionally charged. I suspect that he loves to soak up the heat directed at him. That being acknowledged, I do not think Refn is merely seeking to cause a scene; his method and attitude have consistency. More of this on another occasion.) The strangeness of this movie has haunted the viewers in exactly the same way an intense dreaming does.

Only God Forgives is a dream of the main protagonist, Julian, to be dreamed by the viewers. It is a deeply troubled state which is filled with fear, angst, and remorse, a darkness from which we never fully return to the safety of daylight. Judging by the reactions of the viewers, the audience does not feel separated from Julian’s dream in any way. This is a rare, unique, and incredible achievement of Only God Forgives. Whilst both Drive and Valhalla feature dreamlike scenes, it is still clear that they are about real events in the context of the respective stories; the effects such as slow motion, long shot, and drawn out music are used to draw the viewers into the protagonists’ perspective for the duration of these sequences. Refn is a master of breaking down the barrier between the subjective perspective of the characters and that of the viewers by drawing the viewers into the film, rather than imposing a clearly defined, objective perspective of a story upon them. In Only God Forgives, however, the Dane went even further; Refn composed the entire movie as a nightmare to be lived through while awake by ridding the boundary between the conscious state and unconscious state of the protagonist, Julian. And it is to this strange state within which the viewers are to be confined. Refn’s direction is absolutely flawless in that the movie produced an intensely immersive and deeply unsettling experience in a way which only the very worst nightmare can.

Therefore, the answer to the aforementioned question is clear: Only God Forgives excels because of its anti-realism. It is to Refn’s credit that he categorically rejected all pretence of realism on this occasion. Conventional films generally aim to offer ‘good viewing experience’. The directors of these films chiefly achieve this aim by doing their best to create make-believe. Make-believe is the primary goal of commonly accepted modes of storytelling wherein an author presents the events and the characters of a given story as ‘real’ events and ‘real’ characters. Within a given parameter of a story, the audience is expected to accept the events and the characters of a story to be ‘real’, no matter how ridiculous they may be. For example, in a film that features ‘super-heroes’ and ‘super-villains’, viewers are expected to accept the premise of the story in its entirety, and believe that the supernatural powers these characters are supposed to possess are real. Whilst this mode of storytelling is the main stay of commercial films and literature, and it is certainly dominant, it creates many practical problems.

Firstly, this mode of storytelling tends to spawn exceedingly crude stories which in turn fosters an excessively juvenile world-view in the audience. Once viewers accept the premise of a given story, no matter how silly, everything happens in it must be accepted as real. For example, once viewers accept the premise of a story which depicts some people as evil, they must be ready to agree that these ‘bad guys’ must be destroyed by ‘good guys’, whose perspective incidentally carries the entire narrative. Because this mode of storytelling presupposes, rather than explicitly seeks, the consent of the audience, the authors can enjoy disproportionate degree of freedom in constructing their visions.

This point brings us to the second one: This mode of storytelling imposes the authors’ visions upon the audience. And thus, this mode of storytelling is a double-edged sword; in the hand of a visionary, a given story can offer a rich and profound cinematic experience which is intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally illuminating. The potential problem with this mode of storytelling is that one cannot question the premise of the story. One can reject the premise of the story, to be sure. Yet, to reject the premise of a given story means that one is no longer the audience of the said story. Thus, to be an audience of a given story, one must first accept the premise of the story in its entirety. Once one agrees to it, the audience’s choices are limited: one can either surrender oneself to the authority of the author, or one engages with an internal critique of a given story. Whilst this is not a problem per se from a theoretical point of view, it poses a practical one. (One theoretical problem would be: A make-believe is constrained by various degrees of realism, or naturalism, and thus, it is far less authentic compared to a dreamlike cinematic expressions. This point cannot be too generalised; a dreamlike cinema is rarely successful, and thus, one cannot assert that this is a better mode for cinematic art. All we can say is: This mode offers a possibility to create an authentic cinematic experience in the hands of greats.) Since most audiences are expecting to be merely entertained, the chances are that the majority of them would consume whatever the author chose to tell. And this point brings us to the final problem.

The problem with this state of affairs is that, since most films are commercial films, the authors are generally not interested in imposing original visions; they are only interested in making a story ‘realistic’, and they try to achieve this aim by recycling widely accepted clichés without questioning them. For make-believe to have a desired effect on the audience, the story must be ‘believable’. In order to make a story believable, filmmakers starts with a certain abstract premise, and construct characters and a plot (full of twists) around it in order to make everything on the screen believable. The result is a film without real feelings or insights of the authors. Or, if the director has one, he or she fails to express it in an authentic way by following this praxis. (Alex Garland's Ex Machina is a great example of this type of film; full of ideas that are worth discussing, yet one can never be sure where the author really stands.) And thus, despite that the authors have great liberty in expressing their visions and imposing them onto the audience, they are generally not interested in doing so. Their focus is thus entirely on technical aspects of storytelling in order to eliminate anything that might hinder their effort to make stories believable. A story must be driven by believable characters and plots, and progress accordingly on a linear temporal order from an 'objective' point of view. As for the content of the story, they simply follow the rule of propaganda described by William S. Burroughs: Tell what they want to hear; whatever it is, they will believe it. And thus, make-believe in many films is a hollow practice; it does not tell us anything illuminating about ourselves or about the world as the author understands it. As a result, the films which follows the laws of make-believe can present only artificial experience which fails to invoke any real experience of life in the viewers.

It is this praxis Refn categorically rejects in Only God Forgives. By rejecting all pretence of ‘realism’, Refn creates a cinematic experience which is far more intense, unsettling, and illuminating. There are a few reasons for his success. Firstly, it is his superb direction. Refn mixes both subtle and jarring juxtapositions in many sequences in that the entire film becomes a haunting dream of our own. Secondly, Refn was gifted with a great team. Cliff Martinez' haunting score enriched the cinematic experience of this unusual film. The cast is simply splendid. Ryan Gosling offers his most phenomenal performance, and his counterpart, Vithaya Pansringarm is a revelation. Kristin Scott Thomas is on top of her game, and there are many Thai actors who offer memorable performance despite their limited screen time. Yet, ultimately, it is Refn who must take full credit. It is a mark of a maestro that Only God Forgives is not a dream to be forgotten. It disturbed critics enough to spill ink in agitation and confusion. Love it or hate it, one cannot remain indifferent to what this nightmare stirs in our soul.

 

Fear And Trembling

We have been investigating why Only God Forgives is so effective in arousing intense emotional reactions from the audience. We have been focusing on the aesthetics of Refn’s latest feature, and the conclusion so far is: It is Refn’s uncompromising anti-realism which turned this movie into a deeply unsettling nightmare for its audience. His cinematographic sophistication is such that viewers are completely immersed in a dream of Julian's, which soon becomes their own. It is a significant accomplishment on Refn’s part that he managed to break down the barrier between the perspective of the protagonist and that of the viewers. Whilst this summary might satisfy some readers, it is clear that this is merely half the story; we must also investigate the content of the dream itself to fully understand the nature of Refn’s project and its scope. In order to start this process, it is useful to ask: Why does this particular dream represented onscreen upset the audience to such a degree?

To answer the question above, we must first realise which features make the audience most unhappy. Fortunately, there is a clear pattern emerging from the film reviews available online.

The character who attracts the most intense negativity is undoubtedly Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). He is a peculiar character who is nothing short of the God of Vengeance from the Old Testament. He is revered by the Thai police force, yet his action is not constrained by the common law. He unfailingly comes for sinners and delivers the justice they deserve, yet his judgment is both absolute and perplexing. At one scene, Chang first allows the father of a homicide victim, Choi Yan Lee (Kovit Wattanakul), to avenge her death by killing the rapist (Tom Burke). Then, drawing a sword from thin air, he cuts off Lee’s arm, stating that the punishment is neither for Lee’s revenge killing, nor for his negligence of the dead daughter; it is for Lee to remember his duty for his remaining three daughters, referring to the fact that Lee made his daughter work as a prostitute. Whilst Chang is right about Lee’s failures, it is unclear how the punishment is proportionate to Lee’s sin. In another scene, Chang slays the chief accomplice of the hit that targeted Chang and police, yet he spares the mastermind. Thus, it is clear that his justice is not that of a legal nature; it is purely ethical. And this makes him truly terrifying, for there is no loophole or protection from this kind of judgment. Like God of the Old Testament, he can be both cruel and kind.

This is probably the most hated character of this film, despite being on the side of justice. It appears that the audience has a particularly hard time accepting this character as who Refn intended to be: God. To understand the reason why, it is important to remind ourselves that the majority of the film critics and audience are from the West. The power to determine a film’s market worth resides primarily in the US market, and also in the European market. Case in point: I have not yet read a single review from Thailand where the film was shot and some of the main cast hailed from, and the reviews I read online are entirely Western. (There is a hint that the reception of the film is region-specific; both Parsringarm and Rhatha Phongam appear in a Japanese film, Lupin III, which is partially set in Thailand. The fact that they are asked to appear in a Japanese film suggests that the film is more favourably received in Japan. Still, the Western influence retains its universal status due to its dominance of the market and media.) Reminding ourselves of this fact helps us to tease out what the real issues are regarding the negative reactions by the audience and critics: they simply cannot accept Chang as the Absolute, because he does not look like one.

Chang is a mild-mannered, middle-aged, clean- shaved Asian with no sign of exaggerated masculinity. Thus, there is no way for the majority of the Western viewers to accept him as an Absolute. This leads to another problem: Chang does not look like a man who can beat a stud like Julian, or Gosling for that matter, yet he manages to do just that without breaking a sweat. Julian played by Gosling is young, exceedingly fit, and an owner of Muay Thai studio by day, and the feared and respected member of Bangkok’s criminal underworld. Despite his occupation and disposition, Julian fits perfectly to the Western ideal of masculinity due to his physical appearance: young, handsome, fit, and white. Since the audience already decided to reject Chang as God, it is harder still for them to watch him haplessly beaten to a pulp by a little ‘yellow nigger’ (as referred by Crystal, Julian’s mother played by Kristin Scott Thomas). If Chang was played by someone like Bruce Lee, Jet Lee, or Mifune, there should be no problem on the audience’s part; they may not be white, yet they represent masculinity in their own exotic ways. A role of a Kung Fu master or a samurai warrior should serve the Orientalism of the Western Geist better; an ordinary looking middle-aged Asian fellow playing God is plain absurd. For the Western audience, an ordinary Asian cannot beat a model of masculinity represented by a Hollywood star, that is, an exceedingly fit white male. Therefore, the story told by Only God Forgives is not believable to them. Since Chang is not God, he must demonstrate some other means to overcome the supposed superiority of Western masculinity. If there is any doubt that racial stereotypes and the ideology which support it is playing a key role here, consider Refn’s statement.

 

‘The character of One Eye (from Valhalla Rising) went into Drive then went into a Thai police lieutenant. They’re the same character played by three different actors … a mythological creature with a mysterious past but cannot relate to reality because he’s heightened and he’s a pure fetish.’ (An interview of Refn conducted by Helen Barlow for sbs.com.au)
 

One character played by three different actors, and the only one who gets no love is an ordinary looking non-white man. Realising this problem points us to the true fear and angst of the Western audience.

Judging by the audience’s reaction, the problem is not only the believability of Chang as a character. It is the fear that stirs the angst of the Western audience in the shape of Chang. And that fear haunts Julian first, and then Crystal. In the early part of the film, Julian fears Chang; he knows Chang is coming after him, and is terrified by the demand for the retribution of his sins. Despite his life as a force of the Bangkok underworld, Julian has a spiritual side to him, and eventually, as he dances with this fear, he comes to the point where he manifests a desire to challenge Chang under a fair condition. Whilst Julian is beaten down without landing a single blow to Chang, after the beating, he seems to be liberated from his fear to a certain degree. He acknowledges his defeat, recognises Chang as Absolute, and makes a slow and muddled step toward his redemption by eventually accepting the atonement to his sins. Julian supposedly murdered his own father before coming to Thailand. He is a linchpin of a drag operation in Bangkok, runs rigged boxing games, thereby exploiting the locals by means of money, drugs, and violence. Although he is merely a tool for his mother, Crystal, it is clear that he is a criminal as well as a sinner, and he knows it. This is the reason why Julian fears and longs to confront Chang; like every sinner in a Dostoevskian sense, Julian’s existence has one end only; to attain possible redemption by means of an atonement. Yet, critics and the audience deplored the perceived meekness and the passivity of Julian. He was supposed to be the strong one. As everyone expected the return of the driver, who is silent, dangerous, yet good, witnessing the utter and complete submission of an ideal Western male to Chang (a non-white male), to his mother (a white woman), and to his girlfriend (a non-white woman) is something the Western audience cannot accept.

As for Crystal, her attitude concerning Chang runs a reverse course to Julian’s. She comes to Bangkok to observe the murder of Chang. She is the head of a criminal organisation there, and she scoffs at Chang by calling him ‘yellow nigger’. She expects her minions to ‘get the job done’ without a hustle. After all, she has power and money to do whatever she desires in this far away land. Bangkok is just one of her ‘territories’, and her imperial attitude is evident from how she interacts with anyone from this land. Incidentally, Crystal is the most loved character amongst film critics. They praise Scott Thomas’ performance and lament her limited screen time. They are particularly happy about the entitlement Crystal embodies when she forces the hotel to bend over and check her in hours earlier than the policy dictates. Whilst Scott Thomas delivers a breathtaking performance, as we should expect from her in every occasion, it tells us a lot about the audience by noting the fact that her role, Crystal, inspired universal praise as a film character. She is rich, powerful, entitled, and impossibly amoral. She is a contemporary representative of neo-colonialism. For her, there is nothing she cannot achieve by exploiting the locals by means of drugs, money, and brute force. Or, so she thought. Witnessing how Chang completely outclassed Julian, and realising who Chang really is, Crystal becomes desperate with fear. She admits to Julian that she ‘screwed up and now she is gonna pay’, when she makes a last ditch effort to make Julian kill Chang. She promises Julian that he can return home with her upon the success of the operation, a promise which she has no intention to keep.

Thus, by examining these two characters who confront Chang, it becomes clear what kind of fear and angst Julian and Crystal enact in this movie. It is the fear and angst of the Western Geist that no amount of money and force is enough to keep the reckoning at bay. Chang represents the deliverer of judgment from whom one seeks to escape by any means possible. One can conclude thus that Only God Forgives is a fearful dream born out of the angst of Western Geist, which itself is the legacy of its colonial and imperial past, and the reflection of a troubling present. For such a spirit, Chang is a particularly fearsome figure, because he is incorruptible by drugs, sex, money, and/or power. He cannot be bought or bent; as Wittgenstein observed, ethical judgment is absolute, and that absoluteness is what Chang represents as a character in this dream. One might dodge legal justice by gaming the system, yet the justice Chang seeks is inescapable. And thus, Only God Forgives is the worst nightmare of the Western Geist; a mere thought that Chang is personally coming after me triggers anger at first, then inspires fear and trembling, because we know full well that we have blood on our hands. It is clear now that Only God Forgives not only challenges cinematic convention by aesthetic means; it challenges the culture from which it was born, that is, the entitlement of the Western Geist by confronting our grave sins and exposing our worst fear. Therefore, Refn’s latest work should be hailed as a very important work considering his sensibility, the scope of the film, and the risk he has taken. It is a masterpiece realised by a great cast, superb direction, and a unique cinematic vision.

 

What Should We Truly Fear

Whilst Only God Forgives shows us what the worst fear of Western Geist is, that is, the retribution of our sins of our colonial past and the predatory present, there is something else we should fear: our reaction to the revelation of this terrific film. I am not too concerned about the condemnation of this movie itself. Since Refn and his latest work seek to present something about which one wishes to be in denial, it is almost natural that the majority of his targeted audience would resist the call, like Julian initially did. Instead of listening to what his unconscious tells him, he just wanted to fight Chang. Rather, I am worried about the way in which it was condemned, for it tells us something about the unconscious choices we will make in the future. 

Firstly, judging from the way the majority of significant characters from Thailand are treated, the sense of entitlement the West holds is much harder to overcome than we might have hoped. None has spared any space to pay a deserving tribute to the performance of actors from Thailand, where the story is set and unfolds. It is as if we completely forget that these are very fine actors, and we treat them as non-actors, that is, someone akin to local extras. I found this attitude prevalent in the media and film industry troubling, especially when many of them have done their parts splendidly. Vithaya Pansringarm’s performance as God of Vengeance is an instant classic. He embodied the complexity of this character so well in that Chang manages to avoid being a one-dimensional character in a manner of, say, Anton Chigurh (a psycho killer performed by Javier Bardem for Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men. It was brilliantly performed, and, admittedly, a necessary character for the given story. Still, it is a one-dimensional character, as it is intended). He must be both feared and loved, for his compassion for the human condition runs as deep as his rage against the injustice humans commit. Pansringarm’s interpretation of Chang makes him someone who chiefly seeks the redemption of sinners through the atonement of one’s sins, rather than merely delivering the retributions. Conveying this much into a character such as this shows his mettle as a serious actor. He must be praised for making Chang one of the most iconic characters in the history of film.

Rhatha Phongam also deserves great respect from the audience. Her character, Mai, speaks as little as Julian, yet Phongam manages to embody a varying range of emotions skilfully without explaining them. This is a very difficult thing to accomplish. Often actors focus too much on making characters believable in that they eliminate the sense of mystery about the persons they are portraying. The Mai she portrayed maintains an opaqueness in a sense that we realise her agency with all the ambiguity that comes with it. She is far more dignified than the most in this film, and the way Phongam sculpted this character is absolutely stunning: Mai, as any human being, embodies thoughts and emotions that are complicated, and oft undefined, and Phongam expresses them in such a way that they cannot be reduced to her speech and actions. Whilst Phongam is gifted with physical beauty, it is this sense of mystery as an agent that makes her character so memorable. And all of this is achieved despite her attractive appearance. It is a great accomplishment as an actor, and she deserves praise for her achievement.

There are many more great performances from actors who were not yet mentioned. Sahajak Boonthanakit (Colonel Kim) portrayed a true believer of Chang despite his place in the police force with an unforgettable touch of humanity. Kim, in his hand, is not a mere fanatic; he loves and fears Chang, and he feels sorry for sinners as much as he hates them. The dilemma of attempting to deliver justice as a human being was displayed in full thanks to Boonthanakit’s sensitive performance. Danai Thiengdham (Li Po, the mastermind of the hit targeting Chang), despite the lack of screen time, also impresses. The way he conducted his scene with Chang is so illuminating that he helps us understand the fundamental theme of this film. There are a few more memorable performances from Thai actors. In this context, Refn’s latest deserves a special applause; it is one of the very few films which adopted the perspective of the Other as much as the Western one. Chang is as important as Julian, and Refn, with the help of a great actor, was able to portray this character in full. Refn’s commendable determination to make this film an experience of a different culture shines through every detail of the film. Aside from the almost obligatory glitter of night life, there is also a serene beauty of elevated spirituality rarely seen in films featuring Bangkok in this movie. Sadly, these virtues have gone unnoticed.

Secondly, the way Refn was punished for this film, not only by critics who work within the film industry and the media, but also by the general audience, is something with which we should be deeply concerned. Whilst it is true that Refn dared to challenge the Geist he belongs to, and thus he should have expected some backlash, it is worrying that the audience simply refused to see what the movie was conveying to them. Only God Forgives, just like Valhalla Rising, is not about violence and its stylistic presentation. Rather, it is a critique of violence in a very specific sense. Whilst the human world is saturated with violence of all kind, violence, or rather Gewalt (Force, or Violence), as Walter Benjamin understood, is transcendental; we humans are not entitled to it in any way. Therefore, any use of force, especially violence, cannot be fully justified, regardless of justifications (e.g., legal, religious, moral) we tend to come up with. Therefore, justice in an absolute sense always remains perplexing to human reason, and we are not in a position in any way to pretend that we have possession of absolute justice. 'God' is on no one's side, so to speak. As Wittgenstein understood, the human paradox is that, despite our inability to grasp ethics as an absolute concept, ethics (and aesthetics) is the only subject that truly matters. And this struggle has been one of the central themes of Refn’s work despite what the director says in public. Therefore, the way in which the message of this film was ignored and effectively silenced shows us that we should be deeply concerned about the way of our world.

In short, the secular, materialist, capitalist world we inhabit has become as dominant, self-indulgent, and self-destructive as ever. It was supposed to liberate us from its counterpart, that is, religious dogmatism, yet what we see today is the steady increase of cruelty from both sides. And this is something we should truly fear. In order to overcome this state of affairs, we must begin by doing some serious soul searching ourselves, before blaming our oppositions. Thus, we must be ready for embracing the visit from Chang, rather than running away from it.