Not Recommended. This is a story with a powerful moral theme that I think is hindered by an immoral element that destroys the very morality of the story itself. A great premise of Bill Murray, a lonely lifeless eternal womanizing bachelor, who receives a letter in the mail telling him he has sired a son that is now 19 years old by one of his past conquests. But the mother does not tell him who she is, so he is left wondering. He is pushed into a plan by his next door neighbor, a family man, with a loving wife and kids, to seek out his ex-girlfriends and try to figure out which one it is. So Murray goes on a cross country trip to visit each of several woman who he may have dated around 19 years ago. As he visits each one, we see each of them, living wasted lives, that it is implied HE has been of some cause. Sharon Stone, plays a white trash woman who sleeps with anything that moves, and has no real heart connection, not even with her daughter, who is a small version slut of her mom. Jessica Lange has become a lesbian kooky new age “animal communicator” who thinks she is a Dr. Dolittle with animals. Another one has become a lonely consumer lifestyle suburban desperate housewife married to a loving but empty real estate salesman. And another has become a rural crude white trash biker’s chick. And the beautiful dramatic aspect of this filmmaking is how Jim Jarmusch, the writer/director communicates the emptiness of each of these women’s lives, and indeed, Murray’s life as well, almost entirely through looks and visuals. Almost NOTHING is spoken of their misery or despair. You can see it in their eyes and reactions to him. They have all had their lives sucked out of them, and he has no life left in him. No emotion, no heart or zeal for reality. He’s a living personification of Hugh Hefner. And then, he becomes haunted by this search for a son. Every young man he sees in each town, looks as if he could be his son. When Murray gets back home, having failed to figure out which one it was, he discovers a drifter that he assumes is his son, but when he reaches out to the kid assuming he is his father, the kid runs and we see he isn’t. And Murray is left literally, on a crossroad, with nothing, and having not found his son. He is unredeemed. He is entirely alone and without any connection. It is, in fact, a tragedy. The kid had asked Murray for some philosophical advice and Murray told him, “The past is gone, the future isn’t here yet. So this is all there is, the present.” And you can’t help but think that this existential worldview is the driving force of such selfishness. Living for the moment is part and parcel of the destruction of human connection and relationship. It is supreme selfishness that destroys life in yourself and in others. It’s a beautiful testament to the despair and emptiness of a promiscuous life. A life that can find no intimacy, and therefore no human connection. A life that begins with “fun” and sexual experiences, but ends in complete isolation and insignificance. A touch of irony is thrown in, when the family man neighbor says he is helping Murray find his ex-girlfriends because he believes Murray “understands women.” In other words, the grass is greener syndrome makes the people who do know the normalcy of intimacy with a wife and family actually mistakenly assume that men who are able to bed so many women must know women. They do and they don’t. They know how to use and manipulate them, but not how to know them intimately. Promiscuous womanizers don’t really know the meaning of love and therefore the beauty and comfort of normalcy in marriage and relationships. It is the “boring” lifelong commitment that finds intimacy and true human connection. The trouble is that we too easily take it for granted, and this movie makes that point. The reason why I cannot recommend it though is because there is a full frontal nudity shot of a girl who is supposed to be a teen slut hitting on Murray. Murray runs from it, but the damage is done cinematically. I don’t have a problem with the concept of such temptation or depravity in a movie, but the filmmaker shows full frontal nudity for a girl that is supposed to be a teenager (though, obviously, the actress could not legally be a teen). So, in effect, the filmmaker imitates child pornography in the making of his movie, which effectively destroys the moral import of the rest of the movie. There are limits to the appropriate depiction of sin, and this movie, by imitating child pornography, stepped over that line. I think it is more autobiographical of the dark fantasies of filmmakers, like Jarmusch, than it is a does of “reality,” as they might claim.
Not Very Recommended. This is a movie that is not a great story and has some boring moments and some clever moments, but it did make me think about it’s worldview and theme. It’s quite literally a legend, made up story, about a child born on a ship in 1900, and raised by the people of that ship. He learns to play piano and never ever leaves the ship in his entire life. Tim Roth is the main character and he does a great job as 1900, which is the character’s name, given in a joke of irony, but obviously, also a commentary on the changing of a century from Victorian to Modernity. The one time he is tempted to leave the ship is to pursue a woman he fell in love with. She lived in New York, and he got half way down the gangplank and looked at the big city with all its infinite pathways and possibilities and got back on the ship, never to try again. In fact, he ultimately stays with the ship and hides in it so that a wrecking crew never finds him, and in the end, they blow up the ship cause its scrap metal and he dies with it. So, I think because it is a very sad negative downer ending, this is one reason why it no one saw the movie. And I think the downer nature goes further. This guy becomes the best piano player in the world and nobody knows it. He even plays circles around famed Jazz great Jelly Roll Morton. So, the point of the whole film, I think, is about an irony of life. That irony is that strict boundaries in our lives can focus intense energy and create great beauty, but will ultimately also be stultifying for connecting with the world outside of us. This piano player, 1900, tells his friend that he doesn’t go into New York City to pursue his love interest because there are “too many choices. An infinite amount of choices” are too much for him to handle. He is so used to the extreme limitations of his little old ship in comparison, that he cannot live in a world of infinite choices. He needs limitations, boundaries. So, yes, the boundaries brought forth great creativity, but kept him from experiencing all life had to offer in being a member of the human race. That is, the cruise ship was a false microcosm of reality. It was not reality, only temporary relationships and unreal expectations. 1900 was able to play for the rich and the poor on the ship. He was a man without status or class, transcendent of it all. If this is a theme about how great art is created from suffering or a life less ordinary, how creativity is born from limitation, I can agree to a certain extent. But it tends toward the Romantic notion of the artist as prophet, a man without a country, whose greatness or genius is not appreciated because he is “ahead of his time.” But if it is a statement about life in general, namely that a life lived within the “boundaries” of rules and norms may create great harmonious beauty, but it is not fully human and leads to self destruction, then I can’t agree. But I think, the interest of the film lies in it not being obviously evident what it is saying and you are left to explore for yourself the implications. But either way, it remains for me a tragedy without redemption because beauty is ultimately linked with destruction. Maybe it is a metaphor for the death of beauty in modernity? Beauty is created through strict limitations but the modern world has no place for such limitations, and kills beauty. Maybe the whole fuzzy confusion is why the movie did not do well, because it is not clear, and a clear story is more satisfying than an unclear one.
Recommended with caution. This is a young chick flick about four girlfriends in high school spending the summer in different parts of the world and how they mail a pair of pants to each other as a ritual of connection with some hope that it will bring magic into their lives. And of course, they do. I liked this movie for several reasons. One, it was a young teen movie that involved coming of age, yet it dealt with serious issues of life that I am convinced young people can deal with, but avoid it by filling their silence with media that numbs their souls. And this movie, like A Walk to Remember, proves you can make an entertaining movie for teens with meaningfulness in it. Second, I liked it for it’s very unusual truthful dealing with sex, while not exploiting it. One of the girls, who is an overachiever sets her sights on a camp counselor at Soccer Camp and finally gets him to sleep with her, and believe it or not, she actually responds with the truth rather than the typical lie of teens and sex. She tells her friends, “How can something that is supposed to make you so complete, make you feel so empty?” She regrets it cause she realizes she is too young for sex and this was not the appropriate relationship for it. She says, “I wanted it for all the wrong reasons. And everything I was running from just caught up with me that much sooner.” While the story does not stress marriage (a real lack), the context still shows that kids are not ready for the kind of intimacy and responsibility that sex brings. I was amazed and pleased. Another girl visits her grandma in Greece and has to overcome family prejudice based on family feuds when she falls in “love” with a young college kid from the “enemy family,” a Romeo and Juliet story, with a happy ending of the Grandpa learning to forgive and overcome his own prejudice. The down side of this story was that it did breed a foolish fantasy of a 17-year old having a relationship with a college aged kid, which in a very real way contradicted the previous story about the girl realizing she was too young. Thus, according to these storytellers, some girls are mature enough to have a relationship with older men. Well, I can tell you that sure fulfills the fantasy of a lot of “men,” but it does not help the plight of girls who must realize that they know nothing about love at that age. It would be more appropriate to say they are in “lust” or are in infatuation. Another great story was the cynical artist filmmaker who is stuck in the home town for the summer working at the local Wallman’s. So she decides to make a “suckumentary” about the boringness of mundane existence. She ends up befriending a young ten year old who is dying of leukemia, who helps this girl realize that the little things in life are beautiful and important, she just has to see that through the eyes of death. This young girl with so little time left likes looking up in the sky and wondering, “There’s got to be something more to life.” This makes the cynic melt with realization of her own cynical foolish blindness and she has her eyes opened to search for meaning in her life. The downside of this movie is that the cynic learns from the little girl the classic existentialist line, “it’s the little things strung together that have meaning. Maybe we just get through it and that’s all we can ask for.” Well, seems to me a wasted pondering of the meaning of life, but it’s on the right track, just doesn’t meet the finish line. Another story was of a Puerto Rican girl trying to reconnect with her divorced white father, who is trying to build a new blonde Anglo Saxon family in the suburbs – without her. A very touching story about family belonging and the lack of it in so many of our lives. Her redemption lies in finally expressing to her father her anger with him, yet, then forgiving him and going to his new wedding. Very redemptive and positive. The girls all experience deaths in some way, the death of innocence, death of family, death of a loved one, and for that reason, it is a very thoughtful film that moved me. Unfortunately, the worldview was rather humanistic in crying out for faith in something, anything, but God. The girls say, “I’d like to say it was fate, that summer. The pants knew we needed faith. Something to believe in.” And of course concludes, that something is not personal, not loving, and transcendent, namely the living God, but rather an arbitrary faith in fate or nothingness masquerading as something. Rather the narrator concludes her lesson: “Love your sisters and love yourself,” a rather meaningless 80s fashionable narcissism without much content. But I think the movie is one that also makes you evaluate your life and what is really important in it, and what growing up really is about: responsibility, facing your mortality and forgiveness.
Highly Recommended for mature viewers (Lots of harsh “language”). This is an incredible movie about prejudice and bigotry that has an even-handed portrayal of all sides of the issue. Rather than just another cliché “victimizing” movie about racism against one minority by the majority, this film illustrates the prejudice at the heart of ALL classes, rich and poor, majority and minority, conservative and liberal, White, Black, Asian, Middle Eastern and others. It’s a special genre film that I have dubbed “Providential Ensemble:” A story about multiple unconnected character’s individual stories that providentially connect by the end of the film to reinforce a special theme. These movies have such great power to communicate theme because they portray the theme from so many angles, therefore being an exploration more universal or wide than a single story. But they also tend to reinforce a providential view of reality that we are all interconnected, even if we don’t think we are. That is, we all are experiencing our own stories with ourselves as heros in our own stories, but we don’t realize that every other person has just as complex and intimate human experiences as we do. By using multiple intersecting plots rather than merely subplots of one person’s main plot, we get a “God’s eye view” of the value of other people by seeing that they have stories just as important and valuable as we do. That is, all those people we see at a distance as we go through our own stories, have their own stories just as important to them as ours are to us, whether we know it or not. The “God’s eye view” of this helps us to connect the providential dots and appreciate the value of others. Movies of this genre are Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Three Days in the Valley, Go, Pulp Fiction, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, Magnolia, and others. And I think I would have to say that this is my absolute favorite genre of film. In Crash, we are introduced to the story at a large multiple car accident. One of the characters in the film telegraphs the theme of the movie with the very first words of the film, “In L.A. nobody touches you. We’re all separated by glass and steel. We have to crash into each other just to feel something.” And the movie then proceeds to show how we prejudge people who are “distant” from us, that is, different than us, separate from us. We have to “crash” into them to realize how human they really are and how they are very much like us. It’s so easy to reduce others to inhuman stereotypes in order to justify our anger when they hurt us. But when we intersect with them on a human level, we see our prejudices for what they really are: often reflections of our own anger, not reality. I say “often” because the downside to stereotypes is that they exist for a reason. Every lie is based on some truth, and the fact is that, culturally, we do tend towards homogeneity and this complicates things. There are in fact certain cultural patterns to every race, but these are cultural, not racial, that is, not intrinsic to the race. When we attribute it to the race, we are bigoted, but when we recognize its cultural origins, we go along way toward understanding the truth behind the lie. Anyway, the story is loaded with all the kinds of racial stereotypes you can imagine, black, white, Hispanic, Persian, Asian, etc. There is a litany of absolute idiocies, like how people make their racial claim about a person, and they’re not even right about the race! Which really shows the stupidity of much prejudice. For instance, a black man makes remarks about Lazy Mexicans to a woman he thinks is Mexican, but she reveals to him that she is not Mexican, but El Salvadoran! Another guy makes a remark about an “Arab store owner,” who he doesn’t realize is Persian, not Arab! A very light skinned black woman married to a black man is misperceived as a white woman in a mixed marriage. But she’s not! Then there are also the traditional victims of bigotry shown to have their own bigotry. A black kid complains of how racist every white person is in thinking he’s a criminal, just cause he’s black, and he DOES turn out to be a criminal! An Asian man and woman selling their own people into slavery! We see a rich white woman complain about her Hispanic housekeeper, and that housekeeper turns out to be the only one willing to help the white lady when she hurts herself in a fall! There is the Hispanic locksmith who looks like a gang kid, but is a loving father. But then he thinks he can get away from evil by moving away from the bad neighborhood, yet the crime follows him into the “safe” neighborhood when a Persian man filled with hatred FALSELY believing the Hispanic is guilty of having the Persian’s store ransacked, hunts him down to shoot him. And the reality is that it was the Persian storekeeper’s own irresponsible impatience that cause the ransacking! Tons of reversals in this movie makes you really think about the reality and blindness of prejudice on ALL levels. One of the most human and thought-provoking aspect was how the movie showed that even bigots are capable of great goodness and “non-bigots” are capable of great evil. The racist cop who hates blacks and even “molests” a woman while unjustly searching her, ends up saving that same woman later, in a “chance” encounter by risking his own life and pulling her from a burning car. Then the cop’s partner, who can’t stand the cop’s racism, asks to be reassigned, and he ends of shooting a black kid, thinking he’s pulling a gun on him, when the kid wasn’t! In another turn of events, the hard edged car jacking black kid who is racist against those he thinks are racist against him, ends up rescuing some Thai people from being sold into slavery because he recognizes the value of people! And as he is letting them go, we hear him spew out a few racial remarks of insensitivity, so that we see that we are not simple cut and dry good or bad people. And then there’s the black Sergeant at the precinct that allows bigotry against other blacks to maintain his own secure position in the force. There is also the situation where men use a racist claim to falsely frame a man in order to bring him down. In other words, the mere accusation of racism unfairly destroys people’s lives. We are all a confusing mixture of good and evil in this world. No one is exempt from prejudice. But the great positive power of this movie is that it also shows that no one is exempt or incapable of doing great good, not even criminals! This is a real redeeming movie because it’s not about MERELY showing our hypocrisy and concluding with a glib nihilism disguised as “realism” that we’re all hopeless, but rather it incarnates positive actions overcoming prejudice as well. But it’s kinda funny, cause when you think of it, the movie itself engages in stereotyping those who stereotype others. You have the “rich white woman” who is afraid of blacks, and the “rich white woman” who has a Hispanic maid. You have the racist cop who’s racist because of working around blacks, but he is loving to his own jerk of a father. You have the “Middle Eastern store owner who refuses to learn English.” You have the District Attorney liberal who thinks in terms of racial favoritism to help his career. Get photo ops of himself with a black fireman, that kind of stuff. HE doesn’t even realize his patronizing IS racism too! In other words, this film is truly profound because it does not reduce the issue down to a cut and dry accusation like a Spike Lee movie, it shows that prejudice cuts all ways, and prejudice is an evil, but it is not an all encompassing, total definition of a person because people we may call “bigots” are sometimes the most compassionate people in other ways in society. They have a blind spot. What is OUR blind spot? This is a complex issue that demands a wise balanced exploration and Crash gives it one hundred percent quality, like King Solomon would. I have one personal desire for a storyline I would have liked to see in the movie. In Crash they had a TV producer story that was good in showing how TV perpetuates stereotypes by forcing black characters to talk ghetto. But I would have liked to have seen what I happen to know is a major problem at Television studios, and that is the racism of affirmative action, where they force way too many minorities into roles that do not reflect the broader culture at large. I know personally of some one who has experienced a studio putting persons in roles BECAUSE they were minorities even though they were not the best actors for the parts. And the irony was that one person was supposed to be filling a Japanese quota, but THEY WERE CHINESE! Oh well, I guess you can’t do all stories.
Not Recommended. My brother-in-law recently did a detailed analysis of this movie to point up how it is an anti-christian movie. I thought it was very helpful, so here it is:
I guess my main concern was with the underlying message of the film. Yes, you are correct that it was a good portrayal of being bound by legalistic ways, but unfortunately the answer to the problem was not freedom through Christ (or anything to do with His attributes or character). Freedom was found through self expression. Or as the director stated in the bonus materials, “This is a story about temptation and not denying yourself the good things in life.” In other words, the age-old, “If it feels good, do it.” What could have been a good morality tale ended up being yet another manifesto of existentialism and humanism. (BTW, the director—Lasse Hahlstrom—also directed “Cider House Rules” which was more of the same.)
Every drama has a hero or messianic figure, and Vianne (Juliet Binoche) was the “savior” of this movie. She is presented as sweet and kind and all-embracing, but has obvious disdain for anything to do with the church or the people’s chosen attempts to be more godly (lent, fasting, etc.). Anything coming close to self-denial or self-discipline is represented as bondage. Vianne is the standard “against-the-rules” type along with Armaund (Judi Dench), the other character who is presented in a positive light. Between the two of them, their godless ways are flaunted instead of being presented as shameful, sinful or unwise. Worse, they teach their rebellious ways to others. Consider…
• Armaund shares a story with Vianne about sneaking out at night as a youth and swimming naked with her boyfriend. They both laugh with glee that she didn’t get caught by her mother.
• Armaund slams her daughter Caroline for not allowing her to see her grandson Luc because Caroline feels Armaund is a bad influence. Armaund frequently denigrates Caroline’s choices and modes of parenting, while Vianne empathizes with Armaund instead of supporting Caroline’s wishes and parental authority with the child. Worse, Vianne goes on to lure Luc into visiting (even after he tells her his mother has forbidden it) by asking him to draw a portrait of Armaund. He does this deceptively behind his mother’s back while she is at the hair salon.
• During one of Luc’s visits to the chocolate shop, he is offered some cake. “I’m not supposed to,” he says (because of lent). Armaund replies, “Don’t worry so much about ‘not supposed to’.” The boy eats it. Armaund says, “Live a little.”
• When the inevitable confrontation happens with Caroline finding out what’s been going on, Armaund sarcastically tells her, “Blame me for corrupting him with cocoa.” Caroline replies, “How dare you, Mother?” Armaund says, “Look at him, he’s fine.” Caroline turns to Luc and says, “Come with me.” Luc says, “I don’t want to.” Another character chimes in and says, “He’s happy here. It’s good for him.” Thankfully, Caroline responds, “I will decide what is good for my son.” Yet the whole scene paints Caroline as cruel and stifling, as if Luc is in some kind of abusive situation.
• The boy continues his deceptive ways by sneaking out for his grandmother’s birthday party. No consequence is portrayed for any of his deliberate disobedience.
• Armaund states proudly, “I swear. I read dirty books. And I won’t go to church.” She gives Luc a poetry book with poems that read, “Dead bodies, skin rotting, worms in my armpits and in my hair.” Yet she doesn’t seem to think she is a bad influence on her grandson. She dies after what she terms “a perfectly decadent evening” but is another “positive” character in the film.
• When Anouk (Vianne’s daughter) is teased at school for not having a father, she responds, “I have a father. We just don’t know who he is.” As if this is something the child, or anyone else, should consider normal.
• Vianne visits a woman who says, “He thinks you’re a bad influence.” The woman is speaking of Reynaud (Alfred Molina), but Vianne thinks she is talking about her husband and says, “You don’t have to listen to a word your husband has to say.” The woman also asks Vianne, “Does my husband know you’re here?” Vianne replies, “Does it matter?”
Another major concern I had was the way the church was portrayed. I know that Reynaud was the villain, but since the church was in his back pocket, it was also vilified. And we’re not talking about a “cultic” church like LDS or something else like Islam. This was Catholicism, basically the only other major faith in the world that adheres to the main tenets of Christianity. Anything to do with the church was usually presented irreverently or as something stifling. Consider…
• During the sex scene between Vianne’s parents, the voiceover said, “Now George had been raised a good Catholic. But in his romance with Cheetza (sp?), he was willing to slightly bend the rules of Christian courtship.”
• An abusive husband says, “We are still married in the eyes of God.” His wife replies, “Then He must be blind.”
• After an attempt at rehabilitation, the abusive husband said, “God has made me a new man.” But the man hadn’t really changed, so does that mean God is powerless? Although change can indeed occur through accountability at a Christ-centered church, the church was portrayed as weak and having no influence.
• Anouk asks her mother, “Why can’t we go to church.” Vianne replies, “You can if you want. But it won’t make things easier.” Once again, ‘do whatever is right for you’ followed by another slam against the church.
• When Reynaud finally appeals to God for help, he seemingly appears very contrite, crying out, “Tell me what to do.” But then he immediately looks up at Jesus on the cross and then down at the letter opener in his hand, then heads off to the chocolate shop with a somewhat manic look upon his face. So what was that supposed to mean? God told him to kill? He violently stabs at the chocolate, but then submits to its pleasure, gobbling it like an animal, eventually literally writhing around in it. He tries to “kill” his enemy, as represented by the pleasures of chocolate, but gives in to its allure. Again, this would seem to represent that following God is useless because one will always be powerless to innate sinful urges.
• Probably the most disturbing moment was the sermon on Easter Sunday, which followed the movie’s climax and summed up the whole film. The priest said, “Do I want to speak of the miracle of our Lord’s divine transformation? Not really, no. I don’t want to talk about his divinity. I’d rather talk about his humanity—how He lived His life here on earth, His kindness, His tolerance. I think we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.” The blatant humanism here is appalling. To downplay Christ’s divinity in light of His humanity is chilling. And the irony of it all is that it was Christ’s divinity that allowed Him to be all-embracing and loving and all these other things the movie is saying we’re supposed to enact through our humanity. Furthermore, goodness is not measured by our actions or deeds; it is measured solely by the Word of God. Even if we were able to achieve all this “goodness” in our own strength and flesh, it would still be as filthy rags apart from the righteousness of Jesus.
• Immediately following the sermon, the final voiceover says, “It was certainly not the most fiery or eloquent sermon. But the parishoners felt a new sensation that day—a lightening of the spirit, a freedom from the old tradition.” A sermon that told them not to focus on the divinity of Jesus Christ is what lightened their spirits and brought freedom. Go figure.
Partially recommended. A well-intentioned family film by Walden. Walden’s Holes was mediocre, and this one is a little better. It’s all about a young girl whose preacher father moves them to a small rural town in the South. So it’s all about coming of age and learning to love your neighbor. The little girl, Opal, is befriended by an unclaimed dog on the loose, she names “Winn Dixie” because it was the first thing that popped into her head at the grocery store by the same name. So the dog becomes her best friend and because of its slapstick antics, gets her in trouble and rescues her time and again. It’s got some cute scenes and warm fuzzies all over it. I salute the attempt at good morals in the movie, as Opal becomes an agent of grace in a small town where everyone has something they are hiding and are sad about. This sadness alienates them from each other and turns them into stereotypes in other’s eyes. There’s the grumpy old landlord who hates dogs and doesn’t want Winn Dixie in Opal’s house trailer. There’s a blind black lady that the local kids think is a witch, but she’s just a sweet little old lady. There’s the goofy Barney Fife Deputy in town. There’s the animal shop owner with a dark past, who turns out to be a sensitive musician who was unjustly jailed. And Opal’s father, the preacher who can’t get over his wife leaving them because of her drunkeness. As Opal says, “everybody’s hurting. Gloria says people are alone because they forgot how to share their sadness, but I think it’s because they forgot how to share their joy.” Little Opal is the optimistic person who responds to meanness with grace. To the little boys who taunt her, and the grumpy landlord, she invites both to her party, which stuns them with grace. Very touching moments. When Opal has to face the possible loss of Winn Dixie, who also has a hidden fear of thunder that alienates her as well, she learns that “you cannot hold on to anything that wants to go. You can only love what you got, while you got it.” By the end of the story, little Opal brings all these alienated people together so that they are having a party and praying over the food, thanking God for little Opal. It’s all sweet and nice, and a good values movie for families. But I must say, I had some qualifications on its values. First off, the Barney Fife cop was over the top and not funny because of it. And it was all a tad bit too herd-like to make fun of the authority figure in the town. I’m not against doing so, but only in a bigger context of respect for proper authorities, which this film did not seem to have. So that reinforces an imbalanced disrespect for authority, especially in young people. One scene has the dog chasing a rat in the middle of a church service. Opal tells her dad to keep preaching, while she gets the dog. So the dog runs around after the rat, that they call a “mouse”—since the filmmakers evidently didn’t want to be politically incorrect and call it a rat – and well, the dad keeps preaching. It was utterly unbelievable that he would do so as the dog is upsetting chairs and people and everything. It just stretched the credulity way too far. Particularly, since this was done in a realistic style. Another out of place element was that this realistic story out of the blue adds a fantasy element that DID NOT work for me. Opal gets a hold of some old candy lozenges made years ago and the old lady who gives them to her tells her that the candy maker lost some sons in the war or something so he added sadness to the sweetness of the candies. So Opal proceeds to hand out the candies to all the people in her life, and they proceed to tell her how sad the candy tastes and recount some source of sadness in their life. WAY TOO ON THE NOSE, too contrived. Did not fit the genre they were making. Took me out of the story. Also, there was a tendency in the story towards a humanistic conception of man as basically good. People are just mean because they are hurt, but they are basically good inside. Well, I’m all for the power of grace and forgiveness to change lives, but there was a bit too much attempt to make people appear good when they were not. For instance, the blind black lady was a drunkard in the past and kept her bottles hanging on strings from a tree in her backyard to remind her of her dark past. Cool. But when Opal says in reference to bad behavior in someone, the lady tells her that she’s not bad, it’s just that good people do bad things. Otis, the animal shop keeper tells the story of how he was arrested. How some cops were hassling him and tried to take his guitar and he fought them because of it. He went to jail for his violence. Then he says, “I’m not a bad man, but an unlucky man.” Well, bub, it ain’t unluck that makes you react violently and break the law, no matter how much of a jerk a cop is. So, the point of this is that there is a real shifting of blame away from themselves and an unwillingness to acknowledge one’s evil nature out of which they behave. This is the inherent goodness of man that Secular Humanism preaches. But Jesus said, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” (Matt 7:17-20) Rather than people being good people who do bad things, Jesus said we are bad people who do some good things, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 7:11-12) It appears that Because of Winn Dixie gets the second part right, but no the first. And lest we forget the universal dictum in Romans 3:9 “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 And the path of peace have they not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Yes, this is the true nature of mankind: evil, not good. But boy how our culture seeks to brainwash against this truth. Opel says people shouldn’t judge the animal store keeper by his past but by how he treats the animals now. Well, okay, we have to be careful to acknowledge that people can change, BUT I got news for you Opal, some serial killers are very kind to their dogs and rabbits while eviscerating human beings, so I would rather judge someone by how they treat people. All in all, though, the movie is a strong step in the right direction of family friendly films.
Hard to Recommend. This is a complex one. This film is really quite brilliant, and Oscar-worthy on all accounts of the craft. It even has some very beautiful truths in it. The problem I have with it is that it is pure Romanticism, humanistic religion. Let me explain. It’s the story of the man who created Peter Pan, Sir James Matthew Barrie. He meets a widow with three boys and befriends them all in his visits to the park. One of the boys, Peter, has lost his innocence to cyncism because of his father’s death. He doesn’t see the fun in life. He cannot play imaginatively with his brothers because it’s all just foolishness. He has a keen awareness of death. Barrie is more the child and tries to get little Peter to explore his imagination and write, because he is a good little writer. So we have a man-child teaching a child-man how to rediscover imagination, to regain his innocence lost too soon. The boy can’t have fun imagining his dog is a dancing bear because “he’s just a dog.” But Barrie explains to him that a diamond is “just a rock” without a bit of imagination. Barrie bases his character’s name, Peter Pan, on this little boy. But by the end of the story, we see little Peter explain to the stunned, Barrie and audience, “I’m not Peter Pan, HE’S Peter Pan.” So the whole theme of this story is the redemption of imagination. How realism can kill our spirits if we do not believe in the transcendence of reality. The “realists” are those whose skepticism is self destructive. Or, as Barrie puts it, “just when I find a glimmer of happiness in this world, there’s always someone who wants to destroy it.” There is a moment when Barrie’s patron laments about the theater’s loss of innocence, “They changed it. The critics. They made it important.” Some great writing throughout this work of art. Another beautiful coming of age moment occurs when the eldest brother tells Barrie not to visit his mother because even though he likes Barrie, he just doesn’t want his mother to be hurt again. Barrie responds, “Ah, there it is. In thirty seconds, you just became a man. The boy has left.” Very profound understanding of what becoming an adult is, a recognition of mortality and the concern for others. It’s a great coming of age story. It’s a wonderful romp into the world of beauty and creativity, the necessity of imagination in our lives as human beings. My problem is that the Romanticism of the worldview is a God substitute. Barrie is the artist as prophet. Imagination is salvation, a faith substitute. Art as religion, literally. And in true Romantic passion, Barrie misplaces his love onto the fun-loving widow (played by Kate Winslet) who becomes his muse, rather than on his own wife. While they do not commit physical adultery, the story is essentially emotional adultery. Another Bridges of Madison County. Argh! The Romantic, rather than fix his marriage and face his own immature selfishness, seeks elsewhere for passion. The only sin to the Romantic is to restrain the heart. “Follow your heart” is his mantra. Doing the right thing becomes oppressive to these selfish infantile narcisists. Neverland becomes the symbol for imagination, indeed salvation, and Barrie’s wife wants him to take her there (in his heart), but instead he takes the widow. In fact, his devotion to the widow and his art drives his wife to adultery and divorce, but quite frankly, he is the one to blame, making him rather unsympathetic, a jerk of a protagonist if you ask me. Anyway, this idea of art as religion is climaxed when the widow dies and we see a imaginative representation of her entering Neverland (read: heaven substitute). Barrie tells her mourning sons, “Mom is still here on every page of your imagination. She’ll be with you always.” Well, Romanticism wants to ignore God but maintain the transcendence that only God can provide. A transcendence that gives meaning to this life because this is not all there is. There is an afterlife, there is eternal life. Romanticism negates God and hijacks the language and concepts of religious faith and substitutes creativity and imagination for the deity. It worships creation in place of the Creator. This is all very unsatisfying and dishonest for a worldview that conceives of this world as all there is to create a false hope in the living by appealing to imagination. Imagination, when properly rooted in the ultimate Creator has true value and meaning in reflecting God’s image. Without this transcendence, imagination becomes self deception and creativity, mere diversion. Imagination as imago populi is idolatry and spiritual death. Imagination as imago dei is truth and redemption.
Recommended with discernment. A wonderful movie that affirms marriage while being honest with the dryness or unhappiness that can settle over a boring mundane life. This film, about a guy who works with people’s wills and lives a normal, average, everyday mundane existence. He’s got a good marriage with a loving wife and a good kid. But he doesn’t really his own unhappiness creeping in until he sees a haunting beauty peering out the window of a dancing school, as he rides home on the El train in Chicago. He finds himself drawn to the mysterious woman and signs up for class just to be near her. Gere is man, Susan Sarandon, wife, Jennifer Lopez, Mystery girl. So it sets up for a great mid-life crisis examination. When Lopez challenges him to leave if he is just another seeker after her love and not dancing, he finally wakes up from his little fantasy. But here is the great twist: He discovers he really does love to dance! It brings beauty, harmony and happiness he has not known in a long while. Lopez becomes a muse, but not an adulterer. Out of shame, he hides his love of dancing even from his wife, because in our modern world, men aren’t supposed to enjoy such things. Stanley Tucci does a primo job of the funny sidekick, the heterosexual man who wished he was gay because it would be easier to deal with the way the world would look at him for knowing he loves to dance so much. So he hides his secret love and pretends to love football and sports. In fact, everyone at the studio has something to hide. Everyone is being someone they are not, and must learn to accept who they are and embrace their uniqueness and free themselves from their self-imposed repression. The owner of the school is an alcoholic and lost the one true dance partner and husband she ever had. Lopez is one of the best pros who is hiding out at this cheapy no-name school because of her shame over losing the big dance competition the year before over a mishap. Big black student is pretending he is engaged, but he’s really learning to dance in order to impress his dancing girlfriend enough to ask her for marriage. And Bobby Canavale, coming from his excellent stint on The Station Agent, plays the hard edged Italian womanizer, who is actually homosexual. So dancing becomes the sacrament that frees people up to be themselves. Whether or not all these “selves” are in themselves morally legitimate is quite another question. But dancing is a powerful metaphor of redemption — finding the dance of life. The fact that Gere looks to a younger woman at first in the hopes of finding his happiness, is entirely fair and honest to the human condition. What makes it redemptive is that this close call with infidelity turns him back to his wife. At the key moment of the film, when we wonder if he is going to go to the big party to dance with Lopez, and his wife has let him make the choice for himself, he chooses to go to his wife and dance with her in the middle of a store. Why? Well, “because you see, I need a partner to dance. And you’re my partner.” I was crying when he came up the escalator in a tux with a red rose for his wife. It was all rather beautiful and affirming of marriage. An especially poignant and profound insight into marriage occurs when Susan Sarandon is asked by the Private Eye why people marry. She replies that it’s not for love, but rather “we get married to have a witness to our lives. Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice.” This is truly wisdom. Anyone happily married will understand the notion that our experiences apart from our spouse are not as “real” as those shared with them. Why? Because it’s not real until they know about it. I can’t explain that one, it’s just true and beautiful. I think it has to do with the fact that we are created by a God of diversity (Trinity) who creates us to exist in community with others as he does. So there is an aspect to our “reality” that can only be validated through interpersonal relationship. We exist in relationship, and marriage is the ultimate earthly expression of that unity within diversity. One gripe I have about the story that contradicts this otherwise strong moral is that the night before Gere is to dance in the big competition, Lopez dances with him to help him find the “life” in his dancing. To help him “come alive.” And well, the dance, while it does not lead to sex, is actually a sensuous sex alternative, shall we say. Erotic tension and artful cinematography and acting make it clearly a sensual encounter between the two of them that surely equals sex, or at least adultery of the heart. This is the kind of intimacy that should be reserved for one’s spouse. So, in a sense, I would argue he WAS unfaithful spiritually. But then at the end when Gere dances with his wife, it is a loving dance, but not sensual, thus encouraging the poor and immoral stereotype that love is for marriage, but passionate eroticism is only found outside matrimony. You know, love with the wife, (isn’t that sweet) but hot sex with the girlfriend. I call this a “Bridges of Madison County Moment.” He does the right thing, but he hides the real passion with someone else. Oh well, no movie’s perfect. It still drew me to my wife and made me want to take up dancing as a hobby. This movie was ballroom dancing, but I think I want SAAALLLSAAA!!! p.s. A couple of great moments in the movie, were when Gere has very poetic voiceovers describing what it is like to work with people’s wills which are their last attempts to control their lives – which they can’t. Another great integrated metaphor of losing control or letting go of our vain attempts to control our lives. Also, a moment when Lopez is trying to describe for Gere how to dance through a narrative of passionate feelings as she demonstrates on a fellow dancer. And it’s really a lucid parable of her own story of being emotionally ripped apart from dance. It’s all quite poetic. Loved it. Rang with truth and heart.
Partially recommended. Very thoughtful and poetic. This movie does for black Gospel culture what The Apostle did for Pentecostal culture, it breaks the negative stereotypes while showing both good and bad of that subculture. It’s supposedly based on a composite of true stories of abused women, while remaining a fictional story. Basic plot: little girl is abused by single mom’s boyfriend and turns to drugs, stripping and hooking and eventually lands in jail. She then grows up and tries to reform but ends up killing her molester out of vengeance. But it is not exploitative in any of these sins. It deals with them in a very realistic yet tasteful way. The fact that it is R rated is because it is dealing with such subject matter, not because it is exploiting it. The dialogue was rather poetic at times, and they did a cool occasional insert of various characters “interviewing” with the camera as if it were a documentary. I liked this about it. Gave great insight into motives, and was very true and real to the way people think who justify their lack of action, their hypocrisy, their self-deception. The single mother who justifies living in sin with a lowlife because she doesn’t think she can get better, the lowlife who justifies his laziness with an appeal to how hard it is and his own counterfeit conversion. I loved how this movie did not degenerate into Spike Lee type propaganda or multicultural victim accusations and claims of entitlement. It showed people as RESPONSIBLE for their choices in life, and did not blame it on “the man.” It showed how the Gospel culture is abused by many who use Jesus as a cover for falsehood, but it showed true Christians trying to be real with their Christianity too. Some who say “Praise Jesus” in black culture really mean it. Very balanced. Very odd, though, the movie ends on an almost hopeless ironic swapping of heroine and villain. Right at the point where the villain, the molester, seems to have true and genuine repentance at the altar of a revival, and is in the process of approaching the heroine to ask for forgiveness, to actually fess up to what he had denied and lied about for so long, the heroine, cannot take it and pulls out a gun and shoots him dead. So she ends up on death row. Interesting irony, that maybe is supposed to make us realize that those we think are heros can become villains, just as much as those who are villains can become heros, because in Christianity, we are all villainous at heart, and even the vilest sinner can truly repent. Then we see a most powerful moment when the molester, Reggie, has his interview with the audience and speaks about “just needing a little more time.” The perennial excuse or regret from those who wait too long to do the right thing. Unfortunately, the preacher who visits the heroine in jail, pushing for a reprieve (in an unbiblical moment), has a chance to challenge the heroine, but he doesn’t. She tells him to pray for her, and he says he will, “You gonna make it. I know you will.” Whereas, he should have said, “you need to do some yourself.” Favorite line of the movie, when the heroine, now in jail ready to die faces her own truth: “You can never really get even. What I did was wrong, no matter what he did to me.” You can never really get even. WHOA. What a repentant revelation. What a true repentance. You don’t see that too often in movies. An honest dealing with the worst of being wronged and yet an affirmation of responsibility. At the start, she is building a little model house without a door on it which symbolizes her own hopelessness and trapped feelings. But by the end, after the preacher talks to her, we see her little house has a door on it now. Hope for escape from her cycle of violence. WHAT I DID NOT LIKE ABOUT THE MOVIE: What really bothered me the most, and it’s one of the reasons why I don’t whole heartedly recommend the film is that it is a “glory piece” for an anti-Trinitarian heretic named T. D. Jakes. It’s one thing to have a marginalized theology, but a man who teaches outright heresy is the worst thing for the black community. (GO HERE to read an article about Jakes by CRI Journal: http://www.equip.org/free/DJ900.htm) He plays the preacher/wise man in the movie, and he plays himself, which is way too self-important in my opinion. Way too long scenes of the revival in the movie, too. Made it look way too much like a Black Billy Graham movie with its cliché stadium crusade in every movie.
Kind of Recommended. As far as period pieces of the 19th century go, this one is visually rich, with great costumes, and environments, good dialogue and subtext as well as complicated relationships. I even thought Reese Witherspoon as the lead actually pulled it off. I had doubts about Miss Legally Blonde, but she delivered. I also liked the heart of the story which dealt with the difficulties of women in Victorian society. The disadvantage they were at in desperately needing to find a husband, and one who had status and wealth. The problem I had with this movie is that the story was very weak and thus I could not follow it as well because there were too many important characters that watered down the main character’s story. It was supposed to be about Reese as a poor orphan desiring to climb her way up into high society and the price she pays. The lie of aristocracy is that significance of life is found in family birth rather than personal achievement or character. In the story, the merchant, played by Jim Broadbent, is just as rich as the nobles, because of his own economic efforts, yet he is portrayed as a miserly uncouth hardhead without class. Well, she mentions her goal of social climbing in the beginning, but then the middle of the story becomes this hodge podge of her life that does not support this goal. She marries a handsome soldier who is lower caste, which doesn’t match her goal. And we get caught up in everyone else’s story around her. The real story that was most interesting and relevant to the original premise was that last third of the movie when a rich man played brilliantly by Gabriel Byrne, draws her into high society and pays her way, with a price attached of course. That was a great story. Problem is, it didn’t start until the last third of the movie, so the story was not strong. I particularly enjoyed how the storyteller tried to show how this thirst for aristocratic company was an empty fraud. As Byrne says, “the women who jealously guard the doors to society so that you will not discover there is nothing behind them.” Byrne plays a Victorian Mephistopheles, who openly explains to Reese how empty it is, yet is there to fulfill her passionate drive as she ignores the truth in her headlong pursuit. This is all a very poignant depiction of temptation and the vanity of the world, or as the title suggests from John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, Vanity Fair. I also thought the ending was rather abrupt. Like they spent too much time developing too many characters and then had to wrap it up quickly at the end with a happy ending so we wouldn’t be so unsatisfied. Problem is, it was unsatisfying. Reese loses her husband because she is caught in an apparent indiscretion (though not real), and then he goes off and dies of disease in the army. Because of this, she ends up as a card dealer in a gambling casino. The moral problem with this story as I see it is that the heroine in the end winds up with her original suitor in the movie, an obese traveling man whom she uses to free herself from her casino whoredom. This Machiavellian morality is no better than the aristocratic mindset in the rest of the film that society requires proper pedigree or else one should be punished for their social climbing. As if this ending is a “happy ending.” So it is a pragmatic nihilistic interpretation of social status and worth. Righteousness is jettisoned in favor of survival and personal desires.