Looper

I loved this movie.  I saw it very late at night and was tired at work the next day, but it was totally worth it.  It was every bit as interesting as I’d hoped it would be, but it was also surprising.  There were so many “wait, what? OH!” moments, and it turned out to be much less “about” the time travel than it was about the complex, compelling characters.

There are potentially a few reasons why some of you may prefer to wait to watch this on DVD; there is a scene with a topless prostitute, and two of the trailers beforehand were for graphic horror movies, (at least at my theater.  I know that’s different at different locations, but the trailers are always trying to target a segment of the audience they’re predicting will see the feature presentation).  You could fast-forward through the topless scene without missing anything crucial, and come back and read below my spoiler warning to find what the dialogue in that scene added to the story.

**SPOILER ALERT**  Everything below this picture is a spoiler.  I think the movie is much more enjoyable on first viewing if you don’t know anything about what’s going to happen, so read on at your own risk.

The story is set 30 years in the future, (in Kansas, supposedly), and we’re told that 30 years from that point, time travel will have been invented.  It’s illegal, but the mob in the future uses it to send people they want eliminated back in time, where hired guns like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shoot them and dispose of the body.  Joe is what’s known as a “looper,” and the job ends when one day the anonymous target turns out to be the looper’s 30-year-future self, thus “closing the loop.”  The retired looper then has 30 years to spend their money and enjoy life before the inevitable date that they know they will be sent back and killed by their younger self.

We see what happens when a looper fails to kill his future-self, because Joe’s friend Seth does just that.  The scene with Old Seth losing his extremities (they just disappear, and we know that off-camera, Young Seth is being mutilated by the mob, since they can’t have a future-man running around and potentially changing the timeline) is one of the most horrifying yet bloodless things I’ve ever seen; it’s very creative storytelling.  (And it’s probably the reason for those horror trailers at the beginning.)  When Joe is confronted with the prospect of closing his own loop, he too fails to shoot his future-self, so Young Joe spends much of the movie trying to track down and kill Old Joe to right himself with his mob contract, while Old Joe (Bruce Willis) has his own agenda of tracking down and killing a child who will grow up to be the future-mob leader responsible for killing Old Joe’s wife.  (It’s a little confusing, as time travel always is, but it’s a perfectly thrilling story if you don’t let yourself get hung up on figuring out exactly how it works).

old joe and young joe across the table

Old Joe and Young Joe order the same food, but agree on little else.

Old Joe and Young Joe are entirely different people; they have different motives, attachments, and skills. It’s fascinating to think about how much a person can change in their life.  Joe didn’t intentionally try to change himself, it just happened as he accumulated experiences and relationships.  Old Joe is motivated almost entirely by love for his wife and a desire to save her, which makes him willing to carry out despicable acts that Young Joe would never consider.  Scripture tells us that we should become a different, “new” person when we give our lives to Christ.  As Old Joe’s life and all his decisions are dominated by a love for his wife, Christians’ lives should be dominated by a love for God that changes our attitudes and goals from what we may have wanted before.  (I’m NOT saying Old Joe is a good example of becoming a new creation!  Just that the way he’s transformed is a perverse partial parallel to conversion.)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

2 Corinthians 5:17

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 12:2

Joe grows up without a mother, and the loss of that nurturing, loving guidance in his life is profoundly felt.  In the aforementioned scene with the topless prostitute, Young Joe is upset because he betrayed his best friend to the mob.  He laments that he can’t remember his mother’s face, and misses the way she used to brush her fingers through his hair.  I think he’s wishing both that she could comfort him again, and that he could have asked her what he should have done.  Later, he talks to Cid about the fact that his mother abandoned him when he was younger than Cid, and says joining the mob as a looper gave him purpose, that his assassin’s gun was “something that was mine.”  The parallel to Cid is clear; if he grows up without his mother, too, we understand that he will follow the same bad path as Joe, but with magnified violence and destruction due to his telekinetic abilities.  All of this illustrates the importance of parents providing not only love and care, but also instilling a good moral compass into their children.

Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6

Cid’s mother, Sara, (Emily Blunt), left her infant son to be raised by her sister, and admits her guilt over abandoning him as a baby to Young Joe.  It’s clear she regrets not having been there to take care of him, and that she truly loves him and is willing to be unconditionally dedicated to protecting and nurturing her son.  She tells Young Joe that she cares more about Cid’s well-being than the painful, daily reminders that he doesn’t acknowledge her as his mother:

Whether he loves me back or not, as long as I’m there to raise him, he’s gonna be okay, he’s gonna be safe.  He’s never gonna get lost.

pic of cid and sara

Pierce Gagnon, the child actor who plays Cid, is excellent–and creepy!

Sara’s relationship with Cid reminds me of Isaiah 49:15; even though she acts like she doesn’t care about him at first, she still obviously cares about him more than her own life and is willing take a bullet for him.  God says his love for his people surpasses even the deep love of a mother for her child:

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

In the end, Young Joe sacrifices himself to protect and potentially save Cid, not only from the immediate trauma of losing his mom, but from the damning future ahead of him if he grows up “bad.”  He’s also saving Sara’s life.  His self-sacrifice fulfill Jesus’ words in 1 John :15:12-13:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down this life for his friends.”

Young Joe’s decision to “change the loop” also reminds me of what he told Cid earlier, when talking about the anger he once felt towards the men who got his mother addicted to drugs.

“It’s just men trying to figure out what they gotta do to keep what they got.  That’s the only kind of man there is.”

What Young Joe has, that he knows he will lose if he grows up into the version of Old Joe standing in front of him in that field, is a compassion and morality that will not let him kill a child.  Young Joe has killed many unknown victims in his job as a Looper, but still cannot stomach killing a child, even when he has seen the violent destruction the child is capable of and “knows” he will grow up to be ruthless killer.  But Old Joe has already killed a child, and is intent on killing another.  Old Joe was targeting three children, even though he knew two were innocent, all to save his wife and despite being horrified himself at what he was doing.  By killing himself, Young Joe not only saves Cid and Sara, but he also “keeps” what he’s got; a clean(er) conscience, and hands that haven’t yet spilled an innocent child’s blood.  In a way, he’s saving himself, too–from every becoming that dark.

Overall, I loved this movie because it was so creative and exciting to watch, even the second time through.  There are all sorts of little clues and hints you pick up on repeat viewing, and the acting is fantastic.  After I watched it I realized that the promotional trailers and the first half of the movie foretold how it would end, because Young Joe kept saying he was going to kill Old Joe, and in the end he did, he killed himself just like he said he would!  But I didn’t see it coming until it almost happened!  It’s great storytelling, and I do think the message of self-sacrifice is one of the most powerful themes out there.  I mean, Jesus himself said there’s “no greater love.”

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

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.

Brave

I graded this movie as an A+ in visuals by the wonderful, hard-working animators at Pixar, and A+ for music in the score by Patrick Doyle, but only a B for story.  A “B” isn’t really that bad, (and still above average), but it’s just not nearly as good as I’ve come to expect from a Pixar film.

Pixar misses the mark with the storytelling in this film.

The tagline for Brave was “change your fate,” and I’m sure if you saw the ubiquitous trailer this summer, you heard the line, “if ya had the chance to change yer fate, wouldja?” (spoken in a Scottish accent), but I wouldn’t really say that’s the main theme in this movie, –I would say it’s about the consequences our actions can have, and the importance of reconciliation.  (It’s also not really about being brave, so neither the title nor the tagline are terribly appropriate).

Scottish princess Merida of the Dunbraugh clan is “destined” to marry the heir of one of her father’s allied clans.  Merida’s mother is frustrated that her daughter doesn’t seem serious about applying any of her lessons in ladylike behavior and queenly decorum, and the heroine is equally frustrated that her mother doesn’t appreciate her interests and skills in horse-riding and archery and her disinterest in an arranged marriage.  Mother and daughter share a simultaneous line in split-screen about wanting the other to listen to her point of view.

The Queen does put an unbearable pressure on Merida when she tells her, “above all, a princes strives to be perfect,” as if that were attainable, and really doesn’t seem to understand her daughters anxiety and dread of betrothal with a throwaway “Oh, Merida, it’s marriage, it’s not the end of the world!”  For her part, Merida spits a very hurtful line at her mother, shouting, “I’ll never be like you!  I’d rather die than be like you!” as she slashes the family tapestry that her mother has been sewing all her life in two.  The Queen responds by throwing Merida’s beloved bow into the fire.  Both are deeply, justifiably hurt.

Merida runs away and comes across a witch, from whom she buys “a spell to change my mum.  That’ll change my fate.”  Surprise surprise, the spell doesn’t quite do what Merida thought it would.   **SPOILER ALERT**  It transforms her mother’s body into that of a bear.

The “will o’ the wisp”s are supposed to be “magic” or spiritual guides, but they really function as plot devices leading Merida to the place where the next scene happens.

Merida and the bear-Queen return to the witch for help reversing the spell, but she’s gone, having left behind only a potion-operated answering service, (that is supposed to be funny but annoyed me because it was ridiculously anachronistic to the story setting.)  They learn that if it is not reversed before “the second sunrise,” the spell will be permanent and the Queen will become a wild bear.  The formula for reversing the spell is:

Fate be changed,

look inside,

Mend the bond

torn by pride.

Merida and her mother are equally frustrated that the other doesn’t understand her point of view.

Merida and the bear-Queen interpret the witch’s instructions to mean that they must literally sew the family tapestry, torn apart in anger, back together.  This involves sneaking the bear-Queen back into the castle and past the roomful of gathered clansmen, and Merida has to utilize the skills in diplomacy and decorum (to distract the clansmen) and domesticity (to sew up the tapestry) that her mother was always trying to impress upon her.  (Earlier I guess we were supposed to think that the Queen had also come to realize the validity of Merida’s perspective, because as a bear she was quite un-ladylike and ate raw fish.  I’m not sure that being physically forced by magical coercion to behave differently than you normally would counts as empathizing with someone else, but then I wasn’t convinced that the Queen didn’t really understand her daughter’s point of view to begin with, just that she didn’t place much importance on it.)

As you could probably guess, mending the tapestry does not reverse the spell, because the “bond torn by pride” was between mother and daughter.  I was fully expecting Merida to have to utter the “magic” words, “I’m sorry”, but instead the movie went with the cliche and less powerful (in this situation) “I love you.”  Really, Pixar?!  This isn’t Beauty and the Beast!  Love and forgiveness overlap, for sure, but I don’t think they are always mutually interchangeable.  Merida to shouted to her mother’s face that she would rather die than be like her, she ripped apart the project her mother had spent years working on, and she tricked her mother into eating a bewitched pie to “change her.”  Even if she didn’t realize it would turn her into a bear, she was purposefully manipulative, underhanded, and selfish.  The appropriate thing for her to say is “I’m sorry”!  (This is one of the reasons I only graded the story as a B).

Looking at this positively, I guess it could be a good illustration of two scripture passages on anger.  The hurtful words and actions that the Queen and Princess exchange are spoken in anger–all the trouble and hurt feelings might have been avoided if they two had tried to apply James 1:19 to their relationship, which says:

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

The other verse this storyline made me think of was Ephesians 4:26-27:

In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Don’t let the sun go down (or the second sunrise come up) on your anger, or else your mother might be permanently transformed into a bear.  That’s the Brave version of Ephesians 4:26.  I should add that, while the Bible doesn’t place a two-sunrise time limit on reconciliation, it does urge a quick resolution to interpersonal conflict.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:23-24 that it is more important to make our human relationships right than to observe religious rituals:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Despite the disappointingly weak and predictable storyline, the film is well worth watching just for the stunningly beautiful animation. Just look at the details in the gif below, like her pinky finger clenching, the light on the fabric moving, her ribcage expanding and contracting as she breathes.  And this shot doesn’t even include her hair, which is incredible–I read that Pixar developed new software in the process of making this movie, just to animate Merida’s hair!

In conclusion, this is a good film, it’s just too bad it’s not the great one I was hoping for.  The message of understanding another’s perspective and reconciling broken relationships is good, and it is one of those rare princess films where the girl has her own plot lines independent of any romantic interests.  (One little girl, after seeing Brave in the theater, reported that Merida doesn’t end up with a prince because “none of them were very handsome.” -thanks EBR).

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.

Prometheus

My initial reaction when the credits rolled on this movie, (which I saw in a packed theater opening night), was, “meh, it was interesting, not great, maybe a good discussion starter.”  Considering it is now four 10 days later and I am still busily dissecting the symbolism, having in-depth discussions and arguments over it with my friends, and breaking my never-read-other-people’s-reviews-until-you-have-written-yours rule, I think I have to amend my initial rating.  Yes, it is a great movie, and totally worth seeing (for those of-age and not too squeamish).  Not because the script is flawless, (it’s not), not because the visuals are cool, (they are), but because it does spark conversations, and hopefully some of them revolve around the same question the characters in the film seem to be asking: what is the meaning of life?  What is the significance of discovering humanity’s origin?  What is the relationship between a Creator/s and his/their creation?

I felt that most of these questions were unanswered, or were unsatisfactorily dealt with, (which may be in part because this film is the first of a planned trilogy), but at least they are being asked.  Prometheus certainly has the potential to provide a basis for a deep discussion, even if it isn’t very deep itself.

As I said, I am still digesting this particular movie.  (Hey, that’s the name of the blog!)  I fully intend to see it at least one more time in the theater, maybe more.  So perhaps I will come back and edit this post with more insights later.  Here are some of my thoughts and reactions for now.  Be warned, **SPOILERS AHEAD**.

A major theme in this movie is finding the meaning and purpose by discovering the “truth” of one’s origins. Scientist Elizabeth Shaw becomes convinced through a series of ancient cave-paintings that “I think they want us to come and find them.”  Who are “they”, you ask?  “We call them Engineers…they engineered us,” she says.  When a skeptical crew member aboard the spaceship asks how she knows this, she responds, “I don’t.  But it’s what I choose to believe.”  (I’m not sure whether that shows a strong example of faith or a poor excuse for a lack of sound theology.  I think that, yes, in the end, you have to have faith, because you’re never going to be able to find scientific answers to all of theology’s questions.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have good reasons for choosing to believe. **see update below**)

In any case, finding the answers to the origin, and therefore the meaning, of life, is what motivates Shaw and her partner on this mission.  (The rest of the crew have their own motives, mostly monetary).  It is assumed that the two quests go hand in hand, and that one informs the other.  It is assumed that the answers are critically important, enough to travel light-years into space to find.  I certainly won’t argue with that.  It’s the same assumptions that people make every time the debate about what to teach in schools regarding Evolution flares up.

Humans aren’t he only ones seeking to uncover the meaning of their existence.  David, (an android played by Michael Fassbender and arguably the most compelling character in the film), knows that he was manufactured by his master Weyland.  But he still wants to know “why.”  And though dialogue repeatedly states that as a robot he has no emotions and cannot understand the human condition, this desire for purpose and a personal connection with his creator makes him appear exactly as human as everyone else, despite his precise and calculating movements.  (This artificial-intelligence-appears-fully-human-and-seeks-to-meet-creator theme echoes that of Blade Runner, also a film by Ridley Scott; I think this shows the self-proclaimed agnostic director is himself seeking answers.)

Seeking answers is what many characters in Prometheus proclaim they are doing, but as the movie demonstrates, just answering where we came from is unsatisfying.  When the team finds proof of alien life, but the aliens are all dead, Charlie (Shaw’s partner) reels into a drunken depression.  Finding supposed proof validating his theory on the origin of life on earth is almost meaningless, because “I wanted to talk to them,” he says.  He didn’t just want answers about his creation, he wanted a relationship with his creator. 

This reminds me of Ecclesiastes 3:9-11, which states,

What does the worker gain from his toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Part of the ‘burden’ of being human is continually desiring to know more.  We spend our whole lives trying to figure out the meaning of life.  We’re unsatisfied with the day-to-day and the evil realities of our world.  We want to know that our lives have purpose and understand where we fit into the grand scheme of eternity.  We want to know the reason we are here.  We want to know there is a reason.  The good news for seekers is that God has said,

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. –Jeremiah 29:13

The sentiment is echoed in numerous places throughout scripture.  In Prometheus, Shaw certainly seems to be seeking the truth with all of her heart.  It remains to be seen whether the planned trilogy will show her finding it, but our Creator has promised us we can find Him, even without stepping foot on a spaceship.  If we seek Him with all our heart.

Scientist seeking answers, Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace.

Questions that I am still puzzling over: What was David’s motivation for poisoning Charlie?  Did he realize it would kill him, and was seeking revenge for Charlie’s dismissing and jerk-like behavior towards him, or was he just emotionless-ly curious as to what exactly would happen?  DID David in fact have feelings?  (Seems like the answer is an obvious yes, but, is that too easy?) If wanting to find out what your creator’s purpose was for you is what makes us human, isn’t David one of the most human characters in this film?  Why was the captain so disinterested in doing his actual job?  (Not a serious question, more of an annoyance with the script).  What did David actually say to the Engineer at the end?  (A discussion among linguists about this is over at the Language Log).  Does Shaw really “deserve to know why” the Engineers changed their minds about supporting the existence of humanity?  I mean, do created beings have a right to demand answers from their Creator like that?  Did all the people God wiped out in the Flood “deserve to know why”?

Other people’s thoughts: this livejournal entry by cavalorn* has been getting a lot of attention and there is a lively discussion in the comments.  He points out a self-sacrificing-to-create-life versus sacrificing-others-to-self-preserve motif, identifies re-contextualization of religious imagery (particularly the virgin birth) and theorizes that the Engineers decided to wipe out humanity because Jesus was one of them, (a space alien,) and humans killed him.  This is a mostly negative review that points out flaws in the script, and pretty much sums up how I felt right after I saw the movie.  And elsewhere someone has compiled a list of unanswered questions at the close of the film.

*When I have more time I would like to come back and add my thoughts on cavalorn’s theory.  Particularly the bit about Jesus being a space alien, and what the theological implications of that would be.

**update**

Suppose that we did travel to a distant planet and discover humanoid remains that shared our DNA.  What would that really mean for traditional Christian theology?  In the movie Prometheus, several characters assume that finding intelligent alien life automatically verifies the theory that life on earth was seeded by aliens, and discredits the Biblical creation account.  But I see no reason why that would have to be the case.  Like Shaw, who does not lose her faith in the existence of God when she discovers the aliens that Charlie asserts “made us,” but instead asks “and who made them?”, I would not cease to believe the Bible just because we came across an unexpected situation that scripture did not specifically speak to.

If there were life on another planet, I would assume that it had also been created by God.  It goes back to the very first verse in the Bible,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. -Genesis 1:1

I take that phrase “heavens and earth” to include everything in the universe.  On day four in the Genesis 1 creation account, God creates “lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years,” (Genesis 1:14), which again I would take to include not only sun, moon, and stars but other planets as well.  The creator’s domain doesn’t end with our atmosphere; if he made everything in the universe, then any life out there was also made by him.  If there were intelligent life on another planet, the tricky question would be whether or not those “people” were governed by the same laws of sin and redemption that bind the descendants of Adam and Eve.

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. -1 Corinthians 15:21-22

If humanoid aliens that shared DNA with earth humans were discovered, it would be possible that they were originally from earth and developed space travel and planet colonization in an ancient civilization.  In that case, they would be descendants of Adam just like we are, born into a sinful state and in need of redemption through Jesus’ sacrifice.  If they weren’t human, if they originated from some other planet entirely, well then I’m not sure what their relationship to sin and redemption would be.  Perhaps God would have a different method of salvation set up for them–as there was a different method on this earth, before Jesus, through animal sacrifice.  Perhaps it’s possible that in a parallel universe, God created an alien race that is living in an unfallen state, but scripture indicates that all life in this universe feels the destructive effects of humanity’s sin:

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  -Romans 8:19-22

Finding intelligent alien life would be fascinating and unexpected, but it in itself would not be enough to destroy the theological premise of Christianity.  Now, if, as the narrative in the film Prometheus reveals, an alien life really did seed life on this planet, and Jesus was nothing more than an alien envoy, then yes, that would pretty much destroy the validity of everything that I believe in.  The literal death and resurrection by the Son of God is crucial, and without it, Christianity is meaningless.  Paul says so exactly in 1 Corinthians 15, (although I doubt he ever imagined his words would be used to answer a hypothetical question about aliens!)  This is a long passage to quote, but I think it’s all relevant and important.  Without Christ’s resurrection, there is no hope for us.  If Jesus was just a space alien killed by an angry mob, then I might react like Charlie does and just start drinking and wallowing in self-pity, too, (emphasis added):

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. –1 Corinthians 15:1-19

Having thought about this film for several months now, I think that I do like Elizabeth Shaw’s line, when asked how she knows her belief is correct, “I don’t.  But it’s what I choose to believe.”  Choosing to believe something won’t make it true, and there are a lot of good reasons beyond blind faith to believe that what the scriptures reveal is the truth–philosophical, theological, historical, archaeological, biological, scholarly reasons.  But in the end, belief in the truth of scripture is a matter of faith.  We will never be able to “prove” its claims using the scientific method.  I have a lot of reasonable arguments behind why I believe the Bible is a true and reliable source, but in the end, it is a choice that I make to believe, in the absence of hard evidence.

I have to reiterate, Prometheus, while definitely not a perfect film, is one of the most thought-provoking movies I’ve seen in quite a while.  It grapples with big questions and is almost certain to spark debates over cosmic questions amongst viewers.  It is well worth watching and discussing afterwards, and I hope that this rather disjointed post is a helpful part of that discussion for Christians and seekers alike.

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.

Hugo

Let me just start by saying that everyone should see this movie!  It is my new favorite, the best that I’ve seen so far this year.  It’s a story with a message about finding and embracing one’s purpose and healing from brokenness, depicted through stunning, worth-while 3D visuals, accompanied by fantastic music and wonderful acting.  It’s a movie for movie-lovers, full of praise for cinema as “the world of imagination.”

Hugo's father described his first movie-viewing experience as being "like seeing his dreams in the middle of the day."

Based on the highly unique novel-and-picture book blend  “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick, the story centers on the young orphaned protagonist Hugo, (Asa Butterfield), who is apprenticed to help keep the clocks running in a busy 1930s Parisian train station.  On a quest to finish repairing the automaton he and his father used to tinker with together, Hugo gains a companion in the form of sophisticated-vocabulary-lover Isabelle, (Chloë Grace Moretz).  Meanwhile, Isabelle’s godfather “Papa” Georges Méliès, (Ben Kingsley), is an angry, bitter old man inexplicably upset by the children’s endeavors.

The children with the Automaton, salvaged from a museum.

One of the main themes in this film was purpose. Seen in a conversation over the yet-to-be-repaired Automaton:

Isabelle: It looks sad.

Hugo: I think he’s just waiting.

Isabelle: For what?

Hugo: To work again.  To do what he’s supposed to do.

And later, more beautifully, in an exchange between Hugo and Isabelle about how they might need to “fix” Papa Méliès:

Hugo: Everything’s got a purpose, even machines.  Clocks tell the time, trains take you places.  Maybe that’s why broken machines make me so sad–they can’t do what they’re supposed to do.  Maybe it’s the same with people–if you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken.

When Isabelle wonders aloud whether or not she might have a purpose, Hugo responds:

Machines never come with extra parts, you know?  They always come with exactly the right amount of parts they need.  So I thought, if the world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part.  I had to be here for some reason.  And that means you have to be here for some reason too.

While there is no explicit mention of God, this metaphor of the world as a machine begs for a machine-maker, and Hugo’s assertion that everyone has a unique and necessary purpose is completely in line with scriptural passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, as well as being an inspirational sentiment.  (How much more at peace might we all be if we spent more time earnestly seeking God’s purpose for us in the world, and less time chasing shallow goals to be admired and popular, or clambering to buy the products mass marketing has told us we need, or to fit the mold society has decided we should wear?)

A depressed Méliès describes himself as "a broken wind-up toy," and bitterly states, "My life has taught me on lesson, Hugo, and not the one I thought it would: happy endings only happen in the movies."

Although this story is fictional, many of the events and characters referenced are historical, including Méliès himself.  I found it quite interesting to read up about him and some of the other historical references after viewing the movie, (though you could always read up beforehand if you don’t mind spoilers).

This film is simply terrific.  I was even impressed by the Station Inspector, (Sacha Baron Cohen), whom I had expected would be nothing more than a one-dimensional source of comic relief in the for of slapstick humor, but who surprised me with his depth and humanity.  (Even the “bad guys” have a purpose!)

I will end with the same words that Méliès uses to introduce a viewing of his films, which highlight the imaginative participation of the audience, and may be how I need to kick off any home movie-watching parties I host in the future:

And now, I address you all as you are: Wizards!  Mermaids!  Travelers!  Magicians!  Come and dream with me.

Immortals

“All men’s souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine.”

This quote, attributed to Socrates, appears in the opening sequence of director Tareq Singh’s sword-and-sandal, man-and-mortal elevated fantasy film, Immortals.  The quote is a bit like the overall tone of the film: interesting, explicitly theological, somewhat true but not exactly scriptural.  Marketed as being “from the same producers as 300,” it features incredible visuals, (including over-the-top violence similar to the aforementioned Spartan epic,) but a weak storyline.  (I would rank it below 300, but above last year’s Clash of the Titans.)  Despite a plot that is at times scattered and in-cohesive, and a setting that is more anachronistic than mythologicaly accurate, Immortals provides some excellent depictions of spiritual truths, and some very inspiring moments of demonstrated faithfulness.  Overall I found this movie to be very thought-provoking, and I liked it.

The plot follows a man named Theseus, (Henry Cavill), favored by the gods to be their (and the human Hellenics’) hero in the fight against villainous King Hyperion, (Mickey Rourke), who is bent on causing destruction and chaos by unleashing the gods’ adversaries, the Titans.  (They were imprisoned for eons by Zeus and his pantheon after losing a cosmic war).   Just how or why Theseus can be useful or necessary isn’t really made clear, but Zeus says it is because the man “does not know danger, fear, defeat, or ridicule.”

The gods of Olympus watch the affairs on earth with concern.

The gods are obviously concerned with the affairs of mankind, (although it’s unclear whether they would care as much if the stakes didn’t directly threaten their position.)  But according to Zeus, there is a “law” restricting the interaction of gods and men.  “None of the mortals on earth should witness us in our immortal form,” he says at one point, and at another he commands that “no god shall interfere in the affairs of man, unless the Titans are unleashed.  If we expect man to have faith in us, then we must have faith in him.  We must allow him to use his own free will.”

Zeus in his mortal disguise (left, John Hurt) and his natural immortal appearance (right, Luke Evans).

Zeus still wants to influence humanity, however, so he uses an indirect method.  He disguises himself as an elderly man, and mentors the fatherless Theseus from childhood, teaching him to fight as well as urging him to consider “finding a good reason to draw your sword in the first place.”  Zeus says, “If there is one human who can lead them against Hyperion, it would be Theseus.  But it must be his choice.”  I really liked the illustration of this subtle strategy, because I do think that God prepares people for the roles he has in mind for them.  Think of Moses, who grew up in an Egyptian palace, then lived in the wilderness for 40 years, which made him the perfect man to advocate against the Pharaoh and then lead his people in a long-term desert lifestyle.  Or think of why Zechariah and Elizabeth were chosen to be the parents of John the Baptist. “Both of them were upright in the sigh of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly,” (Luke 1:6), making them suitable parents to raise the man who would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord,” (Luke 1:17).  You could even compare Zeus’s choice of a mortal hero in Theseus to God’s choice of David as the next king of Israel, even though he didn’t appear as physically kingly as his older brothers, because “the LORD does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).

However, unlike the deities depicted in this film, it’s important to note that the Bible does not describe a God that resists explicitly “interfering” in the affairs of man.  Instead,we see a God that walks with his creation in the Garden of Eden, that tells Noah to build an ark and shuts the door of it, that speaks to Moses directly, that appears to the people of Israel as a column of smoke and fire, that desires his people to build a place of worship for his presence to reside, that sends his angels to deliver messages and encouragement or break people out of prison.  Time and again God intervenes and interacts directly with humans, and though he does rely on humans in the ways described above, we can take comfort that we will never hear him say something like the lines Zeus utters to Theseus (after Ares and Athena break his law):

No god will ever come to your aide again.  Do you understand, mortal?  I have faith in you, Theseus.  Prove me right.”

Our God, by contrast, states dozens of times that he will answer our prayers, and even when Jesus is tasking his disciples with the monumental task of spreading the gospel to the entire world, he promises:

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. –Matthew 28:20

Athena brings a gift of horses. "They will run until their hearts give out."

Many human characters in this movie say they don’t believe in the gods or don’t think they are worthy of worship because they didn’t appear to answer their prayers.  Hyperion’s vow to “end the reign of the gods” is motivated by the lack of the gods’ intervention to prevent the murders of his entire family.  Well, this is a very difficult and real dilemma.  It is difficult to reconcile faith in an all-powerful God with the reality of terrible suffering daily observed here on earth, it can feel at times even to the most devout people as if God isn’t listening.  But the scriptures tell us,

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.” –1 John 5:14-15.

One of the important things to note in this passage is that it is a conditional statement–“if we ask according to his will” Not just “if we ask”.  If we are honestly thinking about God’s will when we pray, we will have to be open to the idea that he might have a larger plan that doesn’t coincide with what we think we need or want right now.  When Joseph was thrown into the pit by his brothers, do you suppose he was praying that he would get out and be able to return home?  Do you suppose he felt that God hadn’t answered his prayer when he was instead sold into slavery?  Yet it was Joseph who later realized, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20).  There is a similarly cool moment in Immortals that illustrates how prayers might be answered in ways you weren’t even thinking about at the time, that end up being better than you could have known to ask for.

**SPOILER ALERT**  A character literally branded as a thief describes his disbelief in the gods by saying, “When I was just a boy I prayed to the gods, for a horse.  But the gods never answered me.  So I stole one instead.”   But at a crucial moment in their travels when they desperately need to race to their destination, Athena gifts the group with horses that take them to the gates just in time, then collapse.  The thief marvels, “it’s the horse I prayed for as a boy!”  Not given to him as a child when it was a frivolous request, but when he was an adult in desperate need.  **END SPOILER**

Other characters, including a council leader, dismiss the idea of the gods entirely, saying:

I understand there are many Hellenics who put faith in gods and legends, but we in the Hellenic Council do not.  They are metaphors, myths! We are a society of laws based on negotiation and reason.

Really, the spectrum of characters in their belief or disbelief in this movie mirror those in our society today.  There are some who believe devoutly, (like Theseus’ mother and the Virgin Oracle Phaedra), some who are ambivalent (like Theseus is initially), some who claim a lack of evidence that the gods exist (like the thief), some who angrily and bitterly reject God, blaming him for their painful experiences (like Hyperion), and some who claim science and logic as their god, (like the council members).

Hyperion is pretty purely evil. He reminds me of 1 Peter 5:8, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour," partly because he was literally devouring food in several scenes.

Hyperion goes on and on in this movie in disgusting detail about his “seed” and how he will create immortality for himself on earth by leaving an extensive physical legacy, (i.e. he will rape and impregnate as many women as possible).  He offers the same chance to Theseus, who responds, “My deeds will make me immortal.  Flesh is fleeting, deeds are eternal.” While I’m not certain how theologically accurate it is to say that “deeds” themselves are eternal, I do think the Bible is clear on the consequences of deeds being eternal.  Word choice aside, Theseus is displaying a perspective that is Biblical, the sense that there is something greater than this world and what the world defines as worthwhile or everlasting.  The Bible says:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. -Matthew 6:19-20

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary posits that “treasures in heaven” in this passage “refers to whatever is of good and eternal significance that comes out of what is done on earth.  Doing righteous deeds, suffering for Christ’s sake, forgiving one another–all these have the promise of ‘reward.'” (D. A. Carson, vol. 8).  Perhaps this is in line with what a disguised Zeus tells the young hero when he says, “It’s not living as such that’s important, Theseus, it’s living rightly.”

One example of the incredible amount of violence: in the scene above, Theseus kills 11 people within seconds of each other as he fights his way towards saving a loved one. I mean, it's pretty impressive...but very violent. (In a separate fight scene he uses a single spear to kill three people, breaking it off and using the leftovers to stab the next person. I totally understand if you are either repulsed or awed by that; for the record, I was awed.)

There are some incredible moments of ultimate devotion and loyalty in this movie.  They are another one of the reasons why it is rated R, since they involve people being tortured and maimed.  In one instance, Hyperion taunts a monk, saying he knows it is against the monk’s vows to kill either himself or another person, so he might as well give up his weapon and tell them the location of the Virgin Oracle already.  The monk’s response is to cut off his own tongue, in order not to break any of his vows, (including his vow to protect the Oracle).  It’s an incredible act, reminiscent of the passage where Jesus talks about cutting off body parts that cause you to sin, (Mark 9:43-47), and while I think it’s pretty obvious that Jesus was using hyperbole, it’s still an incredibly powerful visual.  Being that dedicated to a cause, that determined to avoid behaviors offensive to your beliefs.

**SPOILER-Y SIDETRACK**  The undying loyalty of the Virgin Oracle’s faithful protectors makes the way she so quickly sleeps with Theseus and tosses away her ability to see the future (which she can only do as long as she is “pure”) very disappointing.  Her reasoning sounds completely selfish, especially when contrasted against the actions of her followers who literally died for her, being cooked to death and each still refusing to stop murmuring “I am the oracle” to protect her identity.  “You were right, Theseus, my visions are a curse.  I want to see the world with my own eyes, feel with my own heart, touch with my own flesh.”  A lot of things about her plotline are disappointing, actually, like, what was the point of her leading Theseus to retrieve the Epirus bow? They lost it almost immediately, by knowingly walking into what they knew was a trap.  This is what I meant by scattered, seemingly pointless plot.  Also, why was it necessary for Theseus to be ‘leading’ this human army anyway?  I mean, the titans were unleashed!  So everyone kind of failed, didn’t they?  But I guess as Zeus says at the end, it’s not over yet, the battle wages on…maybe the point is, things don’t always work out the way either side planned?  **END SPOILER-Y SIDETRACK**

Theseus wields the magically powerful Epirus bow, "a weapon forged by Heracles."

Perhaps my favorite visual from this film was the triple-layered battle scene towards the end.  I think it is a fantastic depiction of the multiple levels of good versus evil that exist in our world daily.  We’re given few details about the way angels and demons interact with our world, (see Daniel 10 for one reference), but we do know that the forces of good and evil are at war, not always within our view, and just as Zeus says, “the fight against evil never ends.”

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. –Ephesians 6:12

Unseen to most humans, angels and demons struggle against each other in the spiritual realm, just as the gods and titans wage war in the film.  Meanwhile, mankind is at war with itself, just as humans are forever struggling as a society against our darker sections, against oppression, against poverty, against injustice, against inequality, against lies, against hatred.  (And yes, humans also go to literal war against each other all to often, unfortunately not always as a part of this struggle for the greater good).  Finally, the one-on-one fight between Theseus and Hyperion can represent the struggle of the individual, to not be swayed by dark temptations, to overcome the fight against evil in their own hearts even as they take part in the ongoing battles around them.  It really is a constant struggle, on all sides.

The ongoing battle between good and evil in the unseen spiritual realm.

Just before Hyperion desecrates a temple, a priest warns, “It’s not too late to end this madness.  Salvation can be yours if you wish it.”  As you can imagine, Hyperion doesn’t exactly take him up on his offer, but it is a true statement.  It is never too late, not even if you are the baddest bad guy.  It’s not too late to join the ongoing war against evil, starting with the battle in your own heart.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:21