Pitch Perfect

This movie is a lot of fun!  It’s very funny, the musical numbers are fantastic, and I love how enthusiastic everyone is about belting tunes out all the time! It’s totally nerdy but in an empowering, “we’re-not-embarassed-that-we-love-music” kind of way.  As one character says in a completely serious tone, “Organized nerd-singing–this is great!”  Some of the jokes are sexually suggestive/explicit, so it’s not really appropriate for a high school or below audience, but it’s set on a college campus and it’s not surprising that college kids would talk about sex.  And I appreciated that this movie didn’t feel the need to show anyone having it.

picture of the Barton Belles

“I love you, awesome nerds.” -Beca

The story follows rival a cappella groups competing at the collegiate level, but focuses most on a young wanna-be DJ, Beca, who is very concerned with maintaining an “I’m not like everybody else” image.  She joins the Barton Belles partly because she does, secretly, love music, partly because they’re desperate the recruit new members, and partly because her dad promises to help her pursue her true dream of moving to L.A. if she will spend a year really trying to get involved on campus.

picture of jesse and beca

“What? You don’t like movies?! What is wrong with you? How do you not like movies?! Not like movies is like not liking puppies!” -Jesse (Obviously I loved this line.)

I won’t spoil the ins-and-outs of the competition, but Beca is forced to confront and change the way she has been emotionally isolating herself, start to reconcile with her dad and make some real friends.  The story isn’t the forefront, since the emphasis is on the singing first of all, and the jokes second, but I think there is real character growth from the surly, eye-rolling girl who checks into her dorm at the beginning and the one who smiles broadly from genuine enjoyment while she sings with her now-friends by the end.  Also, the leader of Beca’s group is a control freak, and must learn by the end to let everyone’s input be heard, and to not prioritize winning over relishing the music and the act of singing together itself.

Those are good, healthy messages, although there aren’t necessarily scriptural references to go with them.  There are a lot of verses about singing and praising God, and while this movie definitely wasn’t singing praise songs, it reminded me how much I love singing, and I think God likes to watch humans throw their whole hearts into their using their talents and pursuing their passions the way these characters do.

picture of rebel wilson as fat amy

Amy tells her fellow songstresses, “Even though some of you are pretty thin, I think you all have fat hearts.”

When I walked out of the theater from Pitch Perfect, I just wanted to walk around singing all night.  I think David must have surely felt the same way, when he wrote this passage:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
   make music to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
  with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Psalm 98:4-6

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The Words

This was a layered tale about writers, aptly named The Words, with an emotional story of the regret and consequences that followed one selfish action.  I enjoyed it very much, and I think it does a good job of portraying the long-lasting repercussions a bad decision can have.  (Warning: The rest of this post contains **SPOILERS**).

Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) is an accomplished author reading excerpts at the launch of his new book, which is the tale aspiring novelist Rory, (Bradley Cooper).  Rory has been unable to get anything published, has had to stop writing full-time and get a job, (because his father refused to keep lending him money),and then finds a typed manuscript by chance, hidden in an old briefcase.  The manuscript is a masterpiece, and adds to Rory’s depression.  “In those words, he had been confronted by everything he had ever aspired to be, and the reality of what he would never become,” intones the narrator.  Later, an upset Rory yells at his wife, “I’m not who I thought I was.  And I’m terrified that I never will be.”  Surely many viewers can sympathize with Rory’s feelings of inadequacy.

picture of bradley cooper as Rory with the briefcase

“He didn’t know why he was doing it; he just wanted to feel the words pass through his fingers, through his mind.”

 

Rory doesn’t initially set out to actively steal the manuscript.  But he re-types it, word for word, onto his computer.  When his wife (Zoe Saldana) finds the document, her glowing praises are, unknown to her, heartbreaking; she says it’s “so much better than anything you’ve ever written before!”  It would be painful, but this is the moment for Rory to admit that the words are not his.  Another moment would be when he submits the manuscript to a publisher, or before he signs a deal with a literary agent.  Clay narrates that Rory goes along with the assumption that he wrote it without protest because, “There was no epiphany, no sign from the gods to point him in the right direction,” but this is a refusal to take responsibility.  He could have told the truth at any point, and when he signed the publication deal, “Rory Jansen had made his choice.”

It’s true that there are rarely blaring epiphanies from God telling us what to do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t discern what His will is in any given situation.  There are no verses to tell Rory, “thou shalt not steal credit for a manuscript thou didst not write,” but there is just plain “You shall not steal,” Deuteronomy 5:19.  (The 8th of the 10 commandments, for you trivia buffs.)  Even if Rory isn’t sure whether this act would constitute “stealing,”  there’s 1 Corinthians 10:31,

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

There’s Proverbs 3:5-6,

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Knowing whether something is right or wrong isn’t so much about memorize Bible verses on what’s forbidden as it is about looking at the situation from the perspective, what will honor and glorify God?  What does He want me to do?  Does what I am considering fit within the boundaries of scripture?  God’s probably not going to answer with a vision or sudden inspiration, but if Rory had honestly asked himself whether he ought to take credit for writing this book or not, he should have seen clearly that the answer was no.

movie still of rory and old man at the park

The Old Man who truly authored the manuscript confronts Rory about his theft.

Instead, Rory does a lot of justification for his selfishness after the fact, which crumbles when he’s forced to confront the reality of what he’s done–I imagine that scene between the Old Man (who actually wrote the book) and Rory in the park, when the old man says “No no, my friend, there’s no misunderstanding, no.  You can’t slide out of it now.  Those are my words, my stories,” is a little like what God’s judgment will be like; all the lies people have told themselves about their actions, all the ways they’ve tried to justify things that they did wrong, completely falling apart when God looks them in the eyes and says, “I know what really happened.  You can’t slide out of it now.”  (And then, if they claim it, Jesus’ blood will atone for the sins they could never wipe clean on their own.)

Needless to say, Rory’s ill-gained charmed life crumbles in the wake of this confrontation. The Old Man refuses to forgive Rory, rebuffing the thieving author’s attempts to “fix this” with, “There’s nothing to fix.  You just go like the life you’ve chose.”  And, “You can’t make things right, things are just things. No matter how hard you try to martyr yourself.”  Although he’s a victim in this, he doesn’t gain anything by clinging to anger; in a way he is twice a victim, both to Rory’s theft and to the the self-inflicted bitterness that he daily poisons his life with over it.

movie still, the old man as a young author

Ben Barnes (who played Prince Caspian in the recent live-action Narnia films) is excellent as the young version of the true manuscript author.

The publisher advises Rory not to publicly admit his wrongdoing, saying, “Don’t screw yourself for the rest of your life over one stupid mistake, and don’t you screw me.”  This is advice is obviously selfishly motivated, and is also directly contrary to Provers 28:13,

“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

And of course, even though he doesn’t publicly admit to stealing the novel, by not doing so Rory has “screwed himself” for the rest of his life–he never reconciles with his wife, and he is consumed by guilt, regret, and self-doubt.  Clay says of his “fictional” character Rory, (who by this point is pretty clearly autobiographical), “Maybe he can create, but it doesn’t matter because he’ll never believe it.  He’s robbed himself of the chance to find out.”

Ultimately, The Words is a sadly accurate depiction of the truth of Galatians 6:7-8,

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

When he decided to take credit for the novel, “Rory Jansen had made his choice,” but he continued making that selfish choice to protect his own ambitions every day for the rest of his life when he did not tell the truth.  And a lifetime of sowing deceit and carrying around hidden guilt yields a sad and lonely reward.

The Avengers

The Avengers was definitely the biggest movie in the summer of 2012.  It Hulk-smashed all kinds of records with the money that it made.  Its success is due in part to the fact that it appeals to all ages and easily lends itself to repeat viewings, because it’s just plain fun.

the cast of the avengers

It’s difficult to do an analysis on the “message” of this movie, in part because as a whole, it’s kinda disorganized.  Plot lines are a little scattered, and not many characters are allowed enough screentime to develop or have significant arcs.  Director Joss Whedon himself said:

“The Avengers” is notably IMperfect, which makes its success mean so much more to me — because it’s striking a chord that matters MORE than its obvious flaws. Like the team, it appears to be more than the sun [sic] of its parts. –source

I guess the overall message must be about teamwork, because the Avengers have to work together in order to defeat the invading alien army.  It takes them the better part of the film to get on the same page and iron out their individual issues, but in the final battle they form a single, super-powered unit.  Though not a particularly new or surprising message, it is a Biblical one.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up…Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. –Ecclesiastes 4:9-10,12

The world of this movie presupposes the existence of super-beings and portals to alien worlds, but that’s standard fare in comic-based stories, and it’s not like the Bible doesn’t have its share of super-humans.  (Samson, Goliath).  Thor and Loki are referred to as “gods” but it’s been established that they are really just from another planet, so they appear to be more than human, but in this film Hulk demonstrates that Loki is a “puny god” and Captain America responds to Black Widow’s assessment of Thor and Loki as deities with “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”  In other words, I don’t have a theological problem with the premise of this story.

thor, ironman, captain america

It’s just so much FUN to watch these guys punch each other through trees and stuff!

Even the title, “The Avengers,” isn’t really a problem for me, although we’re told in scripture that the revenge isn’t something we should pursue:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. –Romans 12:17-19

For one thing, an epic fight to save the entire human race from enslavement is a little different than avenging a personal wrong, and Loki and his army are not making it possible for the heroes to “live at peace” with them.  The Avengers might use the death of someone close to them as a unifying motivator to join forces against the invaders, but you have to admit that’s what they would have ended up doing anyway.  That motivation was partially included so they could allude to the title.  And finally, “avenging” the earth is not really what this team of superheroes does, it’s saving the earth and everybody in it just like every other superhero movie.  But when they wrote these comics, they didn’t want to call it “Team of Superheroes,” and “Justice League” was taken.  In other words, I don’t have a problem with the title of this movie despite its connotations.

picture of maria hill and phil coulson in the c.i.c.

The superheroes are not the only heroes in this film. Many “ordinary” humans, such as S.H.I.E.L.D agents Maria Hill and Phil Coulson, are equally brave and self-sacrificing.

There is a moment when Loki overpowers a crowd of terrified civilians and commands them to show him deference:

“Kneel before me. I said… KNEEL! Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

Well, Loki is the villain, so of course we’re not meant to agree with what he says, but I just wanted to take it apart and compare it to what scripture actually says rather than writing the whole thing off as bad-guy-blather.  First, I do not think that God agrees that it’s better for humans to be in subjugation, but there might be some truth to the claim that humans crave it.  Sometimes.  If you look at 1 Samuel 8, God’s prophet warns the people what having a king will mean, in detail.  He outlines, at God’s command, all the ways that they will be oppressed if they choose to follow a human leader instead of their Godly one, but the people insist.  It’s a very interesting passage, but I’m referring to it because it’s clear that God’s ideal society does not involve the kind of subjugation that Loki is talking about.

loki

“I am Loki of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose.”

God does, however, perhaps agree with the statement that in the end, humans will kneel.  Because he has said:

Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. –Isaiah 45:23

It’s different from saying that humans are destined to be “ruled” in the sense that Loki is invoking, but it is true that our Creator made us to worship him and be ruled by him.  (Why do you think Jesus refers to the Kingdom of Heaven so much?  Who’s the King of that Kingdom?)  Anyway, the final point I wanted to make on Loki’s speech is that God’s intentions for humanity do not involve the squashing out of individual identity.  Just look at the passage in 1 Corinthians 12 on the diversity of spiritual gifts, and how one is not greater than the other, and all are essential.

I guess there are a lot of little micro-messages you might be able to take away from little moments in this movie; not really messages, but things you could use in a sermon or lesson illustration.  For example, if I were teaching teenagers on Jacob and Esau, I might say that they were a bit like Thor and Loki in The Avengers, in the sense that they are estranged brothers, because that motif seems to have really moved people.  I might reference Loki’s manipulation of Hawkeye to explain demon-possession.  I might reference Black Widow’s insistence that she’s only helping the team because she’s “got red in [her] ledger,” when talking about the futility of trying to save oneself by works alone.  I wouldn’t really use Iron Man’s allusion to the story of Jonah, since Biblical Jonah did not set off explosives inside the belly of the big fish, and movie-Iron Man did not spend any time in repentant prayer, so they really have nothing in common.  (But props to the movie for the Biblical shout-out.  And to computer-Jarvis for accurately assessing “I wouldn’t consider him a role model.”  I mean, Jonah’s story begins and ends with him kind of being bitter and wimpy.)

In conclusion, I would totally recommend this movie, to everyone, because it is, as I can’t emphasize enough, just plain fun.  And it’s the most fun if you’ve seen all the other Marvel movies, too.  (Iron Man I, Iron Man II, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger).  I am greatly anticipating the next several films that Marvel is developing, and I hope that I will be able to endorse them as well.

Rock of Ages

I don’t know what I was thinking.  I actually thought I would like this movie.  But it’s a rock opera, with a clumsy script whose only purpose is to cram in as many ‘Rock and Roll’ songs as possible, and it’s theme can pretty much be summed up with the old saying, “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll!”  (Although there really weren’t any drugs, but plenty of alcohol.)

The singing and acting was meh.  The storyline, as mentioned, was weak.  The songs weren’t as inspiring to me as much as they might be to people who grew up with them.

Drew (Diego Boneta) bursts into song, as people in musicals do, but a second later in dialogue claims he can’t sing in front of people because he gets stage fright.  He sings about buying a guitar even though he didn’t know how to play, and that it felt so right in his arms.  Then he proceeds to hold guitars as props and not play them for the rest of the movie, with exactly one strumming exception.

Sherrie (Julianne Hough) smiles like a Cheshire cat in place of having a personality.  She headbangs along to air-guitar players.  She’s pursuing her dreams with the blessing of her grandmother, who “didn’t want [her] to end up stuck in Oklahoma like she was.”  Life anywhere outside LA must be a terrible fate, you guys.

Please explain to me what the actual difference is between Sherrie’s job as an exotic pole-dancer, which she is so ashamed of, and her dancing and booty-shaking on stage in a skimpy outfit at a rock concert in the end.  Am I supposed to be tricked into thinking she’s “made it” now and has escaped being demeaned by sexual objectification?  Or am I supposed to cheer that she is on the road to becoming a rock star like Stacee Jaxx, (Tom Cruise), who laments to a reporter that he can never escape from the lusty expectation of his fans that he forever symbolize sex, right before he has sex with the reporter, (Malin Ackerman).  (I’m sorry I’m not marking the *spoiler warnings*, but I’d rather not encourage people to see this one.)

The mayor’s wife, Patricia, (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is a caricature of a political manipulator masquerading as a moral crusader.  Ha ha, she’s so unlikeable her own husband is having an affair with his secretary!  And then her campaign to shut down the Rock bar and “clean up the streets” is completely undermined when her ulterior motive is revealed to be revenge, because she slept with Stacee Jaxx and then he left her (like he did to pretty much everyone, it seems).  And she clearly still has the hots for Stacee, but he re-rejcts her at the end after squeezing her boob, (which is also how he greets Sherrie earlier.  This man is a pig.)  But she’s a hypocrite, so we’re not supposed to care, and we can dismiss her and all her supporters with a laugh.  Oh, those idiots thinking this Rock culture is unhealthy for young people!  They’re just uptight and/or don’t know what they’re talking about!  (See above boob -squeezing, stripping, and alcohol imbibing.  It’s wholesome.)

I mean, if everything is ridiculous and every character absurd, the audience doesn’t have to actually think about the moral implications or the point of the story or the quality of the characters.  They’re just expected to sing along.

Stacee Jaxx invites you to join the mindless screaming crowd and replace critical thought with Rock lyrics. It’s the only way you’ll enjoy this movie.

I suppose you could say the movie teaches you should follow your dreams, (both Drew and Sherrie leave home and travel to LA hoping to become singers) and not compromise, (Drew sells out for a recording deal and changes his image into that of a boy-band popster before reneging on his contract and rebelling back to his rock roots.  We are supposed to applaud him for this even though he screws over his bandmates and manager–but they’re not “cool”, so who cares, right?)  Are these Biblical values?

Well, not compromising on your convictions certainly is. (CITATION NEEDED verse/s).  And Jesus did say (get rid of stuff even family to follow him).  But notice that is to follow God and seek his will, not our own dreams of selfish ambition.  As Christians we are called to be selfless.  That doesn’t mean that if you want to be a singer, you should abandon that pursuit and become a nun instead.  God gives us passions and abilities and wants us to use them.  Think of Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire, (a much better movie that I would totally recommend you watch instead of Rock of Ages,) when he explains to his sister that he intends to become a missionary but will first run in the Olympics;

I believe God made me for a purpose.  But he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.

The only goal we should be 100% dedicated to, above all else, is glorifying God and serving his will.  In fact, Liddell demonstrates this excellently in the aforementioned movie, (based on real-life events), when he refuses to run on Sunday.  It’s not that he doesn’t care about competing; it’s just that he cares more about maintaining his convictions to honor God than himself.  (The Bible is peppered with verses about standing firm and not compromising; here’s one.)  In Rock of Ages, Sherrie and Drew don’t really seem motivated by a desire to sing or “rock” as much as “be famous!”  I’m positive that singing or playing rock music can be done in service of the Kingdom of God, but as you pursue whatever you’re into, remember that your focus shouldn’t be on promoting yourself:

 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. –Phillipians 2:3-4

In summary, if you wanted to watch this movie for the music, I would recommend just buying the soundtrack instead.  You’ll be spared the movie’s worthless messages that way.

Battleship

Considering that this movie is inspired by the board game of the same name, it’s not half bad!  It’s a summer action flick, entertaining but predictable and not very deep, exactly as advertised.  It’s fun to watch and there were actually a couple of great lesson moments in between the gunfire and explosions.

The story centers around Alex Hopper, (Taylor Kitsch), an impulsive and immature individual who doesn’t seem interested in putting his considerable skills to good use.  We are introduced to a drunken Alex getting in trouble with the law over shenanigans involving a chicken burrito, after which his brother (Commander Stone Hopper, played by Alexander Skarsgård) insists that Alex join the navy and straighten out his life.

The relationship between the Hopper brothers is truly loving, in that Stone recognizes that the best thing for Alex is not always what the younger brother wants.  When Alex gets into trouble and comes to his brother hoping to escape the consequences, saying, “You’ve gotta make some calls,” Stone replies, “Who do I call to teach you humility?  I’m sorry, man, I just don’t have that number.”

Alex’s commanding officer, Admiral Shane, (played by Liam Neeson), is equally blunt in his assessment of the brash young lieutenant, telling him, “You’re a very smart individual, with a very weak character and poor decision-making skills.”  I love the inclusion of these lines of dialogue, because while we often see movies with “heroes” that are similarly immature, their reckless and selfish actions are sometimes celebrated or downplayed.  It’s nice to see Alex’s character accurately distilled within the film itself.

**SPOILER ALERT** At the end of the film Alex, having helped averted potential global catastrophe, feels entitled to a blessing from the Admiral to marry his daughter.  To my delight, the response is, “No…Saving the world is one thing, Hopper.  My daughter is quite another.”  This is terrific, because Alex didn’t really demonstrate much change in his major character flaws throughout the drama.  He learned to be less selfish and rely more on teamwork, and he used creative tactical strategies, but he didn’t act less brashly or control his temper.  At one point he had to be reminded three times by inferior officers that there were sailors in the water and the ship’s duty was to prioritize rescuing them rather than pursuing a vengeful and reckless enemy attack.

The Admiral’s response to Alex’s assumption of deserved respect because he “saved the world” reminded me of Galatians 6:3, which says

If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

As well as 1 Samuel 16:7, when God sends Samuel to anoint a new king and the prophet assumes it should be one of David’s older, brawnier brothers, but God says,

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

I don’t think that the character of Alex is completely without good inner qualities, but I think God would agree with the Admiral’s viewpoint that acts of bravery and heroism are not a substitute for character and integrity.  And, the Admiral does invite Alex to join him for lunch, and it’s implied that he will agree to let him marry his daughter.  But not because he “saved the world,” and not without some scrutiny.  **END SPOILER**

Rihanna made her acting debut in this movie as a soldier who fired a lot of guns. I thought her performance was, meh, okay, one of my least favorite things about the movie. Just because it was distracting to keep seeing Rihanna swagger around trying to act tough.

This film also features several characters who are veterans, one of who has lost limbs and is struggling to regain a sense of purpose, and others who were actual navy veterans, as this quote from an interview with Skarsgård highlights:

Several Navy veterans are also featured as extras in the film. At the “Battleship” premiere, Skarsgard said, “Those veterans that are on the ship that my character referred to they’re real vets and they served on the [USS] Missouri.”

“Some of them going back to the second World War and it’s just a very humbling experience to be there with them on that ship,” he added. “The stories those guys told us were just amazing and I’ll never forget it.” (source)

All of these veterans, as well as the diverse personalities on the ships, end up having to work together, and their success demonstrates the truth of 1 Corinthians 12:21-22 on how there are no non-essential parts to the body of Christ.

Another time, (perhaps on my pagelady blog), I would like to discuss the treatment of the aliens in this film, because I found it strange that not a single character seemed to question whether or not the right course of action was to automatically try to destroy them all rather than attempt diplomacy or reconciliation, but on the whole I would say that this film, though little more than mindless action, had pleasantly surprising, mostly positive messages.

The Vow

This movie is loosely based on the book The Vow, by Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, about the real-life events they suffered together when a brain injury wiped all of Krickitt’s memories of ever having met Kim, and she found herself married to a stranger.  I say “loosely based” because the accident and memory loss is just about the only thing in the movie that accurately reflects the events in the true story.

The Carpenters are devout Christians, and have credited their faith with being the reason their relationship was able to survive the trauma.

“Once I accepted that I was married to [Kim] and I had been in an accident, I just kind of went with it,” explained Krickitt Carpenter to The Christian Post. “I trusted what my parents said and I had wedding pictures and videos, and I turned to the Lord.” (source)

In the movie’s version of events, Paige (the memory-suffering wife, played by Rachel McAdams) can’t rely on her parents’ assertion that she is married to Leo (played by Channing Tatum) because she hasn’t spoken to them in years, and they have never met her husband.  This, as well as the eventual reason that comes to light for the estrangement, struck me as an unnecessary over-dramatization of a situation that is already difficult.  What screenplay writer thought that a woman having no memory of her husband wasn’t dramatic enough, and needed more family dysfunction added in?

There is also no mention of God or faith in the film, but instead an implication that Paige and Leo are somehow fated to be together and a lot of talk about life’s significant events being “moments of impact.”  But the most egregious omission is that there is no mention of commitment in this entire movie!  They don’t even mention that perhaps they should stay together because that is what they vowed.  The vows from their wedding are repeated three times throughout the movie, (twice in voice-over), but never discussed, never mentioned by a single character.  Is that not ridiculous, for a movie calling itself The Vow?!

Leo’s vows state:

“I vow to fiercely love you, in all your forms, now and forever.  I promise to never forget that this is a once in a lifetime love and always know in the deepest part of my soul, no matter what challenges might carry us apart, that we’ll always find our way back to each other.”

When Paige wakes up after her accident, she reverts to an earlier form of her personality.  She has different tastes in clothes, food, and music.  She has different relationship dynamics with her friends and family.  But she is still herself.  And it would have been perfect for Leo to have said, well, you’re different now but I promised to love you in all of your forms, but he doesn’t.  Not that he isn’t obviously still in love with her, but his motivation is to try to make her fall back in love with him, remind her or convince her of their romance, and never in that attempt does his promise factor in.

“I gotta make my wife fall in love with me again.”

**SPOILER ALERT** In fact, when his attempts to win his wife over again fail, he divorces her.  That is the very, very opposite of keeping marriage vows!  Even in a normal marriage when one partner doesn’t suffer extreme amnesia, the key to staying married is not staying “in love.”  It’s deciding to keep your commitment, even when you may not like your spouse, even when things are difficult, or when you’re tempted by a person or situation that seems more appealing than your own.  You make a decision, and you stick to it.  That doesn’t mean marriage isn’t romantic, it’s just realistic sometimes too.  And it doesn’t happen by chance or by accumulation of cutesy romantic moments–a long-lasting marriage is achieved deliberately.

Ironically, in this movie the only mention of choosing to stick with a marriage through difficulty is from Paige’s mother, after it is revealed that her father had an affair.  Paige is incredulous that her mother didn’t get a divorce, and her mother’s response is,

“I chose to stay with him for all the things that he had done right, and not to leave him for the one thing he had done wrong.  I chose to forgive him.”

That’s admirable.  It’s scriptural to forgive.  (But scripture also allows for divorce in the case of adultery, so this shouldn’t be taken as an example that everyone must follow.) **END SPOILER**

Paige attempts to fill in the gaps of her memory by sorting through old photos.

This wasn’t a bad movie–I actually really enjoyed watching it.  I love both lead actors and it’s full of cute, romantic little moments as well as emotional, heart-tugging scenes.  But it has no business being called “The Vow,” and it’s a shame because it would have been so much more powerful and meaningful if they had just stuck to the source material.

Contagion

This was a really solid movie, and I enjoyed it immensely.  Great cast, good acting, good narrative that manages to be cohesive and captivating even though the main, unifying character is invisible.  “A virus is too small to be seen on video camera,” remarks one character, yet director Steven Soderbergh has proven that it can still star in a movie.

This cast was full of big-name stars, and they all delivered great performances.

It’s a thriller, but it’s not your typical “scary” movie.  The most frightening thing about it is how realistic it is, how close we all seem to be teetering on the edge of a worldwide plague, buffered only by random coincidences and chance encounters that so far have managed not to happen.  I became paranoid during and after this movie that I was touching my face too much (despite Kate Winslet’s character’s constant warnings!) and was hyper-aware of people coughing or sniffling around me in the theater, which definitely added to the experience.  If nothing else, I’ll always remember this movie as the place where I learned the word “epidemiologist.”

I don’t want to give away too much about how the virus starts, spreads, or is combated, because I think that’s a lot of the fun in watching this movie, getting caught up in the paranoia and fear and figuring out what happened and what is happening.  But I think there are two main illustrations of spiritual truths that can be taken away from this film, that won’t be too spoiler-y.

Is Jude Law's character a "prophet" for profit?

Firstly, there is a character (blogger Alan, played by Jude Law) who sees conspiracy and cover-up in every story, and who is determined to speak what he insists is “the truth”.  You’ll have to let me know, after you watch it, if you think he really believes the messages he spouts to his online followers or if he is profiting off people’s fears.  The interesting thing about Alan is that he is adamant about his beliefs, without having anything to really back them up.  No amount of evidence from officials or scientists can convince him, because he dismisses any findings he disagrees with as falsified.  In a very obvious way, Alan’s rantings run parallel to the deadly virus, infecting the world with dangerous and unfounded beliefs one person at a time.  Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) goes so far as to say that Alan’s lies are actually more dangerous than the disease itself.

“In order for a person to get sick they need to come into contact with a sick person or something they’ve touched.  In order to get scared all you need to come into contact with is a rumor, or the TV, or the internet.” –Dr. Cheever

For much of the movie the Centers for Disease Control are attempting to implement ways to stop people from coming into contact with the virus, but as Dr. Cheever states, in today’s world there is no way to stop people from coming into contact with the millions of lies in circulation.  How are we to know what is real and what is true?  What if all the governments and human authorities really are lying to us?

Fortunately Christians do have a reliable source of truth that is unchanging throughout time, in scripture.  Of course there are some earthly sources of information that are more trustworthy than others, and we can use reason and logic to deduce what may or may not be true for particular issues, but ultimately, God wants us to become adept at discerning his will, not governments’.

 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. —Romans 12:1-2

In a situation such as the one presented in Contagion, where there is a devastating deadly global epidemic, maybe God’s will for an individual is that he help protect a weaker, more vulnerable person.  Maybe it’s that she help care for the infected.  Maybe it’s that they secure supplies for those who are not rich enough to afford to buy priority.  Those actions are things that a person could discern, regardless of the conflicting information on the internet and cable news regarding the source and prognosis of the disease, if they have a transformed mind and are seeking God’s will.  (This blog is one of the ways that I hope to help encourage nonconformity with the patterns of this world, by continually forcing myself to consider movies from a Biblical perspective.)

"What are you talking about?! What happened to her? WHAT HAPPENED TO HER?!"

The beginning of the passage in Romans is relevant, too, because you might say that one of the characters, Dr. Ally Hextall, (Jennifer Ehle), literally offers her body as a living sacrifice.  (Not to God, but it’s still good imagery).  Dr. Hextall is one of the many, many people involved in trying to come up with a cure.  I would say that’s the second theme that stuck out to me, similar to what I said about the last Harry Potter, that it is a good illustration of how the body of Christ functions, with everyone contributing in their own and very vital way.  A solution might not have been possible or might have taken much longer to discover or implement if any one of the people that worked towards it had not participated.  Some of them lost their lives, but their efforts still ended up helping save millions.

If we allow our minds to be transformed, as 1 Corinthians 12 instructs us to do, perhaps we will be better able to have this sort of big-picture perspective.  The big picture for us is not that we are fighting against a physical virus, but a spiritual one, a global infestation of sin in every human ever born that leads to destruction.  There is already a known cure.  It is our job to help spread the knowledge and example of Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice.  If spreading the gospel leads to hardships for us, even loss of life, it doesn’t mean those efforts won’t contribute to a larger result of more souls being saved from the wages of sin.  (It’s not a perfect analogy of course, sin isn’t really synonymous to a virus, and Jesus’ blood isn’t a vaccine.)

I’ll leave you with a less-than-inspiring, but rather humorous, quote from the film:

“Blogging isn’t writing, it’s graffiti with punctuation.”—Dr. Cheever

Ouch!  I certainly hope my readers don’t have such a low opinion of my little blog.

One Day

The cleverness of this story is that it takes place on a single day, July 15, over several years.  It charts the relationship between Emma Morely (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) as they grow from twenty-somethings to forty-somethings, try to figure out what to do with their lives, and wonder if they will end up together or not.  It’s based on the book of the same name by David Nichols.

I didn’t really care for the book, so I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t really love the movie, either.  It’s not a terrible film or an awful story, it’s just that I don’t really like the characters, and I don’t really care whether Emma and Dexter are happy or not because I think they’re both kind of selfish and immature jerks.  The movie adaptation made them slightly more likeable by omitting some of the less-than-flattering storylines, but it’s still a story about two people who may or may not get together.  Who cares?  If that’s the way you want to spend a Saturday afternoon, fine, it won’t hurt you, but there’s really nothing very compelling, thought-provoking, or insightful here.

Anne's accent could have used a LOT more work. It was pretty bad, too nasal, and it came and went.

At one point, Dexter’s sickly mother tells her son,

“I know that you’re going to be a good person, kind, loving, good…but I don’t think you’re there yet.  And I worry that you’re not very nice anymore.”

She’s right.  At this point in his life Dexter is hosting a cheesy late-night television show, partying and drinking every night.  He does, eventually, grow up and become a ‘good person’, more responsible at least, less of a drunken mess.  But it isn’t because he’s striving for any particular standard or facing and actively overcoming his shortcomings, it’s just because he gets…older.  How utterly uninspiring.

Dex: "I'd still like to read those poems. What rhymes with Dexter?" Em: "Prick. It's a half-rhyme."

Maybe some people find this story incredibly romantic, that two people who have been “just friends” for years but always carried a flame for each other might one day get together at last.  But I just found it annoying.  Dexter is a pig, admitting:

“I do fancy you.  The problem is I pretty much fancy everyone!”

This come shortly after he makes fun of her modesty, when she is reluctant to skinny dip with him.

“You’re such a prude!  Why are you such a prude?”

What a guy.  Emma, for some reason, continues to hold out hope.  At first I sympathized with her, but after a while I wanted to shake her and ask why she insisted on pining over this guy who is clearly not worth it for so many years.  I get that you can’t always help who you like.  I get that she had feelings for him and they kinda-sorta dated once.  I don’t get why I’m supposed to think it’s a good idea to keep clinging to memories and dreams from the past, over a guy no less, instead of moving on.  Do I sound like I’m not a romantic?  I’m sorry, I think there’s a place for romance, but I’m pretty sure we serve a God who asks that we not let our passions rule our lives.  At least find something constructive to do instead of sitting around feeling sorry for yourself.

This story can’t even be used as an example of Romans 8:28, which says “And we know that in all things God works for the good…” because the rest of the verse continues “…of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  There’s no purpose-ing going on in these jokers’ lives at all, much less God’s.  They’re not even “waiting” for each other, they each get involved with other people that they don’t really like as much because…who knows.  Because they can’t be bothered to hold out?  Because it isn’t a movie about self-control or striving for anything?

Maybe I’m being too hard on this movie.  I’ll end with a semi-positive, but it’s a spoiler, so don’t read past this picture if you don’t want to know how it ends..

"I love you Dexter, so much...I just don't like you anymore." -Emma

***SPOILER ALERT***  After Emma dies, Dexter and his widower father share the following exchange:

 “I don’t want a heart-to-heart, do you?  Except to say, that I think the best thing that you could do, would be to try to live your life as if Emma were still here.”–Dad

“ I don’t think I can.”–Dexter

“‘Course you can.  What do you think I’ve been doing for the past 10 years?”—Dad

I guess in a way that’s similar to the way that Christians should be living out their lives aware of an invisible presence, always trying to do what God wants us to even if it doesn’t always seem like he’s tangibly “here”.  ***END SPOILER***

It’s not terrible, but it’s annoying enough that watching this movie was One Day of my life that I won’t be reliving.

The Help

This movie is surrounded by so much controversy.  After reading several articles both in support and in criticism of it, and seeing the film myself, I think I would say that it is definitely worth seeing, but I would encourage anyone that does go to not let the credits be the end of your thoughts on the matter.  Go see it, and then go read articles like this one or this one, that raise concerns about the portrayal of black women and the historical accuracy of this fictional tale, and then read something like this one or this one in support of the film, and maybe discuss the film with your viewing partners and decide what you think for yourselves.  You could also read my analysis of some of the dialogue.  This could be a great opportunity for education and honest discussion, so don’t let it be merely an excuse to munch popcorn for two and a half hours.

The story is about a recent 1960s college graduate, Skeeter, (Emma Stone), trying to become a serious writer and finding inspiration from the social clashes she observes between her white friends and family and their black maids.  Skeeter sets out to “write a story from the point of the view of the help,” assisted by Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minnie (Octavia Spencer).  There are several other subplots along the way of course, but that’s the main thrust.  And whether Skeeter’s motives or “right” to tell their story is questionable or not, it is Biblical to give a voice to the voiceless.  Proverbs 31:8-9 states,

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

The book that this movie brings to life has been very popular in American book clubs, and the movie has been very popular as well, winning the weekend box office the last two weeks.  But to me, that only adds to the complicated questions surrounding it–if it is, as some have said, an unfair or unrealistic portrayal of black history, then what does it’s popularity say about our present society?  It’s an uncomfortable question; race is an uncomfortable subject in this country.

But maybe part of the reason this story is so easy for people to enjoy is because, really, the conflict is almost like the high school drama in Mean Girls.  A bunch of women not getting along and being mean to each other in various ways.  And one of the reasons for the excluding and the devaluing is racism, but another is plain snobbery (evidenced by Hilly’s mandates against the “white trash” Celia).  The villainous Hilly and her minions are just as much of caricatures as the Plastics in Mean Girls, their social triumphs and defeats equally trivial.  I think that’s what some people are so bothered by, because the Civil Rights movement and the realities of racial segregation were not trivial, petty social battles.

In any case, I do think it is a pretty good movie, worth seeing.  The rating is PG-13, but I think some of it might be too heavy for a young teen.  [**SPOILER ALERT** A miscarriage scene is quite graphic, with the bereaved, sobbing mother exclaiming “why is there so much blood?” Minnie’s husband beats her, and although the action is not seen, we hear him yelling at her.  Yule Mae is struck in the head by a police officer’s baton.  There is quite a bit of discussion regarding someone’s sh-t.  **END SPOILER**]  If you go see it, keep the context, (that it’s a popular movie surrounded by some reasonable criticisms,) in mind.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2

This one’s not quite like a normal review.  I’m not going to summarize everything or give you the background, because there’s too much of it, and I don’t know why you would have watched this final film if you hadn’t seen all the others and/or read all the books, anyway.  So I’m just going to go over some of my thoughts with regards to some of the themes, and how they line up with the Bible.

Firstly, there is a pretty excellent parallel that can be drawn between this film and the passage in 1Corinthians 12, on spiritual gifts.  Yes, yes, Harry’s the only one who can defeat Voldemort, (according to the prophecy), but he would never have succeeded without the help of all his allies!  Everyone has an essential role.  Everyone that fights to protect the castle and give him time to find the diadem horcrux, Ron and Hermione who destroy the cup horcrux, Neville who destroys the snake horcrux.  Dobby who saved them at the end of the last film.  Harry’s efforts would have been in vain, and he most likely would have failed anyway, without the help of every last person who fought.  And so, even though Harry is “The Chosen One,” his friends and supporters are every bit as important and heroic.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”  And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensible.” -1 Cor. 12:21-22

That last bit really makes me think of Neville.  Go Neville!

"those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensible"

Harry is not my favorite character, and I like him a bit less in the movies than the books, (because the movies insist on making him even more foolishly reckless), but I do admire Harry’s bravery.  In this film he does willingly go into the woods like a lamb to slaughter fully intending to die for his friends, once he realizes that it is what needs to be done to end Voldemort’s reign of terror and save everyone else.  The Bible says,

Greater love has no man than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. -John 15:13

It is a selfless act, but let’s be clear, Harry is not a Christ figure.  He doesn’t promise to save people spiritually, only physically.  He isn’t a blameless sacrificial lamb.  The reason it must be him is in fact not because he’s so good, but because he has such a bit of evilness inside him, (his horcrux scar), that it must be destroyed.  And so, Harry is brave and selfless not to resist, to realize that however much he may want to preserve his own life, doing so would prolong the suffering and harm of others.  But he isn’t Christ.  And his coming “back to life” is not synonymous with Christ’s resurrection, because for one thing, it isn’t clear whether he was actually dead or merely unconscious during that interlude, (he certainly wasn’t pierced in the side and buried for three days), and secondly even if he did “die” and then come back to life, the explanation would be that it was because he possessed the three Deathly Hallows and was master of death through mystical relics, not his own power.  Christ’s resurrection allows us to say,

Death has been swallowed up in victory.

-1 Cor. 15:54

Harry’s “resurrection” only means a victory for him, but Christ’s victory over death is for all who believe and call him Lord.  (That verse comes from the same passage as the lines on Harry’s parents’ gravestone, by the way.)

"The last enemy to be destroyed is death."

Finally, there is Snape.  Oh, my beloved, tragic Snape.  My feelings about Snape are complicated; on the one hand, I want to defend him, (I wore a home-made shirt that read “I believe in Snape” to the midnight release of the final book, so confident was I that his true loyalties were with Dumbledore), and I want to praise his incredible bravery and selflessness.  But the truth is that much of his heartbreaking misery was of his own making.  Poor Snape, who cuts himself off from all supportive fellowship with everyone but Dumbledore, and then he is forced to kill the one person that knew and believed in the real him!  But he didn’t have to be so alone!  His insistence that Dumbledore never tell anyone of his love for Lily is motivated only by pride.  And he clings to his bitterness towards James, allowing it to poison his relationship with Harry as well, overshadowing the fact that Harry is Lily’s legacy, her own flesh and blood.  And yes, Snape sacrifices everything to protect Harry because he is Lily’s son, but what if he had been able to overcome his jealousy, hurt, and anger, and been an actual father figure towards Harry? It’s easily the largest part of Snape’s tragedy, that he misses out on what could have been such a meaningful relationship because he can’t let go of the past.  As my friend EBR pointed out to me, the image of Snape clinging to Lily’s lifeless body while ignoring her living, crying son in the background is a perfect illustration of how he chose to focus his energies for all those years.

Snape is without question a hero, but he’s not one that we can unquestionably emulate.  Be like Snape in the way he remains thanklessly devoted to his goal.  Be like Snape in the way his every choice and his every action is in service of the welfare of someone other than himself.  Be like Snape in the way the core of his being is defined by an everlasting, gut-wrenching love and devotion.  But don’t be like Snape in the way he clings to the dead and fails to engage with those living around him, how he chooses to exile himself from fellowship, how he chooses to live alone and bear a needlessly solitary burden of pain and bitterness instead of opening himself up to the healing possibilities of reconciliation and forgiveness.  (Snape is the eye that tried to say to the rest of the body, “I don’t need you!”).

Oh, and do try to be like Snape in the way he speaks so clearly, slowly, and deliberately.  “Ex………pelliarmus!”  Love it.