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Christian look at movies

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Arrival: Your Life Matters – A Christian Perspective

arrivalI had the chance to watch “Arrival” this past weekend. It was excellent. I can’t emphasize enough how much good science fiction is steeped in worldview and forces us to reflect upon humanity. “Arrival” is just that: excellent science fiction. Here, I will discuss worldview issues the film brought forward from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Your Life Matters

Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the film is one that could not be fully appreciated until the end. Once we see that Louise has been having not flashbacks but rather flash-forwards, we come to realize that she is seeing what will happen in the future. But that means the scene at the beginning, in which Louise has a daughter, Hannah, who eventually dies from cancer, will play out as she has seen it. And if that’s the case, then Louise’s decision to marry Ian and have a baby with him is something that leads, directly or indirectly, to her daughter’s death.

The question that arises, then, is whether such a life was worth living? The film presents what is one of the most beautiful ways of looking at such a question I have seen. The answer is yes. Without Hannah’s life, her poetry, joy, song, and dance could not have been part of the world. All of that would have been lost. Even the inevitable pain and tragedy that Louise and Ian will experience is part of that future world Louise saw: one in which love had a chance to play out in Hannah’s all-too-short life. It’s a message that says: Yes, your life matters, even if it is not perfect; even if it goes poorly.

And really, what right would Louise have to cut that life from the world? What right would she have to destroy that future life of Hannah, however painful it would become for herself and for her daughter? Would it really be better to cut off all the joy and beauty that her daughter would bring into the world just because Louise knew it would end badly? Such questions are monumentally important in an age in which choices of life and death are increasingly available.

Linear vs. Non-Linear Time

I found the theme of time to be quite engaging in the film. One may think that it was just a novelty to discuss non-linear time, but a number of major ancient cultures had non-linear views of time. I have much interest in studying Mesoamerica, for example, and basically across the board the Inca, Maya, Aztec, etc. had non-linear, cyclical views of time. Why does that matter? What does it have to do with worldview?

Well, in the film it was used largely as a way to tie the whole plot back together and show that one’s ideas about reality can be shaped by the way one conceptualizes of very basic ideas. But more importantly, one’s view of time impacts how one views reality itself. I have read time and again how a linear view of time helped to spur scientific discovery, among other things. A linear view of time allows for a logical A => B sequence of events in which causation is linked through time. A cyclical, or non-linear view of time would change that. In “Arrival,” it is unclear as to whether the ultimate non-linearity of time is viewed as cyclical (though the emphasis on circular imagery for the language might point in that direction). One wonders whether a non-linear view of time, taken to its conclusions, could actually ground such things as cause and effect. The movie provided a framework to think through such questions, and as someone who’s very interested in philosophy of time, I found that utterly engaging.

Time, Part 2

Another aspect of the discussion of time in the film is the implication that Louise sees the future, but also that she may be able to change it. Indeed, it seems pretty clear that Louise makes a conscious choice to allow the future she saw to play out. Does that mean the future is set in stone, or that her decisions actually will yield the future she saw? This may not seem very important for worldview, but a simple shift to examining divine omniscience might show how such a concept could impact worldview directly. If God knows the future, as I believe God does, what does that mean for human action? What does it mean if God does not comprehensively know the future, as open theists claim?

Such questions are not directly referenced in the film, but a moment’s reflection on how Louise responds to her own knowledge of the future makes these questions loom in the distance. I think it is important to think about how things like one’s view of time and God’s knowledge of the future impact things like human free choice, salvation, and the like.

Conclusion

“Arrival” is the best kind of science fiction: one that raises questions not just about the future but about humanity. I highly recommend readers go see the film. It’s phenomenal. Let me know what worldview questions were raised in your mind from watching the film.

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.

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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.

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“The Giver”- Hope, Freedom, and Suffering

the-giver-movieI recently got “The Giver” from the library. I remember quite enjoying the book but admit I haven’t read it in… well over a decade so I didn’t remember it hardly at all as I watched the film. I enjoyed the movie and have taken the time to reflect on it here. There will be SPOILERS for the movie in what follows.

Freedom

One thing that humanity in this apparently post-apocalyptic world lacks is freedom. They take drugs to prevent emotions, demand “precision of language” that eliminates the use of words like “love” from the vocabulary, and live under a set of rules in which sameness is not only encouraged but enforced. It is only “The Giver” and “Receiver” who know what humanity used to be like, with all the joys and sorrows that accompanied it.

Perhaps the most prevalent theme throughout the movie is the notion that this loss of human freedom, though it apparently ensures survival of the species and eliminates much evil, is itself doing great harm to humanity. People commit infanticide and euthanasia without even having knowledge of what they are doing. A kind of blissful ignorance surrounds acts that would be considered morally barbaric. But the people’s ignorance means that it is more sad than appalling at first.

The film asks us to reflect on our own nature and think what we have done with our freedom. How have we used our freedom of choice to bring about good or evil? Is it worth sacrificing this freedom in order to have a facade of civility and “ending” of suffering.

Suffering

A theme that is extremely prominent in the movie is the notion that freedom leads to suffering. This is not because freedom is inherently evil or painful, but rather because humanity so often uses freedom to bring about suffering. As noted above, the society in which people live seems to be free from evil, but has real atrocities being committed even without knowledge of the magnitude of the actions.

The movie itself is a kind of exploration of the problem of evil and the “free will defense” to this problem. Supposing that our world was created by a benevolent being, why is there evil? The answer in “The Giver” seems to be that we have used our given freedom to bring about great wrongs. Even when we attempt to create our own perfect society, that society remains inherently corrupt. We have squandered our freedom.

Hope

What “The Giver” paints is a picture of humanity as being inherently good; not in the moral sense in which we are perfect, but in the sense that humanity as created–along with the freedom of the will to use for good or ill–is a good thing. At once this hearkens back to the notion of a “very good” creation by God in the beginning and also looks forward to a day of hope.

Jonas’ actions to bring back emotions and memories to humanity is a quest of salvation. It is salvation from a kind of hell that humanity built for itself, putting up walls around the very things that could be used for good. The answer to the problem of evil is a solution from the “outside.” From beyond the capacity of the humans themselves, salvation was brought to them in the restoration of their free will. Yet the ultimate hope remains fleeting: the hope for a world in which suffering can be brought to a final end.

Conclusion

“The Giver” has a kind of eschatological scope in its study: a human-made utopia has failed. Can there be better waiting for us? With questions of free will, the problem of evil, and more in view, it is a worthy movie to watch and discuss.

The image in this post is an official movie poster and is used under fair use.

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 on this site about movies written from a worldview perspective. (Scroll down for more.)

The Hunger Games (category)– Like Dystopia? Check out my posts on the Hunger Games series of books and movies.

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.

“Les Miserables”: A Christian reflection

les-miserables-2

Les Misérables” has finally been adapted to the big-screen, and, to put it simply, it is stunning. The impression that it leaves will be lasting. Yet what issues does it explore? What is the impression that it gives? What is the worldview in “Les Miserables”? There are SPOILERS below.

Natural Law and Human Dignity

One of the most clear themes throughout the movie is the challenge raised in balancing natural rights, natural law, and human dignity. Jean Valjean starts off the movie as a prisoner. He has been imprisoned for 19 years–5 for stealing a loaf of bread, and 14 for trying to escape. These prisoners are essentially slaves. Their personhood is denigrated, and Javert, the Inspector, insists on calling them merely by their numbers. During this scene, the prisoners sing of calling for Jesus to save them, but complain that Jesus has not heard them. Yet God is not dead in this story, as we shall see below.

Several questions are raised here. It seems clear that the human dignity and therefore the natural rights of these people is being violated by the way they are treated, as well as the cruelty of the punishment for petty crimes. Not only that, but it seems that natural law is being violated in that the poor continue to cry out for help to no avail. They need food, shelter, and the like. They are willing to work but can’t find any. The movie provides a poignant commentary on the violations of natural law, rights, and human dignity that continue to be found in our own society.

Javert is the story’s foil for natural law. He brings in a kind of Kantian certainty about moral questions. For him, the law is morally right, and one cannot violate the law. Yet it becomes clear through the film that Javert’s view is actually that which is mistaken. He is operating under a skewed vision of natural law which cannot stand up to scrutiny. His view equates natural law with the law of the land. Valjean grants Javert mercy and Javert later does the same for Valjean, but unlike Valjean, Javert cannot understand mercy. For him, the law of the land is always absolute. Finally, he cannot reconcile his view of the law with the realities of the world which include not just natural law but also the redemptive mercy that God has embedded in it and he kills himself.

Jean Valjean is not the only person whose very worth is questioned. Fantine suffers immensely in the story. She is reduced to selling her hair, then her teeth, and finally her body when she loses her job. Again, her very humanity is threatened by her treatment. She is dehumanized and forced to give up hope. However, Jean Valjean, as she is dying, comes to her aid and promises to take care of Cosette, her daughter. This gives her hope, and restores some of her human dignity.

Redemption

Despite the apparent hopelessness in many scenes, it becomes clear that evil has not won the day. Indeed, Jean Valjean is given another lease on life by Bishop Myriel, who is an extremely positive example of Christian concern for other persons. The Bishop saves Valjean from imprisonment and torture and tells him that he has saved him. He tells Valjean God has a plan for him and in an extremely poignant scene, Valjean struggles with his feelings of hatred and anger in a church. He cannot seem to reconcile the mercy shown to him by the Bishop with his view of the world. It is Valjean’s initial view which loses out. His anger and hatred are given over to providing hope and taking care of the needy. He becomes a moral hero, despite the necessity of his continuing to flee from the authorities.

Ultimately, the grounding for human dignity and rights is found not in the tribulations of the world but in God’s justice in the hereafter. The epic closing scene depicts all the dead lined up in heaven praising God and glorying in redemption. Without this, the movie would be nearly hopeless. Instead, Jean Valjean is guided into the afterlife by Fantine and Bishop Myriel. The explicit Christian elements in this final redemption are clearly portrayed, crucifixes are prominent and it is the Bishop into whose hands Valjean is accepted.

valjeancrossSalvation and God

It seems clear from the story of “Les Miserables” that God is operating even in the darkness and bitterness of the poor, the downtrodden, and the weary. Jean Valjean comes to realize that God’s plan can be carried out even by him in the mercies that he is able to show by taking care of Cosette and giving to the poor. His struggle over the fact that Bishop Myriel did not condemn him leads him to a view of reality that is a stark contrast with that of Javert’s view, noted above.

Jean Valjean sees the world through the eyes of one to whom mercy has been shown. He realizes that he did not deserve the mercy he was given, but he instead lets it change him forever. He fights against the evils of the world and ultimately, at the end of his life, he realizes that is what he was called to do.

One cannot help but see how stories of all the characters interweave in such a way as to show foreknowledge and planning. Valjean is shown mercy, but to what end? Ultimately, the end is to provide hope into a world with little hope (Fantine) and to save the life of a girl (Cosette). The way these people are brought together provides an abundance of grace and mercy, but not without suffering.

The characters cry out to God throughout the film, asking where He is or why He has allowed some evil. But it becomes clear that their eyes have been focused upon the suffering here-and-now instead of God’s plan for salvation. Without the foreknowledge of God, it is easy to see the ills of this world as reason to hate God. Indeed, that is exactly what some people do. But in “Les Miserables,” God’s plan wins in the end: he brings his people to salvation and they sing in heaven at the end of the film.

Other Themes

Water is a recurring theme in “Les Miserables.” As a Christian I could not help but think of baptism. Valjean is baptized in the rain, but Javert uses water to bring about his own destruction.

There are crosses featured prominently throughout the movie. The barricade behind which the revolutionaries fight has coffins on the front during the battle. However, at the end of the movie, when all the dead are lined up and singing in the glory of heaven and God’s presence, there is a cross prominently featured. When Jean Valjean struggles with the mercy Bishop Myriel showed to him, crosses are featured all over the screen. All of this seems to tie into the themes of redemption, God’s will, and salvation noted above.

Christians, or people who claim to be Christians, are not always good people. Javert’s skewed view of justice prevented him from taking into account God’s mercy. The innkeeper and his wife claim to be Christians but spend their lives trying to swindle and steal from others. This is a reflection of the truth. Jesus himself noted that there will be weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). That is, there will be those who claim to be among the saved who are not and may even seek to destroy the saved.

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo was not necessarily a friend of organized religion. His religious beliefs changed throughout his life. It seems he became frustrated with the suffering of the people and the inactivity of organized churches in response to this suffering. Some have pegged him as a deist, though a bit of exploration turns up hints that he may have maintained theism through his life. Regardless of Hugo’s own spiritual state, it is clear from the film “Les Miserables” that Christianity is largely beneficial. Not only that, but the story is such an epic tale of redemption with Christian themes interwoven throughout that I can’t help but think (having, admittedly, not read the book) of the extremely positive overall impression I had of the power of Christianity to change people.

Conclusion

Les Misérables” is a stunning film. Its impact will last for years. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the movie, however, is the way it tackles worldview questions head-on. Humanity is found even in the darkest pits, and God’s work continues to be done even in the most desperate of hours. The movie is not for children, but it will serve as an inspiring foil from which to start discussions about Christianity. The beneficence that comes from the Christian worldview is very much on display, along with Christian themes of God’s sovereignty and plan of redemption. I encourage readers to see the film and realize the way it can be used to discuss issues central to Christianity.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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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