Posts Tagged 'faith'

Must Reads

I may have turned into being all about the movies here, but this is a real world where real things happen.  Here’s some important pieces I’ve read lately…

America’s Christless Christianity – Evangelical Outpost
Violence Flares Again in Tehran – CNN 
A Parting of the Ways – Evangelical Outpost

A quick word about Knowing

nicolas_cage_knowingWent to see the movie over the weekend.  I want to try and write something a little more substantial in response to the film, but I wanted to get this down in the meantime.

(Quick warning–I’m going to spoil things a little here, and the film is really best enjoyed knowing as little as possible before hand.)

I’ve read and heard an assortment of reactions to the film, particularly the ending, which turns a few echatological preconceptions on their ears.  And then there’s the “aliens.” 

Presuming the beings at the film’s climax are simply aliens blurs the other implications raised by the presence of those prophetic numbers.    More than anything, as Chattaway already noted in his review at CT Movies, the film challenges conventions. 

When Jesus came into the world, the culture at the time had a lot of ideas about the kind of role the Messiah would play when he arrived.  Jesus defied all of them.  It’s not too big a stretch to think that, when the final days do occur, they will defy many of the ideas we’ve previously held. 

What we have in Knowing, I think, is more of a redemptive parable.  I can see how some would find the whole idea ridiculous, but there’s a measure of absurdity to any fantastic tale.

Fearless (1993)

fearless2Fearless opens in a cornfield.  Max Klein (Jeff Bridges), a successful architect, leads a small parade of dirty refugees through the tall foliage and into a clearing to find the remains of their plane that fell from the sky.

Emergency crews have arrived, spraying the fires, pulling people to safety.  Max leads his caravan to aid.  Were you on the plane, an EMT asks.  No, Max says, and we know he’s lying.  He hops a cab and heads to a motel.   He rents a room, showers, and stares at himself in the mirror.  You’re alive, he says.  But he does not appear convinced.

What we learn about the crash evolves throughout the film in flashbacks (a precursor to Lost, in a small way), and early on, we get our first look.  Max is flying home with his best friend and business partner (John DeLancie).  The plane jerks, the engines whine.  The pilot cuts in over the PA to tell everyone that the plane has suffered a complete hydraulic failure, and that they’re going to have to ditch.  The plane banks, pitches, and starts a rapid decent; the flight attendants do their best to get everyone organized, even lock all the ladies’ high-heeled shoes in a lavatory.  Max grips the armrests of his seat, terrorized.

Recall, for a moment, an early scene in Big Fish where little Ed Bloom looks in the witch’s eye, and sees the moment of his death.  This knowledge has already frightened two of his friends, who fled the witch’s house screaming.  Bloom, however, calls the knowledge a “help,” and later as he spins his tall tales, he faces certain dangers and threats with a special kind of courage.  “I don’t die here,” he declares at one point, just before Bloom confronts a giant.  On the plane, Max attains a similar catharsis: this is the moment of his death.  And he is unafraid.

Director Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, Witness) unfolds a layered study of psychological trauma.  On one end is Max, suffering a peculiar form of post-traumatic stress syndrome where he requires the continual high of overcoming his fear, and thinks he’s invincible.  On the other is Carla (Rosie Perez), oppressed by crushing guilt and remorse over losing her toddler in the crash.

Given film’s unique ability to create an experience within a narrative, some have argued that the experience is the medium’s chief end.  Weir seems to embrace such an understanding, at times using his film’s narrative to prod the audience into questions through subjective visuals, rather than allow them to lapse into concrete understanding by spelling out the details.  Be it the girls of Appleyard College (Picnic at Hanging Rock), or the boys of Mr. Keating’s English class (Dead Poets Society), Weir uses their stories to plumb their inner worlds, and invites the audience to do so as well.

One of the themes that under girds — sometimes more implicitly than anything else, lying just under the surface — much of Weir’s work is the pursuit of LIFE, as opposed to mere “life.”  “Life” is sometimes tawdry, repetitive, meaningless and rote.  LIFE is active.  It lives.  It creates, overcomes, adapts, learns, and finds excitement, even in the midst of fear.

At one point, pressured by the lawyer looking to cash in on the tragedy, his best friend’s wife suffering from her loss and desperate for some kind of reprieve, and his own wife’s (Isabella Rossellini) struggle to reconnect to her husband, Max flees to the rooftop of a high-rise.  There, though he basks under an endless, open sky, it isn’t enough to conquer the walls closing in.  So he perches himself on the edge of the roof.  It’s a long way down, and he’s terrified.  He fights the strength into his legs and wills them to raise his posture to stand at attention, screaming all the way.  But he stands.  And he finds himself unafraid.  There on the ledge, with the childish joy of a kid knocking the hell out of a soccer ball, he actually dances.  What a lunatic.  But he has captured LIFE, and wrestled it into submission.

There’s a lot of wrestling going on in Max’s soul.  On the inside, everything is fighting to heal, and at first, he can’t figure out how to do it.  He latches on to the nearest warm body with whom he can share in (commune with?) his journey.  We already died, he tells Carla.  We’re ghosts.  His words provide an appealing thematic exploration of pain and discovery, though Carla’s reaction to his grandiose, almost supercilious behavior renders the balance he needs.  Perez injects Carla with a terrific, discerning and mature self-awareness, even in the midst of her deep pain.

The moral complexity of Max’s decision to pursue his relationship with Carla unwinds against Max’s wife’s attempts to reconnect to her husband.  It’s a setting that, in the hands of other writers, could go in any number of interesting (and many more uninteresting) directions, but Weir and screenwriter Rafael Yglesias (who adapted the script from his novel) choose to focus on her stalwart devotion.  Rossellini lends Laura Klein strength replete of any mawkish indignation, and braced with determination to cleave to her husband.

Weir directs his cast to unexpected performances, including a nicely understated John Turturro as a psychologist intent on helping Max along the healing process.  The film’s most glaring fault is that it fails to find a place for him as the film starts wrap things up by mid-way.

Yglesias writes his characters as adults.  While a handful of moments dip into sentiment and drip with emotional appeals for tears, others cast a sublime light on the emptiness of fear, and the virtue of commitment.  The narrative never draws a decisive corollary with faith or spirituality, but is deeply concerned with the questions such beliefs raise.  Max states that he doesn’t believe in God; a curious contrast to Carla’s serious and unpretentious religious faith.  His disbelief, however, is bracketed by a visit to church with Carla, and a defiant shout to the heavens.

After crossing a busy city street, Max alights on the curbside, lays on his back and cries out, “You want to kill me, but you can’t!” he declares.  One has to wonder if this is expressive of his defiance of divinity, or perhaps a subtle recollection (however unintentional) of the portrait of grace present at Moses’ defense of the wayward Israelites before God, who was ready to wipe them all out.

Evangelicals often assert that the opposite of fear is faith, which sounds nice behind a lectern, but doesn’t allow enough room to challenge the roots of fear, whether traumatic or irrational.  Fear suppresses LIFE, Weir seems to say here.  So he asks questions, suggesting the opposite of fear may instead rest on a tenuous relationship between faith and knowledge.

A Look Back at Children of Men (2006)

(use discretion – the trailer does contain one suggestive image)

The day after I saw this trailer, I went and checked out the book.  Dir. Alfonso Cuaron made a number of departures from P.D. James’s novel, though the general thrust of the material makes its way onto film, including a strong nod to the power of the Nativity.