Tonight I just watched a film that pushed me out of my comfort zone. And to calm my nerves, I’m sitting in front of the computer late on a Saturday night, writing this as a kind of therapy. The film is the very dark “comedy” God Bless America, written and directed by warped comedian Bobcat Goldthwait. Now let me say this loud and clear before you rush out and watch the film: I don’t recommend the film, nor do I suggest you watch it! In fact, take my advice and don’t. My own interest was piqued when I first saw the trailer, but in that can’t-turn-away-from-a-car-wreck sort of way. The images were shocking but I also instantly noticed their relevance to the current transit of Uranus through Aries. So I chose to watch it because I was really curious to see how the film’s release played out in the larger culture.
I expected there to be a lot of press around the film’s release, including protests and angry dissent. But the release was relatively uneventful. In fact, after seeing the pre-release trailer in some art-house theater, I never saw mention of the film again, and forgot about it entirely until the mass shootings of 2012 started. And for reasons which will soon become apparent, I was instantly reminded.
In short, God Bless America is the story of a middle-aged male and a teenage female who embark on a violent killing spree, randomly shooting people who “just piss them off.” Some of their main targets are right-wing pundits and radicals, and they also take direct aim at pop culture, shooting participants on an American Idol-style reality TV show.
After watching this film I became fascinated with how markedly the director was tuned in to the zeitgeist. He couldn’t have known that shooting sprees were about to become even more of a prominent fixture in our culture just after his film’s release. And yet he was clearly already deeply in touch with the archetypal energies that were brewing even before any of the dramatic shooting incidents of 2012 took place. Because of that, this film is prophetic and even more deeply disturbing than it would have been in any other context.
So let’s take a closer look.
Mirroring Real-Life Events
I got chills several times while watching this film because of how strongly some of the scenes resemble real-life shooting incidents. The first came during a scene in which the two main characters shoot several people in a movie theater, simply because they’re “rudely talking on their cell phones.” This scene, which is likely intended to be a darkly comic commentary on cell phone use and short attention spans, instead now has double resonance with the July 20, 2012 theater shooting at a showing of The Dark Night Rises. With the recent memory of the Batman movie shootings still raw in my psyche, this scene felt traumatic to watch.
Most of the killings in God Bless America are deliberately gruesome and gory, leaving nothing to the imagination. They are probably meant to be over-the-top in a way that some find funny, a la Quentin Tarantino style. But the fact is that we see people running and screaming in terror, hunted down and casually picked off one-by-one by their assassins, who often get splattered with blood. The comedy of such images escapes me, especially in the current cultural context in which such shootings are a grim reality.
I got chills again when the main character, Frank, goes on a rant about gun control laws. Frank’s words and actions defy labeling as left or right-wing. Though he calls for less gun control, echoing the typical right-wing stance, he delivers his rant during a scene in which he murders a right-wing pundit talk show host. Just before Frank kills him, they have a conversation in which Frank says, “I agree with some of your politics.” And yet, he still shoots the guy. When questioned by his accomplice, Roxy, about exactly which of the pundit’s views he agrees with, he responds, “I think we should have less gun control laws for instance.” Since Frank delivers his lines with a straight face, and there is no challenge or jeering from another character in the film, it seems as if he gets the irony in his viewpoint, but at the same time he doesn’t care.
The way Frank manages to skirt deeper issues and resort to double-speak under pressure is a common problem with the film’s script. And it is also deeply reflective of a potential problem inherent in the writer/director’s chart. For starters, Goldthwait is a Gemini. And Gemini at its worst can be inclined to cling to deliberately open-ended justifications for bad behavior. We’ll come back to that shortly.
I got chills one more time when Frank meets with a gun dealer in a hotel room. The dealer is showing Frank several types of guns, but finally brings out the *prize* gun – the AK47. The film takes on an even darker tone in that moment, as if the film was scripted for exactly this moment in history, when the United States is in an embroiled cultural debate not just about gun control laws, but also on proposed laws that would specifically ban ownership of semi-automatic weapons like the AK47.
The Astrological Backstory
For more of the general astrological context in which this film was released, see my article “Gun Control and the Uranus Pluto Square.”
Let’s take a look at the director’s chart, which will shed some light on what may have compelled him to make the film, and why it’s even more relevant in the context of the current planetary transits. In this case, the director of the film also happens to be the writer – Bobcat Goldthwait. Born on May 26, 1962, at 3:25am in Syracuse, NY, Goldthwait is known for his prolific body of work which includes his first film Shakes the Clown, an instant cult-favorite. He has done voiceovers on a number of popular television shows, and had stand out roles in Police Academy, and on The Man Show. As director, his handful of feature films includes World’s Greatest Dad with Robin Williams.
For those of you who speak astrological shorthand, some of the more striking features of Goldthwait’s chart include Aries rising with ruler Mars also in Aries in the First house (trine Uranus and sextile the Moon in Aquarius!), Sun in Gemini with Mercury also in Gemini (check out his extensive list of credits from his Wikipedia page), Uranus in Leo opposite Moon in Aquarius, Jupiter in Pisces in the 12th, trine Neptune and sextile his MC, and finally south node in Aquarius, conjunct its ruler Saturn, and squaring Neptune in Scoprio in the 7th. (1)
Now let’s unpack the shorthand. We’ll start by looking at Goldthwait’s Aries rising which is ruled by Mars in Aries in the 1st house. The first thing we can say is that Goldthwait is an unusually direct channel of both Mars and Aries energy. Mars is at its height of unrestraint in the sign of Aries. This is because both the sign and the planet share similar agendas. It’s like Mars has free reign to do what it wants, with all of the resources it needs to accomplish its agenda. So what is that agenda? Conflict, aggression, taking action, competition, expressing anger, defending, battle, war.
As if this energy needed even more free reign to accomplish its goals, Mars is also in the first house, which has the greatest affinity with both Mars and Aries. So we can call Goldthwait’s Mars a “triple threat.” Apt language for energy that is combatant, and oriented to both fighting and winning.
Goldthwait’s Mars energy is the perfect fit for a film about a couple of people who get angry and resort to violence to solve their problems. It’s likely that as the writer and creator, Goldthwait is visually expressing some of his own fantasies through the film. Of course, a person with a strong Mars doesn’t have to resort to violence to solve his problems. But what often compels a Mars or Aries first impulse is an edgy discord. And because the Mars person is often fueled by anger, it’s no accident that violence and Mars are easy bedfellows.
The film includes several Aries-style rants in which both of the main characters ruminate about what “really pisses them off” so much that they’d want to shoot someone for it. Frank, the main character, is mainly driven to shoot people who “deserve to die” because they’re “mean.” This is an interesting position, and we’ll come back to it. Frank’s reluctantly accepted teenage sidekick Roxy has much broader (and more teenage) criteria for who should be taken out, which includes “people who high five” and “all jocks.” It’s the irritation, the simple base-level conflict that ultimately drives them both to take action. Unfortunately these two characters aren’t resourceful enough to think of anything better than shooting the people who irk them, and neither, apparently, is the director.
If the film has any merit, it might be that, while executed in very poor taste, it is intended to help us blow off steam – a kind of guilty-pleasure revenge fantasy in which we get to more graphically imagine what would really happen if we did just shoot someone because they pissed us off. But the reality of seeing it proves so disturbing, perhaps because of the bloody realism style in which the shootings are filmed, that all pleasure is stripped from the experience, leaving the viewer with only the guilt from having engaged the images.
With Pluto in Virgo square his natal sun, and opposite Jupiter, Goldthwait is charged with a lifelong intention to integrate the conflicting archetypes in this challenging configuration, which is called a T-square. In a T-square, which is formed by 3 planets in 90° angles with each other, with two of them in opposition (180°) to each other, all three planets take on heightened significance in the person’s life. You can really see Goldthwait’s T-square play out through Frank between his dark critique (Pluto in Virgo), his strong sense of right and wrong (Jupiter in Pisces), and his inability to actually commit to a point of view (Sun in Gemini) at the same time.
As part of the T-Square, Goldthwait’s Pluto takes on prominence. He must face his own Pluto in Virgo (in the 6th house) issues in order to grow and life will present him many opportunities to do so. We get a clue about what that Pluto signature symbolizes for Goldthwait through his fantasy stand-in character Frank. Fueling his anger is a sharp critique of how people “should” be. Virgo is “blessed” with the ability to see how things could be improved. In other words, Virgo is gifted at discerning what is wrong with any given situation, person, event, etc. This natural eye for what can be improved can leave a distressed Virgo tangled up in should and thus feeling guilt for falling short of perfection. Goldthwait is actively trying to do something constructive with this energy. The fact that he’s channeling into art is definitely a more positive expression that if he were acting it out in real life. So we can give him some credit there, even if we find the art itself offensive. After all, we have the choice not to look…
Pluto in the chart represents a place where we hold a deep wound, often unconsciously. Goldthwait’s Pluto in Virgo (in the 6th house, square his Gemini Sun and trine his Capricorn MC) relates to an underlying feeling of less-than, not good enough. It points to power imbalances in which one person is subservient to the other. And it manifests around issues of being of service to and helping others. Interesting that the characters in this film feel like they’re doing a “service to humanity” by ridding it of “undesireables.”
I said I’d get back to Frank’s motivation to shoot only those people who are mean, so let’s take a look at that a little more closely. In that previously-mentioned movie theater shooting seen, which is both gratuitous and now multi-layered-with-meaning, Frank chooses to spare the one person who seemed equally annoyed with all of the other “badly behaved” movie goers. After shooting everyone but this character, as Frank walks by the traumatized teen on his way out of the theater he says, “Thank you for turning off your cell phone.” This is the culmination of a rant that opens the film with Frank spewing a long and markedly Virgoan diatribe of faults with society, culture, and his own life circumstance (Virgo turns its eye to its own inadequacies just as much if not more than outside itself). At its best, Virgo helps us improve. At its worst, it makes us feel stupid, incapable and unworthy. Frank is upset that others aren’t striving to live up to their highest potential (high-end Virgo) in the way that he strives to. He’s portrayed as someone who knows he isn’t perfect, but who is “doing the best he can.” And he’s also portrayed as someone with an elevated sense of personal values (Jupiter as part of the T-square).
Pluto also points to the dark and taboo, issues we don’t like to talk about, and subjects that make us squirm. It is elemental intensity, primal energy. Through its graphic violence and darkly disturbing visuals, as well as uncomfortable subject matter, we see Pluto’s hand, and Goldthwait’s attempt, consciously or otherwise, to wrangle with this difficult planetary archetype which is infused with his life. This shows up regularly in his body of work. In Shakes the Clown, for instance, it is expressed through the disturbing representation of a real-life, sexually profane and alcoholic professional children’s clown. The idea of such a person interacting with children is in and of itself deeply disturbing. We know it could happen, but we muster up our best denial routine the moment the idea enters consciousness. Denial is a good clue that Pluto is at work. If we turn away from what we don’t want to face or acknowledge, it usually comes back to bite us later.
In God Bless America, taboo subjects are anything but taboo. And Goldthwait even tackles (uncomfortably) sex between minors and adults. Roxie plays Lolita to Frank’s “responsible” adult middle-age male. He (thankfully) spurns her advances, but not without some hesitation. Pluto’s hand is visible both through the discomfort in these scenes, but also in the sexual power dynamics explored as the audience squirms hoping Frank “does the right thing”.
Sadly, Goldthwait, with his Gemini sun, doesn’t present an especially powerful critique with any of the film’s difficult subjects, and this one is no exception. In true Gemini fashion, he skirts the issues after presenting them without really saying anything substantial in the end. This is one of the main faults of the film in general.
After brazenly flirting with Frank, Roxy tests his patience (and his visible discomfort with her attraction to him) with questions about whether he finds her attractive. In one scene she’s in the bathroom and getting ready to shower. She leaves the door cracked just enough so that Frank can see in. We see Frank briefly wrestle with himself (and his higher moral values, Jupiter) about looking, and then he leans over and shuts the door. That’s about as deep as the commentary gets, the subject is dropped, and the audience is left hanging in its discomfort.
Shifting gears a little, I want to point out that by having a teen female sidekick character, Goldthwait has the opportunity to present some broad social feminist critique. Historically, when Uranus and Pluto have been in close alignment, progress has been made around gender equality issues (think back to the late 60’s during the last Uranus-Pluto conjunction). By introducing us to a teenage female lead who is wielding a gun, we can see the archetypes at play, but Goldthwait completely misses the opportunity to do something groundbreaking. Instead of directing Roxy’s anger at the kind of unequal value system at the heart of the gender conflict, he writes her as lashing out with shallow motives. We see her as driven by run-of-the-mill teenage sexual desire and selfishness, and in many ways she’s not unlike some of the folks Frank finds fault with.
Roxy isn’t a character who has a sense of ethics, right or wrong, high morals, or a desire to lift others up. She just wants what she wants, and she’s really not even sure what that is. We can see a blending here of the Gemini and Aries archetypes, and unfortunately some of the worst of both. Roxy’s fowl-mouthed misogynist profanity made me just as uncomfortable – if not more so – than anything else in the film. Her language reinforces gender inequality. And this is perhaps most frustrating as a viewer because the film is set up as a social critique. But without any solid ground to stand on, it falls short, and it does worse than backfire. It offends just as deeply as the things against which it stands.
If we look at the film as an attempt by Goldthwait to wrestle with his T-Square, he gets off to a nice start by introducing the conversation, engaging his Sun. One of Frank’s diatribes reads like something out of Chris Hedges’ book The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. Like Hedges, Frank points out the more degenerative aspects of pop culture, and what this means for us as a culture – what it says about who we are and where we’re going. But because the films starts out on such high ground, it is especially disturbing when it takes such low ground to solve its problems. And worse, Frank can’t really think of one good solution to his troubles besides shooting others or suicide. We see more Mars/Aries energy here, informed by Goldthwait’s Mars in Aries, sextile Moon in Aquarius and trine Uranus in Leo.
We might say that his film really is all about Goldthwait, and judging by the writing, he has a hard time getting access to the resources he’d need to get himself out of his mess. He expresses the Pluto side of the T-square, as we’ve described. But what’s missing is a high expression of Jupiter. In the end, to truly integrate his Jupiter and do something positive with his T-Square, Goldthwait needs to decide what he really values and communicate that with compassion and understanding. He needs to take a stand, but needs to figure out how to not hurt others in the process. In God Bless America, the bravado is there, but in the end, it’s all just a house of cards.
Part 2: I’m Not Like Everybody Else
The Uranian Who anthem “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” features prominently in the film, and sends us down another path of exploration, illuminating much about Uranus’ transit through the sign of Aries. We’ll look at that more closely in part 2. Stay tuned…
For the astrologers reading this, I want to point out Goldthwait’s first film and breakthrough character Shakes the Clown. If you click the thumbnail image of Goldthwait’s chart here, you’ll get a download of a larger pdf of his chart. Take a look at Goldthwait’s Jupiter in Pisces (the clown) in the 12th, sextile his Capricorn MC, and trine his Neptune in Scorpio retrograde in the 7th. The character Shakes is a profane and alcoholic children’s clown who gets framed for murder. It’s all there in the symbols…