The Missing

Not Recommended. This is a very well done Ron Howard remake movie of the John Wayne movie, The Searchers. It’s about a woman in the western frontier, played brilliantly by Cate Blanchette (Isn’t she always brilliant?), whose daughter is kidnapped by some rogue Indians in order to sell as a slave in Mexico. She teams up with her father, (played by Tommy Lee Jones) an Indian convert himself, who she hates for abandoning her as a young child, to track them down and rescue her daughter. Its got it all. Excitement, suspense, pathos, great acting, good storytelling, etc. But it also has anti-Christ bigotry. The woman is clearly set up as a Christian and modernist because she is a nurse of sorts who helps people over their superstitions. The father comes around after abandoning her many years ago as a child and she cannot forgive him. Even though he is shown as in need of her forgiveness, in our politically correct culture, the judgmental exclusivist (read: Christian) is always the bad guy against the “open –minded” pluralist (read: Indian). SO casting the Christian as judgmental and contemptuous of other religions places her in an inferior position and her faith as undesirable. Her name is Magdalena, like the disciple of Jesus. Anyway, the Indian father may have a past that he is trying to reconcile, but he is shown as more sincere about his Indian religion than Cate is. She has nothing but contempt for his “savage” religion as she calls it. She is shown as prejudiced and arrogant and unforgiving. Okay, fine. Everyone has something wrong with them that they need to change. But her faith is clearly shown as without power compared to the Indian religion in the context of the movie. When the father gives her daughter, his granddaughter, who is with them, some moccasins to wear, Cate rejects them, until the little girl loses them and Cate is obliged to give in and let him give the moccasins to her. Then when he offers magic beads to protect them from the spirits, Cate rejects them also with condescension. When he scares her with a story about evil spirits, she lets him put the beads on the kid just in case. This is an obvious surrender, showing the weakness of her own religion to really truly protect. And when the Indian sorcerer who they are tracking gets a hold of a personal item of Cate’s he performs a voodoo ceremony that makes Cate sick with evil spirits. Her father and another good Indian set about to counter the black magic with good magic and they fight to heal Cate. Meanwhile, the little girl recites the Bible as well, so when Cate is finally released from the evil spirits, it is a bit ambiguous as to which religion made the difference. But it isn’t really. It’s really favored to the Indian side. It’s clear that the Indian voodoo has power over Cate, her relationship to Christ having no power to protect her (unlike the Bible and real Christian experience that indicate just the opposite). The little girl reads an irrelevant passage of “begats” in the Bible, making it words that are meaningless to the situation and ultimately irrelevent, and the girl’s words quickly blend in to sound not too different from the babbling tongues of the Indians, making her really subordinate to their magic. Also, Cate, after being healed, gladly puts on the protection beads, showing once again that her religion needs to keep submitting and changing it’s view because it has no real power. Cate’s faith is also without much conviction worthy of following when she is shown as being a fornicator, sleeping with a man who is not her husband. Meanwhile, the father is shown as happily and satisfyingly married to several woman, some at the same time, another pagan antichristian jab. Also the father’s religion is made out to make him “one with nature” as he talks to a hawk who leads him magically on to safety at one point in the film. The little granddaughter learns about dreams from the Indian father and she has a dream about their rescue, just like granddad suggested. So the little girl is helped and grows because of her attachment to Indian beliefs, not Christian ones. The Indian beliefs are shown as magical and with real power, while the Christian ones are not, and just lead to arrogance or condescension. At the end, Cate gives a cross back to her rescued daughter and says, “I thought I’d die wearing it,” another subtle negative reference to all things Christian. And you know, its funny, but you would think having Indians be the villains would be politically incorrect. But not here. You see, the bad Indians are only bad because they are US Cavalry scouts led astray by some caucasian army deserters. The Indians are only bad cause they’re hanging with white boys! So it is the white man who is really responsible for their corruption. Also, the sorcerer bad guy is portrayed as so ugly and mutated in his size and looks that he ends up being a freak oddity never to be confused with “normal” Indians. The rampant anti-Christ propaganda made this movie hard to appreciate and harder to recommend.

Timeline

Recommended. This one is about some archeologists who go back in a time machine to the Middle Ages to rescue a fellow professor who is stuck there from an earlier visit. They get more than they bargain for when they discover that the company in control of the time machine has plans and secrets of its own. I am a sucker for time travel movies. I think it is because it is a way of creatively imagining what it would be like to be in a different world. Or as a character in the movie telegraphs, “the past helps us understand where we come from and where we’re going, so we don’t make the mistakes of the past. We understand now by understanding the past.” So really, all period pieces as well as time travel movies are merely metaphors or doorways to understanding ourselves now. This is why there is often a lot of historical revisionism going on in period pieces. People like to cast the past so much in terms of the present that they end up rewriting history to suit their own prejudices. Oh well. This movie wrestles with the romantic notion of chivalry and the medieval virtues of courage and honor in contrast with the warring brutality of the very same time culture and period. Much like our own that has great accomplishments in technology only to be abused by the greed and power-mongering of men. Crichton’s one note trumpet, a very good one at that, is precisely the scientific hubris of man. From The Terminal Man to Jurassic Park to Prey to Timeline, he writes of the dangers of scientific pursuit without moral restraint. As the lawyer in Jurassic Park says, “We’re so busy exploring if it can be done, we forgot to ask whether it should be done.” I love this motif and think it is apropos for our modernist world. The hero is a dumb California surfer type blond boy who has no real empathetic qualities, while the secondary character, Merrick, who decides to stay in the middle ages cause he studied it so well and fell in love with a woman back then, is the far more interesting part of the story, and a more likable candidate for hero.

Gothika

Partially Recommended. Just why they called this Gothika, I’ll never know. It’s about a psychiatrist played by Halle Berry, who helps mentally insane criminals. One of them is a woman who killed her husband (Penelope Cruz). Halle tries to help the woman but she responds, “How can you trust someone who thinks you’re crazy?” Halle has this strange dreamlike experience with a young abused girl in the rain and wakes up in the insane asylum. All memory of her last three days has been lost to her. Turns out she has killed her loving husband, the head of the Psych ward, and she is now in the asylum with her patients trying to figure out what really happened to her, while at the same time being haunted by this girl who turns out to be dead. Although this is a formula movie, I think it is a pretty good ghost story. The great thing about modern ghost stories is what they do for the social moral conscience. Modern ghost stories are usually about the ghosts of dead people haunting because of unfinished justice for their deaths. A Ghost story is not about being scared for the sake of being scared, it is about moral conscience. It is an embodiement of the biblical principle that the blood of a murdered person cries up from the ground to God (Genesis 4:10). It is a metaphor for the repressed conscience in man (Romans 1:18). Man represses the sin he does, hides from his guilt like Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden when they sinned. But since man is created in the image of God, the truth cannot be repressed forever, so it haunts him in the form of a ghost “crying out for justice.” Ghost stories are a symbolic incarnation of the conscience. This is why they are so important to a culture like ours that has embraced moral relativism. The scariness of the haunting should be scary because of the seriousness of man’s repression of sin. And Gothika itself even refers to the nature of repression that abused people suffer as a means of survival. This movie reminds me of a few better ones with the same theme, A Stir of Echoes, The Others, and The Sixth Sense, all dealing with the same need for unpunished crime to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, the glaring weakness of this story is that the heroine really did kill her husband because she was possessed by the spirit of the dead girl who was killed by that same man. So the murder is justice for the ghost. But I have a real moral problem with such vigilanteism. It places the hero in an immoral bad light. She really is guilty of a crime and no matter how evil her husband was, it does not justify her murdering him. (For more detail, read my article on vigilanteism in the movies: Vigilanteism in the Movies.

The Cat in the Hat

Somewhat Recommended – but for adults. Well, not heartily, but for some good fun and laughs. Silly fun. Had a few great laughs at Mike Meyers humor and his Cowardly Lion impersonation. But you know, it’s sad how these filmmakers of kid movies have to put sexual innuendo into them. I’m not against some good subtle mature jokes that might go over kids’ heads, but come on, writhing dancing babes in mini-skirts, a reference to a centerfold porn, and a few other things seem inappropriate in a kid movie like this. And a pretty poor conclusion as the mom pats her irresponsible son on the head and says, he may be irresponsible, but he’s a good boy. Hello? Nothing like outright contradictions so typical of modern raising of children. Plus I don’t think a story about a prankster cat wreaking havoc is all that good of values for children whose real need is discipline and increasing responsibility as they grow up. Fun, yes, Chaos or havoc, no. The overly neurotic controlling little sister learns to loosen up and have some fun, and the slobbish undisciplined irresponsible brother learns that actions have consequences. But his is not a very strongly portrayed redemption. Could have been more clear.

21 Grams

Hard to say whether I Recommend or Not. Great for conversation about the meaning of life. This is a powerful hard hitting story of intersecting lives written with depth and acted brilliantly by Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro. It is an Existential movie that raises questions but gives no real answers, or shall we say, proposes a toothless redemption in a nihilistic world. Let me explain. It’s about an ex-con Jesus Freak (Benecio), who is trying to overcome his “bad luck” life by living a Christian life, rather alien to his nature. While speeding home, he accidentally kills a father and his two daughters and hides from the law. The father was also the husband of a woman played by Naomi Watts, whose life is now shattered by her loss. In the meantime, Sean Penn is dying of heart disease and a diseased relationship with an Englishwoman. Penn gets the heart of the father killed by Benecio in a transplant and seeks out his donor’s wife out of gratitude and curiosity, and of course, falls in love with Naomi and plans with her to kill the guy who killed her husband and kids, ala Benecio. Well, first off, it’s edited non-linearly to be oh so pomo. This hurts the film because it confuses the storyline which is strong enough on its own to carry interest. It’s okay for a gimmick like in Memento, and it worked well in Pulp Fiction, but the technique just adds unnecessary confusion here. And a gratuitous sex scene makes it difficult to recommend this one.

But I have a major issue with this movie. It is a story that attempts to portray Christianity as without any real transformative power in changing a life. Benecio is sincere in his attempt to be religious, but we can see that he is really just the same kind of man underneath. He is harsh on his kids and wife and others. He almost beats up a punk rebel for not himself repenting for the good life. What irony. He is portrayed as having no real victory in his life over his old ways, but more of an avoidance mechanism. And Benecio seems to just draw trouble to himself. His wife tells him that since he became a Christian, she doesn’t know him anymore, that he’s not himself, it’s like he’s been body snatched. So, his faith does not draw him closer to his family, but farther away. While Jesus did say that a family would be divided over such faith, he meant that those who are changed by their new natures of faith, truth and goodness are often rejected by family members unwilling to leave their own selfish wickedness. But the movie portrays Benecio as the one at fault here. His faith has not made him better, but has merely alienated him like a cult member. His unbelieving wife is more of a “real person” than he is. He comes to believe he is cursed by God with all his “bad luck.” He ends up leaving his wife and kid because he does not want to bring his cursedness upon them. He is not good enough for them. The filmmaker seems to consider Christianity a mere façade that tries to cover over an unchanged nature. Although it is very interesting that Benecio turns himself in because of his “duty to God” for the guilt of his crime, something 9 out of 10 movies would never even touch. For that I praise it. This has the potential of being a powerful victorious moment of moral character, but in the context and hands of the storytellers, seems more the negative pressure of guilt induced fear than godly repentance. His faith commitment is portrayed as alienating him from family rather than building his love for them. A truly godly man would weep over his love for his family, but do the right thing out of moral character. But Benecio yells at his wife and alienates her, storming out of the room.When Benecio goes to jail for the hit and run, he gives up on God because Jesus “betrayed him” for giving him all the trouble. But this is the conclusion of a long string of “bad luck” problems in his life. What Benecio neglects to learn is the lesson of Amadeus, Signs, Magnolia and Simon Birch, and that is that GOD IS IN CONTROL, not him. But instead, in this film, Benecio dumps God and goes back to his family, presumably as his old nature. Faith seems to be portrayed as a tool rather of avoidance or ignorance of true issues. Now, I have no problem with showing honest struggling with such issues, even the pain of a suffering life and a person who gives up on God because of his struggle. What I cannot forgive is the lack of understanding of the nature of true transforming power of Christianity. You see, the character who hates God for his suffering has the problem of CONTROL. Remember the story of Job? Rather instructive here, I would say. That is, what he needs to learn is that the very source of his problem is his unwillingness to accept God’s sovereign governance of his life. A humility and brokenness before one’s Creator, like in the movie Signs, where Mel Gibson learns that his rejection of God was selfish blindness to the wonders all around him. He merely had to open his eyes and yield to God’s greater wisdom. 21 Grams reminds me a lot of another indie movie, Levity. Similar idea of a man, Morgan Freeman, living a double life in the inner city as a Christian helping troubled youth. Another excellent story written well that fails to understand the true deliverance of Christianity. Faith becomes a cover for a double life. Why? Because, evidently, to these filmmakers, people do not change, or at least genuine transforming faith is not possible. Now, granted, there are some frauds or failures out there, I would not contest that. But my point is that these people who made these films obviously have not experienced or seen the kind of transformed lives that are in these inner city ministries. For every failure, there are a dozen successes of lives forever changed for the better because of faith. Hardened men humbled to the point of true repentance and a changed NATURE. Sure, they may still even have hard edges, but they are changed, truly changed, and people in their lives see the difference – FOR THE BETTER. I know, it happened to me. Okay, one qualification: I’d prefer movies like this that try to criticize Christianity, than ignore it all together, which most movies do. So for that much, I am grateful for this movie. At least it deals with something that is so important, it is a sin to ignore it.

I do have a caveat to my negativity though. When Sean Penn finds Benecio to kill him, he realizes he cannot kill him and fires the gun into the ground, telling Benecio to go and never come back. But Benecio tracks Penn down to his hotel room and tries to force Penn to go ahead and shoot Benecio. In other words, Benecio wants to die, accepts the wages of his sins. But Penn cannot and instead shoots himself in the shoulder to get it all to stop. Why? I don’t get it, other than a possible “atonement” theme. It is because of this event that Benecio ends his self-imposed exile of self flagellation and returns to his wife and kids. I’m willing to acknowledge that this might be a self sacrifice notion of substitutionary atonement, the innocent for the guilty, a man finding forgiveness in the sacrifice for another on his behalf, but the movie makes everything so guilt-ridden that it is hard not to see it all as a cynical retreat from true goodness.

At the end, the Penn character muses that 21 grams is the amount of weight that a person’s body loses when they die. The weight of a soul? He asks a bunch of questions but gives no hope of an answer: “How much is lost. Where do we lose 21 grams? How much goes with it? How much is gained? 21 grams. The weight of a stack of nickels, a hummingbird, a chocolate bar. How many lives do we live? How many times do we die? How much of life fits into 21 grams?” Well, these are very thoughtful questions, but the context seems to emphasize the insignificance of life and the inability to determine its value in light of the irony of life’s inequities and tragedies. Great questions. Great issues raised. Too bad no real hope is provided, and faith is discouraged as inadequate or ineffective. Contrast that with the redeeming nature of faith in the true Jesus Christ found in the Gospels and in Christian’s lives. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” (John 10:10). And, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. “For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Recommended. This is a great historical action story. It is not quite as rich or deep as say Braveheart, but there is a lot about courage and leadership and friendship that makes this story worthwhile. The central dramatic premise is the hunt for a French war ship, the Acheron, by the British naval Commander, Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe). But the meat of the story is in Jack’s leadership with his men, and in his friendship with the ship’s doctor and naturalist, Stephen Maturin. The naturalist is a man of science and Jack is a man of war. In the film, science always seems to take a back seat or supporting role to war rather than the pursuit of knowledge itself being primary. There is a sequence where they pass by the Galapagos Islands, the famous site of Darwin’s finches, but about 50 years before Darwin would go there and write his book, On the Origin of the Species, that would change the world. The doctor wants to stop for some research, but Jack pushes on because the imperatives of war outweight the “useless” examination of species. An obvious irony in light of the impact of Evolutionary theory to come. This is intended to show the blind-sided nature of military hegemony. The centrality of war may win battles but may also keep us from “great achievements” that will change the world far more than war. Stephen also challenges Jack’s leadership as proud at times and power-driven rather than by compassion or understanding for his men. This tension is brought into focus when Jack places his men in needless peril in order to achieve his objective. The men become expendable and so his leadership becomes heartless. But when the doctor is injured and needs to get to dry land for surgery, Jack decides to forestall a possible capture of a vessel to help heal his friend and express the value of his men. He takes him back to the Galapagos Islands to heal, which allows some scientific exploration to be done as well. It is a powerful moral choice of humaness and shows the effect that the naturalist has on bringing balance to Jack’s military leadership. In other words, science becomes the balancing power of compassion and reason for the overarching power of the military. Well, this is a rather pretentious claim to make since the morality of compassion and understanding is not really a scientific issue, it is a spiritual one. Science is really not a tool of morality, it is a tool of power. In the hands of moral people, science has helped extend life and help people more effectively, but in the hands of immoral people, it has been used to kill and destroy more effectively. Witness the fact that the 20th century, the century of science and modernism, has increased the life span of the average human being by many years, but it has also killed more people through genocide than all the rest of history. Both medicine and genocide have science in common. The difference between the two is not science, but morality. It is not men of science that bring compassion or humanity, but men of spirituality or character. And a man of science may have character, but he did not get it from science, but from appropriate spiritual understanding. One moment in the movie has Stephen telling a young kid that God made all the animals with their strange and interesting characteristics but that they change on their own too. This ambiguous nod to theistic evolution keeps the science from itself being a monstrosity of oppression as atheistic materialistic evolution has indeed become in our lives.

Love, Actually

Not Recommended. This movie is mostly about lust, actually. It’s central themes are that love is all around us, and that we must communicate to one another our love or suffer in uneccessary misery. I think the reason why it is an ensemble piece is precisely to convey this idea that there is a lot of love going on and we need to see it (a positive note in a post-911 world. The narrator even mentions 911 in the Voiceover). Unfortunately, there are so many stories going on that it is rather unsatisfying and confusing at times. Now I don’t disagree with the themes, I just think that the stories they chose to communicate these themes reveal a rather shallow understanding of love as, yet again a Romantic idolatry of passion over purity. Here they are:
1. Alan Rickman plays a business man who is tempted by his seductress secretary, while his wife, played brilliantly (as always) by Emma Thompson, deals with discovering it. The interesting thing about this story is that he never gets to the infidelity, he merely begins flirting with it and takes a first step. Emma discovers the first step and they have to struggle with this in their marriage. Actually, a good story, and it ends a bit open-ended which is not bad in and of itself, except that most of the marriage stories in this tale do not have the happy endings, thus giving a subversive negative feeling about marriage itself. Would have been a great opportunity of having a man choosing the right thing and growing in his love. But there is a sense of the reality of such struggles that I think was good. It’s just that movies ARE NOT REALITY, they are about how reality SHOULD BE. SO, it would have been better to show the guy struggling, making a bad choice, but then making the right choice and being better for it. Nothing wrong with temptation and even failure in movies, just show us redemption or what good choices can accomplish. Reinforce good values, not negative ones.
2. Colin Firth plays a married man who discovers his wife is committing adultery with his brother, so he moves out and gets a place in the country where he can write a book. He ends up falling in love with his Portugese cleaning woman, in one of the only good stories here. They do not speak a common language, but through subtitles we discover that they think about and talk about the very same things to each other without knowing about it. In other words, they are of the same mind and heart, and are therefore made for each other and don’t know it. Great and good old fashioned love story.
3. Another unknown-to-me actor, Billy Nighy, plays an aged grandfather of rock and roll who has a comeback with a remake of his Christmas hit, “Love is all around.” It is a very relevant and original story in that he is the only one who really speaks the truth about his façade life of lonely selfishness to radio DJs and television shows, and gets rich over it, and no one even cares about the fact that he is speaking the truth about the emptiness of it all. In fact, people get embarrassed and try to ignore it, another clever and original way of showing how we do not face our need for real love. What is great about his story is that it is the realization that he was unaware of the true friendship that he had with his manager while being immersed in so much “Hollywood” fake love. At the end he makes the right choice to express his loving friendship (not homosexuality) with his abused manager and is a better man for it. Great story, great moral.
4. Two actors who I do not know play a couple of stand-ins for porn movies. They fall in “love” with each other while standing in on set faking sex acts for the lighting and camera men to get their equipment set for the real stars. This story alone, while highly original, is entirely inappropriate and worth scrapping the movie because of it’s gratuitous eye-closing scenes. In a way, it shows the dehumanization of sexuality in porn, and how sex can be separated from love, but in another way, it actually devalues the sacredness of sexuality by having fun with it.
5. High Grant plays the newly instituted Prime Minister who falls in love with one of his low class maids who lives in a “dingey” part of London, and who has a fowl mouth that illustrates that lack of upbringing. Well, this is supposed to be a Cinderella story, but in fact, it was also unsatisfying because quite frankly, I considered the maid as unworthy of the pursuit, not because she was low class, but because she showed no character quality that transcended her low class and made her worthy. Beauty alone is a shallow and immature understanding of love which made this story unappealing.
6. Liam Neeson plays the widowed dad of a 9 year old who discovers his son is struggling under the misery of first love himself. Well, this is all rather cute in placing the existential angst of love into the mouth of a child, but again it was a rather unfulfilling story because 9 year olds cannot truly understand love and it is quite inappropriate to encourage this idea, which continues to push the inevitable sexuality of relationships to younger and younger ages. The father is shown connecting with his son and helping him to overcome his shyness, but again this otherwise good attempt to show father/son relationship is actually subversive because it creates the illusion of maturity in youth that simply does not exist, which fosters the lie that kids are their own people who have the right to make their own decisions in life, you know, “rights of the child” and all that agenda that is the attempt to overthrow the authority of parents over their children by making kids out to be “little adults.”
7. Keira Knightly plays a newly married woman who discovers her husband’s best friend does not actually hate her, as she supposes, but is in love with her and therefore too ashamed to face her and tell her. A good premise with a bad conclusion. He finally has the “guts” to reveal to her his undying love under the nose of her husband and she kisses him, leaving us with another ambiguous ending. This was entirely inappropriate and left me with another dissatisfied feeling, making the movie 4 to 3 in favor of bad love stories. I have no problem with having some divergent conclusions to show the negative and positive responses to truth, but if the positive does not outweigh the negative by enough, the resultant feeling one leaves with is not positive, but negative.
8. Laura Linney plays a woman who is so obsessed with taking care of her mentally handicapped brother in a hospital that it gets in the way of her finding her own love. She is always loving and giving to her brother who calls her all the time, and when she finally finds a guy who likes her and goes to bed with her, she is interrupted by yet another meaningless phone call by her brother with an imaginary problem. She chooses to fly to the immediate aid of her brother again rather than give the love interest attention, and thereby loses the relationship. I think this might be interpreted one of two ways: either you see it as a subversive anti-family story that shows that when you make your family the most important, regardless of their dysfunction, then you ruin your own chances at life and love. Or secondly, that sometimes familial love is just as powerful and legitimate as romantic love. Considering the context of the entire movie, I think it is the former, and therefore a negative love story.

Shattered Glass

Highly Recommended. This is the true story of Stephen Glass, who worked for the New Republic and was discovered to be fabricating most of his stories written for the magazine. It’s a powerful moral tale about the nature of deception and the importance of integrity. The kid was one of the best storytellers and he learned how to manipulate the system of fact checking and journalistic integrity to avoid being spotted for a long while. The story tells the discovery through the eyes of Chuck Lane, his editor, with the help of competitor Adam Penenberg at Forbes magazine. Like a cornered rat, as Stephen’s web of deceit is unraveled, so his deceitful and desperate manipulation of coworkers increases. He whines, whimpers, flatters, apologizes and makes more lies to cover for his first lies to make it appear he has been fooled by bad sources rather than being a lying liar himself. Interestingly his coworkers are drawn in on his side because of his flattering personality toward them. He is a master deceiver. There is a powerful juxtaposition at the end of Chuck proving the lies and receiving the applause of his coworkers and Glass creating a story in his head of receiving applause from his alma mater high school as he speaks to students. This story shows how easily we are deceived by such liars as Glass, and Jayson Blair at The New York Times and The Boston Globe’s Mike Barnicle and The Washington Post’s Janet Cooke, and who can forget the entire crew of CNN in Iraq who for years denied Hussein’s torture and murder in order to maintain a presence for the network in Iraq. This brings me to one of my personal hobby horses. You know, this movie really read like a metaphor for the monsters that are created by our postmodern culture that exalts subjectivity and story, and denigrates fact and rationality. It should be no surprise to us that we have an epidemic of lying, cheating and swindling amidst young people, because our institutions are creating these beasts of deception. They are being taught that there is no absolute truth (lying isn’t really wrong), there is no objective reality (only subjective prejudice) and there is no ultimate truth, everything is fiction, everything we believe is merely metanarrative stories that we make up to create reality. Story is all there is and none of it is ultimately or universally true. To these people, language is a prison house that we use to create reality, not discover or communicate it. So many schools of journalism are bastions of activist propaganda, teaching students that the purpose of journalism is “to change the world,” with their agenda because “truth” is a social construct anyway. “Making the news” is not merely a marketing tagline anymore. So of course, more and more people are going to start taking these ivory tower rants against modernity and actually apply them to life and become LYING STORYTELLERS who “construct” their truth for the good of the ignorant masses (that’s you and me, folks). When you teach children to lie, they will lie (duh). CS Lewis wrote, “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” In the movie, Chuck tells a colleague who has been too dullheaded to recognize the seriousness of Glass’ fraud: “He fed us fiction after fiction. And we printed it as fact. Because it was entertaining. That’s indefensible. Don’t you know that?” A culture that foments relativity and storytelling as ultimate should not be shocked at the traitors and monsters it creates. This relates a bit to my blog on Second Hand Lions below. Okay, so the world has always been full of liars since day one, I know, but the point is that people do live out what they ultimately believe and some worldviews (postmodernism, relativism, atheism) LOGICALLY, philosophically lead to evil behavior because they negate objective absolute morality, you know, those nagging little Ten Commandments (or the seven deadly sins as the movie Se7en). The hypocrisy of those promoting traditional morality while living a lie is not the same as the consistency of those who promote relativism while living like scoundrels. The former is a contradiction in values and lifestyle, the latter is a fulfillment of promise (duh again). As Voltaire, the atheist even admitted, “I want my attorney, my tailor, my servants, even my wife to believe in God, and I think that then I shall be robbed and cuckolded less often.” That infamous libertine knew one thing, people act upon their beliefs, and he full well knew the ugly result of his own humanism. He didn’t want others to do to him what he so willingly would do to others.

The Passion of the Christ

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Opening in February 2004. Let me say right out that this is, for me, the most profound and true movie ever made about Jesus Christ. “true” because it captures what no other Christ movie has in regard to his suffering. And it is Christ’s suffering that is the essence of atonement for sins. It focuses on the “Passion” of suffering that Christ had to experience in his last 12 hours on earth. The reason why I believe this is so crucial to its greatness is because the depth of the suffering is a reflection of the power of the redemption. The verse that is shown at the beginning of the movie says it all and sets the context for understanding everything that follows. Isaiah 53:5 “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities, by his stripes we are healed.” This movie is about understanding just what that means. So it starts with the Garden of Gethsemane and ends with the Resurrection. Well, let me tell you. All I can say, is “it’s about time.” It’s about time someone captured the meaning of Christ’s suffering and death in a dramatic way that touches the soul beyond words. I think of all the other films about Jesus, and how they all include his doctrinal teaching along with a third act about his death and resurrection. Well, that is good and I’ve liked them all in one way or another, but for movies, I have to say that the preaching part can get a little preachy and drawn out. The teachings of Christ are just not as suited to visual dramatic storytelling. Not that there’s not a place for them. But what the Passion of Christ does is capture the essence of his teachings through a visceral experience. I wrote in my article about “Jesus in the Movies” that all Jesus movies tend to reflect the era they are made in, the prevailing zeitgeist. So, the first Jesus movies, made more in an era of belief, tended to emphasize his deity, and the later movies, made in an era of skepticism tended to emphasize his humanity or worse, make him out to be sinful. The Passion is brilliant in that it is a postmodern experience of Christ. It is gritty and realistic in its portrayal of what Christ suffered — I mean what he really suffered. Very human, very Existential. All other Jesus movies are revisionist candy coated schmaltz compared to this one. But that is good for this generation. This pomo GenY yada yada generation speaks with gritty, in your face attitude. REALITY, baby, that’s what we want. Well we get REALITY all right, we get it all, from the flesh ripping scourging to the actual nails pounded into the hands (most movies cut away at the pounding, but Gibson does not) Rather than focusing on the didactic teaching as a modernist movie would have done, The Passion has almost none of the teaching and goes straight for the gut. It captures the experience of Christ for people. This is not to say that rational teaching is not appropriate, but merely that Mr. Gibson is achieving a communication of the Gospel of redemption in a way that transcends other Jesus movies and meets the postmodern where he is at. I almost believe his original intent to not have subtitles would work, the images are that central to the story. Of course, I am thankful that he did have subtitles, because truth be told, I do believe that words fill out what image cannot. Image without word is incomplete. So the balance between word and image here is astounding and profound. EVERYONE MUST GO SEE THIS MOVIE.

Matrix Revolutions

Not recommended. Not much to say here. Although I do have an article coming out soon on the philosophy/theology of The Matrix trilogy. But anyway, this movie had even less scenes of the actual Matrix in it and more of Zion battles, and almost no philosophy compared to the second one. After watching this one, I actually was thinking how much better Reloaded was, which is a surprise cause I didn’t like Reloaded that much. Oh well, I find it interesting that a trilogy that espouses freedom of man as superior to slavery actually makes the slavery side more interesting. I found myself, as in Reloaded, wishing they would get back into the Matrix because those were cooler scenes and more interesting stories. And Zion, which is supposed to be the last city of freedom for man, was the most boring aspect of the whole series. Who knows? Maybe they wanted it that way. Maybe, the postmodern Wachowski brothers actually do prefer fantasy to reality, or delusion to truth, after all, like Baudrillard, they do believe that man creates his own reality through language because the signs of the real are substituted for the real.

It was pretty much just a battle movie with the machines battling to destroy Zion and a couple of “in the Matrix” fight scenes. Nothing really unique here except a different take on the original scene in The Matrix where they shoot up the marble pillars. This time, the guards fight back and they too are Matrix players who can flip up to the ceiling. Also, the ultimate battle between Neo and Agent Smith is a boring Superman fight that I suppose was necessary to the buildup of power that both were getting. But it was still boring. There is also a finale scene where Neo gives his life for the freedom of the Matrix and those who choose to be free. The big godlike face of the Source says, “IT is done,” an obvious reference to Christ’s “It is finished.” I find it amusing how those who would detest Christianity seem so reliant upon it’s atonement concept to give their stories depth. I write about this in my article that the Wachowskis are Nietzschean nihilists who fancy themselves “revaluators” of the myths of our culture, using religion as metaphors for their ubermensch who overcomes man by overcoming traditional thought forms and saves himself by “creating his reality.”

It is an excerpt of my upcoming article in CRI Journal to whet your appetite:
“Everyone knows that The Matrix trilogy contains a religious philosophical worldview. But just which one is a matter of debate. Some have written essays proclaiming it Christian; some, Platonic (after Plato the philosopher); others, Gnostic (a Christian heresy); and still others, Buddhist. My own view is that this series uses a combination of all of the above, and then some, as subversive metaphors for a postmodern worldview that deconstructs universal mythology into a Nietzschean “overman” philosophy of creating one’s own truth in a universe without God. In Nietzsche’s anti-philosophy philosophy, our perceptions of reality are illusory (The Matrix) because they are part of the mechanistic determinism of nature (The Matrix Reloaded) and we must therefore create our own truth through our human choices (The Matrix Revolutions).

Mythologist Joseph Campbell, the literary hero with a thousand faces, sought to bring to light what he considered the “monomyth,” the universal heroic journey common to all religions residing in a Jungian collective unconscious of humanity. Religions have so many ideas and images in common because they are ultimately diverse symbolic projections of the same physical and mental processes within all of us. In his interview with Bill Moyers in The Power of Myth, Campbell states that, “All the gods, all the heavens, all the worlds, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other.” In this sense, Campbell was a demythologizer. He deconstructed religious traditions and transcendent beliefs into their so-called respective origins in natural causes. Similar to Campbell’s eclecticism, the nature of Postmodern religion is a hodge podge synthesis of diverse sources without regard for logical or organic consistency. There are just enough parallels between religions to ignore the disparities. To force square similarities into round differences. And I suggest this is what the Wachowski brothers, creators of The Matrix, are doing with their cinematic trilogy. “