Mary Strachan Scriver

Oct 16, 2021

5 min read


How do I justify watching streamed movies every night? There’s a stigma to that form of narrative, left over from classroom of the Fifties, and yet many of my good insights come from there. At the moment I’m watching “The Beast Must Die” on Acorn.TV which specializes in Brit Commonwealth mysteries. This one is located on the Isle of Wight and two plots are running simultaneously, both about handling the aftermath of murder. Trauma, revenge, you know the stuff.

The woman’s story (her young son was killed by a motorist) is deep into a dysfunctional family and going it alone. The man’s story (a cop’s partner was killed.) is partly working with a psychoanalyst to counter trauma symptoms that could knock him out of his job. The woman (An actress named Cosh Jumbo, a terrific name!) is doing better than the man after the third episode of six. But her story is more conventional. (Spoiler: the rest of the plot has twists and Cosh “reunites” with her dead son.)

A projected sequel is about the man’s story, which is only flashbacks in the first sequence. The story has the feel of something brainstormed from fragments that left possible extensions. It’s drawn from a book.

These UK vid stories are always embraced by gorgeous scenery at beaches and along cliffs. If one is aware that the Isle of Wight was created by the melting of the last glacier incursion which converted Doggerland into the English Channel, that adds an element of awareness of what is always submerged in the sea and in human minds. The fabulous yacht and the consciousness of water are important to the story. An automated yacht like this being run by a woman who would normally not have access adds a dimension.

We don’t get the interior world of the psychoanalyst, who is not the sweet sort of understanding woman often portrayed. This one is a man who asks hard questions. Maybe he’s an element in the prequel. I have yet to see a really sharp and insightful portrayal of such a man.

Psychoanalysis is another marker of wealth and privilege. An ordinary cop would not normally have access. My Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor (a lesser variation meant for clergy) told me I should have psychoanalysis. He fancied himself a Jungian analyst and really itched to get inside me and tear everything to pieces. I think he confused it with hostile sex. The counselors I’ve had over the years have been the kind and understanding sorts, even the men, except for this particular fool.

What sort of culture is based on having outside experts in psych theory act as what used to be “curators of souls,” a religious category earned by experience and introspection? We seem to insist on being secular — kind of a necessity since God dissolved as soon as we walked on the moon — but yet we still want someone else to be responsible for us. I’m not doing that now, though I was taught to accept that. Those people didn’t betray me — they just dissolved, like God.

How do I get out of the mindset it caused that everyone is trying to control me, to channel me into their own beliefs without hearing what mine are? And what makes my worldview any better than any others? Many are asking this now.

Other questions:

1. In the past one’s consciousness was considered one’s self. But now we know that consciousness is only a feature of the rest of the “thinking” in the body, more properly considered a small part of the unconscious from which is arises, which can be “captured” by someone skilled who listens carefully.

2. I just had a change in my diabetes meds and notice that my mind is slightly different now. I notice different things and my focus on them is as though a computer screen were set differently. If Cos or the traumatized cop had medication, would death be less appealing?

3. Human beings arise from the incredibly long series of small changes in DNA code from the worm up through the chimp. We forget that most of that stuff abides — the limits and purposes of all that came before is still in us. So much of our prejudice towards “logic” and “rationality” comes from the work of opposing the instincts and chemical responses of predecessors.

4. Once we had gotten sailing ships, those who survived scurvy and disasters at sea began to realize that in distant places people had different cultures. This convinced us that cultures were arbitrary and we could change them to suit our inclinations. But this is not true. Cultures arise from ecosystems. Inventing something that doesn’t fit the ecosystem, like English tea brought to hot wet climates, means an enormous amount of discomfort and compensation.

5. People and animals evolve to fit their places, both as individuals and as cultures. But nowadays, we all move so much that we don’t fit without machinery like furnaces or air conditioners. But even more damaging is the breaking apart of generations and the families that form them. Older people don’t have appropriate advice and young people might not even have contact. Support has to come from affinity groups or paid professionals and, even then, is limited to the context. Both the protagonists in this mystery are singletons, while the family is toxic, composed of losers.

6. Higher education means changing cultures for most people, unless they come from academic families. PhD’s eat differently, wear different clothes, have different vocabularies. Varying, of course, by the field they are in. Math thinkers are quite different from humanities dreamers or business wonks. When you go back home, no one knows what you’re talking about. But DRK continued to wear khakis and blue chambray button-downs and visitors to the rez never realized it was as much a signal as a white beaded buckskin suit.

So this bereaved mother, who is not quite white enough to pass, is on modern English terms, so quite acceptable to the rich as a kind of adjunct, a convenience, an entertainment. But the cop, who is clearly white, lives in a minimal lonely way. Both are obsessed. Possessed by death. We do so enjoy truffling around in other people’s lives in order to understand our own. Or so we say — maybe we just like the idea of knowing more than the characters do.

Some people don’t want the “reality” of the story disturbed by technical facts or the opinions of critics, but I quite like considering the narrative on several levels at once.

The title is stolen from an earlier movie about human beings as prey on an island owned by a rich man who enjoys hunting them. It doesn’t quite fit, since the original hunters are not the focus so much as the suffering of the survivors. Because of this, the plot matters very little — it’s just an excuse for the actors to do their stuff and they do it very well. The rich man is just a stereotype, a political target, but convincing.

Mary Strachan Scriver

Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.