By: Jay Dyer
In a long line of odd kids’ movies from the 80s we’ve detailed, an important missing piece from the to-do list has been Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits. I grew up with this film, but was always a little creeped out by the film’s overall philosophy – even before I knew anything about philosophy. The rather satirical ending always seemed inexplicable, but in this analysis we will attempt to probe its true meaning. Like other Gilliam films, we see consistent patterns such as Zero Theorum, Brazil or 12 Monkeys where fantasy and reality collide, dystopian modernity crushes us with its vacuous inanity and consumerism, and climaxes that are often left open.
To understand the film, I think we need look no further than Masonry. I recall seeing an old interview once with the Monty Python members, and the “philosophy” of the troupe was explained to be more or less masonic, according to John Cleese. Given the comedic presentations of Life of Bryan and Holy Grail, this would seem to follow logically – the kind of Jesus presented and taught in the West is quite comical. That is not to say Masonry is justified, but rather the logic of the western abandonment of Christian dogma inevitably leads to a gigantic megachurch circus turned atheism factory.
Form this vantage, we can see why the faux-freedom revolution of the light of reason Masonry sells to its outer portico members is appealing. “Science” has given iPhones and Darwin, while religion is all dogma and superstition used to exploit mankind. The tired, old myths of Voltaire and Kant never seem to die, yet it is precisely that ethos that gave rise to Masonry, and its is natural in that context the arts would come to reflect this position – both organically from the mass acceptance of unexamined Enlightenment presuppositions, as well as by state-funded propaganda means. This is the setting for many Gilliam films – even The Adventures of Baron Von Muchausen – the world we inhabit is the failed, abortion-creation of an evil tyrant demiurge who is the model for the pantopticon surveillance grid (both 12 Monkeys and Brazil bear this out).
I am sure you tire of me constantly mentioning gnosticism, but this is the perennial teaching of these pseudo-esoteric societies, cults and false religions. Whether you examine Plato or ancient Egypt, whether the systems are ultimately dualistic or monistic, these are the only two options. Quite literally – all philosophies and religions outside the Orthodox conception dissolve into monism. Some might pretend to a kind of eternal dualism, but these also can collapse into monism due to the eternal necessity that develops as a result of saying the opposing forces are co-eternal and thus co-necessary. Therefore evil becomes the ground by which good comes to be, and good becomes ground by which evil comes to necessarily be, even taking on an actual existence as a ‘substance.’ Thus, evil has being and ultimately is relativized and meaningless in relation to the “good,” and we are back to monism (since the manifestation of either is relative, both dissolve into purely subjective manifestations of one eternal ‘substance,’ or monism). This is precisely the worldview Time Bandits will display.
Time, under the dominion of Saturn-Chronos (in this scheme) is the imprisoning demiurge. As a child-devouring cannibalistic tyrant, his ‘prison-maze’ must be escaped by some means. For the hermeticists, gnostics and heretics, this entity is identified with Jehovah, the biblical Creator God. The entities that rebelled against this tyrant are thus the revolutionary heroes, explaining why most revolutionaries have paid some homage to either Satan or Lucifer (regardless of the outward spins and trappings they put on their mythos to justify it).
The Creator God in these schemes is generally deistic, being distant and removed from his failed creation. However, for some mysterious, unknown reason, his aborted world of base matter contains secrets that are a kind of technology. “Science” in this model is the explication of the workings of the kosmos form the inert codes and forces that lay untapped in “dead matter” that are supposed to ultimately lead to some form of teleological transcendence or escape. The “wheel of time” is therefore an impersonal, chaotic alchemical/chemical process of creation-decay-destruction (rinse, repeat) symbolized by the ouroboros.
If one can gain an understanding of these secrets mystically veiled within base matter, then the transcending of time and space through technology is possible (so the argument goes). This is the significance of the “Map” in Time Bandits, symbolizing the architectural plans and designs the “Supreme Being” jealously guards from his hated creations. Isn’t it interesting the perennial presentation of the gnostics and hermeticists is literally the same as what Satan promises in the garden? The promise being through gnosis from the Tree of Knowledge man could become God, and that God is secretly hoarding those secrets to ‘keep man down.” The Supreme Being is a Masonic conception of a generic “god” that is the supposed “Architect” or Archon behind the design of the present world. An architect works with pre-existing matter and is in no way a creator. Much like we saw in our Aristotle lecture, prima materia and the eternality of the world make Aristotelianism the predecessor to Masonry (and not Orthodox Christianity). As I have noted many times, Aristotle calls his empty placeholder ‘deity’ the “Architect.” This why the opening sequence displays classical alchemical symbols.
Our band of little people, the rebellious dwarfs are both comical and accurate portrayals of the fallen angels. Former servants of the demiurge, this band of sweet n low simpletons managed to steal the ‘Supreme Being’s’ “Map” and have since become time fugitives. Like Bill and Ted cut in halves, these buffoons happen upon the psyche of a young boy named Kevin, fumbling their way into his subconscious. Now, that might seem like a stretch, but recall we’ve seen this notion before – in Labyrinth, for example. Just as Sarah’s bedroom, toys, dolls, books and games all become the architecture of her inner dream world experience of the Labyrinth, so with Kevin all the drawings, toys, miniature play sets and historical figures become the architecture of his inner dream world. For most, the interpretation would be this is merely a symbolical representation of a child’s fantasy world, or the inner workings of Kevin’s association schema, etc. Readers of JaysAnalysis know I propose something very different: What if the inner world of the psyche is real?
We have come to think of what is “real” in a very limited, either/or sense based on Newtonian models of “reality” equaling physicality. This ridiculous paradigm, which negates the existence of the ‘self’ that purports to discover its “truth” dies a very hard death. No matter how nonsensical and self-refuting physico-materialism is shown to be, it still holds powerful sway over the mind of modern man. In this sense, we can appreciate in some respect the attempts – even if accidental – of someone like a Terry Gilliam to grasp at the point of something major being lost in consumerist modernity, namely the imaginal. Note that I am not saying everything in one’s imagination is “real” or on equal par with the phenomena of the waking world. The Fall of Man did many things, but one of which I suspect is a dividing of the inner world of the psyche from the outer world of the kosmos. This is why man has such a difficult time interpreting the world after the Fall and fails to see the presence of the Logos in all the logoi, as many theologians have noted. This is why Kevin is clearly shown falling asleep when the Bandits arrive.
The ages Kevin and the lil’ boyz visit is also significant from a Masonic perspective, as they are aeons upon which Masons and gnostics place a high value. The tyranny of Napoleon is presented as a psychological problem based on his diminutive stature, for example, but keep in mind that Napoleon was a Masonic Emperor (as Dr. Quigley noted, he was a tool of the bankers). Just as the age of Napoleon is characterized by this almost Freudian psychological issue, so in Kevin’s day his mindless parents are viewed as the apex products of western physico-materialism, collapsing into empty consumerism. Their obsession with the latest blender and home appliance ironically forms an aspect of Kevin’s nightmare about the future or his own adulthood. The obsession with “empire” is lampooned to satirize man’s attempt at creating an empire, stretching back to Alexander the Great, the Middle Ages, the Titans, and ultimately to the demiurge. The absurdity being the petty human tyrants are supposedly the apes of “god.” In each age, man’s problems are psychologized into some psycho-sexual shortcoming or Freudian mishap.
Fleeing Napoleon, the Bandits encounter Robin Hood, the archetypal communist. As we said, all revolutionaries are hailed as icons and reincarnations of the Spirit of Lucifer or Satan for a reason – the supposed “unfair” world is the prison complex of the demiurge. Even if atheistic, the logic of the revolutionary must always end in some form of warfare on the world as a whole, and by extension, its creator – think of Saul Alinsky dedicating his book to Satan. This is also why Masonry (ever the tool of some foreign or banking power) has always been the hotbed of revolution in any nation. The “worker’s revolution” of Marx was a Masonic revolution, based out of London. Speaking of Masonic oddities, it is worth noting Sean Connery plays the role of Agamemnon, which is curiously parallel to the role of “reincarnated” Alexander the Great he played in Kipling’s overtly Masonic-based hoodwink, The Man Who Would be King.
The relevance of the Titanic sequence is similar to the message of James Cameron’s Titanic – the old world of the nobility and old money is coming to an end. Various theories about the conspiratorial nature of the Titanic abound, from insurance fraud to a hit upon Astors and Guggenheims by other elites concerning the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank. I don’t pretend to know which is correct, but either way the significance of the Titanic sinking is the end of that order – a symbolical form of a new phase of the ongoing “revolution.” “Evil” is then shown transporting the Bandits to the time of Legend, the Golden Age of ancient mythology, replete with Ogres and Titans.
Reaching the edge of consciousness and reality, the Bandits seek the “barrier of invisibility,” which signifies the passage from our plane to the astral. Across this barrier and over the Abyss lies the “Fortress of Infinite Evil.” It is interesting to note again the similarities with Labyrinth, where the building blocks come to resemble an M.C. Escher work. Evil resides in the lowest assesses of the subconscious, the astral plane. This is comparable to the Biblical notion of the outer darkness, the void or abyss. This is not to say evil is a being with substance, but that the souls or psyches of man are the gateways for spirits. While this is all lampooned in a grand, galactic comedy of errors, when the “Supreme Being” shows up, he appears as a stuffy old English Gentleman – in other words, like an old Freemason. The “Supreme Being” reveals that evil was his handiwork and it all turned out very well.
The story is told as if the universal battle of good versus evil were an absurd child’s fantasy, where the rebellious angels are understood as heroic revolutionaries who weasel their way back into divine wages. After all, evil is just the handiwork of god. As the story comes to a close, we begin to suspect it was all Kevin’s dream, as firemen (one of whom is Agamemnon) burst in to rescue him from a fire. Evil, which we thought had been turned to a kind of carbon, charcoal substance and thus identified with matter, still lingers around as a shard of the malevolent one was overlooked. Like God in the garden, Kevin tells his mother and father not to touch the “evil,” which has mysteriously shown up in the toaster his parents obsessed over.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, here identifying evil with matter, materialism and consumerism, ends in the destruction of Kevin’s worthless boomer parents. We might be tempted to say the purpose of the film was a comical, atheistic mockery of an apparently absurd and “childlike” story of good versus evil. The story at first appears to do this, but reveals a deeper, more esoteric conception that reality is actually made up of various planes and spiritual levels, from the present world to the psychosphere to the spiritual. While attempting to present a Masonic mockery fable, it is also possible Gilliam (wittingly or unwittingly) hit upon a much more accurate architecture of the kosmos than he expected. That said, God is not a stodgy old British man, nor is evil a substance. While Gilliam is right to critique the nonsensical absurdity of transhumanism as the result of rampant consumerism and the fetish of technology, the dialectical double think of the Masonry he seems to espouse is the cause of the modernity he critiques as absurd.