Taking Lives

Not Recommended. Not terrible or anything, just another by the numbers thriller, without any real substance or value to it. Oh, for another Seven or Silence of the Lambs. You can’t have it all. Angelina Jolie plays an FBI profiler who helps to track down a…. Oh, it’s a boring and uninteresting story.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Recommended with caution. Charlie Kaufman, who wrote this movie, also wrote Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and I must say, he is probably the most interesting and unique writer in Hollywood. Though I disagree with his worldview, his stories are very thought-provoking and stimulating. Years ago, Francis Schaeffer opened the eyes of the Faith Community to see that Art movements are driven, not merely by aesthetics and style, but by philosophy and worldviews for changing culture. Well, I’m here to say that modern movies (along with TV) is the new dominant art form that is driven by philosophy and worldviews. And this movie proves the point loudly. The power of movies is the ability to incarnate a worldview into the story such that it fleshes out what is otherwise considered an ivory tower philosophizing. Case in point: Eternal Sunshine, which deliberately proposes the Nietzschean philosophical notion of the “eternal return” or “eternal recurrence.” Bizarre brain hurting stuff that would otherwise be limited to pointy-headed academics arguing in a classroom is now popularized for the culture to consume, and 99 percent of the viewers won’t have a clue that they are ingesting and synthesizing the philosophy of the Grandfather of Postmodernism himself, “The Antichrist,” Friedrich Nietzsche. The story is a romance between Joel (Jim Carrey), a nerdish boring nobody, and Clementine (Kate Winslet), a wacky impulsive girl who fall in love and out of love because they end up getting on each other’s nerves. Clementine goes to a special doctor who can erase memories in order to purge herself of all the memories of Joel, who ended up making her miserable. When Joel discovers this, he goes to purge his memories of her as well. Unfortunately, in the middle of the erasing, we are in Joel’s mind, and he decides he doesn’t want to erase her because there was so much good that he experienced because of her. So he seeks to try to save some of those memories by harboring them in secret recesses of his mind. It’s all very clever and interesting, and the movie is cut non-linear, so it reinforces the confusion Joel is experiencing as he discovers his blunder. Well, what happens is that they end up together again, without knowing who each other is, and start a romance all over. When one of the employees loses faith in the company and reveals to the two lovers that they have been together in the past and erased their memories, the two of them get depressed and consider breaking up to avoid the inevitable misery. Clementine says, they haven’t changed. They are the same people, and they will end up doing the same thing to each other. But Joel ends up telling Clementine, “So what.” So what if that happens. There is so much fun along the way before they get there. They decide to just go for it anyway. This is a very interesting proposition that our memories, (another postmodern discussion) are not mere reminiscences floating around in our brains, but substantively change who we are. Trying to get rid of bad memories will not redeem us. They change us permanently, and are inescapably a part of who we are. And here’s where Nietzsche comes in. Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal recurrence or eternal return was another logical result of the “death of God” philosophy. He understood that linear history, with its beginning, middle and end, reflected a Christian worldview of origins and purpose, so he tried to replace that linearity with a cyclical view he called “eternal recurrence.” This view posited that the universe, being eternal, had no beginning but was eternally changing. Since the universe is finite, it will ultimately keep changing through every possible change, recycling all possible states, over and over, throughout all eternity. There is no heaven, no eternal reward and punishment; there is simply the eternal return of everything. Essentially, this is a rather pessimistic worldview about the nature of man. But so what? Says Nietzsche. So then we should embrace this fact that man is “eternally the same,” he doesn’t change, and is destined to repeat himself, winding up in the same place he started. We should accept this and “be who we are,” rather than try to change ourselves according someone else’s morality (read: Christianity). Lest anyone think I am reading too much into the film: A big worldview clue for the viewer of movies is that when a character in a movie quotes someone like a famous person, that is more than likely a reference from the writer to the influence of the theme. And Kaufman has the Kirsten Dunst character in Eternal Sunshine quote Nietzsche from Bartlett’s quotations, not once, but twice, just to make sure we get it. She quotes, “Blessed are the forgetful: for they “get the better” even of their blunders.” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, #217). Kaufman mocks traditional story structure and along with it, traditional morality, by having protagonists NOT learn and NOT change for the better. In other words, we are redeemed not by repenting or changing but by recognizing that we don’t change, and just enjoy the ride of life. Experience without morality. This nihilistic worldview scorns redemption, and condescends to traditional story structure. But of course, in a twist of self-contradiction, it ultimately supports traditional notions of redemption because proposing that we need to stop seeking redemption and embrace who we are is in fact a proposition of a kind of redemption. It’s just a different kind of redemption. But it is still saying we are doing something wrong and need to change how we are dealing with it. Instead of realizing our faults and changing them according to a moral standard, this is a redemption from morality and goodness into the selfish embracing of ourselves without repentance. By the way, the movie is edited non-linearly, which also reinforces the Nietzschean contempt for linear history. A brilliant script and movie with a diabolically egocentric worldview. By the way, in case you are interested, I write all about this and how Nietzsche has influenced other films in my book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment.


Recommended with reservations. Now here is a thematically rich story. I was impressed. This buddy road trip western is based on the true story of Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensten) and his beloved horse, Hidalgo, who engage in a three thousand mile race across Saudi Arabia for a huge purse. But it is so much more than that. It is set in 1890 with Frank as a pony express rider who gives dispatches to the U.S. Army, one of which results in the slaughter of innocent Indians at Wounded Knee Creek. Now, like The Last Samurai and many other movies, it is fashionable to be Anti-American, anti-Western civilization. But I gotta be honest, this movie is not that imbalanced. It is anti-American, but it is also in some balanced ways, Pro-American Western and anti-Islam, anti-Eastern. However, in the end, the Native American Indian comes out on top. I’ll explain. Frank’s discovery of the fact that his dispatch aided in the slaughter of his Indian brothers haunts him and drives him to drink and act in a useless Buffalo Bill’s circus rodeo. He is a man without a country, unable to continue in the culture that is very much a part of who he is, and yet has turned treacherous. This Buffalo Bill rodeo show reduces the “wild west” concept to a shallow entertainment construct. It’s a manufactured image meant to entertain folks. This is an anti-western genre. The Western origins of America here are not so honorable or noble. When Frank gets the call to go to the race, he takes it in an attempt to get away from it all and redeem himself somehow. In Saudi Arabia, Frank meets the various other riders and their patrons, we see an unscrupulous British woman, and a nefarious Muslim Saudi intent on winning at all costs. Now here is where it gets interesting. The Muslim culture is shown to be rather barbaric and cruel. Women are oppressed and devalued, men are exalted unworthily, punishments for crimes are unjust and cruel (castration for fornication). And best of all, their religion is primitive and somewhat ignorant. The muslims all look down upon Frank as an infidel, who cannot win because “Allah will not let you.” And when Frank will die in the desert, they claim, he will “go straight to hell.” Their claims of Allah and their religion being tied to the race are humbled by the fact that Frank wins it. This is all great. But it is not a propaganda movie. Frank builds a relationship with a particular sheikh, played by an aged Omar Shariff, who is very much a part of this barbaric culture, but just happens to be transfixed by comic books about Buffalo Bill Cody. Through the story, the two of them slowly grow to respect each other. And the leading Muslim rider ends up helping Frank later because Frank saves his life. In fact, the guy is in quicksand and resignedly accepts his fate as “Allah’s will.” But Frank refuses to accept that and saves the guy, also showing the fatalism of Islam to be fallacious. The Muslim says, it is God’s will who will win, and Frank replies, “What about your will? Seems to me that’s what gets you across the finish line.” So there are good guy and bad guy Muslims. And the contrast here is with religious fatalism and good old American self-determination and will. And man’s will wins. And that is the dominant them in this movie, that will is more important than blood. Everyone else elevates the pure blood thoroughbred race horses as well as the nobility of royalty in their Eastern cultures, while, Frank’s horse is a mutt, a mustang. Interestingly, Frank himself is also a mutt. He’s a mixed blood with a white father and an Indian mother. And Frank’s two helpers for the race are a little black slave boy that nobody wants and a Muslim criminal, whose punishment for stealing would be to cut off his hands or help Frank in the race. So, here the notion of America as a melting pot of people, who regardless of their race, can all succeed because of their will and self-determination. This is really quite a paen to the heart of America. The theme embodies the statement on the statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” This American view is clearly the superior way of life in the movie. Unfortunately, the storytellers try to artificially lump Christianity in with Islam as against Frank’s will to succeed. I say artificially because they go out of their way to call the scheming British woman a “Christian,” when in fact, she is nothing of the sort, has absolutely no character traits of Christianity at all, and yet they keep calling her “the Christian.” Can you say AGENDA? This is one of the few smelly agenda aspects of the film. The British “Christian” (who has nothing to do with Christianity) needs to have her horse win the race in order to maintain her aristocratic prowess, etc., so she tries to seduce Frank, but he won’t sleep with her. He’s too honorable to lower himself. Good old western values. The fact of history is that Christianity was PART AND PARCEL of the western mindset. The very values that Frank honors, respect for women, honor, responsibility, courage, kindness, quiet determination and respect for all races comes from the Bible, from Christianity. So if we deconstruct the movie, we see the contradictions of the Western values being critiqued, yet, the Western values are ultimately the superior ones here, and those Western values come from the very religion that the storytellers try to dismiss or deny. This aspect rang hollow to me. This is not to deny the atrocities done in America, and even some in the name of Christianity, but let us be honest about both the good and the bad. Another great element of the superiority of Western values comes when the Sheikh’s daughter, who is oppressed by her culture and yearns to live freely like a man tells Frank, who shows her kindness and understanding, “You truly see me, when others do not.” This is why I respect this film. Although it fallaciously attempts to separate Christianity from Western values and ultimately contradicts itself, it does a fairly good job of showing the good and bad of the cultures involved with American culture (with all its foibles) coming out on top. Well, almost. And here is where the second big rub comes. At the moment of apparent defeat, where it appears Frank will never make it to the finish line and die in the desert, the thing that saves him is a vision of his Indian mother and an Indian ritual dance. So, after all this elevation of the will over blood, the storytellers resort to blood as the origin of Frank’s redemption after all. He reaches in and draws from his Indian blood to find the determination to survive. Quite a contradiction that I’m sure the storytellers did not intend, but when you are so focused on your agenda, you can often contradict yourself in trying to force it into the truth. So everyone else’s racist blood theories, like Muslim, British, etc. etc are wrong for being racist and religiously ignorant, because it’s really Indian blood and religion that are superior. They have just substituted one racism for another. Too bad. The story had such potential. But I still think it was though provoking, even if to see the good side of western values that is superior to the East.

Secret Window

Not recommended. Although it was well done for a Stephen King adaptation, and well-acted by Johnny Depp, this thriller about a writer haunted by a violent hick whose story he claims the writer stole is a real downer. It turns out that the hick is killing people, and he is a figment of the writer’s imagination, which means the hero is the villain, and he gets away with murdering people in the end. Not morally or story satisfying.


Not recommended. Ashley Judd. I love watching her act. But in this movie, ah, it ain’t even worth saying anything about. It’s just a dumb thriller about a beautiful chick as a cop that is totally unbelievable, because feminine beautiful women like Ashley just can’t take down strong testosterone criminals, no matter how much Hollywood wants us to believe that women can be just like men, and still be women. I’m sorry, it ain’t so.


Not recommended. Okay, they pulled this one out of the crapper because they thought that the success of the masterpiece, The Passion, would somehow help this trite TV junk. What were they thinking? Unfortunately, I can’t help but compare it to The Passion. But first let me say that this was a sympathy piece, not quite on the level of Monster. It is an attempt to craft a believable motivation for this most despised character in history. In that sense it wasn’t all bad, just mostly. It paints Judas as a guy who is sympathetic with the Zealot cause (nothing new, Last Temptation did it better), and he is driven by his desire to see the Romans overthrown. His hearty zealousness for Israel is frustrated by Jesus’s spiritual kingdom, rather than a military one. Okay. But you know, no mention is made of the fact that Judas as a greedy S.O.B. He used to pilfer from the disciples’ treasury (John 12:6). And Judas is honestly surprised and angered that the high priest, Caiaphas, does not give Jesus a fair trial. What is he, an idiot? Ah, but a sincere idiot. I see. He was only handing in Jesus expecting that Jesus would be fairly treated. So maybe he is a leeeetle bit more honorable than the Scriptures portray him. And he is certainly a whole lot prettier. They used some pretty boy actor to make Judas seem more heroic. All right, The Passion and Judas: Both were made by Roman Catholics, yet Judas stunk to high heaven of agenda, while the Passion was informed by Gibson’s Catholicism, without artificially forcing the Catholic interpretation onto anything. Examples: In the Passion, we do not see Joseph, the father of Jesus. Now, it is historically probable that Joseph was dead by the time Jesus was this old, because the New Testament seems to fail to mention him. Okay, but in Judas, They make a point of saying “Joseph is long dead.” Jesus’s siblings are studiously avoided in order to propagate Mary’s “perpetual virginity.” Well, in The Passion, I don’t mind the avoidance of his siblings because it is so exclusively focused on the Passion, but in Judas, going out of their way to point it out reeks of agenda. Then, in Judas, they show the scene where Jesus talks to Peter and tells him “upon this rock I will build my church…” Fine. That’s in Scripture. But what isn’t is the portrayal of the disciples talking about this moment as Peter’s “elevation.” Yeah, right. The R.C. belief here is that this was when Peter was “elevated” as the most important apostle, from which the papacy claims its lineage. Don’t think so. Jesus wasn’t elevating Peter, he was elevating HIMSELF as Christ! The rock Jesus would build his church upon was not Peter, the man, but the doctrinal declaration of Jesus as Christ. And they try to reinforce this fallacious “elevation” by showing Jesus telling Peter, “I give you the keys of the Kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” Well, what they DO NOT show you is that this statement was made not merely to Peter (Matt 16:19), but to ALL the Apostles as progenitors of the new faith (Matthew 18: 18). The proclamation of the Gospel message would bind or loosen people, not mere humans. Another repugnant Roman Catholic agenda forced onto the story was that at the last shot of the movie, after Judas had hanged himself, some of the Apostles pray over his dead body. This comes from the unbiblical doctrine of Purgatory. R.C. believes that when a member of the church dies, he goes to purgatory to burn off his sins before he can go to heaven. So that is why they pray for dead people, because they believe they still have a chance after death. Contrarily, in the Bible once you die, that’s it, baby, no more chances, “It is appointed to men to die once and then face judgement.” (Heb 9:27). Not only that, but this doctrine of purgatory denies the very essence of New Covenant salvation. The Bible says that Jesus died once and for all for the sins of his people (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10). To claim that one can burn off their own sins, that is, pay for their own sins denies the heart and soul of the Gospel. It denies that Jesus pays for your sins. This is the opposite of faith in Christ.

And speaking of Christ, the Jesus in the movie Judas is what I call the Dr. Phil-Scooby-Doo-Shaggy-Malibu Jesus. Yep. First of all, here’s a real laugher. Jesus gives Judas the money purse for the disciples because, “I’m terrible with money. I seem to lose it.” Good grief! And that after Jesus APOLOGIZES for turning the tables over of the moneychangers in the Temple. Yeah, that’s right. He says, “I lost my temper.” What kind of a god do these Roman Catholic filmmakers worship???!!! I lost my temper?? So, Christ sins too? Shades of The Last Temptation of Christ. And then the psychobabble Jesus regurgitates when he tells Judas, “I wish you could love yourself the way I do.” Yeah, right. All those poor criminals of history are just victims of their own self-esteem. Funny, the Jesus of the Bible assumes the fallen nature of self-love as the starting point to CHANGE FROM when he says, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Matt 9:19) We ALREADY love ourselves. That’s the problem! Jeeesh! And then this stupid Malibu Jesus is frustrated about spreading his ministry, so Judas says, “Why don’t you give us your powers so we can go out and multiple the effects?” Or something as idiotic as that. Then, Sho ‘nuff, Jesus thinks, “Hey great idea” and gives the disciples his powers of miracles and such, like he didn’t think of it. Oh, and let us not forget the politically correct liberal hate speech of the filmmakers when they have Caiaphas, the high priest, and villain, complain that Jesus is attacking “traditional values.” Boy, and the Jews think they are suffering prejudicial attacks in these Jesus movies. Just try being a conservative who believes in biblical morality; you’re then on the level of a… well… a Judas, I guess. Like Jesus would be against “traditional values,” which, by the way folks is merely a synonym for Biblical values. Uh huh. That’s right, this TV Jesus is against the Bible. And lest we leave out politically correct religion, Jesus also says, “I see God in everyone.” Unlike the Jesus of the Bible who calls unbelievers, sons of the devil (John 8:44).

Last, but not least, the language of this film was laughable. In an attempt to “modernize” it or help us stupid moronic Westerners relate to the story, the characters use out of date 80s style lingo. Stuff on the level of “This town’s not big enough for the both of us.” I can’t remember it all cause I was already drenched in notes about the above stupidities. For more on Jesus as he is portrayed in the movies see my article: “Jesus in the Movies” on my website.


Recommended. You do not have to be a sports person to love this movie based on the true story of Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) who turned the 1980 US hockey team into Olympic champions who disabused the invincible Russian team of their multiyear winning streak. It’s a story about the power of the team over the individual, not a very politically correct theme, but a much needed corrective to our individualistic culture that worships celebrity and rebellion. The great line that captured this was when Brooks says, “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones.” This is the kind of movie that anyone who has every pursued a dream that required relentless hard work will appreciate. Unfortunately, because of the team concept, this movie must deal with an ensemble of kids on the team, and is never able to really build an emotional portrait of any of them to a satisfying depth. That is the problem with ensemble “team” pieces, there just isn’t enough time to develop character arcs appropriately. Plus, the nature of coach Brooks is that he was their coach not their friend, so he simply couldn’t get close to the kids, which made it difficult to develop satisfying dramatic relationships. But the weaknesses are more than made up for in the strengths of this pro-America, pro-family, pro-team story.

In America

Recommended. Written and directed by Jim Sheridan with his daughters, this film, part autobiography, is about an Irish immigrant family coming to New York in the 1970s to try to make a living in the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s a very touching story of family and love and overcoming prejudice. The parents struggle with the loss of their baby boy in an accident. The father has taken it the hardest. He loses his faith in God, and his ability to smile, as well as his heart to act (He’s an actor trying to get work, and keeps losing auditions because of his inability to act “from the heart”). The story chronicles his rediscovery of these vital elements of life through his daughter’s and a fellow neighbor’s zest for life. It was a very spiritual story, though subtle.

The Butterfly Effect

Not Really Recommended. An interesting take on the Chaos theory notion that the smallest change in a sequence can result in major ramifications down the road. The example often quoted by Chaos theoreticians: A butterfly flapping its wings can result in a hurricane on the other side of the world. This movie is a strong embodiment of that idea with a corresponding caution about man’s inability to control his destiny. Ashton Kutcher plays Evan, a young man who discovers an ability to travel back in time through reading his journals written throughout his troubled early life. He starts to go back in time in order to right some wrongs and save people he loves, only to result in either worse lives for them or for others around them. A problem I had with it is that the storytellers gave him such a harsh and dysfunctional family and neighborhood that it was hard to believe. A local pedophile child-abuser with a son who becomes a killer and a daughter who is ruined psychologically is technically feasible, but it just all seemed too extreme to relate to, it caused a disconnect in my suspension of disbelief. I liked the multidimensional display of how child abuse destroys people in different ways, no matter what single thing you may try to change. As Evan goes back to change specific events in his friend’s lives, he realizes that there are so many other events that he could not anticipate, and we see those results with each new “universe” he embarks down. It’s a great idea but not a great movie. Secondly, the story was very casual about sexual promiscuity in the lead characters. It is interesting to note that the storytellers had no clue about the fact that the fornication they celebrate in the “good versions” of the characters’ lives, is just as linked, in reality, to dysfunctional values, experiences, and poor choices as every other dysfunction in the movie. In some ways, the most destructive dysfunctions of all are those which are not even considered problematic, the ones that are assumed as good by society, and then cause the turmoil in people’s hearts when they can’t understand why their lives are so broken or empty. As C.S. Lewis said, “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” One strong moral component that I thought was a missed opportunity was that in one of the “many worlds” that Evan “creates,” all his friends are happy and well-adjusted, but HE is a quadrapalegic. He decides to kill himself because he is afraid of going back and messing it all up again. But this is an act of self-pity, not heroism. Okay, that would be a first reaction, but why couldn’t he have come to the conclusion that he must suffer for the sake of other’s happiness, and bear up under life’s trials? That would have been profound. Instead the filmmakers chose to have Evan discover that his mother turns out to be the one who is suffering, which justifies going back one more time to try to save her as well. The Butterfly Effect is a great idea, but not a great movie.