Top Ten Masonic Movies and References to Freemasonry Secrets in Films: Part Two by Duncan Burden
Guest Post by Duncan Burden
Top Ten Masonic Movies and References
to Freemasonry Secrets in Films: Part Two
Here is the second part of what I would consider the top ten Masonic Movies that hold a significant Masonic connection, either by referring to Freemasonry directly, or indirectly, but in a way that either uses a public interpretation of Freemasonry to help convey an element of the plot, or appears to be an elusive ‘tip-of-the-hat’ to the possible Masons in the audience who may appreciate a subtle reference.
Which is not a bad introduction to the next film on the list…
6) 10,000 BC (2008)
The interest, expectation and interpretation of Freemasonry is as different inside of the Fraternity as it is by those outside of it. Most modern Freemasons simply enjoy the social concept of the organisation, of meeting likeminded people, and appreciate Freemasonry as a society promoting moral behavior and charitable principles.
Yet there is a minority people inside the Freemasonry, and out of it, that are convinced beyond doubt that this is just the glossy veneer of the Craft, and, maintain that for the more ‘enlightened’ there are ancient esoteric secrets to be found within it, which trace back to the beginning of civilization, and that the very reason the members are called ‘Masons’ is due to that moment in cultural history when humanity moved from the caves and really ‘built’ structures and thus created society itself.
Indeed, many early Masonic documents, like ‘Old Charges’ and ‘Constitutions’ do give dramatic histories tracing Freemasonry back to ancient Egypt and to Biblical times. For many Brethren they were seen, even at their time of composition, simply as engaging creative illusions, and never meant to be taken literally, yet many have.
For this reason, many Masons see the film of 10, 000 BC, directed by Roland Emmerich, as a veiled representation of the very beginnings of Freemasonry.
The film, as the title suggests, is set in the prehistoric era, and stars Steven Strait and Camilla Belle, and begins with a voice-over which seems to echo of the origin legends of Freemasonry, as it describes stories that are the remnants of myths and dreams.
The audience is then introduced to the primary character ‘D’Leh’ who you discover is the ‘Son of a Widow’, in that his father left to try and find a safer place for his tribe to live. The term ‘Son of a Widow’ is a Masonic phrase to define a Master Mason, as one of the first Masons is described as a ‘Son of a Widow’ and every Master Mason has to ‘play’ this character in the relevant ceremony.
Ultimately the character D’Leh has to go on a quest, and although stronger hunters exist, it is his intellect that enables him to succeed. From a Masonic perspective, this is meant to represent wisdom is greater than strength, and the understanding of this is a fundamental step in the evolution of society.
Another common element interpreted as being Masonic is that for the first part of the adventure, the hero is not alone but accompanied by two companions, making it a party of three. The grouping of three, especially three men, is a common feature in Masonic ceremonies, but equally it is a common element in story-telling, as it allows a character to express what they are thinking, if someone is near to whom they can say it, and as such let the audience in on what is going on. The reason for three, instead of just two, is that one can die without totally loosing this cinematic device. As with all these commentaries, it is left for the audience to decide why three here is used.
Yet, it is the last climatic scenes that the theories of Masonic influence are considered to be firmly entrenched. As the film draws to an end, it is revealed that the reason the rival hostile group exists, is that they are using slave labor (and woolly mammoths) to build three vast pyramids in a dessert. There is no literal reference to the location as being Ancient Egypt, but the scale and layout of structures, seem to be a clear intention that the implication is for the audience to accept they are watching the building of the primary pyramids of Giza, not as tombs, not as three buildings built is succession, but three built at the same time for a more significant reason.
The pyramid has often been used to represent Freemasonry, mostly by non-masons, but still as set of compasses are briefly seen on a set of plans – the combination of these two together is a significant symbol within Freemasonry – but again hardly conclusive.
Ultimately, the audience is left to draw its own conclusion, but for many Masons this film emulates a dramatic representation of those early Masonic legends, mixing the possibly logical development of knowledge and power, being defeated by wisdom, a time honored lesson of philosophy and theology – again, a concept of study that is not limited to Masonic imagery.
7) Lost Horizon (1937)
This film is actually based on a book, of the same name, by James Hilton, in which a British diplomat, Robert Conway, and ‘three’ others crash land in the Himalayas, and are rescued by the remote tribe living in the legendary lost land of Shangri-la. In the book there is no definitive reference to Freemasonry, although there is a line that states ‘we shall expect you to use your influence to get us a square deal.’
The term ‘square deal’ is common enough outside of Freemasonry, and refers to someone being fairly treated. I would not be so quick to assume that its origin is Masonic, or that its use here is anyway attempting to convey a Masonic link, but it would be remiss of me not to mention it.
From a Masonic perspective the term relates to a manner of behavior a Freemason is expected to uphold, and is symbolized by the Stonemason’s tool, the Square. As such a Mason is told to deal with people ‘on the square’ – thus behave with integrity and honesty.
Yet this is not the reason for referring to the film, for in the film one of the additional three characters, an Edward Everett Horton, is interrupted, when he is talking about the mass of written knowledge found being stored and protected by the local inhabitants, as he says, ‘I’ve just finished translating one of the most interesting old tablets you can imagine. It told me all about the origin of the masonic symbols and science and….’
It is entertaining to imagine how much thought was taken in finalizing that statement. Was it just a literal device of that the Writer and Director? Did they rely on the audience to instantly conjure a value from this subtle reference, that Freemasonry, with its public image of strange symbols and rumors of origins in antiquity, would instantly convey a sense of mysticism for this new found, lost world? Or was there more?
The question of more comes from the literal structure of the sentence. The character is obviously meant to be recognized as being versed in literature, as he is translating languages, but yet he says ‘symbols and science and’. In English grammar, it would be considered ‘bad form’, to have two ‘ands’ in the same expressive part of a sentence, something a literary scholar would be fully aware of…so why the two ‘ands’?
One explanation is that the extra ‘and’ was simply a tool to express that sense of excitement, that the character is so overwhelmed with the discoveries he is meant to have come across that he is like a giddy school boy at Christmas and listing his presents one by one, too amazed to adhere to the rules of rhetoric.
A second explanation is that the extra ‘and’ was an error. The sentence is cut-off due someone else interrupting, as such the latter half of the sentence would never have been written, so it’s possible, even with re-takes, that the interrupt was just slightly too late, and the actor adlibbed and tried to make the sentence continue which required another ‘and’, after which the other actor’s delivery came in.
Yet there is a third possible reason that would be grammatically correct, and something that relates to Freemasonry. That would be if the Script Writers had in mind the following sentence in full, ‘I’ve just finished translating one of the most interesting old tablets you can imagine. It told me all about the origin of the masonic symbols and science and nature,’ or ‘masonic symbols and science and wisdom.’
In Freemasonry, studies are told to be investigated, these are ‘the hidden mysteries of Nature and Science’, or another grouping would have the mind dedicated to ‘Science and Virtue.’ If the second word, in either case, had been said, most Freemasons would have seen the obvious hint, but with the empty-ending second ‘and’, it is almost like the words are hanging in the air waiting to be hear by a Masonic ear, just as we all can’t imagine hearing the word ‘Laurel and’ without hearing ‘Hardy’ to follow, thus no need to say ‘Hardy’ as our instincts have already made us fill in the gap.
8) The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
This is another literary work that was made into a film, which was originally a short story by Rudyard Kipling’s short story, which eventually was adapted to be the famous film starring the cinematic legends Sean Connery (as Daniel) and Michael Caine (as Peachy).
The plot of the story is of two ex-British soldiers, living in India, deciding to take a collection of modern weapons to the remote region of Kafiristan, where they believed that with their military experience and the small collection of modern guns, they could slowly takeover the country which was divided into small groups of tribes people. The military strategy being similar to that of Alexander the Great, the last conqueror of the region, by using allegiance to the superior force and bringing the tribes together under that regime would ultimately create a kingdom. From which they would get rich and return to England with enough money to retire.
In the story, both as a book and a film, Freemasonry is a tool that underpins the various pivotal points of the plot. In the story, Rudyard Kipling is himself portrayed, in the film played by Christopher Plummer, and it is his membership into Freemasonry that brings him to know the two ex-service men.
Historically, Kipling was an actual Mason, and his famous poem ‘If’, is often seen as a brilliant literally display of what a Freemasonry strives to do. In the film, his pocket watch is stolen by Peachy, but seeing the Masonic emblem of a Square and Compasses on the fob, Peachy, being a fellow Mason, tries to return it to Kipling.
In the process, using the oaths of Brotherhood to help a fellow Mason, Kipling agrees to pass a message on to another Mason, and Peachy’s friend, Daniel. The charm of this exchange, and Kipling’s first meeting with Daniel, is that the warmth that is shared between the three characters when each realizes the other is a Freemason. When written crudely this could be understood that Freemasons are willing help each other out not matter what the law, or what we may know about their character.
Yet Masons know that this is not the case, no Mason can help another, or anyone, to commit a crime or help them allude justice. Kipling’s willingness to forgive Peachy for stealing his watch, to be willing to pass a message on to Daniel and endure the rudeness of his initial greeting, is because Freemasons are taught not to judge but to forgive – which, when you watch the film, is what is being enacted.
Another curious part of the use of Freemasonry used in the film, and exists in the short story, are the verbal exchanges that are given between the characters that allow them to recognize each other as Masons. The exchanges are presented just as if they were two secret agents meeting in a foreign country, with one posing a unique question and the other giving a very scripted answer.
The exchanges sound very Masonic, with comments like ‘to travel to the East’, ‘to seek that which was lost’ and ‘for the widow’s son’. Although these are masonic terms, this is, in many areas, including England, not a practiced method of Masonic recognition, so appears to many Masons as being a cinematic creation – but what many Mason’s today may not know, is that the exchange was part of demonstration ceremony that is rarely seen these days, but was more common at the time of Kipling, and is still familiar in such countries as America.
The use of Freemasonry raises again later, when Peachy and Daniel come to discover that the Craft also exists in Kafiristan, and was apparently brought there by Alexander the Great, and the locals come to believe that Daniel is a reincarnation of Alexander due to his knowledge of Freemasonry – and who completes their Masonic education by teaching them the Third Degree of Freemasonry. Unfortunately, the mercenary nature of these two Englishmen make them take advantage of the situation and, needless to say, it doesn’t end well.
The book of Kipling is not the easiest to read, but the film is still an amazing interpretation of original story – and, as with many of Michael Cain films, full of quotable lines – such as:
Billy Fish : ‘He wants to know if you are gods?’
Peachy : ‘Not gods – Englishmen. The next best thing.’
Peachy : ‘Danny, let us seek safety on the battlefield.’
9) The Librarian : Return to King Solomon’s Mines (2006)
This is one of a series of TV released movies in which Freemasonry is frequently referred to. The style of these films echo that of Indiana Jones and the search and discovery of lost artifacts. The reason I would highlight this particular film is this is on the rare occasion that a specific Masonic term is used, namely ‘Cryptic Freemasons’ and ‘Cryptic Freemasonry.’
There is a common misconception that Freemasonry consists of 33 degrees, and the 33rd degree is reserved for the secret hierarchy of the Craft. This simply isn’t true.
Although Freemasonry exists around the world, the way in which Freemasonry is practiced in different countries is very different in itself, especially beyond what is generally called ‘The Craft’.
Commonly ‘The Craft’ only refers to the first three degrees of Freemasonry, namely the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees. As such, all around the world this is considered core Freemasonry, or ‘The Craft’, and ANYTHING beyond that is just seen as ‘added’ material. All Masons are considered Masons through these just Craft Freemasonry, but even those three degrees are performed differently around the world.
When a Mason has gone through these three degrees, they can if they wish join completely different organisations which only allow Masons to join, such as the Scottish Rite and the York Rite. In the Scottish Rite they offer an extra 30 degrees (hence 33 degrees), each as a progressive step one after another, but most of these are openly recognized as being relatively modern creations. While the York Rite also offers other ceremonies for Freemasons, but are not really in a set order, but grouped in collections called ‘Chivalric Orders’, ‘Capitular Degrees’ and ‘Cryptic Degrees’.
Due to the public expectation of Freemasonry being 33 degrees, and the assumption that this is a universal set standard, it is interesting to see, at least one example in film, of showing that it is only the Scottish rite that really offers this presentation, and that other, arguably, older systems exist – such as the York Rite and their Cryptic Degrees.
In England, often seen as the historic authority of Freemasonry, they don’t really have either a York or Scottish Rite, but just a collection of several separate organisations and orders which a Mason could join, but openly state that Freemasonry is ONLY three degrees and three degrees ONLY.
10) The Great Dictator
This could be the most controversial addition to the list, as it holds the greatest debate on whether any intentional Masonic reference exists, yet I would still put it on the list for you to decide.
‘The Great Dictator’ is one of those films that is seen as a historic classic. It is one of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘talkies’ and, personally, I would consider his greatest achievement in comedy, story-telling and art, rivaled only by his famous ‘City Lights’, whose opening 20 minutes is just brilliant.
The film itself is composed in what is called ‘allegory’, which is when one event is presented to not only depict the obvious, but also, simultaneously represents another event at exactly the same time. How Chaplin does this is by presenting a story where a short little man, with an iconic mustache, become a Dictator of his country, prosecutes a minority within his nation and prepares for world domination. It is obvious even though Nazi Germany is never mentioned, that this is exactly the veiled ‘allegory’ that Chaplin is presenting. In the course of the story, in the age old plot of mistaken identity, a timid barber, of the persecuted race, also played Chaplin, becomes the leader.
How this relates to Freemasonry is the long lasting debate of whether Chaplin was a Freemason or not. To be honest, I would have to say, I don’t think he was, as no record is know of his membership, and due to his fame, it is unlikely to have gotten away with someone not noticing him at a Lodge (although it is said that he once sneaked into a Charlie Chaplin look-a-like completion and only came in second – so maybe he could have). Yet, the strongest argument that he was is due to the final speech of the film. If a Freemason listened to it, it so echoes the sentiment of Freemasonry, that even if it wasn’t Masonic, it should be, and even if you are not a Mason it is worth watching to understand what Freemasonry really is, and perhaps we all should try to be.
I hope you have enjoyed this list. Thanks for reading.
~Guest Post by Duncan Burden