When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
- Hunter S. Thompson
... most of the really weird events in this story actually happened to people I have known. ... Some of them happened to me, as readers of my Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati will realize; but most of them happened to other people.
- Robert Anton Wilson, Introduction
(It doesn't really matter as you'll never get everything in the script one or many times time through; it will look different every time as walls come down and break boundaries of understanding and comprehension).
The Walls Came Tumbling Down is a film waiting to get made (hint, hint); a film existing in one future or another, perhaps. It currently enjoys life in this universe as a 2023 Hilaritas Press Second Edition book. Robert Anton Wilson wrote it in L. A. circa late '80s intending it as a film he planned to direct. No filmmaker smart and financially savvy enough to make it happen picked it up ... not yet. Fortunately, we have the script, complete with scene directions supplemented with an Introduction by the author, a Forward, Afterword and Eulogy by Gregory Arnott, Bobby Campbell and Alan Moore respectively. The eulogy is for Robert Anton Wilson; most apropos as Death, in a variety of forms - literal, metaphorical, symbolic - revolves in and out through the screenplay.
Wilson tells us how to read this potentiale motabilem imaginem, both in the Introduction then followed by the tutorial aptly called: How To Read A Film Script. He also provides context, his situation at the time of writing it beginning with a weather report: "After six years in Ireland, where the year consists of 'nine months of winter and and three months of ungodly weather' as the Dublin adage says, the Southern California climate seemed like the Garden of Eden." He proceeds to let us know of the multiple levels in the story, the multiple meanings of the walls that tumble down, from our tunnel-realities to the then contemporaneous Berlin Wall, while clueing us in to a deeper mythic level: "the tunnel-walls of the labyrinth of Minos in the Greek myth."
When RAW introduces his "hero" Michael Ellis, he describes some of the territory to be covered: "Since several million Americans still find themselves lost in that neurological Area 51 (not to mention the millions elsewhere on this planet), I think we should try to understand what has happened to the human race ...". By gematria, 51 = "Pain"; "Failure"; and a few other unpleasant associations. He basically says the human race hasn't gotten it together because they don't have their brains together.
He calls Michael Ellis a "20th Century Everyman" (notice anything Joyceans?) and puts him through a profound transformation - from a rigid, arrogant, scientific elitist to what might be called an Angel, or Healer. The implication is that anyone can potentially go through that transformation. In this film script we find an act of Magick, an experimental event still very much in play.
An Alice in Wonderland quote in the third section of the Intro blatantly hints at what lies ahead:
"'I'll be the judge, I'll be the jury,'
Said cunning old Fury
'I'll hear the case
and condemn you to death'"
When death comes around, all your walls come down. Might as well get used to it ahead of time. The "borderless or other-wordly consciousness" his characters frequently stumble into is called the Bardo by Tibetan Buddhists. The Bardo describes the weird territory between lives, the space after death and before rebirth. The first serious scientific effort to map this territory in the West, and enter the Bardo before Extremum Vitae Spiritum Edere (giving up the ghost) gets documented in the The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Leary, Metzner, and Alpert who all met at Harvard University - where Michael Ellis works in RAW's film. All three authors get name-checked in a single breath in an allusion to their book. (p.86); Leary becomes a minor character and obvious influence.
The opening scene evokes the bardo by describing an ambience out of an H.P. Lovecraft story (also how Cosmic Trigger I begins) complete with weird, fast, ominous music as Ellis, upset about something, goes racing to his friend for help. By the end of the film he will find that:
"You must be ready to accept the possibility that there is a limitless range of awareness for which we now have no words; that awareness can expand beyond the range of your ego, your self, your familiar identity, beyond everything you have learned, beyond your notions of space and time, beyond the differences which usually separate people from each other and from the world around them."
- The Psychedelic Experience, p. 14.
How To Read A Film Script deciphers the filming instructions, locates the scene, the type of shot, the camera angle and whether it moves or not. In short, it presents "just what the audience would see and hear in the final version." He jokes at the end of this section that this script shouldn't be harder to read than Finnegans Wake or Gravity's Rainbow, two extremely complex, multi-level, qabalistic novels that contain an association with death in the title. We infer an influence by those works from Joyce and Pynchon on The Walls Came Tumbling Down. I've shown one such influence above. Motivated scholars and readers have dug deep into the labyrinthine convolutions in the Wake and the Rainbow inviting a similar approach here. Repetitive readings appear key to penetrating these monasteries of thought. Every repetition brings something different into awareness. Malaclypse the Younger affirms Difference in the very first quote of the Introduction.
People read Robert Anton Wilson for different, mutually non-exclusive reasons: entertainment, information, knowledge, futurist speculation, etc. It's been remarked that reading fiction from Wilson doesn't have to be a passive experience. In his non-fiction works like Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology, he gives exercizes for his readership to experiment with allowing the possibility of an experiential encounter with whatever point he makes. Exercizes get suggested at various points in all his fiction when reading between the lines. An experiment here could be to visualize the film as you proceed through the script; feel the space and atmosphere of the scene; see it from the camera's pov; get the unnerving sensation of sudden transitions and fast cuts, leaps through time; in and out of parallel universes, different dimensions, realities and hallucinatory surrealities. Get a feeling for the borderless, other-wordly, bardo consciousness. Watch and live it with the mind's eye.
Wilson informs us that he borrowed the name of his primary protagonist, Michael Ellis, from a Monty Python episode called Michael Ellis; a surrealistic, bardoesque, tour de force. It appears to have had significant influence on our author as we find overlaps in themes found in his fiction - not only in Walls; subjects like synchronicity, gematria, semiotics and dialectics.
The hero in the Python show, played by Eric Idle, goes into Giants, the strangest department store on Earth, to buy a pet ant. Metaphors abound - we initially see customers with bandaged noses leaving the store and soon find out why. They tend to be unable to negotiate the exit doors, smashing their noses into a plate glass window whereupon a store employee directs them to the Nasal Injuries Hall on the third floor. As our hero proceeds to the ant procurement counter we see a woman considering buying a flame thrower. She asks to try it and proceeds to set a nearby gentleman's coat on fire.
Our ant loving hero soon gets mistaken for Michael Ellis. This name recurs throughout the episode in different random contexts but we never meet him. After some back and forth about Ellis, Idle's character complains a few times about how silly the clerks appear due to their very odd behavior. Ellis reversed = Sille (silly). RAW hints at reversing language in his script. His Ellis encounters two dwarfs (p. 110) who speak a language that spells out popular cigarette brands when reversed. The initials of Michael Ellis, ME suggest the ego. RAW's Ellis goes through multiple ego deaths in the course of the story. Python's Michael Ellis, always present but never there, suggests an interpretation that all the events in the episode occur inside his ego dissolution. We get an inside look at his bardo.
The strange recurrence, non-occurrence of Ellis in Python recalls the character of Glen Runciter in Philip K. Dick's Ubik, a classic, science fiction encounter with death and the bardo. That novel begins with an explosion apparently killing Runciter while slowly altering the reality of those who "survived." Soon, Runciter begins to manifest to them in odd, discontinuous ways like appearing on their money. These weird encounters suggest the interpretation that the other characters travel through Runciter's bardo - the unravelling of his subconscious mind. Dick influenced Walls as we shall see.
Idle brings his pet ant home to find his mother sloppily dishing out generic pet food to a variety of odd pet bowls labeled: Gorilla, Trout, Dromedary, Baboon and a few you can't see. We see a tiger in a cage they feed with drugs who constantly roars. Mom starts seriously bitching about having to care for another pet and reminds him he didn't take care of his pet sperm whale which they had to turn into a garage due to not being able to find 44,000 tons of plankton to feed it every morning ("Your papa was dead vexed about that"). We get a dialectic between the infinitely large (sperm whale) with the infinitely small (ant).
Idle retreats into a den that has a wall filled with many various televisions (multiple vision) chooses one, then sits down to enjoy a show with his ant, Marcus. By fortuitous chance, or synchronicity, the show they tune into is about ant communication. They have a scene of two "ants" (Python actors in a restaurant) acting out their semiotics, communicating in ridiculous whole body sign language with a caption in English of what they're saying. It seems influenced by a chapter from Rabeleis' Pantagruel and Gargantua which has a very satirical scene of two intellectuals debating exclusively through absurd hand and body signs. RAW's semiotics in Walls appears much subtler yet still an essential part of the transmission.
Idle's mother interrupts just as the TV announcer starts talking about Michael Ellis cutting off news about him. Another show comes on about Surgical Homeopathy "Part 68, Ants." The show's host gets into the anatomy of an ant in rather gruesome fashion while mentioning that their legs can carry hundreds of times more than their own weight before he plucks them out while counting them. Idle exclaims, "I didn't know ants had six legs!" The TV answers back: "I assure you they do Mr. Ellis." Idle realizes that Marcus only has four legs and proceeds back to the department store to make a complaint. Robert Anton Wilson begins Schrodinger's Cat with the information that most of the inhabitants of Earth (insects) have 6 legs. I can't help but think that this Python episode may have inspired that opening.
Giants department store appears even more over-the top surrealistic than before, both with the staff and customers. Idle's character gets directions for the Complaint Department and sets off on a Kafkaesque, labyrinthine journey. On the way, he goes into the Victorian Poetry bardo space filled with people seated for a recital by Wordsworth, Shelley, Tennyson and Keats who all read from their most famous works. Only they've been altered into poems about ants. It's moderated by a very tall, soused woman who asks and receives a refill from a very short man beside her every time she mishears Shelley say his last name. She keeps introducing him as Percy Bysshe and he responds with Shelley to correct her. whereupon she hears him suggesting more sherry. Of course, all the main female characters in Monty Python are played by men in drag with fake, high-pitched voices.
After the poets read, Queen Victoria herself comes into this space with a coffin containing her dead husband to discuss a matter of national import - ants are starting to dominate literature.
In the next scene, our ant-loving hero finally finds the Toupee Department which he was told he had to find to get to the Complaint Department. A comic scene on toupees ensues. One of the counter helpers gets introduced as "Mr. Crowley." At last Idle sits waiting in the Complaint Department. The woman with the flame thrower complains about it not having a safety mechanism then proceeds to accidentally start several small fires including the next customer's suit. During the next complaint, the P.A. chimes and announces the end of Michael Ellis week and the beginning of Chris Quinn week. Zoom in to a close-up of Idle - we finally learn his character's name. He breaks the theatrical fourth wall, saying "what a rotten ending" about the episode. Instantly transitioning to the End of the Show Department, he looks for an alternative ending. He views several, some with camera directions similar to the Walls script, others back to the Michael Ellis theme. The last option is Sudden Ending whereupon it cuts to a blackout, again suggesting death.
I highly, highly recommend everyone see Monty Python's Michael Ellis for essential background information on what influenced Robert Anton Wilson. It's currently on Netflix but if you do a search on Netflix, the different episodes don't come up. The Michael Ellis episode will come up if you make the search on Google and probably other browsers.
Back to the tumbling Walls, we find science, sex, drugs and music well represented. Ellis has a PhD in physics. His friend Simon Selene is a psychologist. Another character suggests Carl Sagan. Ellis' wife is also a scientist. Rigid scientific skeptics get compared to Nazis. The morality of providing the atomic key for nuclear bombs comes up, framed as killing Christ, as does basic working explanations for nearly every model of quantum physics recalling similar explanations in Schrodinger's Cat. We get an experiential sense of parallel universes in the script with abrupt shifts in some of the character's personalities. Subtle shifts into a universe next door get indicated by slightly different home furnishings.
Drugs accelerate the unhinging of Ellis when he gets some sodium pentothal at the dentist that bring on "hallucinations." Returning from the dentist appointment, he flashes on a military coffin being unloaded by an Honor Guard. This image and reinforcing soundtrack will recur. He talks about drugs to his wife, Cathy, then the visual starts tripping out to suggest a UFO.
The dentist episode parallels what actually happened to Philip K. Dick in 1974. After his trip to the dentist where he was given sodium pentothal, he entered another space/time reality triggered by the reflection of sunlight off a piece of jewelry worn by a young, beautiful delivery girl. His subsequent visions, which lasted for at least two months, included the strong perception the he/we still live in early Christian times. Dick experienced an overlay of this era with the present. This also occurs to Ellis. When Wilson says in the Introduction that these weird things actually happened to people he knows, this is what he means. He rewrote parts of Dick's visionary episodes staying true to the "facts" as Dick experienced them.
Jumps in external time and space abound. The different locales include Cambridge, Massachusetts in present time; Santa Cruz, CA 1952; Harvard early 1970s and present time; Cuernavaca, Mexico, the Mexican desert, early 1960s; ancient Rome; and Calvary Hill, Jerusalem at the Crucifixion. The action also jumps around in internal space shifting in and through alternate states of consciousness featuring encounters with dwarves, extraterrestrial aliens and other anomalies. These alternate states get accessed in a variety of ways: drugs, dreams, sex, meditation, art, music and brain machines. Contributing to the bizarre, unconventional realities that happen are Russian psychic experiments and psychokinetic feats recalling the spoon bending demonstrations of Uri Geller, a psychic familiar to Wilson's readers. The aforementioned models attempting to explain quantum physics provide their own tweaks to both inner and outer realities.
Wilson creates a trippy effect combining all kinds of visual art (prehistoric cave paintings, Egyptian, Oriental, African, Byzantine, medieval art) with powerful music from Beethoven – it seems a kind of subtle programming. He writes: "[T]he effect is that something more than great art and great music is being transmitted, something only art and music symbolize."
The artists mentioned include Michelangelo (Michael the Angel), Van Gogh, Picasso and Jackson Pollock. Elvis, John Lennon, James Dean and Star Trek posters provide pop art. Michelangelo's Pieta flashes briefly on the screen, almost, but not quite, subliminally. This sculpture depicts Mary holding the body of her dead son, an allusion to at least two different events in the script. An image of Van Gogh's Starry Sky follows immediately just as quickly before cutting back to Ellis. Two brief scenes ahead finds Michael and Cathy back in Mexico at a cafe listening to Bing Crosby sing If You Want to Swing on a Star discussing drugs with a fellow named Peter Stone - an obvious allusion to Jesus telling the Apostle Peter, "upon this rock I will build my church." Minutes later, the scene shows Michael and Cathy in a Cambridge bar discussing parallel universes. A television above them shows the final scene from 2001 A Space Odyssey. Wilson has them "look up at the screen for a moment as the Star Child appears and the film ends."
A few scenes later, after a shift into a universe next door, Michael and Cathy are back at the bar discussing parallel universes in a different way. We see someone put money into a juke box followed by the song On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, the theme song from the 1970 film of the same name. Elsewhere, RAW rates this as the best film on magick. The lyrics get shown onscreen, the last line stating: [H]ow the glow of your being outshines every star ..."
If all those literal Star references weren't enough – looking at Ellis reversed again gives "Sill" + "e." Sill suggests a window sill which corresponds with the Hebrew letter He, = The Star in Tarot. The English "e" also corresponds with He. Qabalistically, Ellis backwards = a double e. To digress slightly, a double e also turns up in Bob Dylan's, It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry along with a window sill and the death/rebirth archetype. Walls has it's own balance of laughter and tragedy.
Music plays a significant part in this film. Wilson meticulously choreographs the soundtrack, frequently giving instructions for tempo and mood along with the placement. He uses Taps frequently, always connected with death, of course. Chuck Berry, The Beatles and the Sex Pistols (three of my favorites) represent rock-n-roll. He makes sure to let us know that we hear Thus Spake Zarathustra by Strauss in the 2001 scene. We hear "Christmas music" in one scene and Silent Night in another. Beethoven's Ode to Joy figures prominently.
A crucial subplot concerns Ellis' memory of a past life event where he was the Roman Centurion that killed Christ by plunging a sword into his chest. Later, this gets framed as a compassionate gesture: he killed Christ so he wouldn't have to suffer anymore. Wilson says this screenplay was originally called The Man Who Murdered God. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ obviously suggests an archetype of death and rebirth. We get the point of view of a man willfully causing this death, not Christ dying on the cross. Ellis goes through several death and rebirth sequences.
RAW sometimes uses a dialectical approach, contrasting and blending darkness and light - pretty much a trademark in Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. A great example: Michael and Cathy's son Charles, called Charlie, whom they love deeply, enlists and goes to Vietnam where the enemy is called "Charlie." You can read the rest in the script and viscerally discover why this makes the perfect example.
Synchronicities outside the screenplay:
1. Much of the action takes place in and around Harvard University where Michael and Cathy teach and work. A recently found "lost manuscript" by Robert Anton Wilson of an introduction to Aleister Crowley called Do What Thou Wilt mysteriously turned up at Harvard University and is now being prepared for publication. Apart from the "Every man and every woman is a star' allusion mentioned above, Crowley gets invoked in the script by a brief snippet on TV suggesting the IRS = the Beast 666. The Forward to this forthcoming RAW on Crowley book is by Crowley biographer Richard Kaczynski. The sound-alike name "Katzinski" gets said early in the script.
2. RAW gives Cathy Ellis flaming red hair like his wife Arlen's hair in real life. This made me wonder if Michael Ellis - ME - might be a fictionalized partial stand-in for Wilson himself along with serving as an "Everyman." They both smoked cigarettes, for instance. This book has much to do with death. The last caregiver RAW had, the last person to see him alive has the first name Cathy. The first person who inadvertently opens Ellis' mind, the dentist Dr. Riley is named after Arlen Wilson's maiden name.
The Forward with the tantalizing title, Robert Anton Wilson at the End of History, by Gregory Arnott, takes an insightful look at how the dialectic of infophilia and infophobia looks today. RAW's Introduction explains how this dialectic appears in Walls. Arnott's analysis covers how this has sociologically played out over the years along with conspiracy thinking. He helpfully makes comparisons with other well-known cultural references including The X Files and Twin Peaks TV shows. I found it enlightening to read this Forward again after finishing the script. It may prove helpful to your next reading of Walls. Check out what he says about the camera work – whose films to watch to see a similar style.
The Afterword, Big Mouth, by Bobby Campbell reveals a priceless encounter with the Great Man himself when, through synchronicity, one of RAW's own walls came tumbling down. It comes across as a well-told, gripping adventure, a pilgrimage of sorts, that provides an intimate account of our Beloved Author in his home world. Bobby recounts episodes where his walls disappeared and the help, literary and otherwise, RAW provided him to deal with those challenges. "RAW upgraded my metaphor, swapping out a monstrous demonic antagonist with a whimsically mischievous ally."
Eulogy for Robert Anton Wilson by Alan Moore gives a colorful, imagistic, psychedelic rundown of notable events in the life of our dear departed scribe. Alternatively, he suggests the same bardo theme mentioned above in Monty Python's Michael Ellis and P.K. Dick's Ubik: "all these people, moments and events, could be no more than thoughts suspended simultaneously within the snowglobe consciousness of Luna Wilson, dreaming in the ice." Moore concludes with the vision he had of Wilson as a member of the real Illuminati. I've experienced that vision in a different way.
This film will go a long way toward raising the Intelligence of humans whenever someone has the wherewithal to make it. I happily volunteer my services as a consultant should that time arrive before my own walls come tumbling down permanently.
I'll conclude with another parallel from Leary, Metzner, and Alpert. Wilson begins the second section of his Intro with a quote by Frater Perdurabo from The Book of Lies: "Doubt everything". Naturally, this evokes skepticism right at the top, a common occurrence in Thelemic writing. Writing about it when in a deep bardo state: "Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream." The Psychedelic Experience, p. 14. I would add, maybe listen to a Beatles song. Tomorrow never knows.