OSCAR WATCH • The Grand Budapest Hotel: WTF? Quirky Soulless Unfunny Silliness.


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).

Deliver Us From Evil: Muscular Spirituality Vs. Foolish Materialism


Maybe Deliver Us From Evil is just another demon possession movie that’s combined with a cop crime story.

But I doubt it.

Written and Directed by Scott Derrickson, this movie is inspired by the true story of Ralph Sarchie, a New York cop who encountered murders involving demon possession. He joins up with a Roman Catholic exorcist to solve the crimes, and in the process, he rediscovers his lost faith.

Okay, horror is not for everyone. But in this modern world that denies the supernatural, along with God, sometimes the best way to break through the rabid materialistic worldview of our culture is through horror. It’s a kind of apologetic that proves God by proving supernatural evil. If people believe there is a devil, it’s a pretty self-evident corollary that there is a God.

Ad300x250-HorrorWhat I like most about Derrickson’s cinematic portrayal of demon possession (This and The Exorcism of Emily Rose), is his understated realistic approach. He doesn’t rely on special effects gimmicks or make up that are impossible in the real world. The things that happen are mostly the kind of things that really do happen in demon possession cases. So no heads turning around or impossible levitations. Don’t get me wrong, there are contortions, dilated pupils, cuts appearing on bodies, and even preternatural strength and multiple voices. But these are all documented around the world to have occurred in such cases. He doesn’t “Hollywoodize” that stuff to an unbelievable extreme, which is what makes a lot of other demon movies just goofy. I’m not against adding fantasy or beefing it up if you are playing to certain genre demands. I’ve done so myself. But when you are dealing with true stories like Derrickson does, it makes it more scarier to be more realistic.

Now, while I didn’t find this one as scary as say Emily Rose or other demon possession movies like Paranormal Activity or The Last Exorcism, it is still compelling with its share of frights and a couple of eerie shots that make your skin crawl. His demonic “floor scratching” sounds (a common element of the genre) are the scariest I’ve ever heard. Scariness can be a very subjective thing, and the more you’ve seen, the less seems scary. So if you don’t normally watch horror, this will probably be plenty scary.

What I really found fascinating was the priest who teamed up with the cop. The priest, Mendoza, breaks all the stereotypes of priests in movies. He’s young, not old; cool, not archaic, flawed, not holy, forgiven, not judgmental, and best of all, the wise mentor, not the fool. As Sarchie uncovers the spiritual reality behind the murders, he struggles with his own lost faith. But the essence of the spiritual battle is brought out with Christian clarity like I’ve never seen before in a horror movie. In one moment, the priest tells him something like, “You have seen a lot of evil in your job, no doubt. But that is secondary evil. But until you’ve seen primary evil, you do not know true evil.” And of course, demonic evil is primary evil.

Ad300x250-SexAndViolenceBut the priest is not a false holy monk, either. He’s a real sinner, who sinned grievously AS A PRIEST. But what makes this portrayal so different from all the other movies that try to make priests out to be all secret adulterers and child molesters and hypocrites, is that this one shows a priest who confesses that sin and repents and turns back to God. That is grace. That is what the secular world cannot understand. Because Derrickson is a Christian, he can bring that kind of nuance and complexity to a spiritual character as flawed but heroic. This is the director that should be directing the next movie on King David, not another Hollywood secularist trying to subvert a sacred narrative.

SPOILER ALERT: The priest explains that the cop must confess his sins because our unrepented sins are the dark secrets that supernatural evil can use against us. Wow. Only when Sarchie confesses his sins, is he “covered” by God’s power. This is all done in the context of Roman Catholicism, where Sarchie confesses to Mendoza, who then says, “I absolve you.” So anti-Catholics will not like this. Those less bothered by theological distortions, will argue that it WAS his experience that is the story, and the principle behind it is true, that confession of sins to God and forgiveness is our redemption and power to fight such primary evil (distortions notwithstanding).

Another problem as I see it with the genre is that demon possession movies all must end with the third act as the Exorcism sequence. This makes it so hard to come up with something new. Cause it’s usually a priest and others in a room repeating the exorcism ritual as the person manifests supernatural reactions. What have we not seen before? Many times movies try to outdo each other with more spectacular effects, but again, Derrickson does not bow to that cheap way out, though he certainly has a few goodies to offer.

Again, they use the Roman Catholic ritual of exorcism. Look, I realize that they do use that in real life, AND I realize it is more cinematic to engage in a ritual that has progression to it. But I’ve always hoped that people don’t think that recounting words like some kind of magic formula is how to fight a demon. In the Bible, it is the faith of the believer and his calling upon JESUS CHRIST to cast the demon out that does it (And this surely does occur at the end of the exorcism in the movie). But I’ve always been amazed at how in the New Testament, casting out demons was a relatively quick procedure, certainly not as dramatic for a movie. They would cast out in the authority of Jesus Christ, and BAM, they left. Now, Jesus does say that there are some tough cases that require prayer and even fasting. So there are more difficult cases to be sure, but it was not the norm in the first century.

I am studying a lot about Jesus’ ministry as an exorcist for my next novel, Jesus Triumphant, so it is going to be quite a challenge. The real question that many believers never explore is: Exactly what are demons? Everyone assumes “fallen angels.” But the Bible does not say that they are fallen angels, it just calls them evil spirits. Where do they come from? There is an interesting option not normally discussed among polite company. I will be dealing with that in a way I have not yet seen done. Unfortunately, you won’t know until next year, cause I have not written the book yet. But you can find out the theology of it all in my book When Giants Were Upon the Earth: The Watchers, The Nephilim, and the Biblical Cosmic War of the Seed, here on Amazon.


The Equalizer: Cathartic Violence in an Unjust America


Maybe The Equalizer is just a violent guys vigilante revenge flick.
But I doubt it.

I saw this a week or so ago. But it’s been on my mind a bit because it was such a good story. It got me thinking about vigilante movies and why they are so emotionally moving.

The story is about Denzel Washington as Robert McCall, an ex-CIA killer, who has gotten out of the Company, and is trying to live a normal life as a blue collar worker at a Home Depot like company. He lives alone and has OCD, which makes him a little too orderly, but without losing his friendliness for people. Denzel meets a young hooker, played my Chloe Grace Moretz, at the diner where he reads a book. Of course, he is an honorable guy and tries to inspire her to leave her world and live a better life. He tells her something to the effect of “We can do anything we choose to do to make our lives better.” She is abused by her pimps, who are Russian mob and so Robert tries to “buy her freedom.” He goes to the headquarters of the Russian mob and offers them all the money he has, $9800 to let her go. They laugh at him, and then attempt to put him out of his misery.

They should not have done that.

Robert kills them all, which starts a hunt by the big boss of those bad guys, and well, you know the rest. It’s all very formulaic. But it’s fantastic. I have written about revenge movies and vigilante violence as being immoral in posts on The Punisher, Walking Tall and Sin City, and my most detailed in reference to A Time To Kill. In Man on Fire Denzel’s character learns that he can only save the innocent with self sacrifice not revenge, which is also an ironic challenge to vigilanteism.

But what makes this a great moral movie is how they play Robert’s approach. He is not a vigilante killer who goes around and kills people he thinks deserves to die outside the law. He actually offers evildoers a face to face opportunity to right their wrong or to repay their victims. He confronts them with their sin and challenges them to repent. Then he only takes them out, when the bad guys, who obviously laugh at him and never repent, then try to hurt or kill him. So he is actually acting in self defense, which is completely legal and morally justifiable.

At one point we see that Robert is reading Don Quixote, and he says something like, “it’s about a knight in a world without chivalry,” which is clearly the theme of this movie. We have lost our heroic chivalrous nature because of our corruption.


It got me thinking: Why are vigilante stories so powerful? Why do they draw us in with such a strong cheer for the hero? It’s not because we just like to see violence. I believe it is because they are cathartic in giving us stories of justice in a society where justice is blocked by corruption. When our own society becomes so corrupt and unjust, normal law abiding citizens become so saddened and frustrated with the evil that goes unpunished. We long for justice that is not being served. So vigilante movies (And again, The Equalizer is not the immoral vigilante type) serve to satisfy that desire that evil will be punished.

And then I realized why this movie is so timely and resonant. Right now, we live in a society of widespread injustice and increasing polarization. Liberals say we have an unjust racist society, conservatives say we have a society that is peddling false racism as a dog whistle that creates reverse racism and justification for racist knockout games, flash mobs and riots. Liberals say we are denying global warming, conservatives that we are denying Islamic terrorism. Liberals say we need Big Government because we are so unjust, conservatives say we have a corrupt unjust Big Government with a president who is violating the constitution with Executive Orders, and using the IRS and FBI to persecute his political enemies and influence elections. Liberals would say our laws are unjust regarding immigration and gun control, conservatives would say we have a corrupt Department of Justice and a criminal racist Attorney General who violated the laws he swore to uphold with racist policies, defiant non-enforcement and criminal conspiracies like Fast and Furious. Both sides warn of increasing militarized police.

What do you think?

Maybe The Equalizer is just a violent guys vigilante revenge flick.
But I doubt it.

Gone Girl: Cynical Feminism Come of Age


Maybe Gone Girl is just a twisty “artistic” thriller.

But I doubt it.

Watching the first half of this movie has all the hallmarks of a good David Fincher directed thriller. Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne arrives home to discover his wonderful wife, Rosamund Pike as Amy is missing and there is little evidence of it being foul play. Ah, but there is a little evidence and it begins to mount in the direction of Ben’s guilt. We hear the thoughts of Ben Affleck as he caresses his wife’s head in a flashback with the double entendre allusions to him wishing he could crack open her head so he could understand the way she thinks. Okay, pretty on the nose, but makes the point of a good thriller that we must not be sure of the hero’s innocence.

It is not until the midpoint big twist of the movie that we begin to see this is not a standard thriller, but a “statement” about modern marriage, because characters begin to make unbelievable choices and the plot conveniently twists in additional unbelievable ways, all in the support of the storyteller’s “message” they are apparently trying to make.

SPOILER: Okay, look, I’m not interested in writing movie reviews. I want to talk about worldviews and meanings of movies and how they affect our lives. So I have to spill the beans. So don’t read me for movie reviews anyway.

Amy is a trust fund princess and Nick, the fast talking alpha male to replace her controlling parents. At the halfway point, we discover that Amy has constructed the entire scenario to look like a murder, so that she could punish Nick for losing his job and therefore self-worth and for his secret adultery on the side. Amy is on the run hiding her identity and even plans to kill herself originally, all to get back at Nick for ruining her life (a common feminist interpretation of how male dominance leads women to self-destruction). Nick gets a hot defense attorney and they begin to play the media image as they try to find Amy. Meanwhile, Amy ends up at the hideaway of a past stalker who was obsessed with her and is now rich himself. He is still obsessed with her and seeks to “help her” by controlling her and turning her into his puppet of pleasure, barefoot and lingerie laden at home. She finally plots another frame up of this creep and murders him.

There is a truth that Dennis Prager writes about and talks about on his Male/Female Hour on the radio. Feminists, egalitarians, leftists, metrosexuals, and other Christophobes will HATE me for saying this truth. But it is how God made us: What a woman most wants is to be loved by a man she admires, and what men most want from the woman they love is to be admired. What is a simple truism for those of us happily married (and not), becomes a kind of natural law against which this story struggles with all its soul like a rat trying to claw its way out of a cage.

Watching this movie, one can feel the palpable hatred that the storytellers must have for traditional marriage, seeing it as an oppression of women under the thumb of men who use them for their own pleasure and prop up of worth, while it smothers their own self worth. It depicts a marriage that starts out like all marriages, happy and blissful, but then over time, it dies down and crumbles. In this worldview, men are simple pigs who see women always in sexual terms and can’t pick their own ties. Women ruin themselves, just like Amy, by their desire to have a man to admire, so they try to create that man by picking his ties and put aside their own worth to try to prop him up. Can anyone blame Amy’s lack of choices by running from the slouch loser of Nick to the help of her past stalker, who is himself a cliché of controlling women through a patriarchal protection that is actually sick and twisted?

Like all good stories, Gone Girl tries to throw in some opposites for good ambiguity. So a male/female pair of grifters rob Amy when she is on the run, and they appear to be led by the woman, not the man. But then again, the man is a lowlife male who is easily manipulated into such things, another cliché of feminist narratives, just like Nick and just like the stalker. Men are easily manipulated because they are driven by their little heads. We also discover that another guy was unjustly indicted for rape charges by Amy in college because he didn’t turn out to be what she wanted. So she is a sociopath, but a sociopathic expression of a value in our society. But in this story, it seems that is what it takes to make the marriage “work.”

Families don’t get a good shake in this film. Amy’s parents use her as their story source to make millions writing children’s stories. And then borrow away the trust fund money they saved for her out of their guilt. The local woman with multiple children is the “stupid pregnant woman” that Amy manipulates to achieve her deception. And in the end, Amy comes back to Nick and offers him the opportunity for them both to stay together. She does this because she “falls in love” with him again when he pleads with her on national television with a secret message. He becomes that man that she can admire again.

The obvious absurdity that the storytellers have to get us over: Who would possibly reunite with a murderer sociopath? You’re right. No one in their right moral mind would.

In the end Nick chooses to stay with Amy and live the lie! The fact that she is a deluded scheming murderer is overridden by the fact that their marriage gives them both what they need, for her, an alpha male to admire, and for him, a woman who would do anything for his acceptance. I think this is a black comedy of sorts because that choice is CLEARLY NOT the right choice morally and therefore unsatisfying for those who want justice to prevail in a story. But that is the point of black comedies that show darkness win, I think the storytellers are trying to make the point that staying together in marriage with these beliefs requires the subjugation of a woman’s identity to a man’s strength that will drive her to do evil things to maintain that value.

It’s possible that the author is trying to show that our male and female natures taken to an extreme can become self-destructive. But if that is the case, then I think the story fails because it does not depict a proper balance of those natures against which to judge the extreme. The result of this kind of one-sided depiction is a generic statement about those natures as being all bad.

I am a sinner who needs God’s grace daily, and I don’t have a perfect marriage. But I can say that a happy marriage is not achieved by turning men into women (ie: metro girly men), or by demanding egalitarian equality of power (which is itself power-driven), or by denying our male and female natures (which is self-delusion). Rather, it is achieved through self sacrifice and dying to one’s self. It comes from a woman being loved by a man she admires and by a man being admired by the woman he loves.

Maybe Gone Girl is just a twisty “artistic” thriller.

But I doubt it.


To Christian Pro-Life Moviegoers: Put Your $ Where Your Mouth Is

I hear people all the time telling me how they wish more storytellers like me would get their movies made. Well, here is an opportunity to support just that.

A movie about the biggest serial killer in American history, the abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell who murdered thousands of LIVE BORN children, not merely in utero, but actually born children. Even pro-choicers should support this story but the media has ignored it because they think that it will jeopardize abortion rights if they publicize the truth.

I know these filmmakers. They tell good stories. They’ve done fantastic documentaries, like Frack Nation. But this will be a feature film. And it will be quality because they’re professional and serious about their craft.

This will not be like Facing the Giants. These filmmakers have a more mainstream sensibility in their filmmaking, and they will work with a pool of Hollywood type professionals.

I supported this film and you should too. In fact, when you do, tell them in the comments that they should hire Brian Godawa to write the script.

CLICK ON THE WIDGET BELOW and it will take you to the website to donate money to the project.

Please do this. I did. We must support these kind of projects..

Parkland: The Passion of the Christ Kennedy – Boring Idol Worship Movie

True Crime drama about what happened the day JFK was shot based on Vincent Bugliosi’s book. On the fiftieth anniversary year of Kennedy’s assassination, it is no surprise a movie like this was made. In and of itself, I don’t have a problem with that. It remains the single most curious assassination in history for most Americans, and I admit that I was curious to see the details of everything that went on that day myself.

Unfortunately, a movie about historical details does not a story make. I concluded that the movie was a boring hagiography for Kennedy idol worship, because quite frankly there was NO STORY justifying the movie. It was just boring apart from the excitement surrounding the bloody murder and all. We see what happened that day in the lives of people surrounding the event from Abraham Zapruder, who shot the infamous 8mm film, to Oswald’s brother, to the key doctors and cops involved. But there was NO STORY.


I have to say on the positive side that it eviscerates the conspiracy theory which is itself a form of idol worship. Yes, one shooter, no cover-up, just honest internicene squabbles with incompetent government policy and workers on every level as well as a few chance events for a perfect storm. But I believe that conspiracy theories are literally god substitutes. For example, people cannot accept that such a nothing human being combined with unfortuitous chance events can ruin history so deeply. And when you don’t believe in a providential God controlling things, then you cannot live with the absurdity of such meaninglessness, so you create a “god” to fulfill that need for meaning behind events. In the case of conspiracy theories, it is actually an evil god, usually in the form of powerful people who have orchestrated it all for a diabolical plan. This gives meaning and purpose that they cannot live without.

Well this movie shows the very real and non-conspiratorial events that happened that day. Another reason why it is boring as a movie, because reality is often not a very well structured story. And conspiracies make for better movies; detailed real life is mundane.

But that is the idolatry with which I think it ends up replacing the previous idolatry. Why bother telling the story for petty details of pain alone? Unless you want to maintain the fantasy Camelot glory of the man as they do in this movie by elevating the tragedy to godlike importance and blood sacrifice atonement. The blood in this movie made me think of The Passion of the Christ. And they never show the face of Kennedy with a kind of holy diversion reminiscent of how Jesus was avoided in Ben Hur. Even Jackie’s face is often avoided to keep her as a kind of Mother Mary Jackie. The terror and despair in everyone’s faces and lives throughout the whole movie made you think Jesus himself died and America lost its innocence and hope – which is exactly what Kennedy worshippers believe.

The real assassination of America’s innocence was the 1960s. We are still suffering the devastating effects in every area of life from that immoral rebellion.

Ironically, those Kennedy worshippers would damn Kennedy TODAY for being a politician whose policies were more like a modern liberal Republican than the current Democrat party of his heritage. OMG, the god Kennedy believed in less taxes and American supremacy abroad? Why that is as evil as the devil himself: George W. Bush! And to modern Democrats, that would make Kennedy a warmongering racist (of white privilege) since he was a white rich cracker and disagreed with Obama’s policies. Even worse, he was pro-life!

The laughable legacy of Kennedy worshippers is that they are still today actually spinning the story as if Kennedy was killed by a Right Wing “hateful city of Dallas.” These fools must not know that Dallas was a liberal potpourri and that Oswald was a Left Wing Communist who murdered a guy whose policies were more right wing than the Democratic Party would ever tolerate today! JFK would not even be allowed to speak at the DNC because of his political beliefs. Truth just doesn’t matter to idol worshippers.

Just their religion.

And the truth is, a far greater man died on that same infamous day in history. A man whose legacy really has changed the world for the better. A man who, while he doesn’t deserve idol worship, and he would decry it as well, he does deserve a higher recognition. He represented and served a true Camelot God and kingdom, but his death was overshadowed by a media obsessed idol worshipping kingdom of man. He didn’t live a life of wealthy privilege, and didn’t have a world of sycophants covering up serial immoral sexuality, selfish abuse of authority, and drug addiction. He wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a more worthy one.

That man was C.S. Lewis.

Now his is a story more worth telling.

American Hustle: Love Brings Truth in a World of Lies

Caper Movie based on a true story from 1978. A couple of con artists, Irving and Sydney, played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams, are caught and forced by the FBI to help them conduct stings on political and mafia powerbrokers in Jersey. Bradley Cooper is Richie, an ambitious FBI agent that gets embroiled with the two of them in a love triangle that messes with all of their heads and ours as we wonder every step of the way, who is conning who?

Okay, it’s hard not to like this film for me. The 1970s is just about the most perfect era when it comes to soundtracks. Although I didn’t hear the best ones like Led Zeppelin, Boston, ELO and the like, it was still a pleasure to swim in the glory of some of the lesser quality of the best rock and roll ever (and even some disco ☺). The writing is fabulous, the acting is brilliant, Jennifer Lawrence STEALS the movie with her funny annoying New Jersey housewife schtick. All the characters are sadly pathetic in the most fascinating of ways. David O. Russell is a fantastic director (having given us the brilliant Silver Linings Playbook).

It’s a pretty predictable theme of con movies that you can never believe what you see, but it works well because it remains a true revelation of human nature, the dark side of every one, even the apparently good people. As the con men repeat, “People believe what they want to believe,” we are introduced to a story that explores both this epistemological question and its moral ramifications on our lives. We see the result of the truth, also spoken by the hero, that people tell themselves lies to protect themselves from the truth and even from themselves.

It is a world of gray that Irving brings to the black and white self-righteousness of Richie the FBI man as he is introduced to the con world. We see Irving also involved in the sale of expensive art forgeries. But when Richie challenges that morality, Irving shows him a Rembrandt masterpiece at a museum and tells him it’s a forgery, but people don’t know. It’s forged so well that people cannot tell the difference, so what is the difference if they can’t tell? How is anyone hurt?

This is a movie lays out a world of morally gray life at every angle. We see Irving fall in deep love with Sydney only to discover that Irving is living a double life because he is unhappily married. But no one in this movie is all bad or all good. But no one is entirely honest either. The FBI agent Richie seeks justice, but he is overly ambitious and flawed with a violent temper that hurts others in his quest for truth and justice. He also has his sexual weakness as well, but he ain’t a corrupt lawmen. No one is fully corrupt in this film except the mob. Even the mayor Carmine, played by Jeremy Renner, that is getting stung for playing loose with the law is depicted as someone who is not intent on criminal deeds, but rather a man who breaks a few rules to help the people of his beloved city. He is a hero of the working man. These are all people who seek to navigate through a grey world without moral absolutes, because as Rosalyn says, “Sometimes, all you have in life is F*ed up poisonous choices.”

I think there is also a powerful underlying theme that love brings honesty and truth into our lives. For all three leads, when they finally and truly fall in love in the story or experience a genuine relationship of honesty giving from another human being, they shed elements of their dishonesty and seek to be known. We see each person respond to their friend or lover by coming clean, and then facing the pain of the consequences of their betrayal and coming clean. It is all quite redemptive, that is: love redeems our flaws with the clarity of black and white truth in a morally compromised world of grays.

The weakness of the story for me was in the criminal as hero storyline. Look, I don’t have a problem with heroes being flawed and all that. Of course, we’re all tainted. But I just don’t like movies that get the audience to root for a criminal to get away with a crime. Unless…

SPOILER: In this case, the con men ultimately con the FBI. And I don’t have a real problem with that – if they were conning corruption. The problem is that in this movie, the FBI guy was flawed, but not corrupt. If he was corrupt I would have more sympathy for the protagonists, but as it stands in this story, the FBI was just not as experienced. He was incompetent but not corrupt. His naïve machinations trying to capture the mob places our protagonists in jeopardy, so they get out of it by protecting the mob boss from their sting (who would kill them all when he found out) and blackmailing the FBI to let them go.

It all ends up fine in the end with our heroes returning money to the FBI and going clean in their lives. Without THAT ending, I would have hated the movie. Because getting away with a crime is not justice, no matter how much we sympathize with a hero. But as it stands, the theme is a powerful truth with a slight flaw: Love redeems lies and brings honesty, but the ends justifies the means.

Here is my cultural concern: If we tell stories that justify to people that they can disregard law when they think government is incompetent, then we cannot complain when we have a society of people that disregard law when they think it is incompetent (which it virtually always is). We build the very anti-authority into citizenry that we then complain about when we have such blatant criminal disregard for law like tax evasion, knockout games and flash mobs and a police that can no longer stop the riots and crime that happen around the country by radical activists in their protests. Or the absurd increase in shooting sprees because such criminals know the law has its hands tied and they will become heroes as antiheros in the media.

I don’t believe this is the intent of the filmmakers, but I do think it can have that effect on the audience values if we are not careful.

The Counselor: Nietzsche at the Movies, or Shakespeare without Redemption

Crime thriller. After watching The Counselor, you get the feeling that you need to take a shower. And not because it was a guilty pleasure, but simply because you’ve wallowed in a nihilistic worldview for an hour and half that ends in despair and offers no way out of evil.

It tells the story – and not a very clear story – of a greedy lawyer, the Counselor, played by Michael Fassbender, who gets in way over his head when he gets involved with drug traffickers and his deal goes awry. He is portrayed as a man who has finally found true love with the beautiful Laura, played by Penelope Cruz and buys her a diamond he cannot afford, which is the symbolic impetus for him stepping over the line into big illegal money.

A couple of his criminal “friends” tell him not to do it because he is too naïve to handle it. (This is not the same as a moral injunction to do the right thing.) Of course the deal goes wrong when someone steals the shipment from Fassbender’s connections, and all those connected with him are hunted down to pay.

The thing about it is, I went to this movie because of the A-list director, Ridley Scott, and the A-list cast of Fassbender, Cruz, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz. I was disappointed. Sure, because of Cormac McCarthy, it had some of the most lyrical existential dialogue ever in a thriller or crime movie (albeit, some of it out of place and self-important). But in the service of a nihilistic worldview, such lyricism becomes verbose mockery. McCarthy’s cynicism here amounts to self-righteous platitudes.

There is a scene where the ruthless Cameron Diaz visits a priest for confession only to mock him. But the scene was out of place and confusing and didn’t make much sense other than to show her mockery of religion. And that same religious commitment in the innocent Laura made her ignorant and a victim to the strong.

On the surface, I should like this movie because it is kind of a two hour movie version of Breaking Bad. That is, there is heavy lyrical poetry spoken throughout about how our decisions make us who we are and our actions have consequences. (I forgot my note pad, so I didn’t get any of them down. But I probably wouldn’t have been able to anyway, because there was so much of it and quite complex at times). But what I picked up from it was the added notion that we cannot undo the bad choices we’ve done. There’s no going back. No second chances. Our choices set in motion an inevitable ending of despair and death.

Now, on the one hand, for those without God, I would quite agree that there is no hope, just death in this life (I would add: Judgment after that). And yes, the world of crime and evil never ends well, and even ends in destroying innocent people, which is a moral truth in the right context. But a story that ONLY shows the dark and the evil and shows no good in contrast, no hope for redemption spurned, no possibility to change, is a story that communicates there is no hope or redemption.

That is nihilism.

That is not worth an audience.

Breaking Bad: Yes, Virginia, there is Original Sin

One of the most offensive truths to modern man is Original Sin. How dare those judgmental Christians say we are all guilty sinners in the hands of an angry God! How dare you call my wonderful mother, who spent her whole life helping people, damned because she doesn’t believe in Jesus! People are basically good, aren’t they? I mean I never killed anyone. We’re not in the Matrix. I’m just an average American chemistry teacher with a family and a special needs kid. I’m not evil. People are basically good.

Yeah, right.

Anyone who’s ever had children knows for a fact that people start as selfish little sinners who have to be corrected and taught over and over again to be good. Why? Because, well, we’re all basically born bad. But of course, humankind is perpetually cunning in suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, so the obvious truth notwithstanding, many people still believe that people are basically good.

Enter, Breaking Bad.

I remember first watching the series years ago. It was a brilliant moral dilemma of a high school chemistry teacher who discovers he has lung cancer and realizes his wife and special needs kid will not be taken care of when he dies. He turns away from joining a high risk small business startup that goes successful and comes to the dread conclusion that the only way he can provide for his family’s future is to do what he does best in a different kind of entrepreneurship, an illegal operation of a meth lab. Since chemistry was his strong suit, he could provide the purest meth ever and build a name for his product — and barrel loads of money for his family, so they will not suffer when he is gone.

This is quality storytelling to set up a scenario where a good guy turns into a villain, and he becomes one through a morally complex dilemma. But it ain’t original. Read Shakespeare. It’s called a tragedy. A lot of gangster movies are this. And that is what BB is, a gangster rise and fall story on the greatness level that exceeds The Godfather.

But the point is to explore what is the flaw in us that, if fed, creates the monster we despise? We can all understand the essentially good motive of wanting to provide for one’s family. Nothing more primal or moral than that. And even if we think the criminality is wrong, we certainly can understand the temptation of being backed into a corner without much of an apparent choice. It forces us to think about our own lives. What would we do? Would we do evil that good may come? Would we love our family so much that we would sell our own soul to the devil in order to save them? These are not inconsequential or superfluous questions. They force us to examine our own morality and ethics. Our own badness.

And the fact that BB has the opportunity to take the time to walk through the step by step process of the decline of a man’s moral sanity only makes it that much more truthful and believable. For me the point of it all is this: Breaking Bad proves that the same evil in murderers, drug dealers and soulless narcissist users is in all of us — all of us. It just needs to be fed to come to fruition. But it’s there inside of us all waiting to break out. Watching BB makes you believe that, yes, any normal good family guy has the ability to make moral compromises that lead him down the path of destruction. After all, murderers aren’t born murderers, and every villain constructs some kind of moral justification to assuage his guilt. Evil does exist, despite the postmodern evil deniers. One man’s terrorist is not another mans’ freedom fighter, he is a terrorist.

And that is Original Sin.

Traditionally, Original Sin is the theological doctrine that Adam, as the “first man,” and therefore federal representative of the human race disobeyed God which broke his spiritual relationship with God and bent his nature to bad. Since all humanity comes from that first Scriptural pair, we all inherit Adam’s badness and the death and consequences of his rebellion.

I am fully aware of all the arguments against this truth. It isn’t fair to blame us for what Adam did, Scientifically, we cannot have come from one pair of human progenitors, how do we inherit a sinful nature, yada yada. It’s all irrelevant. It doesn’t matter where you think it came from, it doesn’t matter what “logical” problems you may have with an existential proposition. Because you see, Original Sin is the one theological truth that is an undeniable empirically observable fact: We are all basically bad. It only takes the right choices to bring that bad out.

Humankind is not basically good. We are basically bad. And all it takes to break that bad out is the right circumstances and the accumulation of certain moral choices. Little decisions lead to bigger ones. Our justification for a little white lie can build to a justification for murder. It’s how our bad nature works. BB incarnates that disturbing and often denied truth about ourselves. And it’s why modern people are completely blinded by their self-righteousness. The denial of our essential badness is the first moral decision that leads us to the destiny of Walter White.

The only difference is that Walt has let it come to fruition. He has broken bad.

Of course, one of the dangers of such studies of the making of a villain is the potential of building a story where we root for the bad guy. That is, we start out sympathetic, and like Walter, we keep watching his story and keep rooting for him by making the same choices in our rooting for him that he made in his actions. But there comes a point where we may watch with moral lesson, but we must turn in our affections or become condemned by our own morbid curiosity.

That moment for me came at the end of the second season, where Walt lets Jesse’s junkie girlfriend die in her own vomit while overdosing because she was going to let the cat out of the bag. At that point he is no longer sympathetic. And in fact, I stopped watching the series because I didn’t want to root for a hero who made such choices.

I came back a year or so later to finish watching because I had made the mistake of not appreciating the power of the tragedy: A moral lesson of what NOT to be, of how NOT to behave, because of where it leads.

This would have been a picture glorifying evil had it not been for the existence of Jesse, his drug addict, slacker helper, who has risen to become the counterpoint to Walt. Jesse becomes the villain, whose conscience is awakened to his own depravity by seeing the evil consequences of Walt’s choices and realizing he is just as guilty. By the end of the series, Jesse has become despairing of life itself and throws away the proceeds of their dirty deeds because it has become blood money to him. He even helps the feds to try to nail Walt.

As Walt descends, Jesse ascends, and struggles with true moral guilt. One particularly poignant aspect of the series that shows the modern humanistic denial of evil is in Jesse’s Narcotics Anonymous group. We see them going through the standard humanistic memes of “no judging” and making everyone feeling accepted and denying their guilt and claiming victim status. At one point Jesse finally gets sick of it all and condemns the leader of the group by saying that if we shouldn’t judge, then we’re saying nothing is wrong, but they should judge things that are wrong, or we are deceiving ourselves and perpetuating our own badness. It’s really quite a brilliant exposition of the essential delusion of humanistic psychiatric notions of relative morality and our culture of denial. We are not victims of our moral behavior, we are responsible, and judgment provides the dignity and value to our humanity because it affirms that we have the ability to choose other. It is precisely our moral culpability that gives us true value. Otherwise we are of no more value than rocks.

Vince Gilligan, the creator of the series has revealed this very questioning in his own life when he says. “I’m pretty much agnostic at this point in my life. But I find atheism just as hard to get my head around as I find fundamental Christianity. Because if there is no such thing as cosmic justice, what is the point of being good? That’s the one thing that no one has ever explained to me. Why shouldn’t I go rob a bank, especially if I’m smart enough to get away with it? What’s stopping me?” (NYT)

And this is another moral repercussion of the tragic decline of a hero into a villain. We as viewers are certainly fascinated by the moral complications and ramifications of bad choices that are made for good reasons. After all, this “ends justifies the means” thinking dominates our culture from public education indoctrination to the attack on businesses in the name of “income disparity” to the persecution of political enemies through the use of the IRS and mainstream news media political lies. No villain sees himself as a villain. They always have a rationalization for why they do evil. “To help my family,” “to level the playing field,” “to right past wrongs,” “social justice,” “because the ‘other’ is racist, sexist, bigot homophobes, Islamaphobes.” The irony is that if we the viewer continue to secretly harbor a rooting for the “villain-as-hero” because, after all, the others around them are worse villains, then we viewers are indicted by our own badness.

This is why the consequences of behavior in a story is critically important to its moral worldview.

Which brings us to another aspect of the denial of our badness, another theme of the series: Actions have consequences. But not in some kind of philosophical blathering. Rather, our moral choices in life are not secluded to our own freedom, as if morality is relative and we can construct our own morals for our own purposes as many will say. Morality is not relative. All our moral choices ultimately have effects and ramifications that effect other people. We do not exist as authorities of our own moral decisions in a free universe. We are accountable for everything we say and do.

This is born out in a dozen little ways of how it affects and destroys Walt’s wife as she becomes complicit and how it ends in deaths of Walt’s loved ones. But more powerfully we see early in the series of how Walt’s allowance of that girlfriend to die in her own vomit, leads to the despair of her father, who is an air traffic controller, who then does poorly at his job because of his suffering, which leads to a plane crash and hundreds of innocent people dead. Unfortunately God is not a part of this storyline, but the notion of our interconnectedness still rings true in this and many other ways, of lives destroyed because of Walt’s choices.

Moral relativity is a lie. We do not “choose” our morality in vacuums of our own freedom and autonomy. All our choices are part of an interconnectedness with humanity that does end up hurting others. We are accountable to moral absolutes.

For all you humanists, that means THERE ARE NO VICTIMLESS CRIMES. Or for that matter, THERE ARE NO VICTIMLESS MORAL CHOICES. This could be one of the most powerful moral themes in all of television. We are guilty for what we do. And our sins will find us out.

Let’s just hope that the finale proves this moral truth that it has reinforced throughout the series.


Okay, so I saw the series finale and I have to say it was not very impressive. On the one hand, it was somewhat morally appropriate in that Walt does die. That tragic anti-hero must pay the price for his sins that ruined so many lives. Walt ultimately dies by his own hand, when he takes a bullet from the rifle he set up to automatically shoot up the bad guys at the end. Okay, this is poetic justice because one of the ongoing moral themes of the series was that Walt’s choices were moral choices that did not merely affect him but also hurt the lives of others. So it is appropriate that he falls victim to his own actions as well. And he does end up getting his revenge against the gang of very evil men and one woman who betrayed him and killed Walt’s brother in law Hank. With that there is some emotional satisfaction in the most evil not getting away with their dirty deeds. And Jesse, the junkie turned partner who awakened to his moral conscience and even turned to help the DEA did get away from the bad guys at the end, which satisfies those who want moral conscience rewarded.

On the other hand, Walt’s death was quite calm and morally unsatisfying for the evil he had become. Let me explain. Movie snobs and other cynics will not like what I am about to say, but it’s the truth when it comes to storytelling.

There is a reason why it is a cliché in so many movies of having the villain often fall to his death from a very great height, or be obliterated in a very extreme fashion (like blown to bits or crushed or burnt on fire or the like). That reason is that those gruesome endings are what give us emotional satisfaction of the punishment fitting the crime. I am not saying legal reality here, I am saying emotional and moral reality for the viewer. Falling from a great height is the perfect universal metaphor for the essence of sin and the fall of humanity into evil. And that satisfies us on a primal spiritual level like nothing else can. I am not saying Walt should have fallen off a cliff, but I am simply explaining that his moral evil was so deep that even though we struggled with our conflicted feelings of rooting for him against the bad guys, but then admitting that he deserves to die for the evil he had wrought, we should in the end be slapped in the face by the moral spiritual truth of the depth of Walt’s guilt.

This, Breaking Bad’s finale did not do, and was thus an unsatisfying cynical compromise. Walt’s soft slipping into unconsciousness without drama is an anticlimactic unsatisfying way to express the moral guilt he had or the spiritual punishment he required. It needed to be extreme, jarring, something that would wake us all up from the delusion of any sympathy we may have had for this man turned into monster. It needed to reinforce the moral drive of the entire series that actions have consequences. To misquote a famous saying, with much evil comes much responsibility and therefore much stronger consequences.

And don’t give me the nihilistic claims of “realism” as if Breaking Bad is about reality (You know, bad people get away in the real world, justice isn’t always achieved etc.). BB is not reality, it was a moral fable, and as a moral fable it should have ended with the same moral wisdom that the series was built on. Instead, it whimpered out with a half-assed humanistic compromise by making Walt die, but peacefully after getting his revenge.

And that is the biggest moral problem of all. Yes, Walt loses what is most dear to him, his family, because of his criminal obsession with providing for family. And yes, there is a kind of acceptance of his just dessert when he allows Jesse the opportunity to kill him. He saves Jesse from the final shootout. But Walt still kind of wins as well. After ruining his family’s lives, getting many innocent people killed, including his brother in law, Walt’s overarching goal was to provide for his family with his blood money. And even though his son rejects it, he sets it up through criminal intimidation to have a trust fund made for his son. So he does get his money to his family in the end. He outsmarts everyone, is able to achieve his goal of revenge, and getting his money to his son before he died, and he was going to die from the cancer anyway, so Walt dies a peaceful death having basically achieved his goal of providing for his family and cheated death. Something we should not be rooting for. A less than satisfying ending for me.

But I want to end on a positive note. One qualification to my nit picking here is that at the end, Walt finally does admit that his obsessive motive for the entire series of engaging in crime to provide “for my family” was in fact not for his family but for himself. And that is the human pride of original sin. The underlying darkness to the façade of criminals’ and gangsters’ devotion to family is that it is ultimately pride that drives the human heart into the rationalization for each little moral compromise that ends in the evil we are so offended at being accused of but are in fact guilty of having in our own hearts.

We are Breaking Bad.