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The story of… the story of… What is it the story of? Oh — the “adventures” of a legendary concierge in a fictional hotel between World Wars. I had to get that from IMDB cause it is not apparent watching this movie just what exactly is going on, and who cares?
I am a fan of Wes Anderson’s older work, and his quirkiness of characters and storylines. I mean, Bottle Rocket is one of my favorite indie films of all time. So I tried to like this movie. I really did.
Say the good first, Brian, say the good first.
I have one good thing to say about it. Every shot, every frame, is a beautiful painting of light, composition and color. Truly, every shot, every frame. It DESERVES the Oscar for cinematography.
But every other nomination — Really?
The rest of the movie is just long, boring, ridiculous convoluted episodes of unfunny silliness. It is full of verbose narration over an artificial acting style of quirky but soulless unsympathetic cartoon characters spewing pretentious literary dialogue in convoluted episodes of an uninteresting story.
Other than that, there’s just not much to say about it.
Gimme back my ninety minutes you stole from me, Mr. Anderson.
(spoken in the dialect of Agent Smith from The Matrix).
The story of Alan Turing, the brilliant yet troubled mathematician who led the cryptographic team that defeated the Nazi Enigma code in WWII and created the world’s first computer.
Wow, this Oscar season offers a slew of amazing performances. This one by Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing is a riveting and pathos filled drama that views like a gay version of the Oscar winning A Beautiful Mind.
This movie is a riveting, solid, well-told story. Brilliant in its machinations and exciting in its imagination. It explores the nuance of moral decisions in war, the complexity of social classes and issues, the alienation of mental illness, and the pain and irony of genius.
Who could have thought that there could be such exciting suspense, such heart-stirring pity, and such powerful moments of cheerful dramatic victories in a movie about a group of weird nerds penciling out mathematics and building a computer? But The Imitation Game is all that.
And it’s a brilliant artistic masterpiece for the homosexual agenda.
Many conservatives and religious folk have said that the homosexual element is minor and not what the movie is really about. They have missed the point entirely and have become victims of good storytelling, no, great storytelling.
Let me explain how this works.
A great story is able to link, by analogy, a personal journey to a larger societal or historical issue that both connect by analogy to a broader universal theme. For instance, A Beautiful Mind told the story of Nobel Peace Prize winning mathematician John Nash (also, an asocial type like Turing), whose brilliant work in cryptography, coupled with his schizophrenic mental illness, became a metaphor for the universal theme of the modernist rational quest for truth and the romantic humanist desire for love and meaning. His mind’s limitations caused delusions of paranoia, but the heart has its reasons that the mind knows not of. It’s Cold War subtheme of paranoia was historically timely in that the movie was released in a post-9/11 world. John’s own personal psychological struggle with discerning reality from illusion was an incarnation of our modernist quest to discern truth from fiction, and real from imagined enemies. His personal struggle with his mental illness was a perfect metaphor for a philosophical and social issue.
The Imitation Game is a similar timely metaphor. It tells the story of an oddball man who was rejected by the very society that he saved because of his genius. A tragedy of greatness. It is about breaking down our personal and social prejudices by showing that the very kind of people we often reject are the ones who do great things, such as, oh, save the world. History definitely bears out the repeated theme of the movie, “Sometimes, it’s the very people that no one imagines anything of that do the things no one can imagine.” Society too often rejects the misfits, who may offer the most to bring balance to the world. And who of us doesn’t at some time in our lives feel like such misfits and oddballs who feel out of place?
Let the spin games begin.
Storytelling does not make logical arguments so much as emotional arguments. It incarnates logic or worldviews which touches us existentially as storied human beings. Story makes its most powerful connections emotionally through such rhetorical techniques as montage. The concept is that by placing two or more disparate images or storylines next to each other, viewers make emotional connections between those things, whether or not they are logically connected.
In The Imitation Game, the story addresses social “inequities” most of us would not dispute. It deals with the unfair repression of women in the workforce and society. Keira Knightley’s character, and closest friend of Alan, Joan, is shown as being smarter than all the boys, while being given short shrift in society. She isn’t allowed to work with only men, her parents pressure her to get married instead of becoming a working woman. These are all the classic feminist arguments neatly packaged into a perfect victim that only a Blue Meanie would not sympathize with.
Then, it shows us Alan’s alleged autistic Asperger’s type social awkwardness. Well, who among us would not feel sorry for such innocent suffering? The poor guy can’t help it, and he’s really quite sweet underneath that rudeness and lack of emotion and sensitivity. Heck, understanding people is like cracking a code for him. And of course, it is precisely that autism that blesses him with the mathematical brilliance to break the Enigma code of the Germans that ended the war early and saved millions of lives. But that is not all. That autism that we would see as “abnormal” resulted in figuring out the world’s first computer, one of mankind’s greatest achievements.
So, you can see the litany of injustices that are laid out, with which the viewers could not disagree. Civil rights of women, unjust stigma of mental illness, the revenge of the nerds.
Americans are suckers for the underdog. If you want to engender sympathy for a character, make them suffer persecution, unfairness, injustice. In other words, make them a victim. The ultimate power of the extreme violence of the The Passion of the Christ was that it basically made Jesus the most unjustly brutalized victim in the history of cinema. Which is really necessary since the point was to make him the savior of the world through suffering, so Gibson had to maximize that suffering to make the emotional connection in the viewer with the grandiosity of the redemption. This is why many liberals, in a fit of outright contradiction, hated The Passion as being “obsessively gory” but fully embraced the equal brutality of 12 Years a Slave as being “redemptive,” though both movies were doing the exact same thing. Because such viewers do not want to give religion the same redemptive power as race.
The thematic cleverness of The Imitation Game lies in its montage connection of Turing’s homosexuality with his genius and with all these other civil rights issues with which we have all come to agree upon. The movie creates a touching tragic homosexual love story from Turing’s past to show his deep pain of loss. And then it lays it on heavy with a bookend story of Turing’s tragic arrest and conviction of his homosexual acts in a time and place in British history where it was illegal. Who wouldn’t feel sorry for the suffering of chemical castration that he had to endure as a legal penalty? Again, more victimization, more emotional sympathy.
It will never occur to many viewers that there is no rational justification for claiming sexual behavior as an innate civil right, that there is no logical or rational connection between Turing’s homosexuality and his genius, his saving the world, or other civil rights protections. There doesn’t have to be. An emotional connection was made through montage and analogy, and that is just as powerful on the viewer’s psyche. Emotionally, the viewer feels the connection of Turing’s homosexual identity with greatness and with saving the world. The irrational, yet emotional conclusion is that to be against homosexuality is to be against greatness and saving the world.
This is the very reason why homosexual activists have been successfully commandeering school curriculums across the US to teach historical “contributions of homosexuals.” Even though their sexuality has nothing to do with their achievements, by emphasizing that identity through indoctrination, they will emotionally manipulate society to accept it as normal, or be ostracized as homophobic bigoted haters who will stop great achievements from saving the world simply by disagreeing with the morality of homosexuality. No logical or rational arguments are allowed.
Coded messages are creatively embedded in the story to subvert the viewer though analogy. Here’s how its done. The storyteller makes an argument with which the viewer agrees, by using phrases that are common with an argument with which the viewer may not agree. So, when Alan is explaining how machines and human minds are different, he says, “The question is, just because a machine thinks differently than you, does that mean it is not thinking? We allow such differences with humans. He have different tastes, different preferences. Our brains work differently.” Though these statements are about one area of scientific differences, they clearly reflect the common framing of the homosexual debate as “sexual preferences” rather than sexual morals, and the already discredited attempt to say brains of homosexuals are different by nature. You know, “born this way.” In this way, emotions can persuade contrary to the facts and reason.
The ultimate argument for normalizing homosexuality is the complete deconstruction of “normal,” to the point where people have contempt for “normality” by spinning it as being unrealistic, even destructive. At the end of The Imitation Game, Alan is depressed and envious of Joan’s “normal life.” But she then says that no one normal could have done what he did. She explains a litany of things like trains and tunnels and people that would not exist if it were not for him saving the world through decoding Enigma. She says, “If you wish you were normal, I can say that I certainly do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t normal.”
A detective who figured out Alan’s secret sex life, after hearing his story of decoding Enigma, says, “I can’t judge you.”
So, now the emotional connection is reinforced between “judging” (that nasty evil word in our multiculty world) and “normality” (that wicked evil claim of Christians about sexuality). Really, this becomes a subversive intolerance and hatred of normal as evil.
Rational arguments are neatly subverted by the power of emotional ones in this beautifully crafted masterpiece of emotional montage. It’s really quite impressive propaganda. I think Christians could learn a thing or two from it that they should apply to their shabbily crafted celluloid sermons.
But there is another comparison with Christians and homosexuals in this world war of stories. The victimization of the homosexual in The Imitation Game is exactly reversed in the movie, Unbroken, about the Christian Louis Zamperini and his suffering as a WWII POW. It really typifies the reversal of what I think is going on in our culture where those who disagree with homosexual practice are now being targeted for their identities and oppressed through social bigotry and Christophobia (businesses and careers destroyed, smear campaigns of hate). In The Imitation Game, the homosexual identity is connected with the story of greatness, while in Unbroken, the Christian identity is disconnected from the story of greatness.
And who is the one whose identity is being oppressed?
Serious drama of a New York music school student drummer seeking greatness and his verbally abusive politically incorrect mentor who pushes him beyond his limits.
Hollywood is narcissistic and self-infatuated with the importance of artists and their art. From Sunset Boulevard to A Star is Born to Birdman, we are constantly exposed to the inner and outer turmoil of the artist obsessed with success, excellence, meaning and purpose. Hollywood portrays artistic “genius” as often “misunderstood” or “destroyed” by a morally traditional society (The Invisible Woman, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Surviving Picasso), or artists as “ahead of their time” and missed by a conventional world (Basquiat), or as suffering saviors (Bright Star, Vincent and Theo). There are now so many movies and TV series of the insane but beloved creative world of Hollywood, you could name a new genre “Hollyweird” (The Player, Barton Fink, The Big Picture, Tropic Thunder, Adaptation, Mulholland Drive, Entourage, Ed Wood etc.)
Look, I’m biased, because I’m one of those obsessive artists, so I find a lot in those stories that I resonate with. But there is much that I am also repulsed by, such as the self-destruction of many artists, or their rationalization of narcissism, decadence, and deviance.
But let’s be honest, the heart and soul of the artist in many of these stories can be a powerful microcosm of the macrocosm of all our lives. The pursuit of beauty and excellence in art is a metaphor for the significance we are all seeking in different ways. Whether, nurse, lawyer, plumber, cop, writer, janitor, athlete, or housewife, many seek excellence in what they do because they know that doing it well results in something good. Everyone wants to be connected to something of significance.
Beauty has a certain sense of meaning to it. It frees us from our self-delusions of rationalism and empiricism. Beauty points toward meaning that exists above or beyond our mundane scientific existence that only ends in death. (atheist naturalism and scientific materialism are philosophical cults of death). Beauty implies transcendence. Which is why so many artists, including Hollywood artists, worship beauty as a false idol substitute for the living God.
Whiplash is a thoughtful portrayal of an artist seeking beauty and excellence that reminds me of the double edged sword of the pursuit of great art.
Andrew is a freshman drumming student at a New York conservatory of music. He gets “discovered” by a mentor instructor, Fletcher (played with real heart and soul by J.K. Simmons), who leads the coveted jazz ensemble that wins all the competitions and leads to a hopeful future. The problem is, Fletcher is a verbally abusive, trash-talking, politically incorrect hammer on his students. He treats them sometimes so irrationally harsh, they have no idea how to change or be better because he seems arbitrary or impossible in his demands to match “his tempo.”
Fletcher is nice to Andrew for exactly one moment and then launches into an unending tirade of belittling because he sincerely believes that the only way to achieve greatness in music is to push people beyond their limits. His quintessential example repeated throughout the movie, is that jazz musician Charlie Parker only became great because Joe Jones threw a cymbal at his head when he first played poorly for him. Fletcher says, it was that which caused Charlie to go back and practice so hard that he became “the Bird” because of it.
The idea here is quite universal: greatness only comes out of those who never give up and endure beyond where everybody else gives up. This is not to say that everyone is capable of such greatness, but rather that the great ones will rise out of such adversity that discourages the “normal” or mediocre ones. So innate talent is not denied here. Rather, excellence is elevated over mediocrity, which is quite politically incorrect in our current egalitarian world that seeks to destroy quality and excellence in the name of equality, fairness, and “leveling the playing field.” If you do your job too well in many companies or life situations, you are actually hated and ostracized by the “normal,” the unions, the government and other worshippers of mediocrity and equality.
A particularly poignant scene occurs at the dinner table in Andrew’s home, where Andrew’s family and friends laud and praise his brother and friend for their minor league football achievements while barely noticing Andrew’s musical accomplishments of greater import. Why? Because their shallow lack of appreciation for what is really important.
I can tell you, that is one very real experience that many of us artists have indeed experienced in our families. Though, in truth, the snooty high-art bifurcation from popular arts is itself another kind of ignorant bigotry of the elite. After all, some of the greatest art really has been created by pop artists: musicians, filmmakers, and others. Charlie Parker was a Mozart of jazz, and jazz is not inferior to classical, any more than an indie or art-house film is necessarily more artistic or important than a studio blockbuster (unless its Michael Bay)
But here’s the thing: my buddy Joe Potter and I have had an ongoing conversation over decades about whether or not great artists (or great anything) can ever be truly good persons. It seems like so many great artists are complete A-holes, who abuse drugs, women, family, those who love them, and heck, humans in general. You cannot help but wonder if the pursuit of creative excellence is at odds with the pursuit of humanity and love. Though I believe there is a good theoretical argument for goodness and greatness rooted in a proper understanding of a good and great Creator, I have to admit that in the practical world, such lived-out theory is quite hard to find.
Are only alienated and selfish people of extremes capable of creating such artistic excellence or can a well-adjusted and happy stable person of balance create significant beauty? It seems that suffering is the crucible of character, depth and wisdom. But must abuse and meanness be the only catalyst to create that suffering? Perhaps so in our pampered world of ease and entitlement, where the only suffering many people experience is when their smart phones go dead.
Fletcher creates artificial suffering in order to call out the hidden Charlie Parkers that may exist somewhere in his mass of mediocrity. Because the truly great ones like Charlie would never give up against such setbacks. In fact, it spurs them on to work harder and be better. A lesson we should all learn in life.
The positive intent of Fletcher’s approach is expressed when he tells Andrew that “there are no two words in the English language that are more harmful than ‘good job.’” “Good enough” is the enemy of greatness. It stops you from reaching for your higher potential. Again, as an artist, I teared up at this scene because I have struggled with this very temptation to accept good enough over best.
But here’s a push back: Is greatness the only thing of value when it comes to art? Is there not beauty in normality or harmony? Will the only movie that matters be the one that wins the Oscar? (of course not) Hasn’t greatness been overlooked by the elite just as often as the masses? At one point in the movie, the football frat boy asks Andrew if the music competitions he wins are kind of subjective, and Andrew answers no. But the movie does not indicate the fact that Andrew is in fact wrong. Though there is some element of objective skill that is certainly a part of the craft of any art, subjectivity in taste is just as certainly a part of it as well. After all, the Oscars themselves are determined by Hollywood politics and money, certainly not some objective standard of greatness. Sometimes “greatness” can become its own enemy.
At what price great art?
The genetic connection of selfishness and greatness is another theme explored in the film, at the midpoint, where the protagonist fully commits to his course and there is no turning back. Andrew breaks off his new relationship with his love interest, Nicole. He explains to her that he wants to be one of the great drummers, which means he will spend more and more time at his drumming, which will take time from her, which will cause her to resent him, which will cause him to resent her for forcing him to take time away from his drumming. So they should just avoid the whole mess by breaking up now because he wants to be great. It’s quite simple and direct. And profoundly sad in the revelation of its narcissistic self-obsession. Later in the film, he experiences failure and seeks her comfort, but it is too late for this lover of greatness, because she is already in love with someone else.
But Andrew does have his moment of being pushed to greatness and that loss of love is quickly forgotten as insignificant, even necessary, as Andrew finally makes a psychic connection with his mentor, Fletcher, who appears to finally have found his Charlie Parker. But this “glory” of greatness leaves the viewer to wonder if the storytellers have failed to consider the ramifications of their own story. Rather than depicting the true damaging cost of sacrificing everything to the god of “greatness,” this film seems to be saying that in the end it’s worth it.
And that turns the beauty of excellence into ugliness.
The story of brilliant Cambridge cosmologist Stephen Hawking and his relationship with his wife Jane Hawking, based on her book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.
If Eddie Redmayne does not win the Oscar for his portrayal of famed scientist Stephen Hawking, it will be a proof for the existence of Satan.
Hawking is as universally famous for his Quantum physics as for the debilitating disease that froze his body into a prison. This movie does a masterful job of capturing the heart wrenching decline of Hawking’s physical capacities that began in his college years at Cambridge. You cannot watch his transformation from a young idle but brilliant young man into the twisted frozen cripple without having your heart deeply moved by the pathos and irony of such misfortune.
But this movie is also a love story that embodies the additional irony of an uneasy relationship between faith and reason in our secular age. Felicity Jones is fabulous with nuance as Jane Wilde Hawking, who meets Stephen in college and falls in love with him just before his diagnosis of ALS, the disease of the baseball hero, Lou Gehrig. It cripples the body, but leaves the mind untouched.
What makes this story so fascinating is that Jane is an Anglican Christian while Stephen is an atheist. When Jane first finds out that Stephen is a “cosmologist,” he explains it is like “religion for intelligent atheists.” She asks him “what do you worship?” and he replies, “One single equation that explains the universe.” This motivation, which sounds suspiciously like a God substitute, becomes the Bethlehem Star for Hawking’s life journey as a mathematician who “can’t allow his equations to be muddled by a supernatural creator.”
But Jane is no simple-minded pushover in her spiritual beliefs. She retorts with a feistiness that she carries through the film, “That seems less an argument against God than against physicists,” and thus their stormy relationship of passionate strange attraction that gives Stephen motive to live, and the spiritual repulsion that drove them apart. (In one point of the movie, they look up at the stars and Jane quotes Genesis One. But she doesn’t say, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” rather, she says, “In the beginning was the heavens and the earth…” Which is revealing of the filmmaker’s bias in not wanting to give God too much screen time.)
The strain on their relationship develops when Stephen is incapable of helping Jane with family duties, He withdraws into his physics work as she raises their (ultimately three) children. He lives in denial of his disease because he refuses to be defined by it. He avoids using a wheelchair, keeps using the stairs by crawling up and sliding down, and worst of all, denies Jane the full time help she needs to take care of him. This character flaw in Hawking has the result of incarnating a paradigm for the triumph of the human spirit in the face of great adversity. An imprisoned body cannot keep the self-determined mind from flying to heights of grandeur.
The problem is that what the filmmakers seek to depict as a victory of boundless humanity over the boundaries of life actually becomes an unwitting tragedy of the self-delusion of mankind without God. As much as Hawking denies his limitations, he hurts the one who loved him most. He ultimately has to accept a wheelchair, can no longer climb the stairs and gives in to having full time help. Why? Because reality will always crush human pride and force us into submission whether we like it or not. (We. Will. All. Die.)
And that leads to the second tragic element of this story. The new help is a man who begins with genuine concern to help Stephen, but inevitably falls in love with Jane. And one can certainly understand the overwhelming temptation of having a “normal” relationship with a healthy equal under such strain. Jane and her reluctant lover manage to fight their baser instincts our of their moral convictions and apparently do not give in to temptation.
Jane’s own moral striving over the flesh is contrasted with Stephen’s selfish absorption. But the dark matter between them leads to Stephen’s own adulterous betrayal of Jane with one of his later female helpers. We see a twisted kind of loving control the new caretaker has with Stephen that draws him away from the one woman who truly loved him and sought his well being for 30 years. The mind is not the only thing that can overcome physical limitations, so can human pride.
But the real tragedy of this story is not so much in the physical captivity of a great mind, or the degeneration of love and marriage, as much as it is in the spiritual captivity of a mind in denial of reality. Again, this is not the intent of the filmmakers, but rather the inescapable deconstruction of their own godless theme.
At the end of the film, in an atheist sermon quite similar to Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot foolishness, Hawking says to a crowd at the end of the film, “It is clear we are ordinary primates on a planet orbiting an average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred million galaxies. but ever since the dawn of civilization, people have sought for understanding to the underlying order of the world. There ought to be something special about boundary conditions of the universe. And what can be more special than that there is no boundary? There should be no boundary to human endeavor. No matter how bad life seems, there is always something you can do and succeed at. While there is life, there is hope.”
No boundaries, huh? Exactly what scientific observation or mathematical formula gives the physicist that idea? That may be a nice humanistic slogan of inspiration but it is deeply scientifically false and lethal to finding that simple equation for salvation. For our boundaries are so intrinsic to our existence that denying them is self-delusion. We are all going to degenerate and die. That’s a boundary condition that is scientifically irrefutable and inescapable (despite the sci-fi fantasy of transhumanists). We are contingent finite beings in a contingent finite universe—also a scientific fact.
If there are no boundaries, then physicist, heal thyself.
Or should I say, physicist, create thyself.
Ever since the Tower of Babel, Homo Ignoramus Rebellious has sought to “make a name for ourselves” by building our towers of self-deification. We don’t want to be accountable to a Creator, so we deny our own limitations and boundary conditions and in flying leaps of irrational delusion, conclude we are without limits. We can become as gods. Well, if you deny the central point of rationality, the Judeo-Christian God, it makes sense that you will replace him with an idol of yourself. The insanity of Original Sin.
It is in understanding the boundaries and learning how to let them guide you to the truth wherein real freedom lays.
Einstein once said that scientists are poor philosophers and he was right. Like Hawking, they call for the “end of philosophy and religion,” with their pseudo-science, while they make speculations that they themselves do not even realize are not scientific but philosophical and religious speculation.
One can claim that the universe is infinite, but in order to do so, one must be a science denier. To posit that everything came from nothing is anti-science. To posit that life came from non-life is anti-science. To posit a multi-verse of infinite universes is pure philosophical speculation without empirical support. It amounts to a religion created to salve the wound of the self-referential absurdity of atheism. Atheist scientific speculators like Hawking are merely creating their own religion in the name of physics—but make no mistake, it is religion and philosophy, not science.
The summary of Hawking’s life is sadly an incorrigible denial of the scientific and logical implications of his own pursuit of the origin and meaning of the universe: A Creator. He will not bow the knee to the higher power, so he makes up a fairy tale of a philosophically and scientifically absurd self-creating universe in order to justify his pre-determined philosophical conclusion, “What need for a creator?” “No boundaries, no beginning, no creator.”
At one point in the film, we hear the line from Hawking’s hit book, A Brief History of Time, about the hope that when we know the simple equation, we will “know the mind of God.” Jane mistakenly thinks that this is some kind of concession to the possibility of a God, but she misses the point. In context of that book, Hawking was redefining God out of existence by using “mind of God” as a euphemism for the impersonal mathematical equation that supposedly upholds and runs the universe (And they say Christians believe silly things). His intention is to say, call it God, if you want, but it’s ultimately an impersonal force (Always add after such statements: “And I am not accountable to it for my moral behavior” and you will understand the true origins of the black hole of human nature).
I have no desire to make light of Hawking’s brilliance or of his suffering in this world. To the contrary, as I watched this movie, I was profoundly moved. I wept at his suffering and the suffering he caused his wife and family. I could not help but think of how the mind untethered by God results in a captivity that is far more wretched than the degeneration of the body, indeed the universe. It moves one to posit absurdities of one’s own grandeur and the denial of the logical consequences of meaninglessness in an atheist universe. It drives silly tiny man to shake his trembling cramped fist at his Almighty Creator. “No boundaries! No beginning! No creator!”
After all, if we are really as meaningless and insignificant as Hawking concludes, then it is self-delusion to conclude with the absurd non-sequitur, “If there is life, there is hope.” There is no hope in such a case, there is only death and nothingness to look forward to. You can’t create meaning out of nothing.
Unless you live in denial of reality.
I finally got a glimpse of understanding of the beauty of the promise of resurrection in Hawking’s own misfortune of captivity. Here is a man who Jesus offers true hope, not false humanistic hope, of truly having final triumph over all the boundaries of life and death. How I longed to see this man rise up at the Resurrection of the Dead and become whole in mind, body and soul. In a way, he is a metaphor for us all, captive in our twisted pride and denial, seeking freedom everywhere but in the only one who can free us from our own self-delusion of “no boundaries, no beginning, no creator.”
These words of Jesus came alive to me with hope in the face of deep sadness:
Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This movie is coming out in April. I got a chance to see an early screening. Keep your eye out for it. It’s the movie that the Oscar nominated Boyhood should have been.
Written and directed by Alejandro Monteverde, the guy who gave us the wonderful adoption story, Bella, and his co-writer Pepe Portilla, this heartwarming family film is actually great storytelling for all moviegoers, not merely those who prefer family-friendly movies. It is so much more than that.
Pepper Flynt Busbee is a seven year old boy in an American town who is so small for his age, he gets teased and bullied and called, “Little Boy.” Even his bigger brother, London, doesn’t appreciate him. Only Pepper’s father, James, treats the kid with dignity. In fact, he loves him with special favor because he sees the big heart and soul of his little boy. They virtually live within imaginative stories in the comics and movies. It’s a touching portrayal of the love of a father and son. And we hear a common phrase between them that becomes a thematic handle for the film, “Do you believe you can do this?” “I believe I can do this!”
When big brother London is drafted into the army for WWII, he is rejected for flat feet, and some kind of law then requires the father of the family to take his place. The dad, James goes into the war to fight, and we follow Little Boy’s anxious desire for his father to come back as the war rages on.
A single elder Japanese man, Hashimoto, lives in the town after being freed from the Japanese internment camps. He becomes the recipient of hostility and bigotry of the residents, including the Busbee family, whose father becomes missing in action against the Japanese war machine in the Philippines. Pepper’s own bullied experience becomes a touchpoint of connection between these two who begin a rocky friendship at the behest of the local priest, Father Oliver.
What I liked about this story was that it dealt with the sensitive subject of racism but with fair nuance that took into account an understanding of the perspective of those whose loved ones where in the War. In an insightful moment of cultural connection, Hashimoto tells a story to Pepper that is a Japanese version of the David and Goliath story that Pepper draws inspiration from. There is always some point of contact in every culture with the truth of God.
But I also thought that it deals with faith in a unique and thoughtful way, not usually seen in movies. Pepper thinks he can use the magic power of his comic book hero, the Magician, to bring back his dad from the War. The priest tells him it’s a lot like faith, but that the Bible tells us that our faith won’t work if we have the slightest bit of hatred in our hearts. He then gives Pepper a list of good works to do that includes feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and making friends with Hashimoto.
Though this is a distinctly Roman Catholic sensibility of faith and works, it finds a pretty good balance between the faith and works divide of Protestants and Catholics. I don’t think there is much here for Protestants to get offended by.
The Bible does say after all that faith without works is dead (James 2:14), as well as “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (2 John 4:5).
The story wrestles with this faith in a genuine way. You don’t have to agree with all of this story’s depiction of faith in order to draw from its insightful lessons of the human condition. Rather than the typical Hollywood movie notion of faith as being rooted in the believer, this story makes the point that we don’t always get our way, and that God says, “faith can move mountains, but ultimately, it’s up to the Mover,” not us. In other words, God answers prayer, but not always the way we want. This is contrasted with Hashimoto’s belief that Pepper should have faith in himself, but even Hashimoto learns a lesson of faith at the feet of this child as unexpected surprises continue to delight the Busbee family and the viewers of this thoughtful heartwarming story.
I was amazed at how this South American filmmaker was able to capture Americana with such profound and emotionally moving incarnation. He even had Norman Rockwell homages in some of his scenes. But then, Americana is not really a nationalistic or racial identity like other countries, but a set of values and ideas that are universal: Freedom, family, faith, forgiveness, and fighting bullies.
There is also a powerful theme of substitutionary atonement that echoes through this film, another powerful element of a Christian worldview that can best be understood through dramatic emotional narrative. I won’t ruin it by spelling it out other than to say that from the beginning when father substitutes for son in the war, until the end, the Christian notion of people sacrificing for each other by bearing their suffering or punishments is a truly memorable theme that will make this film last not only in your memory days after you’ve seen it, but will be something that beckons for multiple viewings.
My only complaint was a small factual inaccuracy that was a minor point in the film but important to me personally, having studied this time period of WWII. The story goes through to the end of the war and includes the atomic bomb. At one point, we learn that the Japanese might kill all Allied prisoners in retaliation for Hiroshima. This reminds me a bit too much of modern day blame-shifting of Islamism’s evil as a reaction to so-called “western imperialism.” Much like Islam’s centuries’ prior dedication to conquering the world has nothing to do with American foreign policy, so the Japanese plan to kill all prisoners had nothing to do with America’s dropping the Bomb. It was in their Bushido code for generations prior that prisoners did not deserve to live. It was Imperial Japan’s sick and twisted ideology of racist superiority that had long driven their worldview to kill prisoners. But I chalk that up to political naivete, not malice. This minor flaw is almost nothing compared to the positive heart stirring family values the film reinforces in a wonderfully told story.
Little Boy is one of those rare movies made by Christians that is not a bad movie. It’s a great movie with Christian meaning. The Executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, who also produced the huge TV hit series The Bible and the movie hit The Son of God, seem to be the new Babe Ruth of Christian filmmaking. This movie is another home run.
Slice-of-life drama of a young boy’s experiences from age 5 to age 18.
Ever since his first indie films, Slacker and Dazed and Confused in the early 90s, writer/director Richard Linklater has been known for his slice-of-life genre films of people rambling on about thoughts on life in plotless narratives that seek to capture the feel of a generation, time period or location.
And now, he’s received an Oscar nomination, after all those years, for his new slice-of-life plotless narrative of rambling. I have six words for this nomination: What the hell were they thinking?
The gimmick of the movie, and it is a gimmick, is that Linklater filmed the actors of the story over a period of 12 years in order to use the same young boy and his character’s sister as the actors playing the roles over those 12 years (along with the leads of their parents played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. But hey, adults usually don’t change as much).
The gimmick doesn’t work. The boy is an okay actor, but his sister is terrible. Quite frankly, the boy looks so different as he ages that Linklater could have used a different actor. The result would have been much better had he just cast GOOD actors to play each age. Ah, but you see, such bias as that comes from those of us narrow-minded unsophisticated moviegoers with our unreasonable demands of actually wanting a good story.
And story this movie does not have. Yes, it is a “character study” of the interfamily dynamics of divorced parents and the attachment theory of its effects on children. But good storytellers can accomplish character study within a good story. Every scene plays like a moment that will lead to something, but never does, leaving the viewer unsatisfied.
The boy in the movie, Mason, watches his mom struggle to make her way as a single mother through a string of alcoholic husbands, while his father, a free-spirited artist pops in and out of their lives with a happy sort of nihilism. The boy and his sister grow up with blended families, graduate high school and start going to college. And then it ends with Mason’s first day at college meeting new friends.
And. That’s. About. It. Nothing ever really happens.
But the real problem with this film is not merely that it is an endless parade of purposeless moments, or as his mother complains, “A series of milestones: having a family, getting divorced, getting married,” blah blah blah. “And do you know what’s next? My f***ing funeral. I just thought there would be something more.”
The real problem is: that is the point that Linklater is trying to make with his non-story story. Mason asks his father, “So what’s the point of any of this?” His father responds that “You are responsible for you. We’re all just winging it.” Another character, I can’t remember which one because they are all the same passive lifeless characters just winging it, says, “Everyone’s stuck in between states, not really experiencing anything.” I think it was Mason.
The very last scene of the movie spells out this sermon of nice guy nihilism when a college girl says, “Everyone says ‘seize the moment.’ But I think it’s the other way around. I think it’s the moment that seizes us.” Mason concludes, “Yeah, it’s like it’s always right now.” Constant moments. College-aged existentialist angst and self-creation.
I won’t begrudge Linklater’s philosophizing. I actually think its one of the few good things about this movie. I actually appreciate a film that wrestles with the universal search for significance, even if I don’t agree with his conclusion. And for that attempt I thank him.
The other good thing is a great scene where the father makes a mix CD for Mason called The Beatles Black Album. It consists of songs from each of the Beatles after they broke up arranged to an “after the Beatles” Beatles album. The father says just about the only true truth in this entire film: The Beatles were the greatest rock band ever.” What can I say? Even nihilists get some things right.
But back to the philosophizing. Linklater really does have a talent for capturing those universal type moments of life and building interesting scenes and thoughtful dialogue. The problem is that Linklater uses his talent in the service of a bad philosophy which results in ugly art. Scenes set up well that end nowhere and pay nothing off. Characters with lives that have no meaning or purpose. Meandering plotless meaningless narrative. His philosophy of existentialism leads to the moral, metaphysical and ontological despair that results in a boring story without meaning. And why shouldn’t it? He posits that life is but a series of random experienced moments without transcendent meaning. So it makes sense that he would tell a story of random experienced moments without transcendent meaning.
Wait a minute! Now, I know the answer to my first question. I now know the reason why the Academy nominated this movie. Because many Hollywood elites actually relate to that absurdity and share meaningless lives of despair. They embrace ugliness because it seems more real to them.
But look again and you will see that Linklater unwittingly proves that his own philosophy does not work because the story he creates is unsatisfying, boring and meaningless, like the philosophy. Ironically, he DOES claim there is meaning, but only in us controlling our own lives and enjoying our meaningless moments of experience. But alas, he is only fooling himself, because anyone with a shred of honest self reflection will admit that if there is no transcendent meaning or purpose to the metanarrative of life, then any “meaning” we create for ourselves is mere delusion. We worship a Lie. A morally culpable intellectual insanity. And I would suggest we must lie to ourselves because we were not created to live consistently with such meaninglessness.
In that way, I thank Linklater for a thoughtful, though misguided, monologue that unwittingly affirms the first truth that people must face before they can find abundant life and transcendent meaning, not to mention atonement for the mess we’ve made of our lives: Without the Christian God, there is no hope, meaning or purpose to life. To me, that creates inside the viewer a hunger, a desire for stories that do capture transcendence and meaning.
And that can lead away from the ugliness of Boyhood to good stories and beautiful art.
P.S. Linklater places some religion in the film, but dismisses it as another random cultural phenomenon without true meaning.
P.P.S. If you don’t know what nihilism is, just watch The Big Lebowski and say in a German accent, “Vee Believe in Nutting.”