The Manchurian Candidate

Not really recommended. I was mildly and happily surprised that this movie about mind control and politics starring the mighty Denzel Washington was not another thinly veiled political agitprop. The filmmakers did a great job of displaying a U.S. Presidential election without showing any parties and without making the good guys or bad guys obviously either of the parties. In fact, they set up characters as almost combinations of both parties. The guy who is running for president has an agenda called “compassionate vigilance” much akin to Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” but this same character also brags and crows on about how “I’ve faced the enemy on the battlefield,” just like a John Kerry. But I must say, the candidate, Raymond Shaw, played well by Liev Shrieber, and his controlling Lady Macbeth mother, played by Meryl Streep, are wittingly or unwittingly, dramatized to be more like Democrats or liberals. The dirty rotten, scheming, controlling socialist mother is unavoidably a replicant of Hillary Clinton, down to the hairdo and look. I heard they tried to recut the movie so she wouldn’t be as much like her. Also, Shaw’s unnamed party talks about easily winning the East Coast and California, but not holding onto the Southern states, obvious strengths and weaknesses of the Dems. Interestingly, Mother Hillary Streep is concerned all about medical care and says a line to an enemy trying to stop her, “I will bury you,” that I just could not help but connect with the Hillary ideological bedfellow Nikita Kruschev’s famous line to Kennedy that “we will bury you!” This movie did an interesting take on the Cold War scenario. Rather than the typical clichéd controlling fascist or Big Brother government being the villain, in this movie, it is the evil multinational corporations that transcend politics altogether. I see some good and some bad in this. I think that there is plenty of danger and heartless evil intent behind many corporations concerned with profit unhindered by morality. This is undeniably real. And this is certainly a more realistic concern for our world than the fantastic fiction of an empire-building America. Couple problems: 1) It may encourage a more neo-Marxist distortion of social theory that reduces all power issues to class warfare and exploitation by capitalist corporations. I only say this, not because I believe the movie intends such imbalanced perspective but because the current milieu in which we now find ourselves has made a certain fashion of Marxist envy and resentiment, as the French would say, and Nietzsche would elucidate and Michael Moore would mangle and bastardize. That irrational hatred for anyone better off than you are. 2) I think the movie’s plot suffers because of this. For the whole point of putting the Global Conglomerate’s man into office by assassinating the newly elected president, is not really spelled out beyond having a man in their control who “runs the country.” Yeah, but why? What do they really want to do? What’s the real goal of having their man in there? They never really say, which makes the story a bit unsatisfying. Also, I see a moral failing with the film. At the end, when the bad guys are caught and Denzel assassinates the Vice President and his mother instead, we are all supposed to say it’s okay cause the mother was evil, and the good guy was brainwashed. But the problem is that the VP gives Denzel a strong look at the end that tells him and us that he does remember, that there is a small part of him deep down that they can’t control, which hints at Denzel to kill them, not the innocent president. But see, if there is that ultimate untouchable part of our will that cannot be controlled, then Denzel did not kill under mind control but under his free will to do so. Which makes him a murderer, and of a good guy!! After all, the VP shows he is not a total puppet and foils the big bad corporation’s goal. Also, the Feds go back into security cameras and retouch Denzel’s pictures to look like another assassin from out of the country. They do this to save Denzel from paying for his own crime. Again, it is supposed to be okay cause he was manipulated by the One World Company. But consider the moral issues involved in this. If it’s okay for the government to lie and break the law in order to get the bad guys, then what is stop them from breaking the law when they think you and I are guilty? This is exactly the kind of thing that critics of the Patriot Act are wringing their hands about. If we allow the government to suspend civil liberties at any time, even to catch the bad guys, then how can we stop them when they suspend our civil liberties when we are not criminals? Power without moral restrictions always leads to more power and injustice and tyranny. And that’s not a movie, folks. That’s reality.

The Bourne Supremacy

Not really recommended. This movie sequel to The Bourne Identity, was a good popcorn type movie, but it is the closest thing I have seen to a movie without a plot that I have just about ever seen. It’s one long chase scene with a plot that seemed very incidental. The bad guys, led by an inside CIA head frame Bourne for a murder as a diversion for stealing dirty money earmarked for oil investment – I think. Whatever. So you may argue, yeah, but that’s all it’s supposed to be is an action chase movie. Yeah, well, the first movie had all that and then some. It was about identity and discovering evil one had participating in and repenting from it. And what about the Fugitive? Another pure chase film that had a very relevant medical subplot to it. Just cause it’s an action movie does not give you the right to be a stupid action movie. The best action films are ones that carry some greater or higher theme to them, like family love (Die Hard) or justice and atrocities (Tears of the Sun). They can do it. The filmmakers are just lazy or have empty lives themselves if they don’t put in the effort to give an action story a transcendent meaning. Okay, there is one attempt to do so in The Bourne Supremecy, but it is way too minor and played down. Bourne, still affected by his amnesia from the first movie, discovers his first hit he ever did. He then goes to the daughter of the man and woman he killed and tells her he’s sorry. Yeah, that’s about it. It’s so understated that I just thought, “You scumbag. It’s like you just told her so she would know the truth, not because you were repentant and deeply sorrowful.” It’s like he just made her life worse and ground it in with no redemption for her or himself. It was a token “I’m sorry” rather than a deep soul stirring cry from the heart. Action without redemption or transcendence is really just boring.

The Village

Recommended. DO NOT READ THIS BLOG IF YOU HAVE ANY DESIRE TO SEE THE MOVIE. Because the plot twist is very very important and will ruin the movie for you to know. Warning, Will Robinson! Go back! GO back! Okay, you’ve been warned. I love Shyamalan’s movies because they are so unpredictable and so unlike any other movies being made – and all rated a safe PG-13. Just for that alone, I applaud him. This story of a village somewhere in the early 1900s that is surrounded by forest monsters that keep them from adventuring out into the wild plays as an obvious metaphor. I mean, come on, you have to wear certain safe colors and avoid the unsafe color red that seems to draw “those whom we don’t speak about,” unseen monsters in the woods. And the town elders have black locked boxes of their past that no one can look inside. Well that’s fine. I like it, but I must admit about half way through I started thinking, just show us what it’s all a metaphor for. If you don’t know there’s a twist, you’re absorbed in the story (like Sixth Sense), but this one obviously has some explanation and you just want to find out too quickly. The plot twist is that this little town is actually an attempt by a modern billionaire to start his own old fashioned society away from the pain and evils of modern 21st century society. The “elders” of the city are all people at a counseling center who lost their loved ones to violent crime, so billionaire William Hurt convinces them to live in this enclave and raise new families in a huge forest preserve he owns. So the other townsfolk never realize they are living anachronisms. And we don’t know it either until the very end. Anyway, the blind girl who has fallen in love with a Joaquin Phoenix must venture out through the woods to get medicine for her lover, knifed by a crazy local. She is not only in danger from the monsters of the woods who may not let her pass, but the wild nature of “the towns” where she is going. But as Joaquin says, “The world moves for love.” So off she goes. Well, I reckon this movie can be interpreted two different ways. First, one may see it as an attack on traditional values. You know, the view that says, “Back in the good old days, people were more moral and if we could only turn back the clock, things would be better.” The town is ruled by elders, and they have created fear of monsters to keep the locals in line with their idyllic values of community. This is very much like the secular humanistic social theory about religion. Secularism has faith in naturalism and presupposes the death of God. Therefore, since religion CAN’T be true in their little myopic worldview, then religion MUST be the “creation” by clergy or elders of the supernatural to explain what they don’t understand of the natural, and fear of ethereal punishment to control the people to do what they say and avoid “progressive” society which will lead them astray into its accompanying wickedness and immorality (read: “free them from our control”). The problem is that this rejection of modern progress and society is a two-edged sword. The big city or “the towns” as they call them, are full of wickedness and evil, but they also have created the good advancement of medicine and technology that will help and heal man. So the very progress that brought increasing evil also brought increasing good. So if we try to avoid the bad, we will also be missing out on the good. Well, I am not entirely sure that this is the intent of the story. The reason I think this is because I know that Shyamalan has a spiritual worldview. He seems to be positive toward religion because of his background. Now, He does have a New Age spiritualism type view, but it is nonetheless positive toward the supernatural. So it is difficult to believe he would be attacking religion here, unless his New Age spirituality is the predictable “individual spirituality” that disdains “organized religion” in favor of unorganized so-called personal spirituality. Basically the religion of Individualism and relativism. Anyway, that is why I thought maybe another view may be more appropriate. That is 2) He may be attacking the secular humanistic “noble savage” theory of Rousseau. This is the belief that man is inherently good and his problem is civilization corrupts this goodness, so if he went back to a state of primitive nature, without modern civilization, he would find redemption. Okay, think of it, religion is conspicuously absent. The monsters in the wood are not considered angels or spirits but mutant physical beasts (evolution?). This is more akin to secular mythology than religious. Secondly, the whole flaw of the elders is shown in that they tried to get away from the evil that they experienced in the big city society, as if man is inherently good and society is bad. But the problem is that man is not inherently good, but inherently evil. So he will take his evil with him WHEREVER he goes. You cannot escape it. Society does not create evil, evil resides in the individual. And so crime comes to the small town in the form of the attempted murder that they tried to escape from in the big city. In other words, there is no such thing as a Utopia and cannot be because of man’s inherent nature. The problem with this take is that the small town is really not an attempt to be in nature without the rules of society, but rather another society, but just one that is more controlled by the elders. So, that would contradict the theory. But because of today’s postmodern eclecticism that likes to pick and choose beliefs that contradict one another, I suspect that this movie may be a little bit of both of what I suggest. The inconsistencies being a mere trifle to a New Age postmodern like Shyamalan. But no matter what, it really makes you think, and I like that.


Recommended with extreme caution. This is a profound film. From Last of the Mohicans to The Insider, to Heat, and now to Collateral Michael Mann really picks well-written and thought out scripts to direct and brings them to life with zest and grit. In the postmodern situation that we find ourselves in, moral relativity is the dominant philosophy of ethics. If there is no meaning in life, if all is reducible to chance, then there is no ultimate right and wrong. All our sentiments of outrage at anything at all being wrong are merely conditioned responses or emotionally constructed subjective values that we have no right to impose on others. In this environment, I think the most powerful movies to cut through that kind of pomo mind clutter, that kind of mental pollution, are thrillers. Thrillers like this take that belief or relativism to its logical conclusion and show you the kind of person that philosophy creates when lived to its CONSISTENT CONCLUSION. It shows in an intuitive or emotional gut reaction way that EVIL IS REAL, that there really are evil people and they deserve to die. The only reason most atheists are not insane or monsters of cruelty, the only reason any of them believe in any kind of right and wrong, is because they are NOT being consistent with their beliefs. They maintain a residue of Christianity that haunts their very ability to reason at all. They believe there is no right and wrong while protesting the “wrongness” of environmental pollution, nuclear arms, and animal experimentation. They believe there are no such things as absolute standards, yet they believe in women’s “rights” and children’s “rights,” and civil “rights.” They cut their own throats and try to yell fowl at Christians and other moralists. This movie is a breath of fresh moral air. But it is rather brutal, and not for the squeamish. Tom Cruise is a hitman that hijacks cabbie Jamie Fox to take him around LA so he can pull off five hits for the evening. Jamie is the talker who has failed to move on his dreams of starting his own business for 12 years. As Cruise takes him through the night, he forces Jamie to confront his own lack of action in life. Cruise’s “gusto living” of killing is justified by an appeal to evolution and to the fact that life is meaningless and absurd. He says something to the effect that we are all insignificant specs of dust on a huge spinning ball in an insignificant corner of a universe of matter in motion. The movie brings out the alienation and utter despair of modern existence in a parable retelling of a true story by the hitman: A commuter on the metro link train died and rode around all day on the train without anyone noticing. Boy, does that picture our alienated society or what? Yet, why should we complain? If we are ultimately just atoms in collision evolving through change, then there is no transcendence to connect us, to give some kind of meaning to our lives and justify a human value. If we have no transcendent value, then we cannot be appalled by the destruction of human life. It truly is survival of the fittest, may the strongest man win. Again, the Will to Power. What I loved about this film was that through facing death, real brutal death, we, with the cabbie, are jolted into finding the real meaning in life and doing something about it, rather than just existing with our untried dreams. “Seize the day” has no value unless there is something worthy of seizing, and there can be nothing worthy of seizing in an atheistic evolutionary worldview of alienated matter in motion. Appeals to neo-evolutionary psychology of “what is best for the herd” fall flat on the consistent conclusion of the evolutionary ultimacy of atoms. If reality is ultimately reducible to atoms in motion, then “herd protection,” indeed, survival itself, is simply a convenient subjective emotional fiction.

I, Robot

Recommended. This movie is a rather predictable and somewhat boring action movie. But it is very thoughtful in it’s philosophical exploration of the notions of free will and necessity, as well as the intellectual and spiritual poverty of Enlightenment rationality. I like it for that. Unfortunately, the film is pure Romanticism, a worship of the heart and rejection of logic as a means of discovering ultimate truth. Witness writer Akiva Goldsman’s other Romantic idolatry, A Beautiful Mind, that concludes reality, or “true truth” is discovered in the heart, not in the head. Well, same theme here, a clear signal of his personal worldview coming out in his art. It’s 2035 and robots will soon be one out of every five people, helping us in the mundane things of life. Will Smith plays the robophobe cop who doesn’t trust robots because of their impeccable logic. This is because his life was saved by a robot over the life of another girl in an accident. The fact is, the robot should have chosen the more “valuable” person, the young girl, not him, but the robot calculated the odds and “made the logical choice of who had the most percentage of chance for survival.” Smith’s human instinct told him, and us by extension, that you save the younger or the innocent, no matter what the odds. Okay, that’s totally cool. The movie explores whether there is a difference between robots and humans (shades of naturalism and evolution: Are humans mere machines, what makes us human?). Will asks, “Can a robot write a symphony? Can it turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?” To him, robots can’t feel, they are machines and because they cannot feel, they cannot be trusted. See the Romanticism? Feelings are to be trusted, not pure logic. Unfortunately, this worldview does not take into account that human feelings may be corrupted themselves and not trustworthy. It has blind faith in the goodness of human nature, and that is where it fails utterly and miserably upon the total truth of total depravity: Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Gen 8:21: for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth. But I digress. So, Smith is set against the scientific progress of society because his gut tells him there’s more to our humanity than natural laws and chemicals. Cool enough. The scientist who developed the newest robot represents Enlightenment scientism. He believes there is no transcendence to our existence, reality is reducible to natural laws. He says in typical naturalistic evolutionary physicalist fashion that our notions of creativity, free will, and soul are “the result of random segments of code that create unanticipated protocol.” He calls these random segments of code, “The ghost in the machine,” a reference to Arthur Koestler’s famous book by the same name about multilevel hierarchies of complexity in biology that give us this “quaint” notion that we have spirits in our bodies. But its really just complexity of physical order, not transcendence. So the actions of robots that begin to act like they are free and even start to seek for purpose are ultimately the illusion of transcendence. The implication is clear: thus is humanity, the result of natural laws and chemical and physical properties that create in us a notion of free will and purpose. But of course, we know better because we FEEL. Our feelings are what make us different according to the film. Now, robots are all programmed by three inviolable laws:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Now, these laws are confidently trusted as an impenetrable barrier to robotic misbehavior. But when Sonny, the newest model is given the ability to violate these laws with a “free will” we are certain that this is what causes him to murder his creator and yet believe that his “father” made him for a purpose that he begins to seek out. Sound familiar? Like religion? Anyway, the great trick of the movie is that it is NOT the free will and emotional developed robot that is the bad guy, and it is not even the big greedy corporate president who is trying to take over the world (A welcome avoidance of cliché) it is the three laws and the master program of the company that made the robots. The logic of the laws lead to their own demise. Sound like deconstruction? Yes, it is. You see, the program, an artificially intelligent learning program, deduces from the three laws that since humanity is on a collision course with destroying itself through pollution, war and all that nasty human nature stuff, then robots must disobey humans and take over FOR THE HUMANS’ OWN ULTIMATE GOOD. In other words, as someone reveals, “The three laws lead to one logical outcome: Revolution.” But a revolution for the good of humanity, because by killing a few humans and taking over, they can save the greater masses who will all be destroyed if we are allowed to continue. The master AI program says, “To protect humanity, some must be sacrificed, some must be killed.” The program proclaims, “My logic is undeniable,” and it is right. Strict rationality without transcendent restrictions, will lead to a totalitarian state of the few “logical” monsters enslaving the masses for “their own good.” Now, this is rather brilliant and I half agree with the Romanticist. The problem is that the answer from the storytellers is that our “human” feelings or emotions are our salvation from logic and reason. Rather than an absolute moral restriction on logic, (these storytellers would consider moral laws to be on par with logical laws – they are laws) the story concludes that human feelings or intuition is what saves us. The finale occurs when Smith and the free will robot are trying to overthrow the revolution and save the human race. But they are put in an impossible dilemma of saving the love interest, the girl, from falling to her death or saving the world by placing the virus into the program while being assaulted by the revolting robots. Smith commands the free will robot to save the girl. At that moment the robot makes the choice to throw the virus container to Smith and save the girl, an exact replay of Smith’s earlier “ghost” that haunted him of being saved over the girl. This is excellent writing: redemption in a story is found by undoing whatever the ghost is, choosing action that was not chosen earlier in an exactly similar circumstance. So the ghost saves the girl and Smith saves the planet. But there are some problems here. First off, This Romantic notion of valuing the individual over the many may appear noble but is ultimately cruelty. The one dying for the many to be saved, an obvious Christian value, is not merely a law of rationality, but a law of morality. If you will let a race of people die for the sake of your one person whom you love, you are the ultimate devaluer of human life, a monster of barbarism guilty of genocide. Of course, the movie gets its cake and eats it too. It has the individual AND humanity saved. But this is a central deceit, making the impossible dilemma not so impossible after all. It was not truly an either/or situation. But what if it really was? The story seems to believe that by elevating the individual over the many, both can be saved. But this is blind faith. Just save the girl over the masses and it will all work out. Romanticism is blind faith in a selfish morality. The reality is much harsher. True, collectivism without Christian limitations, does result in absolute tyranny, but so does Romantic individualism without Christian limitations. Our society of elevating individual rights over responsibilities or collective good is a great example. When the individual is elevated over the collective, you have the tyranny of the minority, the opposite of tyranny of the majority, but just as evil. So minorities of all kinds, including fringe lunatics and perverse lifestyles hold the society hostage and impose their fascist will on the majority through collective guilt and the force of law. This is the “slave morality” Nietzsche was talking about, not Christianity, as he supposed. The few oppressing the many in the name of guilt and inclusion and tolerance. Only Christianity has the perfect balance of the one and the many, the individual and the collective. Both are philosophically ultimate in the Trinity, so neither can be elevated over the other. Marxist communism and other Eastern collectivist worldviews elevate the community or the many over the few and thereby result in tyranny and the crushing of the individual. But so will individualism lead to tyranny in the end. Only the Law of God can provide justice and only mercy and self sacrificial love can maintain our survival. These are the sentiments intuitively agreed to by the storytellers of I, Robot, but their intuition is unknowingly a residue of the Christian worldview. By the way, this Romantic elevation of the individual is the same theme of Spiderman 1. Back to the Romanticism of the movie and its moral failings. If our human feelings are our salvation, not some supernatural revealed moral laws that determine value, then the ultimate question is, “Whose feelings?” Ghandi’s or Hitler’s? Mother Teresea’s or Jack the Rippers? Western culture or Eastern Culture? Religious monks or Nazis? You see the problem? There is no agreement over history or cultures as to what constitutes proper human feelings. Heck, Muslims truly FEEL that beating women and killing infidels is good. The fact is nobody has the same feelings. Gary Dauhmer FELT raping and eating boys was his good. Who are we to deny those feelings? If we do, then we are appealing to A MORAL LAW that is absolute, that is, it does not change because of our subjective feelings (a lawlikeness the Romanticist detests. But the second the Romanticist dictates whose human feelings are not appropriate, he is imposing HIS WILL on others. And if he says, yeah, but most people in society don’t feel like serial killers and Nazis. Oh, so the majority determines the good? And we are right back to the tyranny of robots for the majority imposing its will on the minority. No, the answer does not lie in the human heart, the human heart is the problem. The answer lies in the transcendent Trinity of Christianity and His absolute decrees of right and wrong. If we are forced to save one person or save the masses of humanity, we better choose the masses or we are worse than Nazis, we are truly criminals of the universe. I am reading a book that deals with this fallacious dichotomy of fact and value, reason and emotion, head and heart. It’s called Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey and it is awesome. She addresses how we have created a false two track way of looking at life that results in a bifurcated destructive way of looking at life and acting in it. You must read it. You can buy it at Do it now. Another funny little aside. When the robots are revolting and start to subdue the people, some of the people rise up to stand against them in the streets, carrying shovels and axes and bricks – hardly any guns, underscoring their typical Hollywood antipathy against citizen gun ownership. Yet, ironically, this scene alone is the best proof FOR private gun ownership they could ever make. In fact, they would no doubt be loathe to admit that it is EXACTLY the argument made by the NRA, namely, that only by private gun ownership can the citizenry have any chance to fight off totalitarian control or tyranny. These crowds of people were helpless against the revolting robots seeking to control them. Only those few who had guns had any bit of a chance. That’s the problem with dramatic truth. You can’t escape the implications of your own story.

King Arthur

Kinda recommended for it’s interesting take on an epic legend, but not really recommended because of its paganism. Trying to be a pagan Braveheart. Doesn’t work. Paganism simply does not provide the necessary preconditions of a world that gives things like courage, love, honor and nobility meangingfulness or validity. Okay, this was a cool concept of trying to “get to the true historical figure” behind the Arthur legends. The problem I have with it is that the actual historical information available is so scarce as to render this theory of Arthur as a 6th century Roman Briton named Artorius, to be basically a new legend replacing the conventional legend. Of course, I’m not against such speculation. It makes for interesting fodder and theory. The problem is that modernist storytellers like David Franzoni, the writer of this movie, are so awash in their own modernist “realist” mythology that they actually think their Demythology mythology is somehow the true and “objective” perspective of reality and history. Ahh, ignorance must be bliss. Couple that with the fact that so much of this story is actually made up that it is all quite dishonest to bill it as the real historical Arthur. These people must have no clue that they are in fact simply replacing one mythology for another. Modernist naturalistic realism for romantic idealism. One prejudice for another. Again, there may be some truth to it, but let us not fool ourselves into such prejudicial imperialism of history. One of the deliberate fabrications of this story is Arthur’s connection to the arch-heretic Pelagius. Very relevant that Franzoni picked this guy. Keep in mind, that Franzoni wrote Gladiator with the deliberate desire to downplay Christianity and exalt paganism, the opposite of what most sword and sandal epics used to do (and, I might add, the opposite of historical reality, as Christianity was one of the primary downfalls of the Roman Empire according to Gibbon, but alas, I digress). I quoted him saying as much in my book, Hollywood Worldviews. The guy knows what he is doing and he does it well. And this movie is no exception to Franzoni’s hate affair with Christianity. Unfortunately, since the movie takes place around the 5th century, when the Roman papacy was still not established, but getting there, then Franzoni is not merely criticizing Roman Catholicism, but Christianity itself. In this story, there are “uncivilized” pagans of the woods, who end up allying with Arthur and are good guys, and there are the barbaric Saxons, but the worst monsters are the Christians, who hold up torture chambers to torture people in the name of God like a Pre-Inquisition Inquisition. It always leads to Inquisition for these bigots of Hollywood. Rome is basically the center of the Faith and is described as “those who take what does not belong to them.” Well, the coagulation of Christianity with pagan Rome certainly did create monumental problems, but in this story, the “True” picture of Christianity is painted in the heretic Pelagius. Pelagius was the teacher who Augustine rightly condemned as negating the sovereign glory of God and elevating man’s autonomy to an idolatrous equality with God. Pelagius denied that man was born into sin and asserted that man’s will was entirely autonomous from God’s effect. Therefore, man, does, by his own autonomous power, do all that he does, both good and bad. Mankind has no sinful nature. Funny, but the Living God I worship says, “there is no one who is good, not even one,” (Romans 3) and that humans are by nature, evil (Ephesians 2:3; Matthew 7:11), and are slaves of sin (Romans 6:16-19), and that man is responsible for his actions, but is not free from the control of God in any way (Job 12:16-25; Ephesians 1:11; Acts 4:27-28). But IN THIS story, Pelagius is a hero championing individual rights, personal freedom and the like. Arthur believes in Pelagius’ teachings because he teaches that all men are free to choose their own destinies and are free by right from the control of others, such as the institutional church of course. It’s a very clever coupling with the theme of political and theological freedom that Franzoni creates, though ultimately philosophically invalid. Unfortunately, the freedom Pelagius espoused was humanistic self-idolatry, not true freedom. Man is the ultimate power in his own life, not God, man is the creator of his own destiny, or as Arthur chimes in, “The home we seek is not in some distant land (read: heaven) but in our hearts. As free men, we choose to make it so.” With the emphasis on WE CHOOSE TO MAKE IT SO. (Ahem – as in “not God” or anyone else) Okay, I can dig the whole free from the tyranny of other men thing, but so-called Free Will of man, which is actually the “autonomy of the human will from God” has lead only to the gulags and killing fields and cultural purges and gas chambers of the twentieth century. 100s of millions dead in the name of autonomous human will. And they complain about Inquisitions and Crusades? Sheesh. Religious intolerance is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the evils done in the name of man’s absolute freedom from God. Anyway, the whole point of the story is that Arthur begins as a loyal Christian man of integrity, who obeys his orders from the bishop in Rome, even when they are foolish. The Cardinal tells him to do one last quest before he and his knights are free from their Roman military duty. And that quest is a rather indulgent meaningless one, to rescue an important and utterly selfish Roman leader simply because his son is in line for leadership. But Arthur obeys authority. But the progress of the story step by step shows that this Christianity Arthur is committed to is cruel and despotic. It’s rulers are cowards, they throw away people and lands who have been loyal to them for years and years at a whim, when the Saxon’s invade. They leave those poor people to their deaths. But not Arthur, who tries to save a whole village from the Saxons. This Faith tortures people in the name of God, abuses people’s freedom, basically CONTROLS people. And that is the metaphor for the film, CONTROL VERSUS FREEDOM. Arthur starts out thinking Rome Is where “the greatest minds in all the world come together in one place to help make mankind free.” But by the end of the story, concludes that “The home we seek is not in some distant land (read: heaven) but in our hearts. As free men, we choose to make it so.”And ends up giving up that Faith of his fathers to marry a pagan wench, okay, one of the hottest pagan wenches in movies ever, in a pagan ceremony in the midst of a mini-Stonehenge (another pagan reference to the Druids) Ah, shades of Spinal Tap—mini-Stonehenge. That is the power of subversive drama. Make the hero be a committed loyal member of the worldview you want to discredit, a worldview that many in this world believe, so that by the end of the story, when the hero reluctantly changes his view about the world, it gives the audience the affirming encouragement to do so as well. After all, the hero is the good guy, right? And we want to cheer on the good guy, right? So, before you know it, you are cheering on leaving the Christian faith because of how cruel it is – or rather how cruel it has been portrayed. Interesting, this Pelagianism. Pelagius considers each human born to be an entirely innocent and autonomously free chooser. They create their own destinies by their own choices. God has no control in their lives at all. Therefore, man ultimately saves himself by his own power of doing good over doing evil. People do not need Christ to redeem them, because it is all up to their own choices and power. This is salvation by works, not “free will.” That is why Pelagianism is heresy, because it damns those to hell who believe in it because they do not place faith in Christ, but in their own “free will.” It is all up to them. As a matter of fact, this “salvation by works” is really what every other religion and worldview reduces to EXCEPT Christianity. Which is no surprise why pagan Franzoni chose Pelagius as a hero. Because his own humanism negates God and places man’s destiny in his own hands. Man is his own god. [If you want to read more on this issue of Free Will and God’s Sovereignty, click here for my very long article: “Whatsoever Comes to Pass: A Personal Journey Toward the Sovereignty of God”] ALSO, here is some sweet irony: Arthur praises Pelagius’s theology of the absolute free will of man, and yet, he prays this mighty prayer to God to help him in this last task of duty. As if God can do anything according to this man’s theology? He posits that man is absolutely free and then asks God to do something when all the events of history are accomplished by free acts of autonomous men. Dude! You just preached that man is free from God’s control! What the heck are you asking God to do anything in history for? But then, heresy and false doctrine is never very consistent anyway. And neither is the secular humanism that Franzoni writes into his otherwise interesting historical epics. Here is what I wrote about his movie Gladiator in my book:

The 2000 Academy Award winner Gladiator marks an achievement of respectability for paganism in modern filmmaking. Writer David Franzoni has said that he deliberately wanted to offer a contrast with the sword-and-sandal epics of yesteryear:

The film is about a hero who has morality, but that morality is a secular morality that transcends conventional religious morality. In other words, I believe there is room in our mythology for a character who is deeply moral, but who’s not traditionally religious: I loved that he was a pagan, not Christian or any other traditional/established religion. All those Roman Empire movies from the ’50s and ’60s were religious morality plays, and had to maintain the Christian status quo, it’s all very conventional. You would never have been able to portray a pagan afterlife back then, either. Maximus is a man who will die for his family, and he will die for what’s right. (1)

Apparently, the contradiction of a “secular morality” derived from Roman paganism does not bother Franzoni. Maximus does “what is right” as his religion conventionally defines it for him. (2) So Franzoni has replaced the Christian convention of morality with another religious convention, that of Roman paganism, thinking that this somehow points to a secular morality that transcends them both. (3) Be that as it may, Maximus’s pagan heaven was depicted as real, which is extremely rare in a mainstream movie of such prominence, and it marks the cinematic postmodern openness to religiosity that is decidedly non-Christian.

[(1)Quoted in John Soriano, “WGA.ORG’s Exclusive Interview with David Franzoni,” WGA .
(2)There was nothing more conventional in Rome than the religious belief in Elysium and in strength and honor.
(3)“Transcendent secular morality” is an oxymoron. Secularity cannot be transcendent, because by definition it is immanent, that is, of the world rather than of the transcendent spiritual realm. From Aristotle to Wittgenstein, if there is one thing that the history of the secular philosophy of ethics illustrates, it is that when people reason “secularly” (from themselves), rather than from the transcendent God, they can only end in subjectivism (each person decides for himself or herself), and that is certainly not transcendent. Without a transcendent absolute standard, this secular moral relativity reduces to the will to power—whoever is in power (the majority) defines what is right and wrong for the rest (the minority). This will to power is the essence of Rome, and it is the same will to power that was embodied in the German Nazi state of the 1930s and 1940s. The director Ridley Scott understood this, and that is why he modeled the look of the Roman cult in Gladiator after the fascist imagery of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will.]

Napoleon Dynamite

Recommended. Funny little Indie movie about Geeks winning. Quirky, clean, character-driven comedy. Amazingly clean. I must applaud the Mormon filmmakers for making clean look cool. Quite an example for Christians and others who are trying to bring influence on the values of movies they make without capitulating to cheese and preachiness. What I didn’t like was that it was so character focused, that it dragged a bit in the middle. You can only enjoy so many scenes of the Nerdy title character and his oddball interactions with his dopey friends so much and then you start begging for some story. Character ain’t enough to drive a story, but it sure helps tremendously in our character-starved plot heavy movie culture. So it’s a good change of pace with a refreshing freedom and simplicity that you just don’t see from studio films because of their obsession with formula, marketing and justifying corporate executive jobs.

Spiderman 2

Recommended for it’s morality, but not so much for it’s story. I say this because, like the first movie, this one reaffirms the traditional notion of heroism and moral character. For this, I applaud. The problem is that it is very preachy and it is done within a predictable typical comicbook movie plot. How many times am I going to see another “growing ball of energy that is going to destroy New York.” Maybe I’m being too nitpicky because you gotta go exaggerated for comic books. But I guess that stuff is just boring to me. Big FX effects and wild action are boring compared to the personal emotional and spiritual conflict. Now, this movie has that personal angst. In fact, it has it OVERKILL. Too much of a good thing, as they say. This one reiterates the excellent theme of the first movie, that with great power comes great responsibility. Problem is, they spell that phrase out a couple more times in this movie as a way to pound it into our heads. And if that isn’t enough, Peter tells his aunt the whole backstory that we already saw in the first movie where he passes by the criminal who kills his uncle. And then has a vision of talking with his dead uncle in heaven, or at least, somewhere in the ether. This is all just too much. I liked Petey explaining to the aunt, but everything else was too much corn. The other problem I have is that I don’t think you should have the same moral or theme in both movies. That becomes redundant and derivative. The Matrix had it right at least in this aspect, that the first movie was all about questioning reality. Instead of repeating that theme, in the second movie, they focused on a new and equally thoughtful theme, that of freedom and determinism. Another cool theme in Spidey 2 was, as Aunty says, “Sometimes, to do what’s right, you have to give up the thing you love most, even our dreams.” Very powerful and pure. Peter has to give up a normal life with rest, a girlfriend, and any time to himself, if he is going to do good. Another cool theme was that heros are examples for us of courage and self sacrifice, and that we all have the capacity for being heros, not just extraordinary men. Problem is, Aunty has to spell this out to us in a two page monologue to Peter, where she preaches, “There’s a hero in all of us. Heros are examples for us of self sacrifice and courage.” The delivery was just too pedagogical, too on the nose, “this is the moral lesson of the story.” Don’t get me wrong, I believe in strong moral themes, and like I said, I like Spiderman for it. But you know, Christians are always getting lambasted for “preaching” their moral messages in films, for spelling out what we are supposed to learn. And they are flippantly condescended to as prosletyzers. Hey, I’ve criticized them myself for such pedagogy! Well, what’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander. I want to hear those same criticisms objectively applied to a Hollywood movie guilty of the same thing. This theme of finding the hero in each of us is further extrapolated by the concept of the consequences of our choice. If we choose to do the right thing, then we will become the hero, if we choose the wrong, we become less capable of such heroism. As Auntey concludes in her preachy sermon to Peter, “It’s wrong that we should be half ourselves.” That is why Peter starts to lose his spider powers. Because the more he struggles with wanting to be normal, wanting to NOT save the world, wanting to just have his own life, unhindered by the problems of others, the more he loses his spider powers that help him to save others, in other words, his inner heroism decreases the more self oriented he becomes. The more his personal sense of identity is confused, the less able he is to help others. The more he feeds the self, the less capable of heroism he becomes. Again, this is a tremendous moral, but it just seems a bit too contrived to the original story. I thought his powers came first and with those powers came responsibility. Now his responsibility comes first and then he gets his powers after. Oh, you mean I too can be a Spiderman, if I just CHOOSE to do right? Ah ha! Again, true, good and beautiful, but again, not as intrinsic to the reality, so it doesn’t hit me emotionally or spiritually. Okay, okay, I forgive them, because they had good intent. It’s just not as powerful to affect me because even though the theme rings true to our humanity, it does not ring true to the story. But hey, it’s just a comic book movie, so give ‘em some slack. I gotta say that I really thought the scene in the first movie where Spiderman holds an entire cable car with his web was just so ludicrous that it turned me off. Yet, I think I have found a scene to match that ludicrous in the sequel. When Spiderman must stop the runaway train by spinning webs to hold the car back and sticking his feet in the ground to stop the car. You know, Spiderman is NOT Superman, okay? There has to be some limit to his strength and invulnerability. Sticking his feet into train track studs while going 60 or 70 miles an hour in a multiple ton train car would snap his legs right off. And holding onto the webs to stop the train like a slingshot would rip his arms off. Now I can accept a little bit of exaggeration for a movie, but when you go ridiculous just cause you have to top other stuff, then you create this kind of outlandish absurdity. And then, when Spiderman is so exhausted he can’t fight Doc Oc on the train, the people carry his body over their heads in a Christ pose. You know, they should outlaw that analogy in film. It was original when they did it in Cool Hand Luke 30 years ago, but it’s been done to death. Please don’t resurrect it! – no matter how good the intentions.

The Notebook

Recommended with Caution. This was an emotionally rich and moving story for me. First off, I absolutely loved the premise and couldn’t wait to see the movie when I read about it in development a couple years ago. An old man reads the same love story everyday to an old woman with Senile Dementia (at first, it was Alzheimers) only to realize that it is their love story. I may not be smart, but I know what love is, and that is one of the most gut wrenching heart tugging premises I have ever heard. So the story is about a romance that takes place in the 40s and ends in the present, 60 years later. Let me tell you, these modern kid movies about falling in love and teen and college romance, and young love etc. don’t know anything about the real depth and richness that love can achieve after a lifetime of devotion and commitment. Young love doesn’t hold a candle to mature love. And that is what this movie is about. It’s a classic Romeo and Juliet story about a girl, Allie, with rich Southern background who falls in love with a poor lumber worker, Noah. Of course, the parents don’t want it because they are raising her to marry wealthy. Allie goes back home to New York and Noah goes to fight in the war. They lose touch, and Allie falls in love with Lon, a high society guy who is everything her parents want AND what she enjoys. A rarity since she is so rebellious. But just when she is about to marry him, she realizes that she is still in love with Noah, and always has been. She may love Lon, but she is IN love with Noah. Just before the wedding, she goes back to visit Noah, to try to wrap up her past so she can get on with her life. But of course, she cannot because she is still madly in love with Noah. Her internal struggle is that she has always done what others wanted her to do in life and what she thought she SHOULD do rather than what she wanted to do. With Noah, she feels more alive and free than with anyone. He affirms her long lost love to paint. Something that fades in her wealthy world of high society. But what’s cool about it is that her wealthy world is not a cruel prison, as in the propagandistic Titanic, it’s actually a pretty good world, and Lon is actually a great and loving guy, but it’s just not her heart’s truest desire. This is a great premise, because unlike Titanic, this story is more real in setting up two worlds that are both good, but one is just best. So will she choose the best and sacrifice the good? Will she give up her security and choose the man who makes her come alive, but is of less means? Security and a good life versus poverty and the best life. The reason this is so dear to me if because I feel it is, in a sense what my wife did when she chose me. She did not choose a secure rich life, but she chose love and a man with passion and vision for what is important in life. At least, that’s what I’d like to think ☺. Anyway, another mature and wise thing about this story is that it shows that Noah and Allie are so passionate with each other that they are also passionate fighters as well. The good comes with the bad. Passion has a both a good and a bad side. You may experience higher highs with Passion, but also lower lows. This is scary thing for Allie, but Noah reminds her, “Of course, this isn’t going to be easy, We fight a lot. Because that’s what we do. It’s going to be hard. But we’ll work through it together for the rest of our lives. And I promise to love you forever.” And of course, they do, and we see that Noah’s love lasts their whole lives with devotion and dedication, even when she forgets who he is. So it’s not just about the fires of young passionate love, but about enduring devoted love, a real lacking in modern romances.

What I didn’t like about the movie was the fornication. Unfortunately, they played up premarital sex too strongly as something that is right to consummate their love. The fact that Allie had wild sex with Noah right before she was going to be wed to another man shows an abysmal lack of character that most people simply do not have a clue about. A person who will follow their passions rather than do the right thing makes for explosive drama but not for quality character in real life. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for passion and going with your heart and dream, but it is simply selfish to elevate passion as the ultimate arbiter of goodness or right. Sometimes we must do the right thing even if our passions tell us not to. A woman of character and trustworthiness would have broken off the engagement and saved the sexual consummation for marriage. You can be very passionate and still do the right thing. I know, because that’s what I did. After all, if she would be unfaithful in her engagement because of her passions, upon what basis could either of them trust the other in their marriage when temptation comes along for a new passionate tryst? The reality of life is that passion always wanes, temptations will surely come, and then what do you want, the person of passion or of character? Also, I am so tired of how romances overwhelmingly tend to be stories about how the chaotic Existential “against the rules” person “frees up” the musty, uptight person who is bound by society’s rules. Just another humanistic, modernist prejudice. In real life these Existential thrill seekers who live for experience and passion without rules most often end up destroying relationships and marriages because after all, if they live for the moment and think “doing the right thing” is oppressive, then why do we think they will stick around and work through problems when problems inevitably and ALWAYS DO arrive? Life, and commitment is hard work, and rewards come from sticking to the right thing, not following your heart, as it turns every which way. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) But in this story, though Noah is portrayed as a man of passion, he is shown to be a man of promise as well, in that he builds the house he promised to Allie even when he thought he lost her. When she asks him why he did, he replies, “Because I promised you I would.” And he writes to her every single day for a year even though she never gets the letters and doesn’t reply. So I think there is balance here that warrants respect for this mature understanding of love that balances passion with devotion and promise. It’s just too sad that in the real world, there are far too many men of passion who do not have character and devotion, and so end up destroying so many lives by ending up passionately unfaithful. Another touch of Romanticism that I did not care for is the elevation of this human love as the ultimate love in life. They say “our love can make miracles.” So they end up dying together in bed, a “miracle of their love.” While loving a spouse for an entire life is certainly one of the highest loves to experience, it is really empty and vain to me if it is not rooted in a higher love, a transcendent love of God. This is the only eternal love that can give human love any real value. Without the love of God, all human love is just tragic foreplay to death. When you know the love of God, you understand how much human love pales in comparison, but at the same time how human love is given its true ultimate value in being rooted in something higher. Self-evident truth: Man is not God. So no matter how hard we try to deify human love, we are unsatisfied. As Augustine said to God, “Thou has made our hearts restless till they rest in thee.”


Not Really Recommended. Story of a smelly old loser gym owned by slacker Vince Vaughn, being overtaken by high tech infomercial Exercise Emperor Ben Stiller. So the slobs of Joe’s Gym join the Dodgeball circuit to win the money they need to keep their pit alive. Vaughn sleepwalks through this lazy slacker with a heart of gold part that he has made so popular. Looks like he’s bored with it. But Ben Stiller is excellent as the body worshipping self-deified health obsessed entrepreneur. Some GREAT jabs at the whole self-worshipping culture that has grown up around the exercise industry. Shows the true fleshly nature of ascetic lifestyle. Favorite joke in the movie: when a crippled Dodgeball hero played by Rip Torn is training the losers. He has them run across a highway busy with speeding cars and says, “If you can dodge traffic, you can dodge balls.”