Home Page

Archive for June, 2015|Monthly archive page

Some notes about Hollywood Films

In Books, Movies and Television on June 29, 2015 at 3:57 am

Movies and Rality

“Can’t we just watch it?!”

When watching a movie in class, many of my students complain when I stop it in order to engage in a discussion of what the movie is presenting.  My response to their “Can’t we just watch it?” is always, sure.  “Sure, this Friday night, in your living room.”  But to be truthful, I don’t believe that we should ever “just watch” a movie.  We need to be aware of what they are presenting as truth or reality.

I’ve written about movies before: R Rated Movies, Does Movie Violence Affect the Viewer?, Language, Sex and Violence–What will we Watch?, The Demonic and the Stupid, A Negative Times a Negative Equals a Positive.  Here are some notes that I don’t think I’ve yet posted:

Movies always show a hero who needs something.

  • What they need is often not what they think they need.
  • Friends, trials, even enemies help the hero to realize what they need.
  • In the end, the hero has an opportunity to take it.
  • It’s interesting to analyze movies on the basis of what the story tellers insist the hero needs.
  • In Hollywood it’s usually, it’s romantic love.

_____________________

Masculinity, Femininity, Love and Sex

  • Male heroes often have a problem with authority–they need freedom?
  • Masculinity in the movies is muscles, emotional restraint, dominance, aggression, sexual prowess and the capacity for violence.
  • Femininity in movies presents the woman as passive and finding her identity in the man. She is expected to be sexually chaste and resist the advances of the male.
  • Sex is a physical expression of romantic love. She was chaste until she realized that she was “in love,” and this is within the rules.
  • Love in Hollywood: Romantic love is passionate, irresistible and able to conquer anything, including barriers of social class, age, race and ethnicity, and personal conflicts.

______________________

Hopeful and Materialistic

  • We like things to wrap up nicely and leave us with a sense of hope for the future.
  • Hollywood films must be rational.  We need a knowable, physical cause for everything.

“The White Knight”

In False Dichotomies - the lines between on June 29, 2015 at 2:18 am

KnightWhere does evil come from?

We’ve got two choices: It comes either from within or from without.

How one answer this question can hinge on how one understands the relationship between Good and Evil.  If we think they are completely separate, then we will tend to divide the world up into the things that are good and the things that are evil.  We will likely work very hard to align ourselves with the good and avoid, or even do battle with, evil.  We will distance ourselves from people who do things that we deem to be evil, for their words or deeds or views that are contrary to ours–the “good”–will show their alignment with evil.  If, in fact, good and evil are absolutely distinct, living this way is essential because we will be thinking and acting in accordance with reality.

But what if this is not an accurate description of the relationship between good and evil?  Then we will be getting ourselves into a lot of trouble because we are not living in accordance with realty.

The Bible begins by telling us that God made everything, and that everything he made was good (Genesis 1:31).  It also tells us that sin affects all people–“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and all things–“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22).  All the things that God declared good, are still good, but they have also been distorted by evil.  This truth makes it impossible to find anyone or anything that is purely good, or purely evil (and determines how one reads Philippians 4:8).

In Mark 7:15 Jesus criticizes the religious leaders for isolating themselves for those they deemed morally inferior–“evil”–pointing out that  “it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” not what comes from outside of them.

The allegorical tale of the White Knight beautifully illustrates what happens when we have a too simplistic view of good and evil and, consequently, fail to attend to the evil that resides in our own hearts.

THE WHITE KNIGHT
by Eric Nicol

Once upon a time there was a knight who lived in a little castle on the edge of the forest of Life. One day this knight looked in the mirror and saw that he was a White Knight.

“Lo!” he cried. “I am the White Knight and therefore represent good. I am the champion of virtue and honour and justice, and I must ride into the forest and slay the Black Knight, who is evil.”

So the White knight mounted his snow-white horse and rode into the forest to find the Black Knight and slay him in single combat.

Many miles he rode the first day, without so much as a glimpse of the Black Knight. The second day he rode even farther, still without sighting the ebony armour of mischief. Day after day he rode, deeper and deeper into the forest of Life, searching thicket and gulley and even the tree tops. The black knight was nowhere to be seen.

Yet the White Knight found many signs of the Black Knight’s presence. Again and again he passed a village in which the Black Knight had struck – a baker’s shop robbed, a horse stolen, an innkeepers daughter ravished. But always he just missed catching the doer of these deeds.

At last the White Knight had spent all his gold in the cause of his search. He was tired and hungry. Feeling his stength ebbing, he was forced to steal some buns from a bake shop. His horse whent lame, so that he was forced to replace it, silently and by darkness, with another white horse in somebody’s stable. And when he stumbled, faint and exhausted, into an inn, the innkeeper’s daughter gave him her bed, and because he was the White Knight in shining armour, she gave him her love, and when he was strong enough to leave the inn she cried bitterly because she could not understand why he had to go and find the Black Knight and slay him.

Through many months, under hot sun, over frosty paths, the White Knight pressed on his search, yet all the knights he met in the forest were, like himself, fairly white. They were knights of varying shades of whiteness, depending on how long they, too, had been hunting the Black Knight. Some were sparkling white. These had just started hunting that day and irritated the White Knight by innocently asking directions to the nearest Black Knight.

Others were tattle-tale grey. And still others were so grubby, horse and rider, that the mirror in thier castle would never recognise them. Yet the White Knight was shocked the day a knight of gleaming whiteness confronted him suddenly in the forest and with a wild whoop thundered tawords him with levelled lance. The White Knight barely had time to draw his sword and, ducking under the deadly steel, plunge it into the attacker’s breast.

The White Knight dissmounted and kneeled beside his mortally wounded assailant, whose visor had fallen back to reveal blond curls and a youthful face. He heard the words, whispered in anguish: “Is evil then triumphant?” And holding the dead knight in his arms he saw that beside the bright armour of the youth his own, besmirched by the long quest, looked black in the darkness of the forest.

His heart heavy with horror and grief, the White Knight who was white no more buried the boy, then slowly stripped off his own soiled mail, turned his grimy horse free to the forest, and stood naked and alone in the quiet dusk. Before him lay a path which he slowly took, which lead him to his castle on the edge of the forest. He went into the castle and closed the door behind him. He went to the mirror and saw that it no more gave back the White Knight, but only a middle-aged, naked man, a man who had stolen and ravished and killed in pursuit of evil.

Thereafter when he walked abroad from his castle he wore a coat of simple colour, a cheerful motley, and never looked for more than he could see. And his hair grew slowly white, as did his fine, full beard, and the people all around called him the Good White Knight.

Mad Max: Fury Road

In Books, Movies and Television on June 17, 2015 at 6:41 am

I just got back from watching Mad Max: Fury Road [SPOILER ALERT]. It didn’t take me too long to wonder if I had made a mistake–it’s a bit over the top. The world into which we are dropped is pretty terrible–I expected it to be terrible, but not that gross. But the film makers are building upon so many other movies in this genre since the original post-apocalyptic Mad Max and it’s sequel, Road Warrior, that they obviously felt they needed to ratchet up the terribleness a notch or two. I can’t say that I ever got to the point where I felt all the dirt, defects, and disgusting were worth it, but the movie does make an pretty important and interesting religious statement. Mad Max? Religious? Yes, the terms hope, redemption and salvation are uttered by the characters and the story is built upon these religious ideas.

It’s an allegory. We live in a world that’s pretty horrible–scarcity, exploitation and religious fanaticism are the order of the day. At the top are the exploiters. Their power is maintained through a combination of withholding life giving water, and other physical necessities, occasionally offering a meager “gift” from their bounty and letting people fight each other for it, and through promises of rewards in the afterlife for loyalty and sacrifice in this world. These are the basic evils that concern your average middle class North American.

The allegory continues: Human beings have a longing for a better world–C. S. Lewis uses the German word Sehnsucht to describe this inherent “longing,” or “yearning” that results from knowing we live in a world that we know this isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, is a character of Sehnsucht; her dissatisfaction with the world comes from a childhood memory of “The Green Place”–read, The Garden of Eden. It is her mission to get back to the green place with four beautiful women who have been used as breeders for the corrupt warlord of The Citadel.

It is interesting that where the Biblical narrative moves from a garden in Genesis to a city in The Book of Revelation, the story in the new Mad Max movie moves from city to garden. This reversal is central to the religious statement the film is making.

One of the things I like about this movie is that the women are actually heroic rather than passive victims waiting to be rescued by a man. This is also a reflection of a positive trend in our culture. There are two men that help out a lot, but the success and fulfillment of the women does not rest solely in the hands of the male heroes. Max and Furiosa are equally heroic and they even swap traditional gender roles; Furiosa is the better shot, where Max is the healer.  The rest of the band of heroes are comprised of young and beautiful, but also capable, girls and the old, sandy, wizened, desert women which are also formidable in their fight against the exclusively male band of evil guys.

Firiosa is going to lead her crew, sans Max, across the salt flats where they hope they can find a place to begin life again and perhaps plant the invaluable seeds that they carry. They are going to, allegorically, re-establish the Garden, but, in the context of the movie, the garden is blended into the future hope of Heaven. Max turns them from this goal–interestingly, it’s not certain that this better world, “heaven,” doesn’t exist, but they do know that The Citadel certainly has enough water to begin again. They turn toward certainty–and it is a certainty. As movie goers, we know that some of them will make it and succeed in creating, if not Heaven, at least a garden, on earth.

And that’s exactly what happens.

It is an allegory that describes how a lot of people in our culture understand hope, redemption and salvation. Our world has some big problems and we need salvation from the rich or powerful or religious exploiters if we are going to have a better world. Our redemption will not, likely, come from an afterlife–our only hope is to do something for the here and now. This will take courage and sacrifice (and men and women working together), but we just might have a chance if we get out from under the control of the 1% and the religious leaders who exploit the rest of us for their own personal gain.

Although many found this movie entertaining, I’m afraid they won’t find it satisfying. The Sehnsucht we are experiencing will not be satisfied by crawling out from under the thumbs of the exploiters. Nor will it result from the flight back to the Garden. Our true longings will only be satisfied when we live in the city for which we were made–the City described in Revelation 21.

What God taught me through the “Dark Times” (1)

In Devotional on June 6, 2015 at 10:43 pm

They say that you learn the most about yourself and that God does most of his sanctifying work during the rough times. Enough time has passed for me to have done some reflecting about what God was teaching me during those years when my life was turned upside-down.

One of the things I learned was fearlessness. I think, before, I must have been scared of a lot of things. I was scared that I would go to the doctor and be told I had only six months to live. I was scared that one of my kids would die. I was scared that my wife would leave me. I suppose I was really hoping that I could live a charmed life and nothing bad would happen to me. If I think carefully about this attitude, I think I made an idol out of the charmed life. Deep down I didn’t trust this idol, hence the fear.  When the tragedy eventually struck my idol was shown to be the fraud it was.  Consequently, I’m not nearly as fearful as I used to be because I now know that God is bigger than the things I feared before and I can trust him.  He was faithful, and true to his promises.