2 Guns: Kant Vs. Nietzsche Knockdown! 2 Good Not 2 See

A great action buddy cop flick about two undercover agents who stumble upon corruption in the CIA, the Navy, and the DEA, and pretty much everywhere. I have not seen such a rewarding and funny action film like this in a long time.

Denzel is Bobby, an undercover DEA agent working on a sting to get a cartel head, and Mark Wahlberg is Stig, an undercover Navy op trying to redeem his own bad past so he can get accepted back into the military, by stealing drug money stored in a bank. The only problem is, they don’t know who each other really is. So when they pull off a bank heist, they get into real hot water when they discover it’s the CIA’s dirty money. So now, they have the drug cartel, and dirty DEA agents, and dirty CIA after them. Don’t worry, I haven’t told you anything that isn’t in the trailer.

Which is kinda too bad cause it does spoil the movie somewhat. On the other hand, it’s no surprise because it is standard Hollywood cop action stuff that shows two good guys with moral flaws who are forced to realize those flaws and overcome them to become righteous peace officers.

The chemisty between Washington and Wahlberg is phenomenal. Bill Paxton kicks A with a brutal performance as the CIA heavy. Washington plays the straight guy who is a good guy turned cynic and Wahlberg the squirrely jokester idealist. Their playful banter, in the midst of gun fights, fist fights with each other, and torture by the bad guys, is standard action movie fare, but rings with much more authenticity than the cardboard Schwarzenneger type lines because it is character driven, not merely “trailer moment” soundbites.

What I found most interesting was the personal redemption of the characters. Bobby is a cynical older DEA agent who has been working so close for so long to the scum underworld of drug cartels that is starting to affect him. He has a Nietzschean philosophy of “whatever it takes” to take down the bad guys. This is the sort of belief that results in an “ends justifies the means” approach to justice. It reduces justice to power. You have to do whatever it takes to achieve your goal or you won’t get it because the world is so corrupt or evil. And the corruption in all the government agencies in this story seem to support that notion. The problem is that it makes him willing to discard Stig in his effort to catch the bigger fish, AND it spoils his ability to trust anyone enough to love them, such as his love interest, Deb, when he says, “I want to love you” as a way of saying he can’t bring himself to trust enough to do so. Of course, there are moments where we see that Bobby does have a soft spot for good that he cannot escape, such as when he kisses a little baby in the midst of a bank robbery (a unique hilarious moment) and when he saves a Mexican coyote from drowning as they cross illegally into the US. But to find his redemption he has to face his lack of morality as embodied in Stig.

Stig, on the other hand is an upbeat idealist who wants to serve his country by being an honorable member of the military, the Navy. His problem is that his idealism blinds him to the corruption that he is serving, in the form of his superior who is using him for criminal purposes and his Admiral who throws Stig under the bus for the sake of protecting a good image of the Navy. Okay, when you’re surrounded by this much corruption it’s hard not to go solo to clear your name from being a panzy for a conspiracy theory. But he maintains his commitment to a military ethos as he fights the bad guys. There is a significant moment in the film where Bobby confronts Stig looking for a righteous solution with, “You think there is a code. There is no code.” The implication is that there is just the nihilist struggle for power by self interested persons. Everyone is corrupt. But Stig replies, “My code saved your life,” as indeed it did because of his willingness to do what is right even if it harms himself. And in the end, Stig’s morality changes Bobby and brings him back in the family of man.

This is the argument between teleological ethics and deontological ethics. Teleological ethics uses morals as a means to an end of achieving one’s purposes. Which means there is no ultimate right and wrong, only what we create for our use. It results in relativism and the ends justifying the means. If we accomplish what we want (which we define as “good”), then how we achieved it is right and acceptable. But deontological ethics say that there is a moral code that transcends our self interest to which we are accountable. Something is right or wrong regardless of what we want.

So for example, in our current climate, those who believe in teleological ethics or the ends justify the means believe that it is okay for the government to use the IRS to persecute political enemies if they can consolidate their political power, or for the NSA to violate individual liberties if we can catch more terrorists. But those who believe in deontological ethics believe that the high office of the president of the United States (and the head of the DOJ and IRS) does not give justification to violate the Constitution, our transcendent political ethical standard, no matter how much good you think you will achieve according to your politics.

Or in the current George Zimmerman trial, the race hustlers and grievance peddlers denied all the evidence of Trayvon Martin’s criminal guilt and all the evidence of George Zimmerman’s innocence and right to self defense, and even encouraged through their code words and dog whistles in the media to destroy Zimmerman. And they created a false picture of Zimmerman as being white, so that it would be a case of white racism against a black (see here). Why? Because they believe their cause of crying racism and black victimhood is so right, that it doesn’t matter if they destroy or kill an innocent man as long as their “higher cause” is achieved. That is teleological ethics. The ends justify the means. Whereas, those who believe in deontological ethics believe that even though it was a tragedy for Martin to die, we must follow the rule of law and evidence which exonerated Zimmerman, and justice should not be denied anyone just because their race is Hispanic or half-white.

Identity Thief: A Parable About Restorative Justice, not Humanistic “Understanding”

Slapstick Comedy. Jason Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, a guy with an androgynous name, whose identity is stolen by Diana played by Melissa McCarthy in another state. When he goes on a trip to try to bring her back to his home state to clear his name, a wild road trip ensues that challenges Sandy and Diana to find out who they each really are.

This is a wildly implausible scenario with wildly implausible scenes and wildly implausible characters, but give it a break, it’s a comedy! So if you don’t demand that it must by hyper-realistic, you just might appreciate some of the morality tale that this is.

Sandy is set up as losing his reputation, his job, and possibly his future if he doesn’t go down to Florida and bring this woman back to his state, and get her to turn herself in. Diana is an obese woman who is a party animal and lives her life through other identities while trying to get anyone to love her. A ludicrous plot device is added to up the stakes and pace: Diana has killers after her because her thieving has gotten her in trouble with some crime kingpin. Like I said, everything about this story is wildly implausible, but it is a parable and that is the point of it, NOT realism. It is a very heartfelt buddy story that is an incarnation of the parable to Love Thy Neighbor, nay, to Love Thy Enemies.

The humor of it all lies in Diana’s obesity as an irony against her wild girl physical comedy. She is a one woman comedy machine when it comes to this character role. And Jason Bateman is my personal favorite straight man in all of movie comedydom. So I loved this couple that had wonderful chemistry in their journey toward self discovery.

SPOILER ALERT: Diana’s revelation is that she is an orphan who never knew her name (metaphor for identity) and that is why she was restless and lived through other people’s identities, trying to be loved or to find a family she never had. Now this could all be the typical humanistic, “we have to understand the criminal and realize that they’re just hurt people who hurt people.” But it is not, because this sensitive psychological appreciation of her pain is balanced by the moral choice she makes to take responsibility for her actions at the end. Thus, proving the dictum that we are not responsible for what happens to us, but we are responsible for how we respond to what happens to us.

But there is more to it than that, there is reconciliation and restoration.

Sandy, starts out detesting Diana, but eventually learns to care for her and they help each other out in various ways until the end. And Sandy’s problem is his lack of confidence that made him a chump all his life. Confidence that Diana has in overabundance. And his moral journey is also quite nice, as he turns and uses Diana’s skills to try to illegally burn his old boss who screwed him in the beginning. But ultimately, he pays for this as well. And then he also learns that Diana needs family and he brings her into his family instead of protecting himself, which redeems them both with hope and love.

But the ending shows these characters both swap redemptions as they both sacrifice their own selves at the end to save the other. This is a story that affirms personal responsibility and consequences for our actions, but is about more than justice, it is about mercy, and about reconciliation, which is restorative justice.

Inhale: How Far Would You Go to Save Someone You Love?

Medical conspiracy thriller about organ donation on Netflix Streaming. This is a little gem of a movie about Paul Stanton (played superbly by Dermot Mulroony) and his wife Diane (Diane Kruger) who have a young daughter who is dying of a lung disease. Paul is a State Prosecutor who is a man of conviction. He is prosecuting a man who shot a child molester who was hitting on his son (though had not yet done anything). While the shooter’s justification was that he was protecting his son against what the registered sex offender was GOING to do, Paul is set up as a believer in legal due process against vigilante violence in the name of protecting even our children. He supports the law against our emotion, and the need to engage due process or we lose our souls. But Paul is a man of justice, because he is NOT in favor of the sleazy defendant either. He pursues justice under the law.

But Paul’s daughter’s death is imminent, and it appears she will not receive lungs as organ donation. In fact, the system is so screwed up that organs expire while in impossible transit to others higher on the list rather than the closest person in need. So in their case, following the rules results in more death. So Paul becomes desperate and finds out there is a way to avoid all the unfair rules and regulations in America that keep victims from receiving organs: Mexico has lax laws and plenty of organs from dead people because of its three times the homicide rate.

So he does what any loving father would do, go to Mexico and face life threatening danger in order to find a pair of lungs to save his daughter. Of course he has to journey though the dark belly underworld of this enterprise filled with a mixture of creepy criminals and compromising do-gooders.

The movie really shows the pressing reality of the desperation that anyone would feel when all options have been unfairly taken away from them, when it does not need to be that way. There are plenty of donors to fill the need. It’s just that the bureaucracy of the law actually impedes the good rather than provides for it. So Paul’s dedication to law is challenged and he is forced to rethink his values and convictions. This movie presents a real world moral dilemma that addresses an important issue at the heart of our ethics. What do you do when the system works against justice or goodness?

But just when Paul discovers where the organs really come from, he is faced with an even greater moral dilemma. He is put into the position of the man he was prosecuting at the beginning of the story. And he must decide: Should he do wrong in order to achieve the good on behalf of his own child? Is any price worth saving our loved ones? What is the value of human life if we deny others that value?

His decision is heroic and satisfying, but not without its pain and loss in the real world. Thus making it a rich moral fable with conviction. I recommend this movie for a heart wrenching moral journey of character and integrity.

Now You See Me: Don’t See It

So, here is another one of those movies with terrible morals that Hollywood filmmakers think must be okay cause all the stars are cocky and cool. Harrelson, his lovable selfish self; Jesse Eisenberg and Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo are all clearly defined characters with strong presence and clever scenes. But it’s really all about inciting hatred and violence against corporations because of so-called “grievances.” It flirts — no, makes out — with Occupy morality, that peculiar violent Marxist ethic that thinks stealing and vandalizing corporations is morally justifiable because they are “greedy.” This is the Ends Justifying the Means and it is immoral and unsatisfying in a story like this.

I would like to note that the filmmakers are themselves one-percenters, so they fancy themselves on moral high horses because they promote hatred of corporations like banks and insurance companies, while hypocritically excusing their own Hollywood corporations.

In this movie, criminals are good guys, and the good guys are the ultimate bad guys. In the end, all the people you think are good guys justify the crime and don’t care about justice. Oh wait, there is ONE partial good guy, played by Morgan Freeman, who ends up in jail for life, and apart from his own money self interest, is the only good guy who wants to expose the lies of the Occupy Magic stars.

So the morality here is all upside down, which means the storytellers are trying to misdirect us like a magic trick to accept their terrible immoral ethics inside a glitzy thriller movie package.

Don’t let them do it to you! Don’t watch this poor magic trick.

Machine Gun Preacher

Relativity Media
Directed by Marc Forster
Written by Jason Keller

From the opening scene of a Sudanese village pillaged by LRA terrorists who force children to kill their parents to the closing credit monologue of the real life Sam Childers’ plea to rescue the kidnapped Sudanese orphans by any means necessary, Machine Gun Preacher packs a punch to the gut of our moral conscience. And it does so with a nuanced spiritual and moral reasoning that challenges our American couch potato activism that prides itself in political debates over moral action. Oh, and did I say it involves Jesus?

Machine Gun Preacher is based on the true story of Sam Childers, a drug addicted motorcycle riding criminal who gets saved by Jesus and goes to help rescue the orphans of Sudan from kidnapping, enslavement, torture and murder by rebel terrorists.

The story begins with an unrepentant Sam being released from prison, telling the Guards to go “F” themselves. What “poor” Sam learns is that his faithful wife has found Jesus and quit her stripping job to lead a respectable god fearing life raising their daughter. And now she wants him to come to church. Needless to say, that pisses Sam off big time and launches him on a self-destructive raging crime spree of drugs, robbery, and violence. But he is brought to the end of himself and believe it or not, gives his life to Jesus, being baptized and getting a respectable job in construction. This ain’t your low key Tender Mercies.

One day, Sam hears about the church mission project of building churches in Uganda and he takes off to go see how he can help. What he discovers on his trip is an evil world more wicked than he even realized. Joseph Kony’s terrorist group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), crosses from Uganda into Sudan and burns down villages, kills adults, tortures those who speak out, and forces children to become soldiers in their terrorist group. The result is myriads of orphans without much help from anyone to protect them.

Well, as you can guess, this pisses off Sam, and he gets a vision from God one day to build a church on his property for street people rejected by “proper” churchgoers, as well as an orphanage in the Sudan to help the children. Once, his new orphanage is burnt to the ground, he starts over, but this time with a new spirit – or rather, an old spirit redeemed with a new purpose. He joins the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), a counterinsurgent militia that protects the oppressed children with lethal force. Thus the title Machine Gun Preacher. Sam clings to his God and his guns. And thus the tremendous moral tale that asks the questions worthy of the Good Book itself: “How far will you go to save helpless innocent human life?”; “How does God’s redemption apply in a violent world of evil run amok?”; “Is self defense morally justifiable in rescuing women and orphans?”

A Christian Movie?

I have to be honest, this movie contains in it what I usually criticize in a typical “Christian movie.” Big bad biker dude’s wife finds God, brings him to a corny red-bricked church and he accepts Jesus into his heart, “gets saved” and baptized, turns his life around, starts his own church, and helps the poor children, yada yada. Christian clichés and memes we are all too familiar with in the Christian world.

However, this movie is not a cliché Christian movie. It is a deeply moving honest portrayal of “muscular” Christian faith alive in the complex real world we live in that draws respect even from unbelievers. So why do I say that? What makes it different if it carries some of the very same elements of Christian movies?

Well, first off, let’s be honest that the most obvious major differences are good production values, good writing, good directing, and good acting, that is so absent from “Christian movies.” Now, I am not going to go on a Christian movie bashing binge. And I am not going to make digs at specifically named Christian movies (and you know who you are :-). As a matter of fact, I think in general, they are getting better in all these categories as the years press on. I have been a part of some mediocre movies as well, so I know how hard it is to make a good movie, period. But there are several things in the storytelling itself that I think make this film work where Christian movies approaching similar themes often do not. First, in its moral and spiritual honesty and second, in its portrayal of evil and redemption.

Moral Honesty

While the movie wrestles with the moral issue of how to rescue widows and orphans oppressed by murderers, it does not promote hero worship or give pat answers and it deals honestly with the moral ambiguity of violence as a means to an end that exists in the real world.

First off, the villains in the film are fairly represented. Though the bulk of the murdering done in Southern Sudan has been by Muslims against Christians, Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, claims to be a Christian. Now, this would be a perfect opportunity for the typical Hollywood politically correct spin to ignore the Muslim violence and paint it as a picture of “Christian” terrorism. But the movie does not do this. It tells us about the Muslim violence and then communicates that Kony claims to be a Christian, but is clearly not a Christian, but a wolf in wolf’s clothing, using the Christian God’s name in vain. The issues are just more complicated than knee jerk moral equivalency will allow.

The movie also struggles honestly with the issue of using violence to defend the innocent against violence. Rather than creating another left/right divide of the issue or pacifism versus warmongering, this story promotes action, yet questions itself with an ambiguous thoughtfulness. When Sam sees the evil of the LRA cutting off the lips of protestors or the mine field death of a little boy, he realizes that this kind of evil cannot be stopped except by force and draws upon his past violence to overcome it. But his past nature is redeemed by channeling it to do good. Other than unborn babies, can there be any more helpless victims in need of protection than these? Can a pacifist in good conscience actually choose to allow orphan children to be murdered instead of stopping their murder with lethal force? As the Bible says, killing in self-defense is morally justifiable (Exodus 22:2-3) and rescuing widows and orphans from the wicked is commanded (Jeremiah 22:3; Psalm 82:4; Proverbs 24:11).

But neither does the movie degenerate into a bloodfest of vicarious catharsis of violent joy. It raises the issue, through a U.N. peace worker, that the use of violence even in service of a good cause can turn heroes into villains. She claims Kony too started out as Sam did, trying to do good with his violence but ended evil. But rather than capitulate to this simplistic moral reductionism, the movie goes deeper. Sam gets to the point where be becomes so filled with hate for his enemies that he gives up on God in the face of all the evil and is driven to suicidal thoughts. But he finds a way out back to God and draws a line of distinction between righteous and unrighteous violence based on the motive of hatred. One can achieve justice rather than vengeance by not allowing the hatred of the enemy to grip our own hearts. According to this movie, there is righteous violence in service of the good. In fact, Sam ends up rescuing that U.N. worker with his guns, providing delicious irony that reminds one of how American soldiers provide the freedom and protection to protestors to hate and accuse America of denying freedom.

Spiritual Honesty

And that brings me to the spiritual honesty. While Sam becomes a hero, the movie does not white wash him nor whitewash his faith. His faith and sensitive conscious create a complex moral tension in his life that is not completely solved by the end of the story. Sam becomes so focused on his cause of rescuing people on the other side of the earth that he neglects his own family given by God. Sure, he sells what he owns to save the children, but that means what he owns is taken from providing for his family. This is a common problem with “full time” charity and ministry workers. Christian salvation does not always result in a balanced life. Christians often continue on as a mixed bag of good and bad qualities that God uses in spite of our flaws. Kinda like the Bible. But all too often unlike the Christian movie genre.

When Sam cannot get donations from the selfish rich people around him and he sees that the kids are not being helped, he has a crisis of faith and gets angry with God to the point of cussing him out along with his family. Oh my goodness! A Christian who cusses when he gets angry? Heresy! The film portrays Sam repenting from his suicidal hatred and coming back to a justice orientation, but it does not show a spiritual resolution. Maybe this is just part of that uneasy ambiguity of the tensions in our own lives. The reality is that while Sam remains married, he remains a scarred and imperfect man with a bad attitude, who still screws up. It is a messy situation and no one gets away clean or undamaged. There is redemption, but it is no fairy tale happy talk prosperity salvation.

At the end of the film, we see a video of the real Sam Childers telling us he is not capable of clearly delineating the right and wrong of what he does. But he asks us the question, “If it was your child who was kidnapped, and I could bring them back to you, would it matter how I got them back?” Making it personal challenges the self-righteous who would sacrifice the lives of other’s children on the altar of convenient arm-chair philosophizing. These are real people’s children being kidnapped, raped, enslaved and murdered, not abstractions for an argument. Talk is not enough. Action is required. Evil can only be stopped with violent force. And violent force, even in service to righteousness, is not without its negative effects on us. But the evil will not listen to talk. So your only choices are: Allow innocent children to be kidnapped, raped and murdered or kill the evil perpetrators? Which will you choose?

Portrayal of Evil and Redemption

Straight up, this is a hard R-rated film. Unlike “Christian movies,” It is full of the F-word, has a crude sex scene and is very violent. In other words, many Christians will be offended by it. In my book, Hollywood Worldviews (Read the Preface free along with unused chapters of the book at the URL link) I have a chapter on sex and violence in the movies and the Bible where I explain that in a story, the power of the redemption is only equal to the power of the sin depicted. If you do not portray evil Biblically as the seductive yet destructive reality that it is, your message of redemption will not be truthful or believable.

While I do not condone all portrayals of sin in movies (some of it can be exploitative. Read my book :-), in this case, the depth of the depravity is essential to the potency of the redemption. The problem with some Christian movies is that when they portray real world evil with a filtered “protective” sugar coating like some 1970’s television bad guys, they degrade their redemption story to an unrealistic anachronism that doesn’t ring true to human nature. If the real world they portray is not real, how can the redemption be real? The reason why Sam’s Old time Religion salvation in a corny quirky Evangelical church is not off putting to unbelievers is because it is depicted as a polar opposite of Sam’s equally extreme pre-Christian lifestyle. We understand and accept that it takes extreme measures to save an extreme sinner.

Christians often have a hard time with the F-word in movies. They will sometimes accept violent shootings, stabbings, or riddling bullets (as long as they don’t show too much blood), but for some contradictory reason, they just think that the F-word is too harsh for their holy ears. Look, I’ll agree that sometimes it can become excessive, but I’m sorry, if I see a biker dude in a Christian movie saying “friggin” or “dang” or whatever other substitute cuss word for how they really talk, I do not believe the reality of the character and subsequently do not believe the storytellers understand human nature because they are afraid to face it like the Bible does. Their fear of accuracy is a reflection of a lack of faith, reminiscent of hagiographic biographies of saints. Just too good to be true. The book of Judges depicts far worse than Machine Gun Preacher ever does.

When Sam has quicky car sex with his wife in the car by the side of the road, we are saddened by the dehumanized crudity, and that is Biblical (Don’t worry, wives and girlfriends, they don’t show any skin). That is Biblical because it portrays exactly the kind of dehumanization that has destroyed Sam and destroyed his ability to find intimacy with his own loving wife. Every aspect of this man – love, sexuality, relationships, human concern — is spiritually damaged almost beyond repair. Why, that is almost as bad as the Bible’s detailed description of dehumanizing sexuality in Ezekiel 16 and 23 (Read my book for a whole lot more).

And of course, when we see a person whose lips have been cut off because they talked back to the terrorists, or when we see a child whose legs have been blown off by a mine, or a child forced to murder his own mother, we are repulsed because we cannot imagine such evil. But rather than being “sensitive” to family audiences or avoiding “excessive violence”, this movie does what is morally right: It shows the evil so our consciences will be convicted and we will act (I betya parents don’t let their children read Ezekiel 16 or 23 either). If we never saw the grotesque images of the skeletal myriads of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, we would not have the moral growth necessary to “never again” let it happen. If we do not see what is happening to the innocents in Sudan and around the world, we will remain ignorant and spiritually and morally immature, preferring political arguments in our safely removed lives to actual moral actions.

I will conclude this analysis with a translation of a famous Tony Campolo charge that struck my heart and never left me years ago:

Rebel terrorists have murdered over 400,000 Sudanese, and enslaved over 40,000 children and many Christians just don’t give a shit. And the most tragic fact of all is that many Christians who just read that statement were more offended by my use of the word “shit” than by the fact that 400,000 Sudanese have been killed and 40,000 enslaved by terrorists.

God, forgive us of this sin.
Jesus, thank you for Machine Gun Preacher.


A revenge story with redemption. A newly released ex-con, played by Dwayne Johnson, seeks to kill the men who killed his brother, while being tracked by a young assassin and a corrupt cop. It’s a kill by numbers formula that has a unique spiritual twist about forgiveness and redemption.

When the ex-con, Driver, gets to his last guy to kill, he turns out to be someone who became a Christian preacher and is now preaching in a revival tent like environment. When Driver gets him in his sights, the preacher talks about repentance and how he’s atoning for what he’s done with a changed life. But when the preacher is about to be shot dead, he looks the killer in the eye and asks for forgiveness for what he did. He all but accepts his fate as punishment for his actions (this could have been more clear). Driver is confronted for the first time with grace and real redemption that revenge cannot satisfy. Driver decides not to kill the preacher and ends up in the tent before God wondering what repentance means for him.

This movie has all the hallmarks of a “Christian movie” in terms of genre: A preacher telling a sinner to forgive, redemption in a sanctuary while looking up at a cross, hearing a gospel sermon on the radio. The difference is of course that this movie showed the gritty violent reality of revenge, so that when the church redemption occurs, it is not cliché, simply because the one extreme of blood revenge and violent death is countered by the equal extreme of blood atonement and salvation. The redemption is powerful and rings true because the evil is portrayed with clarity. Because Christian movies are too afraid to show sin as it really is, they become cliché ridden formulas of “preaching” that does not ring true like this movie does.

Unfortunately, the movie becomes morally incoherent in the end because, after Driver spares the preacher and survives being killed by the corrupt cop who started it all, Driver still ends up shooting that corrupt cop with revenge rather than pure self-defense. So a contradictory portrait is displayed in perpetuating the very revenge Driver was supposed to be redeemed from. A bit unsatisfying ending.


This thriller is based on a high concept that actually works surprisingly well. It’s the story of a US government contracted trucker in Iraq who wakes up after an attack, only to discover that he has been buried alive in a wooden coffin somewhere in the desert. His kidnappers leave him a cell phone to try to get a million dollars ransom or they’ll let him die. And the entire film takes place in the coffin with Paul, played by Ryan Reynolds. You would think no way could a feature film 1 hour and 40 minutes long be visually interesting enough to hold attention. But it does because it is dramatically entrapping.

As Paul seeks to call his loved ones and those who might help rescue him, we learn he is working for a government contracted company to drive supplies in Iraq for the US government. The film incarnates anti-war politics into the thriller plot. It’s message is that of guilt by complicity. The point is made several times that Paul sees himself as an innocent citizen just making a living doing his job, and he is therefore not responsible for the war. While the kidnappers are supposedly not terrorists, just Iraqis who are reacting out of desperation because their country is being decimated by the war brought on by the United States. As Paul says he’s not a soldier, just a guy with a family, we hear the kidnapper say that he is just an Iraqi citizen and his family is being destroyed by the US.

So the filmmaker makes the same moral equivalency argument that terrorists make, namely that innocent civilians are just as guilty as soldiers and deserve to die because they go along with the military. Knowing this is the moral, makes you immediately know how it has to end: with Paul’s death. He cannot ultimately be rescued because then his guilt would not be punished according the values that the filmmakers are espousing in this moral sermon.

An anti-corporate message is also communicated as we see the cold heartless bureaucrat from the corporation who hired him using a contractual technicality to fire him on the phone while he is in the coffin, thus freeing the corporation from responsibility and insurance accountability to his family.

The Town

Crime Drama. The story of a bank robber in Charlestown NY who discovers love and tries to get out of the world of crime and violence he has succumbed to. The movie hook is that Charlestown is a small community in New York that has more bank robbers per square mile than anywhere in the US. The idea here is also family generations and the sins of the father. What does it cost to get out? What does it take to change your life? It’s a pretty formulaic story: Boy meets girl. Boy is a criminal so he loses girl. Boy tries to get out of crime in order to get girl.

The moral values in this film are confused. While Ben Affleck’s character Doug shows a moral soft spot – he doesn’t kill people, he keeps his insane step-brother in line, and he falls in love with the desire to get out, he protects his innocent girlfriend from violence – he ultimately does not do the right thing: accept justice and help the FBI. In this case, the FBI lead, Agent Frawley, is the pretty boy from Mad Men and while he is not the typical diabolical evil Lawman so often portrayed in these kind of movies, he is played without any depth. There is one moment meant to make this FBI guy ultimately cruel: When he brings Doug in and tells him that if he doesn’t help the FBI there will be a time when he will want to, and it will be too late and Lawley will tell him, with relish, to “go F— yourself.” Needless to say, when Doug gets away, he leaves a note for agent Lawley, telling him to “Go F— yourself,” thus winning the moral duel. Doug thinks that helping to turn in other criminals and their higher ups for their crimes is “ratting,” so instead he tries to run away with his new love. Only problem is the bad guys won’t let him. So he does this one last robbery.

The moral premise of the film is entirely unsatisfying storytelling because the audience is encouraged to root for a criminal to get away crimes and then not paying for his crimes. Doug never gives himself up to the law, never accepts his moral responsibility and never pays for his crimes. He thinks that feeling sorry, “getting out” and starting over, without paying for his crimes, is enough. One of the last lines of the film is Doug saying, “Even when you try to change, there are still consequences for the things you’ve done in life.” True enough, yet a cop-out, because this humanistic morality of a criminal feeling sorry and losing love seems to be all the payment required by these storytellers.

Doug does lose his chance at love because he runs away to Florida and apparently can’t have her. He gives her the bank robbery money to help out with a boy’s club. As if doing good with stolen money is redemption rather than returning it to the victims he violated. He tells a clerk while robbing the bank to not worry cause it’s “not her money.” No, it’s just thousands of other innocent people’s hard earned money. These are all manipulative tactics of trying to avoid the guilt from his actions, but they are not justice. Guilt would have been satisfied, justice appeased, had Doug accepted the penalty for his crime, helped the FBI to attain justice and accepted the rejection from evil criminals for doing so, or at least died fighting against his old life. So there certainly are morally satisfying conclusions that would have redeemed Doug. The filmmakers just didn’t choose them.


Boy, where does one begin? This is another philosophical opus by Christopher Nolan that pretty much confirms his rein as the king of intelligent philosophical mainstream filmmaking. The success of his films prove that people DO like deep mythological, ethical, and philosophical foundations to their stories.

The life of the mind and the question of what constitutes reality is a common theme in Nolan’s films, and Inception takes this to the limit. It’s main purpose appears to be exploring the nature of how ideas take hold in our minds, and how our cherished presuppositions are held by faith and “locked away” in our minds to such an extent that they determine what we think of reality. Those “unproven” subjective presuppositions about reality then guide and determine our behavior regardless of objective reality.

DiCaprio’s Cobb character leads a team of people who use sophisticated technology to be able to enter into people’s dreams in order to steal their secrets for competing corporations of what have you. The metaphor here is incarnated in each person having some kind of locked safe deep in their consciousness where they hide away their secrets they don’t want discovered. The dramatic challenge of the movie is when a client hires them to do the reverse, to plant an idea into a person’s consciousness, in order to get them to do something the client wants. This is what is called “Inception.” So they seek to find the “safe” in a target’s dreams where they can deceive him and place the notion that he should “break up his father’s corporate empire upon his father’s death.”

Nolan employs a lot of concepts about dreams that we are familiar with. He uses the notion of falling or death as what wakes us up from a dream. He applies the notion that time in a dream goes by much slower than in our real world, so if they go deeper into his consciousness to a deeper level dream, the time slows down even more.

But the hero’s journey of Cobb is his own guilt over the suicide of his wife, Mal. His guilt over her death is manifested by her showing up in all his dreams as a killer of the dream that makes him and others wake up. In short, she is the reality waker. But when we discover why, it makes it quite a powerful postmodern tale of the questioning of our notions of reality. It turns out that they both indulged in this dream world escape by creating dreams where they could experience their fantasies together. When Mal wanted to stay longer and longer in their dreams, Cobb tried to snap her out of it by placing an inception in her mind that this wasn’t reality, so she needed to wake up. And how does one wake up in a dream? By killing one’s self. The only problem is that this planted presupposition stayed with her into the real world and she thought that it too was a dream, so she killed herself to “wake up.”

Wow, our presuppositions (faith commitments) have real world consequences on our behavior, and it is not always for the good. But also, this is raising the question “How do we know our notions of reality are true?” We act upon certain unproven notions that find their way into our minds through the narratives that we live or observe or construct. In a way, the movie is a metaphor for how those beliefs enter into our mental lockboxes. Through storytelling. The team of dream thieves are storytellers (like filmmakers) who craft entire worlds and pretend to be characters in a story that embodies a certain belief about reality. It implants themes about reality and how to behave into our consciousness, that we then hold onto and use as our basis for acting in our own world.

I entered the movie thinking, “This is about dreams. If he concludes, “it was all a dream,” I am going to be ticked off.” So I was happy when he ended on the note that left it ambiguous whether or not it was a dream for the hero. I think the point was that the movie is self-consciously NOT real, but a dream of reality that tries to engage in an inception in our minds. Therefore in the movie he can never conclude with an absolute statement about the “reality” of the film. I believe that is his point as a postmodern filmmaker: He wants us to question reality, and he is not going to conclude whether the “reality” in the movie is reality, precisely because of his epistemic commitment to questioning reality with the nature of stories. This explains why he mixes dream elements with reality elements. For example, the fact that he wears a wedding ring in the dream world, but not in the real world, and the kids are a couple years older at the last shot, BUT there are dream world indicators in the real world, such as the walls closing in on Cobb as he runs from the bad guys, and the fact that the kids are in the same exact position at the end “reality” scene as they are in the dream scenes. He wants us to question reality, but he is not going to give us an answer.

Quite clever. A story about how the power of stories accomplish their goal of affecting our consciousness and constructs of reality.

Shutter Island

Okay, this one has a real big spoiler that will ruin the movie if you read this before seeing it. So beware. This is a detective thriller about a pair of federal marshals who come to an island used to imprison the criminally insane. Their goal is to find an escaped inmate who may be dangerous. The lead marshal is Teddy (DiCaprio), who has a past. In fact, this movie ends up as A Beautiful Mind, only ugly. As Teddy uncovers a conspiracy of covering up by the establishment, he is led to the belief that they are experimenting on people. It all turns out to be an elaborate act put on by the staff to try to help Teddy overcome his own self delusion protecting himself from facing the evil of his wife killing their children and then he killing her. It’s all very bleak and pomo nihilistic. Teddy snaps out of it for only a moment, but then drifts back into his delusion and ends up having to have a lobotomy to stop it. Of course, we all know now that lobotomies are barbaric. But when Teddy muses at the end, “Which would be worse, to live as a monster or die as a good man?” One moment in the film, an orderly has a debate with Teddy claiming that survival of the fittest and power of the weak over the strong is the only thing that is real, morality is just a social construct. I am not really sure what to make of this. It seems very hopeless and without redemption. Perhaps Scorsese thinks the unwillingness to face one’s moral accountability is destructive delusion. Or maybe he thinks monsters survive because they are not hampered by the self destructive notions of the conscience in the good man, which kills him. I don’t know. It’s all too confusing and unclear.