Saturday, April 11, 2009


Fair Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

John Muir’s web series The House Between has ended with quite a few questions remaining. Not just questions about plot details (like who orchestrated the attack at 3:15… and when the hell was 3:15?), but the kind of question that only a dedicated viewer can answer by engaging with the series on their own terms. The biggest question of all is “What does this story ultimately mean?” No doubt each viewer has a different answer. I have mine, which began to take shape unexpectedly a few weeks before the airing of the final episode, when a friend gave me a copy of a 2008 book called The Secret History of the World by “Mark Booth” (in keeping with the secretive nature of the book, the author has used a pseudonym).

The Secret History of the World begins with the oldest of philosophical questions: What came first – mind or matter? In The House Between, Bill T. Clark – a 20th century scientist – argues the case for matter. Astrid and Theresa – the former a follower of Western religious tradition, the latter a follower of Eastern religious traditions – argue the case for mind. Travis – a lawyer and outspoken capitalist – clearly falls on the side of materialism, while Arlo represents idealism. Over the course of three seasons, these characters struggle to work out this age-old quandary. Their story, in its own oblique way, tells the secret history of the world.

Mark Booth tells us that the world began when “an impulse squeezed out of another dimension into this one.” Gradually, humans began to think of this “other dimension” as the mind of God, and of our universe as the creation of God’s imagination. This is hardly an endorsement of creationism. Booth proposes that animal life evolved from vegetable life, which prompted the explanatory myths of the ancient fertility cults (which later morphed into the Christian myth of the Fisher King – see James George Frazer’s famous anthropological work, The Golden Bough).

One of the most outrageous aspects of this book is its constant reference to “proto-humans.” I find it particularly outrageous because I can’t stop picturing James Arness – the bloodsucking alien vegetable-man – in The Thing from Another World. In all fairness, let me just say that Booth makes no allegations that proto-humans drank blood. Rather, they got their nourishment from the sun, through photosynthesis. It follows that they worshiped the “Sun God” as the source of life.

Booth’s secret history goes onto say that the vegetable bodies of proto-humans functioned as portals between the physical world and the spirit world. The “organs” of their bodies were the seven chakras of ancient Eastern philosophy, often used as a point of reference in traditional meditation practices like those Theresa employs in The House Between. Legend says that one of these organs – the crown chakra – was once visible as a “third eye” or “lamp light” emanating from the forehead. Again, my only frame of reference for such a thing comes from a horror movie (which I admit probably says more about me than about the ideas in the book) – in this case, Stuart Gordon’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft, From Beyond. Lovecraft’s proto-humans existed in a world of awesome gods called “the Ancient Ones.”

During this ancient period in man’s existence, Booth says that the faculty of imagination was much stronger than the faculty for thought. Gods and monsters, spirits and demons were real because people believed in them without reservation. Modern physics bears out the theory of subject-object coalescence – the idea that reality is partly formed by our perception of it. John Muir’s smart houses are designed to implement exactly this phenomenon. In The House Between, man is returning to his roots – a different kind of consciousness.

As man evolved into animal life, the chakras became clogged and man lost his natural connection to the spirit world. In the process, he lost certain natural healing powers as well. At that point, it became necessary for man to adopt religious practices in order to reestablish the connection at will. The symbolism of the Biblical account in Genesis, according to the secret history, illustrates that the evolution of man from vegetable to animal introduced thought and sex and death to his life. Unlike plants, which reproduce by parthenogenesis and (in a sense) never die, animals suffer, desire and fear. The result: Humans became more conscious, more violent, more close-minded… and secret societies were formed to preserve the ancient way of interacting with the world.

In the first season of The House Between, the character of Theresa is introduced as a “new variable” in an ongoing social experiment. She has been trained to use ancient Eastern meditation techniques to communicate with disembodied spirits (called “discarnates” in the episode DISTRESSED). It is her abilities – time and time again over the course of the first two seasons – that allow the denizens to escape death and ultimately provide them an opportunity to evolve as characters. The first step in this process is helping them to conquer their fears through altered states of consciousness – because, as Theresa says in the episode CAGED, “the beginning of wisdom is fear.”

The ancient Mysteries cults held rites of initiation in which the initiates were subjected to “the most intense experiences, the wildest fears, blackest horrors and raptures.” In essence, the initiation is a symbolic death and rebirth into a new way of perceiving the world. Theresa’s accident and subsequent NDE (discussed in SETTLED) are her initiation. Astrid’s confrontation with Cronus’s manifestation of her sadistic father Ethan (seen in DEVOURED) is her initiation. Bill’s temptation by “the Sirens” of the Dark Entity (in ADDICTED) is his initiation. Finally, Arlo’s struggle with his own lucid nightmare, Vinnie Coto (in SCARED), is his initiation. Travis is the only character among the original five denizens who does not seem to undergo an initiation during the course of the series, but I certainly wouldn’t exclude him.

Travis is unquestionably part of this group (as he proves, again, in RESOLVED). In the final scene, Astrid says he is “both good and bad,” which is an apt description of any member of a secret society, acknowledging that Good and Evil go hand in hand, and together produce Life. Since he is the only one with a memory of the smart house time loop (Travis is the "constant" in the ongoing experiment), maybe his initiation actually occurred in an earlier version of the smart house? ADDICTED certainly demonstrates that Travis has an unquestioning belief in the powers of the mind, allowing him to teleport himself between dimensions with ease. So in some ways, he is the most “advanced” of all the characters – having already shed the pretensions of religion and science.

(more to come)

1 comment:

  1. This is great stuff. Can't wait to read Part 2.