Movies

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“The Monuments Men” – An Apologetic of Culture

monumentsmen“The Monuments Men” is a film based on a true story of a group of soldiers sent to salvage cultural artifacts from destruction by the Nazis. Here, we’ll analyze the film from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Aesthetics

One question the film puts front and center is this: “Of what value is art?”

The question is put in a number of poignant ways, such as a moving scene in which Donald Jeffries is killed in an effort to protect Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. The scene is powerful because Jeffries finds his value in his efforts to defend and preserve this beautiful art. He writes a letter to his father about the value of defense of such a work of art, which is overlaid with the imagery of him being killed by a Nazi officer.

Claire Simone works against the Nazis to try to protect and preserve the ownership of art. Her recognition of the importance of these pieces of history to those who collected them is a recognition of the power of the human mind to transcend the mundane.

The power of art to shape humanity, or even become a monument to humans–a way to transcend–is front and center throughout the film. The question that is then begged is this: if the natural world is all which exists, whence the transcendence? Where or to what might the transcendence point?

History and Life

History is important aspect of human life. Long have various cultures held notions that if one’s name were erased from historical record, it was as if one never had existed. The driving force to be remembered is a powerful one in human life, but perhaps it is also something which drives us towards art.

By collecting the art and stealing the works from their rightful owners, the Nazis were essentially attempting to rewrite history and capture the cultural past of those who owned or produced the art. There is a powerful message behind this of the need to be aware of how history is shaped by even those who are writing it.

Argument from Aesthetics?

How is it that humans recognize the value of art, or, more abstractly, of beauty? Some would allege that it is merely something we assign to things. The value is entirely a construct. In some ways that seems true, but there is something inherent in the notion that beauty–that art–is something which it is a great evil to destroy or take from someone else. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is also something which points beyond itself, to the transcendent.

The very possibility for recognizing that which is beautiful itself cries out for explanation. Whence the need for, dedication to, and recognition of beauty? A Christian would point beyond these towards God. Without the actual existence of the transcendent, there is little possibility for explaining the capacity for humans to reach out and grasp it.

Conclusion

“The Monuments Men” is a very solid flick to explore from worldview perspectives. It’s not as action-packed as most war movies, but it is more thoughtful and because of that it is in many ways more compelling. Perhaps most interestingly, it offers a view of the arts as something concrete, to be appreciated, and perhaps even transcendent.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “The Stories We Tell” by Mike Cosper

swt-cosper

Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell presents a look at the visual arts of television and movies from the perspective of what they tell us about ourselves and people.

Cosper analyzes several television shows from Mad Men to Project Runway and looks at themes with redemptive value. He doesn’t present a one-size-fits-all picture of how individual genres or specific movies or shows reflect all one specific picture, but rather analyzes the stories told in these forms of media from the perspectives of various aspects of the Christian worldview. These include themes of creation, sin, redemption, love, the fall and success of heroes, and more.

This holistic vision of analyzing stories in TV and at the movies allows readers to open their own avenues for perspectives and reflection in ways that not all books on a topic like this provide. Not only that, but Cosper’s writing is genuinely fascinating. I haven’t watched most of the television shows he discussed, but his presentation of them was enough to allow me to feel as though I knew what was happening and even got me deeply interested in the stories he described. This is not just a good book on how to discuss movies, but it’s also a genuinely interesting overview of a number of stories, whether they’ve been encountered already or not.

Another excellent insight Cosper provided was his look at whether certain stories, movies, and television are appropriate for Christians. He presented a very balanced and insightful look at this topic. First, he noted that the question “how far is too far” is often used to draw boundaries either to allow oneself to get as far as possible or to try to denigrate or call out others. Then, he used two examples of the extremes when it comes to appropriateness: the “overanxious teenager” who wants to get right up to the boundary in order to see as much as they can and the “church lady” who wants to stand as judge to show how others are sinners. He uses these examples to great effect, but does not leave it merely at that. He argues that either extreme is mistaken and also offers a way for Christians to explore appropriateness of various shows and movies.

Conscience and community are to be our guideposts when it comes to the appropriateness of media. Conscience allows us to have an inner arbiter of whether something is appropriate: “If you’re struggling with whether to watch something, ask yourself if you’re sturrling against a conscience that knows better” (Kindle Location 671). A community will help as well by offering a group of others with different experiences and advice. The community will only be helpful, however, if one commits to being honest about viewing habits and having friends who are willing to confront one over the viewing. I found this to be remarkably insightful and Cosper’s perspective on appropriateness is a solid way for Christians to evaluate their viewing habits.

There are many books about Christianity and visual arts like movies and television. Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell manages to set itself apart by presenting detailed looks into several different movies and television shows, while also presenting a vision for how Christians may interact with and even produce these forms of media. It comes recommended.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Book Review: “Hollywood Worldviews” by Brian Godawa- Speaking of worldviews in the movies, why not check out my review of this book which seeks to provide a method for analyzing film from a worldview perspective? Let me know what you think.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies- I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

Source

Mike Cosper, The Stories We Tell (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Elysium” – Our Hopes, Greed, Class, and Suffering

elysium“Elysium” is one of a string of recent action flicks which have taken to exploring bigger issues than how to make the biggest explosion. Here, we’ll look at some themes in the movie and reflect on how they might resonate with the Christian worldview. There will be SPOILERS for the film in what follows. I will not summarize the plot, though a summary may be found here.

Greed and Suffering

The story seems to center around the issue of greed. After all, the premise is essentially that human greed leads to great suffering. The question of whether there is a moral obligation to end suffering is front and center in the movie. The citizens of Elysium live a life of luxury, conveniently located far away from the strife that inhabitants of Earth must undergo. There is a clear and obvious dichotomy between the lives of the people planetside and those on the space colony.

It’s a premise which seems obvious, but there is a twist in the film, which impacts the force of this question. Once the final outcome is determined, and the reprogramming of citizenship is brought about to include all people, Elysium’s automated defenses and medical robots immediately begin helping the people of Earth. Medical shuttles are dispatched with instant-healing devices to help the new citizens. This twist throws a wrench into the reasoning of the question of obligation to end suffering: what if one has nothing to lose in order to help others?

Thus, the question goes beyond mere greed. It is a question of how humans will seek to hold on to what they have, even when it costs nothing to help others. It’s a poignant way to portray the issue, and one which forces viewers to think upon their own attitudes regarding what we have and seek to hold on to.

Of course, this portrayal of the issue doesn’t take away from the question of whether there is an obligation to end suffering. I think the answer, from a Christian perspective, is that we of course do. Then, the question must be asked of how to best alleviate suffering. These and other questions are raised by the film, and in ways which provoke much continued thought.

Class

The issues of greed and suffering are also bookended in the film by the question of class. Even on Earth, where poverty seemed to be ubiquitous, class was an issue. There were those with jobs, those who begged, and those who turned to crime. The sharp distinction between citizens of Elysium and those of Earth makes the point even more obvious. Once again, as Christians, we are forced to ask how we might address this issue of inequality. There are to be no such distinctions in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28), so how might we help to work towards ending racial, class, and other inequalities on Earth?

Hope

There is a constant theme of hope in what seems like a hopeless world. The people of Earth realize that help could come from Elysium, but they must get there first. They turn their hope to the stars, but there is a Nun who educates the young Max that there is beauty on Earth as well–beauty in humanity, despite our fallen nature.

Conclusion

“Elysium,” though featuring some objectionable content, is a film with much to ponder from a Christian perspective. How are we to approach other humans in a way which doesn’t undermine their dignity? We are to work to end suffering, to bring about equality. We are to prevent a scenario like “Elysium” from ever happening.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies- I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

Elysium: Fighting for Paradise- Anthony Weber addresses a number of other worldview issues brought up in the movie on his fantastic site, Empires and Mangers. Be sure to follow his great blog.

The picture in this post is from a movie poster and I use it under fair use. 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

An Apologist’s Insights on “God’s Not Dead”

gods-not-deadI recently had the chance to watch “God’s Not Dead,” a film which presents a story in which a college student decides to take a stand for his faith against the pressure of an atheistic philosophy professor. A summary of the plot may be found here. As an apologist with an MA in the field, I thought my comments might help provide some insight into the film. I’ll offer a look at some aspects of the film which I wanted to address. Feel free to chime in in the comments with your own thoughts.

Apologetics

The movie presents a clear picture of the need for apologetics. When challenged by attacks on the faith it is important to always have a reason for the hope within (1 Peter 3:15). Josh Wheaton–the protagonist–put together a decent presentation of various evidences for theism in the snippets that viewers get through the film. Of course, these are very simplified and don’t address several major issues with the arguments, but it gets the point across. It also, I have noted through conversations with others, spurred much interest in the area of apologetics. That’s awesome!

That said, I think there are some issues with even the arguments presented in the film. First, after Wheaton has presented the cosmological, design, and other arguments for theism, he is challenged by Professor Radisson on the notion that one just has to choose between atheism and theism. Wheaton acknowledges that yes, it is a choice. Now, there are a number of issues with this portrayal. First, it treats the balance of evidence as a kind of 50/50 proposition, which is, I would think, hardly the position of anyone. Second, it presents a view of belief in which we can just choose what we believe. This is called “doxastic voluntarism” which is a fancy way of saying that one can believe propositions at will. But that is a highly controversial position (just try to force yourself to believe that “Fairies fill my refrigerator every morning” and you’ll see the folly of it) and also flies in the face of biblical accounts of what faith is. Third, here I’ll tip my bias a bit and say I’m fairly well convinced that the balance of evidence is hardly 50/50 but actually compelling.

Another difficulty with the apologetic in the film is that it seems like the lynchpin argument offered was actually just a point of rhetoric. Wheaton presses Professor Radisson and asks “Why do you hate God?” and follows it up with [paraphrased]: “How can you hate someone who doesn’t exist?” This is the last straw and what prompts the class to vote by standing to say that “God’s not dead.” Although I think rhetoric has a clear place in the Christian apologetic (and has since the earliest times: see the apologetic works of Lactantius and Arnobius in the 200-300s AD), I thought it was an odd choice to make it the climactic argument for God. Perhaps it was because this added to the drama of the moment–and I suspect that’s right–but it did so at the cost of detracting from whatever apologetic the film could put forward.

I did, however, appreciate the interaction with some top scholars like Hawking and Lennox. I think it is very important for Christians interested in apologetics to read the top scholars in their fields in order to best get acquainted to the arguments.

Characters or Caricatures?

The way the Muslim father was portrayed was problematic. In the beginning of the film we see him dropping off his daughter and showing great concern for her. Later, he shares an intimate discussion of his faith and the importance of obedience in his background. But then, when it is revealed his daughter has converted to Christianity, he not only kicks her out of the house, but he also immediately hits her more than once. Now, I make no claims to being an expert on this, but I know from anecdotal evidence only that people are indeed kicked out of their homes for converting to Christianity (and sometimes for deconverting), and this is surely a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing to address this as an issue.

But the problem I saw was that the Muslim father’s immediate reaction was violence, without any explanation or any background for thinking this would be a reaction. The rest of the film up to this point had shown him as a caring father who was concerned for the faith and well-being of his daughter. To have him immediately turn to violence when she converted was jarring and I think it speaks to our cultural presuppositions about the religious “Other” to portray the “Other”–the Muslim–in that way. We need to move beyond such stereotypes and into genuine dialogue with those of other faiths, always looking to share the light and love of Christ with them.

On the positive side, the film did do a great job speaking to the importance of reaching out to others like the young man from China. It also emphasized missions in a number of ways, like centering some major plot points around a very amiable character as a missionary.

Pastoral Care

I appreciated the comments about the work of a pastor, in which Pastor Dave in the film was comparing his own work to that of a missionary friend’s and felt his own day-to-day tasks were mundane and trivial. The answer given by the missionary, however, was essentially that such work is part of the work of God as well and that we each occupy a place which God has put us in to make an impact on the world. I thought this was a great message and one that deserves further exploration.

On the other hand, I thought that the pastoral care at points in the movie presented some difficulties. For example, Pastor Dave’s conversation with Josh Wheaton before Wheaton decides to for sure stand up to his professor boiled down to a couple citations (not even quotations) of Bible verses to look up later and the comment that “It’s not easy, but it’s simple” [I may have the order in this quotation wrong]. I’ll be blunt: I think that this is actually a gross oversimplification. Quoting Matthew 10:33 (click for reference) does not actually make the issue facing Wheaton “simple.”

For example, would it be “denying” Christ to acknowledge that one might not have the resources available as a freshman student in a general studies philosophy class (and not a major) to take on a philosophy professor on the topic of God’s existence? I don’t think so. One could instead acknowledge that both the clearly adversarial tone taken in the environment and one’s own lack of knowledge or expertise in the area make it likely that one may actually harm the body of Christ by, well, looking like a freshman non-philosophy student outmatched by an atheistic philosophy professor. Wheaton, of course, has the benefits of film, so he is able to put together a beautiful powerpoint each week and manages to pound the books so hard that he can articulate the cosmological, design, and other arguments within a few days. But is this a realistic perspective? Moreover, is it a “simple” application of the passage to our lives?

Conclusion

“God’s Not Dead” awakens people to the need for apologetics. That is a great compliment, because it is a much-needed awakening. However, it has several issues (including those mentioned above) with the presentation of apologetics, its portrayal of the “Other,” and the oversimplification of several arguments, positions, and even pastoral care and reading of texts. In short, it’s a mixed bag.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” – Chaos, “Human” Nature, and the “Good Guys”

guardians-galaxy“Guardians of the Galaxy” has been a smash hit at the box office, and it has also received critical acclaim. It’s been branded as a happy-go-lucky film. That said, every story has a worldview. What might we find in “Guardians”? Here, we will analyze the movie from a Christian worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Chaos and “Human” Nature

Chaotic is a great word to describe the “Guardians.” Each has personality quirks which make them uniquely set up, it seems, to conflict. The fact that this ragtag band of people manages to save the galaxy (or at least a planet) is part of the fun of the film.

The characters’ personalities, however, seemingly also reveal much about “human,” or at least “personal” nature. Each has a background which haunts them individually, whether it be Starlord’s lost childhood or Rocket’s internal struggle to define himself, they each have difficulties. It is this which makes the characters seem more relatable than they otherwise may have been.

It is easy to feel separated from the world of the superheroes due to their general portrayal as otherworldly powers with little connection to Earth other than finding it as a place for their conflicts. In “Guardians,” it is almost the reverse: the characters are grounded in realistic pasts and limited in their power (each overshadowed by Groot’s power, but simplistic mind), but their battle takes place out in the Galaxy, away from home. By subtly shifting the perspective and powers of the heroes, the filmmakers reverse the paradigm of superhero flicks and are able to put together this story of a motley crew just barely managing to succeed.

I think this tells us something about ourselves as well: we relate better to characters with flaws. Our lives as humans have given us complex pasts with parts we often regret. The question, then, is where we may find redemption? How might we make sense of our lives in the broader scheme of things?

Good Guys

There is a lot of gray area when it comes to evil in “Guardians.” The characters themselves are involved in shady schemes, which leads one to wonder who the “good guys” are. That question, though, is one which brings us around full circle to the question of human nature. From a Christian perspective, there are none who are without fault, and salvation history in the Bible reflects God using imperfect people like Samson (womanizer) and Paul (persecutor of the church) to bring about redemption.

Similarly, the characters in “Guardians” are each flawed, but they work together to defeat great evil. Thrown together in the chaos of a universe with much evil, they make their own way. In “Guardians,” evil happens to be defeated almost by luck, but in reality, such things are not mere happenstance.

Rebirth

There is a real sense of “rebirth” throughout the film. Each character undergoes a transformation from a life of relative lax to one in which, at the end, they seek to defend the galaxy, even if that means breaking a few rules along the way. Groot, of course, undergoes the most literal rebirth as he is fragmented (to death?) in order to protect the other Guardians, only to then be reborn as a single stick. Starlord’s own rebirth is more subtle, as he goes from a ne’er-do-well rogue to trying to actually lead a ragtag band of people to defend the galaxy.

Conclusion

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is a distinctly unconventional superhero flick, as it stars a group of people who can hardly be classified among the “good guys” who just so happen to defeat the worst evil in the galaxy. Despite, or perhaps because of, this, they band together and triumph in a good (?) vs. evil story. It is similar, as I noted, to the notion in the Bible that we are a community of sinner saints and people who have questionable paths may still be used for great good by God.

There is more we could discuss from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” so please do join the discussion in the comments below.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Guardians of the Galaxy- Check out Anthony Weber’s take on the movie, which is always worth reading. Be sure to follow his blog, as it is one of the best in the business.

Movies- Read other posts I have written on the movies. Scroll down to see more!

The image is a movie poster for the film and I use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“How to Train Your Dragon” + “2” – A Christian reflection

train-dragon“How to Train Your Dragon” was a surprise box office success. It was enough of a surprise to get a second movie to come several years later. Both were received with critical acclaim. Here, we’ll take a look at various themes which resonate with the Christian worldview found in each flick. There will be SPOILERS for both films in what follows. I will refer to the second movie as “2” in what follows.

Family

“2” confronts the notion of familial reconciliation. Hiccup’s mom, Valka, is found–after being captured by a dragon, she abandoned her family in order to try to save other dragons who were being hunted or pressed into forced military service. When she runs into Hiccup once more, she realizes that things have changed and people can too. She ends up deciding to come back to the family, though the joy of the reunification of their family is very short-lived. The theme, however, is strong and it leads one to think on how much familial reconciliation is needed in the here-and-now, whether from fighting, divorce, loss, or whatever–it is a truly good task to work towards bringing families back together.

Disabilities and Lost Limbs

In the first “Dragon,” we encounter Gobber, a man who has lost a leg and a hand to dragons. He is boisterous, a little crazy, and he uses his arm as an attachment point for all sorts of tools and weapons. In the climactic battle against the huge evil dragon at the end of the movie, Hiccup also loses part of a leg. By “2,” Hiccup has outfitted himself with a spinning peg leg which may perform several different functions. We also encounter Drago Bludvist, who has also lost an arm to a dragon. Gobber is kind of a crazy man but overall a good guy, Hiccup is a peacemaker (see below), and Drago is clearly a villain–these characters are on a spectrum.

In the “How to Train Your Dragon” universe, then, people with lost limbs are not treated as universally bad or to be pitied. Rather, they are treated as…. well, people. It’s fantastic. Too often, movies use disabilities or loss of a limb as an excuse to become a villain (see another movie review for this theme) or simply as an object of pity. Here, in both films, people are people, and they continue to act in ways which fit their characters despite loss of limb or disabilities. It’s a refreshing to see, and a theme which should feature more prominently in other films.

Peacemaking and Evil

Perhaps the strongest theme throughout both films is the notion of “peacemaking.” Hiccup is a young man who favors making peace over war. He realizes that love and understanding may be more powerful weapons than the sword and spear. The theme is shown to be true in both movies, as it is ultimately this impetus for peace which overcomes the evils of the world. Yet the films do not portray a kind of naive view of the world. In each film, the ultimate villain does not miraculously change his heart, but rather persists in evil and reaps the rewards.

However, this should not overcome the strength of the notion of making peace. Hiccup relentlessly sought to make peace between dragon and humanity, and then between Drago and the people of his homeland. Christians are also called to be peacemakers–to seek justice for all people on Earth.

Conclusion

Both “How to Train Your Dragon” movies are well-worth seeing. They are visual delights with very solid stories and fun moments spread throughout. Not only that, but they each have several themes which resonate with the Christian worldview. Whether it is the notion that all people are valuable, even if they have disabilities, or the themes of family and peacemaking, the movies put forth a reality grounded in notions of right and wrong alongside justice. In short, they’re fantastic.

Let me know what you thought of the movies in the comments.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Movies- Read other posts I have written on the movies. Scroll down to see more!

The image is a movie poster for the film and I use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” – A Christian Perspective

future-pastThe X-Men franchise has been my favorite of the Marvel franchises for some time, largely because of the worldview questions it brings up. Here, we’ll take a look at the themes in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” There will be SPOILERS for the film in what follows.

Evolution

Evolution continues to be at the heart of many of the questions raised by the X-Men franchise. What does it mean to say that Mutants are perhaps the next step in evolution for humanity? For some, it means that Mutants should overthrow humanity; after all, they are the lesser-evolved form of life. How should humans and Mutants interact? Are they really a step of evolution, or is it simply a different expression of humanity?

These questions are obviously speculative, but I think the most poignant of them center around the notion of an evolutionary morality. If all we see is merely the product of naturalistic evolution without any sort of grounding for objective morality, who is to say that those Mutants and humans who say that there is a fundamental war between Mutants and humanity are wrong? It seems as though they are exactly right: it is a competition for resources, pure and simple. Yet the questions the movie brings up go beyond such simplistic reasoning. After all, it seems, there is right and wrong that goes beyond the reasoning centered around survival-of-the-fittest. Again, we must wonder: why? Moreover: how is it grounded? These questions get at the heart of worldview questions, and viewers who are left thinking that it is wrong to perpetuate a war between Mutant and human should wonder what grounds they have for thinking it is wrong.

The Heart of Hum…utant? 

Many strands of Christian expression view humanity as depraved. That is, humans are sinful at heart, rather than being generally good. “Days of Future Past” aligns with this vision of humanity in a number of ways, but it also, interestingly, portrays mutants as just as frequently evil-leaning as humankind.

The inherent fear of the “Other” was felt throughout, as both Mutant and human worked to destroy each other. However, Mystique’s quest for revenge was a deeper look at aspects of character and worldview. Her quest, despite it being a futile gesture, was telling: she sought revenge despite the possibility that it could destroy all of her own kind. Professor X’s words, however, echoed through time: “Just because someone stumbles and loses their way doesn’t mean they are lost forever.” Mystique, through her choice to refuse to pursue the way of violence into oblivion, ultimately plays a kind of figure of reconciliation. The theme of darkness in the heart which may be redeemed is one which resonates powerfully with the Christian worldview.

A Spectrum of Morality

I think one area that is not explored frequently enough is the notion that there really is a spectum when it comes to that which is moral. I’m not advocating any kind of relativism, but rather the notion that there aren’t always (or even often) black and white moral choices. “Days of Future Past” brings this to the forefront as viewers are confronted with various ways to approach the question of the Mutant. Does one opt for a warfare model which is put forth by Magneto and Dr. Trask, a model which allows for coexistence with separation/secrecy as was generally being followed in the 1970s of the film, or perhaps even cooperation as Dr. X seeks? Perhaps instead, one should forge one’s own way like Mystique or (old) Wolverine, seeking a personal agenda in order to follow one’s own ends.

These aspects are front-and-center throughout the film, as viewers most likely will unconsciously lean towards a certain expression themselves. We discussed above the aspects of evolutionary morality, but I think the movie goes even deeper, trying to get at more basic questions like “What is truth?” and “What is moral/right?” The way viewers answer these questions may lead to further conversations. It seems to me the film clearly favored the kind of mediation road in which Mutant and Human could coexist. But what does that mean for those who favored evolutionary morality or a warfare model? Perhaps such notions are themselves outdated and put to rest because they are of a “Future Past.”

Conclusion

The latest X-Men movie has received much critical acclaim and box-office success. I think that’s for a good reason. It has a compelling plot, great action, and excellent pacing. Our analysis of various themes throughout the movie shows there is thoughtfulness behind it as well. Issues of morality are front and center, though many other themes are worth discussing as well. This is a movie that could be used to start discussions about the faith from many different aspects.

There are many more issues which could be explored in the movie. What are some that resonated with you? Let me know your own thoughts in the comments.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Movies- Read other posts I have written on the movies. Scroll down to see more!

The image is a movie poster for the film and I use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Edge of Tomorrow” – Sacrifice, Brutality, and Choice

edge-tomLive. Die. Repeat.

I had the chance to watch “Edge of Tomorrow” this past weekend and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film. It was fantastic. Here, I’ll discuss several themes found in the movie from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. I will not summarize the plot, but a summary may be found here.

Choice

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise was brilliantly cast for this role) is presented with a number of choices throughout the film, and it becomes clear that he is not a typical save-the-world type of hero. He is flawed, he has passions, he loses hope. But throughout these aspects of the film, we find the notion of choice. Will Cage has been given an extraordinary opportunity to impact the entire human race. When his blood is mingled with that of an Alpha, his death sets off the “Omega” which resets the day. Over and over again, Cage is faced with a choice: what do I do with this day?

He finds Sergeant Rita Vrataski, who is one of the only people who also realizes what’s happening, though she herself doesn’t remember the days. The question, again, is what do I do with this day? Cage’s character is forced to consider that he has the ability to possibly save all of humanity. In such a situation, what choice does he have? But he does make some choices: he chooses to try to save Rita, to save others. But at other times, he gives in to frustration, allowing members of his squad to die despite being able to prevent it. Cage is not a knight in shining armor, but he confronts us with a human thrown into an impossible situation with the highest possible stakes.

Placing the concept of choice against such a backdrop makes for good drama, but it also begs the question: what are you doing with your day? From a Christian perspective, the choices we make are extremely important–we are called to be witnesses, lights to the world–but do our choices each day reflect that? Do we, like Cage, sometimes allow injustices despite having to put forth just a little extra effort? How do our choices impact our life in Christ? The movie demands that we answer questions like these.

Sacrifice

Cage is also confronted with a kind of self-sacrifice. By admitting he is what he is, he must go through a cycle in which he dies continually, in often brutal ways, in order to try to improve, to save humanity. It is sacrifice, but a sacrifice knowing that he will be back the next day. One must ask, I think, whether that actually diminishes the sacrifice. I don’t think it does. Cage must steel himself each day knowing that death will come again, and again, and again. The only way to prevent it is to save all of humanity by destroying the Omega. Though, in the end, Cage ultimately does give up his life for humanity, only to be brought back by having his blood mingled with that of the Omega. One is left wondering whether he will retain the power or not.

The self-sacrifice of Cage (and Rita) for the sake of humanity is clearly a theme which resonates with the central Christian teaching of Jesus Christ as crucified and resurrected Lord. However, beyond the obvious parallels of giving up life for the sake of all (and subsequent resurrection/awakening), the sacrifice of going in knowing one is to die is something that resonates with the story of Christ. I have sometimes seen a challenge issued theologically to the Christian teaching saying Jesus didn’t really sacrifice himself if he knew he was going to be risen by God. But of course that hardly destroys the notion of self-sacrifice and the real price paid of death. Being risen does not destroy the sacrifice of death.

Brutality

Live. Die. Repeat.

The theme is echoed throughout the film. It may cause one to wonder about the brutality of such a story and its appropriateness, but I think that from a Christian perspective one has to incorporate the rest of the themes found in the movie. The brutality of the cross is itself something from which people shy away, but set against the backdrop of salvation, brutality can become sanctified.

Community/Individual

I have not read the manga that “Edge of Tomorrow” was based on, “All You Need is Kill,” but I have heard that there is some juxtaposition over the primacy of the community vs. individual in either. “Edge of Tomorrow” shows this kind of valuation in many ways throughout the film. First, there is Cage’s continued efforts to save Rita, despite what it might cost–including going on one part of the mission alone in order to prevent her death. Second, there is the concept of both Cage and Rita valuing the community of humanity over the self by willingly spending all the time they have left trying to defend humanity rather than find a way to survive themselves. Finally, both Cage and Rita choose to place the community over the self when rather than trying to save one or the other, they both do what needs to be done and give themselves to save humanity.

For Christians, themes of community and individual are extremely important. It is easy in the Western mindset to become obsessed with the self, but a true community of individuals exists in the body of Christ–each as important as the next. How do we go about living our lives in light of this truth?

Conclusion

There are many other themes to be explored from “Edge of Tomorrow”- what of the Alpha/Omega? What happens to Cage and Rita after the end of the film? Were there any efforts to try to make peace or reach out to the “Mimics”–the aliens that they fight against throughout the movie? These are important themes, and I’d love to get discussion of those started in the comments. For now, it should be clear that the film has many themes to reflect upon and it is well-worth seeing. What did you think of the movie? What other themes have you thought of in relation to it? Let’s get your thoughts in the comments below!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

All You Need Is Kill/Edge of Tomorrow- “Edge of Tomorrow” is based upon this graphic novel. Check out Anthony Weber’s excellent review and critique of the graphic novel from a Christian perspective. I really recommend you follow his blog as well. It’s in my top five must-read blogs, and it is worth your time to browse at length.

Movies- Read other posts I have written on the movies. Scroll down to see more!

The image is a movie poster for the film and I use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Hollywood Worldviews” by Brian Godawa

hw-godawaI often say that every movie has a worldview. The same is true for any story. Brian Godawa’s book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment, takes just such an approach to movies: what do films teach us? How might we critically evaluate movies?

First, Godawa introduces the concepts of a “cultural glutton” as opposed to a “cultural anorexic.” The point is that Christians are to be in the world not of it. It is one thing to say that violence in a movie is bad; but what of the context of the violence? The Bible also has many scenes which, if filmed, could even rate NC-17. The question is: what’s the point? When looking at film, Christians should look into the way the narrative shapes what happens in the movies.

In order to look into this theme, Christians must be equipped to seek out the context of stories as well as the explicit (and implicit) things they teach. In order to equip people to watch film critically, Godawa approaches this task is divided among several chapters by topics related to film and worldview. Each chapter begins with a summary of the topic of the chapter and how one might discover this theme in film. For example, in the chapter on “Postmodernism,” he begins with a definition and explanation of the concept. Then, he utilizes a slew of examples from various movies to show how postmodernism is found in them in either positive or negative light.

The chapters all cover interesting topics, and Godawa’s use of specific examples from movies are fantastic case studies for showing how critical engagement with worldviews can play out. Even better, Godawa’s explanations and applications could easily be used to apply outside of film and in areas like literature. Frankly, some of Godawa’s evaluation of popular films–including some I’ve enjoyed greatly–have forced me to rethink how I thought of the storyline. Movies which may appear to be fairly neutral or simply entertainment alone do indeed have their own way of approaching reality. Some of the movies which were brought to new light for me included “Gladiator,” “The Truman Show,” and “Groundhog Day.” Dozens of movies are treated throughout this book, and Godawa’s analysis is always interesting and thought provoking, encouraging the critical engagement he seeks.

Another great aspect of the book are the activities Godawa proposes for each chapter to apply what one has learned. These are frequently interesting and provide ways forward to put into practice the art of discernment when it comes to watching film.

One difficulty with a book like this is there is some necessary oversimplification. For example, Godawa, in his discussion of existentialism, writes: “Existentialism accepts the Enlightenment notion of an eternally existing materialistic universe with no underlying meaning or purpose” (95). Oddly, Godawa seems to downplay Kierkegaard’s very explicit Christian faith in light of his existential views, and Kierkegaard seems to become a kind of pariah through this analysis. Kierkegaard, for Godawa, is strangely aberrant from his general picture of existentialism as necessarily godless and without purpose.

At other points, films receive short shrift are are discussed in ways which seem a bit odd. Of course, engagement with these points actually encourages the sort of critical interaction Godawa is pursuing. Some offhand comments are a bit awkward and out of place (for example the bare assertion that “men are the leaders in home and public roles” in Christianity without qualification–in contrast with the declared equality of genders in Galatians 3:28 and the apostleship of a woman in Romans 16:7), but overall these negative points are outweighed by the service Godawa has done to provide critical perspective on worldviews in film.

Hollywood Worldviews is a great book which will encourage much discussion. It would serve as a good resource for those who wish to meaningfully engage the culture. People who read it will be equipped to have thoughtful conversations on the way movies put forth worldviews. The book should come with a warning, though, some of your favorite movies may not be what they seem!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies- I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

Source

Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”- The Longing for Purpose and Truth

ca-winter“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opened to a tune of a $300 million weekend. The film has been “certified fresh” by reviews aggregate Rotten Tomatoes (currently at an 89%). People are talking about the film. Here, we will explore some major themes in the movie from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Purpose

A question which reverberates throughout the film is that of purpose. What is Captain America’s purpose? He struggled with this himself; in a world far different from the one he sprung from, what place did he have?

It’s a kind of struggle that all humans experience at some point: an existential crisis of place. Where are we in the world? What is our purpose? How do we pursue it?

These questions speak to a longing for something greater. They are questions which address the core of human nature: awash in a universe which at times seems empty and without purpose, we mirror the uncertainty Captain America displayed. Yet the film itself speaks to the fact that there is real purpose in the universe. In “The Winter Soldier,” friendship and loyalty play major roles. The revelation that The Winter Soldier is, in fact, Bucky, a friend from the Captain’s past, leads to a poignant scene in which the Captain refuses to fight his friend due to an earlier vow. Purpose, it seems, is grounded on relationships. It is grounded in persons.

Ultimately, of course, the Christian worldview holds to that same concept but on a cosmic scale. Purpose in the universe is grounded on a person: God.

Human Nature

The depths of human nature are plumbed in the film, as it is discovered that Hydra, an evil Nazi organization, has managed to infiltrate Shield at the highest levels. At the core of the film’s portrayal of human nature is the notion that we are ruled by various fears. We are overwhelmed by chaos, and, if given enough of it, will succumb to any amount of limitations and control in order to turn away from the pit of destruction. Hydra helped bring about as much chaos as possible in order to push humanity to the brink.

It is a conspiracy theorists dream come true: the highest levels of intelligence infiltrated by an evil institution bent on wiping out all threats to its ultimate power. But the fact is that the plot twist was not really that unbelievable. But the strength of the scenario is how very believable it was. The notion that humans would give in to extreme injustice in order to flee from those things which scare them most really wasn’t unbelievable. The fact that both Hydra and Shield were working to eliminate “potential” threats ahead of time sealed the deal.

The commentary on human nature should not be missed: humanity is inherently fearful. Separated from a sense of tranquility and order, we often cling to things which are patently unjust in order to try to overcome our current situation. Think about it frankly: do you really think the scenario in this movie is all that preposterous? That’s what makes it so powerful. It’s not preposterous. In some ways, it’s already happening.

ca-winter2Captain America: The Moral Compass

The portrayal of human nature discussed above leads naturally into the question of justice. Captain America acts as a kind of moral compass in the current Marvel universe. It is hard to resist the reasoning from both ends–Hydra and Shield–regarding the nature of humanity. In one scene, people are asked whether, if able, they would “press a button” to prevent violent hostage situations, terrorism, and the like. The appeal could have some nodding along with it. But think about it, touching that button would kill those who had yet to do anything wrong.

Thus, Captain America seems initially naive when it comes to this moral reasoning. After all, why would he be so opposed to a system that could prevent the loss of life and ruination of people? But the Captain doesn’t stop the chain of reasoning there. Instead, he calls for a view of justice towards all people; one in which even the “bad guys” aren’t assumed to be irreparable. Its a strong message, and one which resonates with the Christian worldview in powerful ways.

Think of Jonah, who would have preferred to see Nineveh burn than to see them repent. But he knew that God was a loving God, eager to show love and mercy to repentant sinners. Or consider the cry of Ezekiel to “turn” from wicked ways and repent to avoid certain death (Ezekiel 33:11). These themes echo in “The Winter Soldier” as the notion that simply terminating people who may be threats is explored.

Viewing the Captain as a moral compass has some interesting outcomes. For example, though Joss Whedon (director of “The Avengers”) is an avowed non-theist, in that flick, Captain America quips to Thor: “There’s only one God, and… he doesn’t dress like that.” Though an offhand remark, it is interesting to see that Captain America affirms there is “a” deity at all, let alone “only one.” This, from the man who in the face of pressure from all sides, refused to kill the man he promised to protect.

Regarding the Winter Soldier, I have to say that I see shades of the biblical Jonathan and David in the relationship here. There is a mutual vow to protect each other. The two are enmeshed in conflict and end up on opposite sides. Ultimately, they are forced to choose between destroying the other or honoring their loyalty to each other. Again, I’m not saying this is intentional, but the theme is there.

Conclusion

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has much for Christians to discuss. It’s an extremely compelling tale filled with themes of justice, loyalty, and friendship. In order to effectively engage the culture, we should use it as a springboard to start discussions about the deeper things. Let me know your thoughts on the movie in the comments.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Check out my other looks at films from a Christian perspective. (Scroll down for more.)

A Christian Look at “The Avengers”- I examine a number of themes in “The Avengers” which Christians and non-Christians can discuss.

Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies- I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.

The image is copyrighted by Marvel and I make no claim to rights. I use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

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