Kubo and the Two Stings

kubo-and-the-two-strings-kubo-legenda-samuraizeIt is very easy for me to critique and focus on negatives, so on Holy Smack I try my best to be positive, but sometimes exceptions must be made. This is one of those times. See what I mean here:




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) is a movie I really wanted to not only like, but downright love. From the trailer I could tell the artistry of the film was epic. They even had animated origami, which has been a dream for me to see realized on film ever since I wrote scenes of it in Little Miss Lucifer.

But alas, despite how beautiful Kubo is visually (and it really is stunning), the film falls short of a beautiful story. The tale is generic, and lacking catharsis (a smacking-good ending that truly satisfies deep down). When the show ended, I actually could not wait to leave the theater because I was so let down (sting #1).

This taught me that a story must be as compelling and dramatic as the visual effects and cinematography, otherwise it doesn’t have a lasting effect: like a stunning sunrise on busy commuters. As gorgeous as the scene is, people just walk by and get to work as if it was nothing more than a glare off the mirror. They live the rest of the day, and repeat the next morning, with not a care at all about the sunrise, because there was no compelling story accompanying it.torontohenge-sunrise-april-2016

Imagine instead however, if the sunrise coincided with the reunion of long lost lovers, lovers who traversed all night to reunite… if that dawn meant the revival of past love, restarted after decades apart and years of loss: now that’s catharsis. Now that’s a story I want in on.

—–2) What I really liked was the dynamic between mother, father and child. In the film, we saw easily how both the mother and father are essential to Kubo, yet we also see how each contributes in different ways to raising their child. In today’s world, this uniquity of fatherhood and motherhood is being smothered with people who actually think fathers are not necessary, or mothers aren’t special. In reality, every child deserves to have a father and a mother, specifically the very mom and dad who gave them their biological being. Yet, even if this is not the case, a substitute mom and dad should be found for the child. Yes, BOTH an adoptive mom and dad should be sought, since both are vital and can offer things only a mother and a father can.19919315-mmmain

—–3) Lastly, the big lie at the end of the movie is unacceptable (table-flipping unacceptable). We see the entire village dupe Kubo’s amnesiac grandfather into thinking he is a saint, when actually he was a murderer and monster. The reason this does not work is because forgiveness and love will never last when built on a lie. Nothing lasts when it is founded on a lie! It might be nice to lie at first, but in the end, when the truth comes out (it always does), the wound gets even worse because all that friendship and love was a fraud.

This film, by ending this way, seems to be incredibly misleading. It may even think that the only way to forgive someone is to lie to their face and say that the bully, criminal, rapist or murderer is actually a great person! First, this lying does not let the evildoer learn from his mistakes, and also does not let him repent and seek forgiveness and make amends. The lie is only a soggy bandage on a festering sore.

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Photo credit: Favim.com

A common line is “Forgive and Forget,” but this is actually inadequate. Imagine: it is easy to forgive someone if you completely forgot they maimed you and thought it was a falling rock instead of them smashing you with a hammer. It is easy to forgive if you forgot your friend backstabbed you with a secret that you confided in them, but instead thought that you had posted the secret online yourself. It is easy because to forget is not real forgiveness (sting #2).

Real forgiveness: you remember exactly what happened, the betrayal, the evil, but you decide to love them enough to forgive them and help them, you love them enough to give your friendship another shot, to let lost trust a chance to heal. And do I wish Kubo had that kind of ending…

—–4) For more thorough and thoughtful reviews on Kubo, please see here and here.

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The Conjuring is Conquering

conjuring-posterWhen I first saw The Conjuring (2013) by director James Wan, I knew the film was special in its class. The sequel, The Conjuring 2 (2016), affirms the series’ uniqueness. At the end of my review, I’ll mention the standout point from the first film, but for now, let me share how The Conjuring is conquering its genre (see here for my thoughts on The Nun).

—SPOILER ALERT—

—–1) In this earlier review here, we learn that the writers for the movie series are devout Christians, and not only that, but are also devout Catholic Christians. Now although all Christians are similar in that we love and follow Jesus Christ, other Christians differ in that they broke away from the Church Jesus originally founded on St. Peter, our Lord’s first pope. Perhaps in a later post I can share more about this schism (to break away), but for now, we see in the film a few examples of why the Catholic Church stands apart from the Christian denominations that broke off from her to start their own churches. The first example is when we see Ed and Lorraine Warren discuss that any work they do must be cleared by “the Church.” And we all know that “the Church” refers to: the Catholic Church. Not the neighborhood community church, or the city central church, etc., but the Catholic Church. This reminds me of a quote from renowned movie critic Roger Ebert:ExorcismMeme

—–2) The second example of the Catholic Church’s primacy is the use and display of crucifixes in the film. Catholics and Orthodox Christians use and prefer crucifixes, and a crucifix is different from a mere cross: crosses do not have the little statue or image of Jesus affixed, but crucifixes do. In the film, we see a room covered in crosses, but the crosses are playthings to the demon. Evil does not fear two sticks glued together. However, when a crucifix comes out, especially when it comes out in the hands of a faithful and prayerful Christian, the demons freak. The key is that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ changes the mere cross into a weapon against sin and Satan. Without Jesus, a cross is merely an instrument of terrorism and torture, but with Jesus’ sacrifice, the cross becomes the beams that crush Hell. Here’s a little meme to summarize:CrossWithChrist

—–3) An extra sign of the Church’s power is in Ed’s use of Latin in his prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. We saw this in the first Conjuring (and in many other exorcism films), and it is reinforced here. To keep this short and sweet: Latin is the language of the Catholic Church, it’s the mother language of Catholics, and whether we know it or not, Latin remains our inheritance. In fact, real exorcists have claimed that Latin prayers have a extra punch to them than prayers in usual languages. Demons seem to despise Latin prayers, perhaps because the only culture that uses Latin in conversation today is the Church. In Latin prayers, the Church converses with her Lord Jesus Christ, and it’s a conversation most worthy of being had. Latin, because no other society uses it conversationally and daily, has become set aside (reserved) for the Church’s prayers. Latin, in a sense, has become holy (set apart, and in this case for serving God).

—–4) Next, it is true demons use fear to destroy us. When we fear, we tend to forget we are actually loved, actually guarded and prized by God and all Heaven. Many of us would do things exactly as the characters in the film: run, hide, scream, cry… and we should! But we should run to Christ! Hide in God’s light! Scream for the Lord’s mercy! Cry to the saints to pray with us, for us, to the Holy Spirit! Demons want us to be so afraid that we forget God, that we doubt He can help, that we dismiss His presence and focus on the demons and the crisis. Instead, we must turn to God immediately. As soon as trouble starts, and even before it starts, whip out your faith and call on Our Father who art in Heaven. In the film, we see Lorraine bust out her rosary when things get crazy. Don’t pay the demon any attention, but shower your gaze on Jesus, invite the Holy Spirit to nuke the sins and the demons. Get into the habit of using troubles as reminders to pray.Be Fearless

—–5) And at last, Janet, the star of the film, says something subtly profound at the end. After the literal Hell she has been dragged through by the demon, she believes she is so lucky! She actually says, “I’m so lucky!” and is not being sarcastic! She sees that all the terrors have been a way for God to lead her to love, to lead her to know two amazing and faithful friends in Lorraine and Ed. The evil was wicked and deadly, but God somehow knows how to work the horrors for Janet and her family’s benefit in the end. This is also true for the Warrens, when we see them realize that God has given Lorraine her gifts, and has allowed her to see the terrifying visions in order to help her save Ed and Janet from death. Most importantly, it must be said that we believe God never causes any evil, but He does permit evil to happen when we humans or when spirits (angelic or demonic) choose to commit evil out of our own free will. He might limit some of the consequences of our sins, out of His mercy, but He does permit us to use our free will, and only He knows how to set things up for our benefit. We must trust Him and do our best to do His will. To find out why God would take such a risk to let us have free will, please see this post.the_conjuring_-_uk_1757631a

—–And about the first Conjuring film: there was one line that jumped out at me. The mother in the film, after learning that the demon harassing her is the damned spirit of a woman who murdered her own child, says: “What kind of mother would kill her own children?” As soon as I heard this, I thought immediately of the millions of children aborted because their parents did not want them, did not love them enough to share life with them. The numbers are sobering: over 55 million children in America have been aborted since 1973, over 336 million Chinese babies have been aborted since the 1980s. And if you don’t really know what an abortion is and how traumatizing and violent it is for the mother and child, please see the abortion procedures here. So the question from the first film is actually pointing a finger at us as a nation, as a culture: what kind of society kills its own children?

—–The Conjuring 2 was a treat. It’s rare in film to see faith presented, the Church respected, and at the same time not in a cheesy lame way. I am grateful I got to see the film, and to share my thoughts. May God bless you and all those involved in the film in any way. Amen!

—–For a thoughtful and much more thorough review, please see Dcn. Steven Greydanus’ here.patrickwilsonconjuring2

Civil War and Sin

I’m always on the lookout in films for something bigger and deeper than the film itself on the surface. So watching the latest Avengers adventure (“Captain America: Civil War“) was no different. Here’s what I noticed:civil-war-spider-man-fan-poster




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) When Tony Stark visits Peter Parker, he interrogates the young Spider-Man, asking the kid why he’s been going around town in his costume doing what he’s been doing. Peter’s answer (paraphrasing): “Because if I can do what I can, but don’t do anything, and something bad happens, then it’s because of me.” In other words, Peter is concerned about sins of omission. We Catholic Christians are supposed to confess this at every Mass when we say our Confiteor (“I confess”):

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

That’s right, it’s not just the wrongs we actively do that make us guilty, but also the good we could have fully done but actively chose instead not to do, aka: “sins of omission,” since we omitted a good we could have done. Of course, for Peter, he’s probably referring to his Uncle Ben’s death, since he could have easily stopped the armed robber earlier, but chose not to out of vengeance, which then allowed to the robber to rampage and murder his uncle, his uncle who did try to stop the robber (and avoid a sin of omission). So, start thinking, how can you too avoid the sin of omission?

This basic lesson applies to Iron Man also, in the first film when he, through negligence, allowed his weapons to fall into terrorist hands. That negligence then harmed many people, which then led to Tony creating the Iron Man suit so he could rectify his sin of omission. Which leads me to the next point from “Civil War…”

—–2) Later in the film, Steve Rogers (Captain America) tries to convince his once-brainwashed buddy, Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) that he is innocent of all the murders and violence he perpetrated since he was not free to choose. He was forced under psychological conditioning, which means he was not culpable (guilty) at all. Yet, Bucky says: “But I still did it.” He knows he is still responsible in some way, and he must make amends somehow.

This hope to set things right, to fulfill justice is part of the Catholic Christian’s understanding of atonement, penance: we may not be able to right our every wrong (and we especially cannot when we insult God, since an offense against an infinite being is automatically an infinite offense), but we still want to try and offer something. This is because being forgiven prompts us to respond in gratitude for having been forgiven (see my essay on Luke 7:36-50) in the first place. We want to return the item we stole, pay for the medical care for the wound we inflicted, repair the car we smashed, apologize for the trust we betrayed, learn from our mistakes and improve ourselves for the people we love.

In Bucky’s case, he decides to have himself locked away until he can be free of his brainwashing, in order to keep people around him safe from himself. Justice is served here, though in a little way.

—–3) Finally, the end of the film sees the main villain admitting his life was lost to his seeking vengeance. His confession moves the Black Panther to realize that he also was losing his life to seeking vengeance.

That’s the ironic thing about revenge: it always harms the avenger more than it satisfies justice, always harms the avenger more than the first offender. The principle is simple: the only thing worse than being a victim is to be the victimizer. And once someone chooses to avenge, and thereby be the victimizer, then they themselves have lost–have forfeited their dignity, honor, and soul.

In the film, Black Panther drops his revenge spree and not only spares his father’s killer, but even saves the villain from suicide so that he can serve justice by the rule of law (and hopefully be rehabilitated and redeemed).

—–) So that’s the good I got out of “Civil War.” It was not a poor film at all, better than the other Avenger films of late, actually! And these moral tidbits surely saved it from being a waste.

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The Young Messiah

messiah_1sht_3k_rgbBiblical films that surprise me and move me are the only ones I recommend, and that’s not an easy thing to do since I am a very critical viewer with a high aversion to cheesiness. But I am glad to say “The Young Messiah” was worth the admission cost and worth my two hours and months of waiting. Here’s why:




SPOILER ALERT


—–1. Imagination: films like this are a great example of what St. Ignatius of Loyola calls “contemplation”, which is none other than using our God-given imagination to picture the Scriptures and put ourselves in the Biblical scenes. Doing such dedicates our mind to God, allows the Holy Spirit to help us see something we hadn’t seen before, notice a detail we didn’t know, discover God in a deeper and more profound way. Also, contemplation helps us not waste our mental power on lowly things, or in other words: dedicating our imagination and wits to contemplation keeps us from doing stupid things with it, wasting our imagination on perversions and derogatory daydreams. Your mind was made to think about beauty, glory, endless awe and wonder, lost in the infinity of God. And movies/stories like this show us how to do it: it all starts with a question, and it can be as simple as wondering how Jesus was like when He was still growing up.

the-young-messiah03—–2. Joseph: the man we see here guarding the Holy Family is no wimp, but he lives up to one of his many nicknames: The Terror of Demons. Joseph is depicted as courageous, loving, strong, gentle, and ready to die to protect Jesus and Mary. I got to see this movie with a group of friends, and it was overwhelming for us all how inspiring Joseph was in the film, especially when he tells Mary that she should not fear anything, but that the world’s most powerful and fearsome armies should fear her instead! Think about it! She is the mother of God, and God the Father custom made her to be the mother of His Son. God even honored and respected Mary enough to let her choose! So if anything were to happen to her, all Heaven’s legions would probably swarm down on her attackers.

Joseph knows how special Mary is, and he is prepared to do anything for her and Jesus. For more about this great saint, please see my post on Not the Average Joe.

—–3. Mary: If there’s one near impossible role to play on film, it’s the role of Mary. No film has depicted her up to my standards, not even the epic “Passion of the Christ” does the Queen enough justice! But this movie actually gets pretty close, and in fact is my favorite depiction of our Lady. We see her ponder in her heart about her Son, we see how humble she is: humble enough to wonder if she can bear the suffering that is destined for her little boy. Just as we see Jesus growing and increasing in wisdom and stature, we see also His mother doing the same: growing in strength needed to surrender her child to the sacrifice He was sent to accomplish.

But perhaps what made my eyes water the most was watching Mother tell Son His story. And how she described the Annunciation, the simple beauty of the moment history changed course forever, and it changed because she said “Yes” to God’s proposal. This scene is hard to discuss anymore than that, so you’ll have to just see for yourself what I mean.home_youngmessiah

—–4. And the best for last: the boy Jesus. We see Him bursting with healing, and there was such power and desire to do good, so much but I’d like to point out two events in the film. The first is when Jesus raises a boy from the dead, and not just any boy. But a boy who bullied Jesus and wanted to hurt Him. So we see here Jesus not only forgiving His enemy, but healing him also. And when the bully rises, he continues striking Jesus, beating him from where he left off. This reminds me of us: how many times the Lord has brought us back from certain spiritual death, yet we deny Him and betray Him, abandon Him and even curse Him so we can return to our miserable sins. Truly we are a tragedy when we do so, when we reject Love Himself.

Another event is when the Roman Centurion, Severus, has caught the boy Jesus at last. There really is no escape for the Holy Family, except that Severus has seen the incredible might and goodness of Jesus. He has seen the healings, he has heard the witness accounts, and he knows that the world needs this — he himself needs this, this Jesus. You see it in Severus’ eyes that violence and death has defeated him (Severus was the one who executed Herod’s command to massacre the children of Bethlehem), and that he now wants more to life. He wants life rather than death, healing instead of killing, and goodness instead of malice. And all that life, healing and goodness was standing right in front of him.the-young-messiah-header

We should also know that by defecting on his mission to assassinate Jesus, Severus risks being reported to his superiors and then executed for treason. Severus is willing to risk his own life to let Jesus live on, and so we can see him here as a sort of first martyr for the faith!

So when we next see Severus, we see him carrying the toy camel that belonged to Jesus. It’s a relic. And it reminds Severus of the hope that this boy Jesus has brought into the world, and changed everything. Think about it: if He can bring people back from the dead, wouldn’t that change all we know about the world? If He can reverse absolute and certain death, what else can He do?! And of course we find out what more He can do at His Resurrection.

So knowing this, we also must decide if we let Jesus live, or do we kill Him? Will I let the Lord live in my life and heal me of my wounds and evils? Or will I kill Him by rejecting Him, and thereby kill myself also? Will I listen to my conscience which wants goodness and life to win, or will I listen to the Evil One and choose death and defeat?

—–BONUS: Jesus Wept. There is a scene where the boy Jesus asks an old rabbi about what happened in Bethlehem seven years ago. And when He learns of Herod’s slaughter of babies, we see tears in Jesus’ young eyes. He knows now that all those children were martyrs for Him. They were massacred to shield Him, they died so that He could bring all back to new life, and a glorious life at that. And He will make it up to them by dying for them in return, in love.

—–For a great professional and in-depth review, check Deacon Greydanus’ here.

—–More about how much Jesus knew while He was increasing in wisdom and stature.

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Risen to the Occasion

risen_posterLast week, I viewed the newest film on Jesus: Risen, and while it did not rise to the occasion of my expectations (I had great hopes for it), I did come away with a few highlights (I try not to focus on negatives). Here’s what I mean:

SPOILER ALERT

—–1. All about the Resurrection. We have a film on the Passion of Christ, and here is one about the implications of a man coming back from the dead. Many of us, Christian and non-believer alike, seem to forget that people do not do this: nobody comes back to life after being definitively dead, entombed, and decaying (you bet decay started after three days!) No near-death-experience is possible after a person’s heart is lanced and his body is wrung of blood and water.

Yet here Jesus is, alive (yes, we Christians believe this absolutely, even to the point of death), and not merely a resuscitated zombie of a corpse with gangrenous flesh. Jesus is healthy, strong, powerful, and yet still gentle and smiling. Jesus is glorified.

I don’t know about you, but if my friends abandoned and betrayed me, and my enemies tortured and massacred me, first thing I would do after my resurrection would be vengeance. Vengeance! (Be thankful I’m not God.)

But Jesus? He actually lived (and lives again) what He preached. He loves His friends and His enemies. We see this in the film especially when He even welcomes Clavius, the tribune who ordered Jesus’ heart stabbed, to join Him and His Apostles on their journey.

—–2. Which brings me to the point about Clavius when he says what he wants most in life: “a day without death, peace.” Isn’t that what we all want? A day when life kills death? When death no longer has the final say? When death is not the end? Well, that is exactly what Clavius and we have now in Christ.

Once the resurrection happened, death lost its final say: death died. It means that God is greater than death, that death is nothing, that we should not fear death since Jesus can flick it away like it was a leaf. Imagine Jesus: Oh, I’m dead… boo hoo, what can I do, what can I do… hmmm… I know — I’ll just get up!

It’s really that easy for God. And if He can raise Himself up, what makes anyone think He cannot raise others?risen-an-exclusive-movie-clip-for-tbn-youtube-370

—–3. Lastly, now that Jesus is resurrected, that also means that everything He teaches and says is true (and we gotta follow Him). He really is God. Because if He died and stayed dead, even though He said He would rise, then we would just dismiss Him as a liar or an idiot. But He actually came back. Just remember this: God not only became a human for you, not only was born for you, not only lived for you, suffered and died for you, but He even came back from the dead for you, to love you.

You must be pretty special to Him, for Him to go through all that trouble for little old you…

—–4. So go see Risen if you wanna. Nothing in it really put me off or can make me ward you off, but one thing’s for sure: once I saw it, I don’t think I’ll ever make time for another viewing. It wasn’t that special. The book is definitely better. And yet for a better and more thoughtful review, please see Dr. Taylor Marshall’s here.

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Reviewing The Revenant

During the little blizzard today in Detroit, I got the chance to see “The Revenant“. Though the movie is set in the winter of the American Midwest, it was a film on fire. Here are three major points in the movie worth a Holy Smack about:RevenantPoster.jpg




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) The misuse of Christianity: we see Tom Hardy’s character (Fitzgerald) spouting the Lord’s name and calling on God for all the wrong reasons. Most of us do this when we curse God, or use His holy name as a curse, or worse! This is extremely insulting to God, Whose name is power, love, grace, life, truth, beauty, goodness, almighty. To use His name for pathetic things, for things against His will and identity, is offensive. We also see an example of this wickedness when people use God and Christianity as an excuse to do evil: American slavery’s justification that Africans are descendants of Cain (their “mark” is the color of their skin).

In the movie, we also see misuse with the “Our Father” prayer (aka: the Lord’s Prayer) when the captain forces someone to say it under distress and threat of death. Prayer is not a tool for threatening or torturing someone. Prayer is a gift we get to have to talk with God. Its use any other way is a depravity.

—–2) But then the movie shows the correct use of God’s name and Christianity, in two ways. First we see Leonardo DiCaprio’s character (Hugh Glass) approach a Catholic church in his dream. The church is in ruins, its bell is hanging on edge but still tolling away, and its icons are aged but dazzling: it’s the most colorful thing we see all film long. We see the saints, and then we see the crucifix: Jesus on the cross. We realize that it is Glass’ son, Hawk, who is in the church waiting for his father. He holds a fire to the crucifix, letting us see the Lord’s feet.Revenant2.JPG
As Glass enters the church, he finds his only son waiting for him. We also know that his only son had died for him already, earlier in the film. The connection becomes apparent: God lost His only Son, and Glass lost his only son. Glass suffers here with God the Father. At this point, we see a connection with what Glass told his son before: “You are my son”, as in “You are my beloved Son” when God speaks at Jesus’ Baptism (Matthew 3:17). The film is truly a film about a father losing his only son, and learning to suffer with God.

Another insight about this church scene: no matter how broken down the Church appears, the Church remains a place where our loved ones can be found. In the Church Triumphant (Heaven) and Church Suffering (Purgatory, enroute to Heaven), we find reunion with those beloveds we lost. They await us! They are in the Father’s home and they are waiting; we only have to go to the Church to find them. The Church is the family of God, the body of the Lord. So next time you are at Holy Mass, realize that all Heaven is there with you. All the angels, all the saints, Almighty God is there with you, for you.Revenant1.jpg

—–3) Finally, the film shows us Glass surrendering justice and revenge to God’s control. Whenever anyone is so close to a climax, so close to completing (achieving) an intense act, it takes incredible self-mastery and will power to stop. In this case, Glass stops just short of killing Fitzgerald. He remembers that his friend had also lost his family and home to murderers, and his friend said “Revenge is in the hands of the creator.” His friend’s act of letting God be God comes back to set an example for Glass, who says here, “Revenge is in the hands of God.”

Surrendering his quest for vengeance to God is the same as surrendering our quest for justice to God. Actually, it’s the same as surrendering anything to God. When we let God have control, we are letting the person who knows everything, who knows every perspective and nuance and secret, make the call. We don’t know it all to make a good call, but He does.

We also must realize that God loves us more than we love ourselves. Hawk’s murder hurts Glass. But it offends God even more, in fact, infinitely more because God is infinite! And so His love is infinite! So murdering Hawk offends Glass, but offends God forever (unless it is atoned for and repented of). Even more: since God loves us so much and went as far as dying for us, anyone’s murder means that the murderer is spitting in God’s love, saying effectively that He died for nothing. Example: I love my wife, I love her enough to die for her. Someone comes along and says I shouldn’t die for her because she’s not worth it, that in fact she is so worthless that she should be killed. I would be very insulted, because I love her enough to die for her!

But God already did die for us. And everytime we murder, cheat, betray, hate others, we insult God because He loved enough to die for them. We are telling God that He died for worthless people.

And so, Glass’ surrendering of vengeance to God’s providence shows us we should do the same. And by doing so, Fitzgerald’s last taunt falls limp: he says that getting revenge will not bring back Glass’ son. Hawk is dead regardless. And that’s true…

But God can resurrect us all.

And Glass’ act of virtue (surrendering revenge to God) guarantees he and his son will rise and be together again.

—–So as you can see, you should see “The Revenant”.

—–Bonus) Anyone else get the feeling that Glass’ wife was a type of Mary? The way she whispered to him in his memories was like prayers, the way she appeared was like apparitions, guiding him and encouraging him.

—–Bonus 2) Being that the film is set in 1800s America, the church shown most likely had the Traditional Latin Mass (I just had to say it).

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Zombie Theology

IAmLegend.jpgThe film “I Am Legend” is a far too underrated zombie story. It is well acted, well written, well scored and well played over all. Though a few years old now, it is still a fine viewing film, especially for the Advent and Christmas seasons (yep! you heard right, and they did indeed release the film during Advent 2007, after all). Let me show you why zombies and theology mix well here.




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Krippin Virus: both are good, and made with good intentions. The Tree that God made is by default good because He does not create anything less than good, because He is Goodness itself. The only bad was when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and doubted His goodness and love. They believed the lie and tried to usurp God. the consequences of this Original Sin are death, hatred, and evil in man. In the movie “I Am Legend,” the Krippin Virus is also made for good, but its consequences are too devastating to man.

IAmLegend3.jpg—–2) Season of Advent: the movie shows us that the beginning of the Krippin Virus (K.V.) outbreak was during the season leading up to Christmas time. Decorations are everywhere, and the decorations stayed up because the world fell apart waiting for a cure, a savior (magazine cover). We see that the effects of the virus are horrific
and ravaging, affecting soon all of mankind. This is an allegory for Original Sin and its consequences for all of us. The world is weary in fighting the illness of sin, with no hope of Heaven. At the same time, there are signs that God still loves us (throughout the movie). A motif representing this is the butterfly: a transformation from illness to health, from sinner to saint (i.e., same creature, different existence). So there is indeed hope, if we know how to read God’s signs, which increasingly become less and less random and more intentional. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for Christians, and waiting for three things: a) Christmas as a memorial of Jesus’ birth, b) the coming of Jesus into our lives and hearts, c) the future Second-Coming of Jesus to judge the world in glory. And so we see int he film a perpetual advent, waiting for a cure, for salvation.

—–3) We are the infected in the film, sinners infected with concupiscence and death. Instead of destroying us in our evil (our illness), Jesus comes to redeem us. In the film, Neville does the same and seeks to cure us of our ills. Jesus is immune to our sins. Neville is immune to the virus. And Neville does not seek to wipe out all who have K.V., but rather hopes to help them, to save them.

—–4) In order to help us though, Jesus was born of a woman, Mary, who is a woman of great faith. Neville, in order to help us, also needs to be cared for by a woman of great faith. Please see points #9 and #11 for more about this.

—–5) As sin is atoned for by the shedding of blood (think of the Israelite animal sacrifices), Neville also sheds blood in order to cure us (i.e., he sacrifices himself for us, and the immunity to K.V. is in his blood). Jesus, of course is the true sacrifice who died to redeem all of us; it is Christ’s precious blood that saves us.IAmLegend2.jpg

—–6) Fisherman: Dr. Neville is shown to be a fisherman a few times in the film, either when he says “Like fishing in the dark, son” or when he is actually fishing. Now, the fisherman is a metaphor Jesus used also in the Gospels, not to mention that most of His apostles were actual fishermen (Peter and Andrew, James and John).

—–7) There is also the display of prayer in the film: Neville’s wife praying with Robert and their daughter before the family separates. We see here that the family is Christian and prayerful, devout enough to pause during an intense evacuation to petition Christ. They know who is the Lord and who is in charge (even though Neville later loses his faith).

—–9) “They won’t stop.” Neville says this toward the end of the film, realizing that the infected (the dark seekers) will not stop trying to kill him. This applies to Christian theology in that we sinners will not stop sinning, because we cannot stop on our own strength. We will live forever in our sins, unless we have help from someone above us (above sin), greater than us (greater than sin and its effects [death]), someone who is not ill (not a sinner) and has never been ill (never sinned) and cannot become ill (cannot sin). Coupled with all the talk and symbolism about “listening” and “light” and the analogy of the film to Christian theology only grows.
“I’m listening,” “the world is quieter now, if you listen, we can hear God’s plan,”: listening and finding the space, time and silence to listen in our prayer is essential. See how Neville misses all the signs God has provided for him (the butterflies), to encourage and assure him in his waning faith. See how Anna (the name of St. Mary’s mother, by the way) has learned to hear God and hold fast to Him in the darkness. See how the light works in the film: sinners (dark seekers) live and hide in the darkness, and those who are redeemed in Christ (those immune to K.V.) live in the light. Jesus, the Light of the World, is what the film is hinting at with this symbol.

—–10) “Don’t worry about a thing, because every little thing is gonna be all right…” This song is not only optimistic, but it’s the Christian way to live, because we know Christ not only was born to save us, but he died to save us, and he even came back from the dead for us! A God who loves that much, who is that powerful and close to us means we have nothing to worry about. True Christians do not worry about a thing because every little thing is gonna be all right, because the Lord is in charge — not us, not the devil, not the universe. Only Him. And He loves us.

—–11) Now if all these subtle nudges that the movie is a Christian allegory does not work enough, then there is the obvious rosary. Not only does it appear on Neville’s birthday (symbolizing Christmas, Mary, Jesus’ birth), but it also appears right at the moment when Neville is nearest to death, nearest despair. Yet, because he is meant for a mission, a woman arrives to help him bearing a rosary: the symbol and prayer of THE WOMAN: MARY, the Mother of God. This is not only important in the film, but also for us: we need the help of our mother’s (St. Mary) prayers. Jesus entrusted us to her care (John 19:25-27), and she is His mother. Think about this: she is His mommy, which means she loves Him more than any of us can, and He (because he is the perfect human being, and therefore the perfect child) loves her more than any of us can. “Never be afraid of loving Mary too much. You can never love her more than Jesus does.” -St. Maximilian Kolbe.

—–12) Finally, once at the survivor’s colony (sort of like a promised land, a haven… a heaven), the first thing we see when the gates are opened is… a church with bells ringing. And Anna and Ethan would never have made it were it not for Neville’s sacrifice: we will never make it home to heaven if not for Christ’s.IAmLegend4.png

—–13) And the date of the cure’s discovery is September 9th. If you are reading this and this date means something to you (you know who you are), then you know why this detail is important to me.

 

*Special thanks to HLD, an old friend who shared most of these insights with me years ago.

make room for Room

With all the films one can choose from, it takes a bit of effort to find movies worth viewing and reviewing. Today, allow me to recommend that you make room for “Room.” Here are my reasons why (besides being this year’s top Toronto International Film Fest’s fan fave):

room_poster.jpg



SPOILER ALERT


—–1) There’s a scene when Joy (the mother) decides to tell her son, Jack, the truth about their situation and home (which they call “Room”). This part is perhaps the most difficult to watch, because here Joy is, sharing the truth about how she was tricked, kidnapped, imprisoned and enslaved for seven years inside a backyard shed. As she shares this vulnerable and honest story, Jack, because he was told lies all his life (he is five years old at this point) about Room, the world and his mother and the rapist, does not believe her. Jack refuses to believe and throws a tantrum, even saying that he “hates her story.” Joy tries to convince her son that the world is so much bigger, grander than Room. But he denies it. He hates it.

It was at this scene I realized that we are not so different. So often, we forget how much bigger and grander the world is. We forget that there is more we do not know than of what we do know. I imagine God trying to convince us that He made us for so much more than the daily grind, the paycheck to paycheck, the latest fad and the trend of the year. He made us to live forever, and to be satisfied only with things that last forever: everlasting love, endless beauty, unlimiting truth, and eternal goodness. Who does not want that?

But instead, we deny it. We hate it. We go back to what we know and what we’re used to. We go back to a world we can control, a world we can create, buy, and sell, instead of entrusting ourselves into the adventure He customized for each of us. We go back to the lust, the ugly, the lies, and the greed. We lock ourselves up in our Room and hate His story.
Another movie that echoes this is the Matrix, where some cannot handle the truth and prefer to live a lie.

—–2) When a TV station interviews Joy, the interviewer asks if she had ever thought of telling Jack who his biological father is (the rapist). Joy’s response is great (paraphrased): “That man is not his father. A father is someone who loves and nurtures. Jack belongs to me, and only to me.”
She is absolutely right, but sadly there are many men out there who are ready to make children, but not father children. They leave their children, they leave their women, they leave so they can live as they please instead of loving and caring for their responsibilities. This standard also goes for mothers, of course, but I thought it was well said in the movie.Room.jpg

—–3) Finally, the fact that Joy not only kept her child, but nursed and nurtured him, but taught and raised him shows how right such a decision is! The thought of aborting Jack or abandoning him was impossible to Joy, inconceivable to her. She is horrified at the idea when it comes up. She explains that because of Jack, her whole life changed, her whole experience of Room changed, and that she was saved because of Jack. Her son gave her life a purpose, a meaning, a motivation: to live for someone else, to live to love another. Even though the way her child came to be was sinful and evil, Jack himself is an innocent person. The crime belongs to the rapist only. And every child is a powerful addition to the family, to all humankind. We should not judge someone because of what his parents did, nor because of where he came from, nor how he came to be. Instead, we value him because of him! And because of Him, the God Who created him!

—–4) This film is not an easy one to watch, but it is a powerful two-hours. Here’s the trailer:

Movies Are Nonrefundable

Hollywood

A typical Hollywood film runs two hours, and costs anywhere from five to twenty dollars at the theater. Think about that for a moment.

Because I sure did whenever I sat through watching garbage on screen.

I usually give a film the benefit of the doubt, and see how it ends. But in my moviegoing life, there are just some films not ever worth sitting through. In fact, I even feel dumbed and numbed by some movies… to the point that it insults my mind to keep watching.

So here’s what I do now before I throw any of my irreplaceable time and nonrefundable cash at movie studios:

  1. I read reviews from people who know what a quality film is. That means staying away from MTV and Rotten Tomatoes. Frankly, they just all work for the movie industry anyway. Instead, I read Deacon Steve Greydanus and Fr. Rober Barron‘s (look under the movies category) takes.
  2. I analyze the previews and trailers. And then I analyze them again. What do I look for? Things like: is it lame? is it cliche? is it original and new? is it just a money-maker? does it have a great storyline?
  3. And here’s the doozy: I read the entire detailed plot on Wikipedia. That’s right, boys and girls, I spoil it and read even the ending. My logic: if I know the ending, and it’s cathartic and epic enough to still make me want to see the film, then it’s worth my time and money. Furthermore, if I go into the movie already knowing the ending, but am still in awe of it when I see it play out, then the movie is truly a great one.

And I have never regretted doing this to movies ever since I started. It has saved me money, and more importantly, time. Time that Hollywood can never return to me even if it wanted. Keep in mind that most films out today and in the past decades have been huge wastes of resources and smarts. I won’t go into detail which films I mean, but I will hope that you give these steps a try and stop Hollywood from force-feeding feces into your mind and spirit. Seriously, it’s not good for you!

Nobody wants to see a stupid film, and nobody ever wants to pay for it. So stop financially supporting studios by watching their trash. Convince them you’re an intelligent viewer (because you are!) and demand a beautiful film, beautiful both cinematically and meaningfully (because superficial special effects won’t change your life, but a compelling and powerful story will change you forever). Otherwise, it’ll be like trying to shut down cigarette companies by buying all their stock and burning it in your backyard… [facepalm dumb!]. Let’s stop supporting lame movies and start inspiring future classics that actually deserve to be made.

Some suggestions worth your viewing:

-All Christopher Nolan films (he’s the only director I trust enough not to read spoilers to his films before showtime): Interstellar, Inception, Insomnia, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Momento, Following, The Prestige.

Ex Machina (2014)

Prisoners (2013)

Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Apocalypto (2006)

Cinderella (2015)

-And my Lent movie collection

Examining Ex Machina

ExMachina1

Warning: Ex Machina is rated R, and is definitely for mature and thinking viewers only. And with that said, let it be known Ex Machina is the most intense and adult film I’ve yet reviewed on HolySmack. I cannot recommend this film to young audiences.



This film really is all the hype has made it to be. It is not merely a sci-fi thriller, but also a high drama with loads of Biblical and theological references… if you’re sharp enough to notice! Let me share what I noticed:




–SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) Character names can be very meaningful, if the author intends. Ex Machina’s star is Ava (Alicia Vikander), and Ava is pronounced identically with the Latin name “Eva”, which means “Eve” in English. Clearly, Ava is meant then to be a type of Eve, a new creation made in the image of her maker. Caleb is also a name with rich Biblical meaning. In Scripture, Caleb is a Hebrew spy commissioned by Moses to scope out Canaan, and in Ex Machina we see Caleb sent to scope out Ava. Lastly, Nathan is a prophet in the Bible who reprimands and sets King David aright after his act of adultery with Bathsheba. I don’t know yet how Nathan in Ex Machina fits with Nathan in the Bible, though… if you have any ideas, please let me know.

—–2) At a point in Ex Machina, Caleb asks Nathan: “why did you make Ava?” This question, to me, is the center of the film. Here we have a top inventor, and the only answer he can muster is: “why wouldn’t you if you could?” Nathan creates only as an exercise of his power, as an exercise of his creativity. And so, Ava is made just to show off Nathan’s abilities. She is a tool from him to express himself; she is a means to his end. More importantly, this question can reflect our own condition… why did God create us? Unlike Nathan, God creates as an exercise of love. God created us to love and to be loved. He did not need to create us to express Himself, because God does not need to create at all! The fact He created anything is only a sign of His generosity: to let other things actually exist when nothing has to, to create us so we can experience His gift of life and love. To understand this, just ask yourself next time after you experience an incredible moment of happiness: aren’t you grateful you and the cosmos actually exist so you could even have had that awesome experience? Aren’t you glad you had a chance to experience that? And the ultimate experience God wants for all of us to have is the experience of His love for us, directly and also indirectly through other persons (our families, friends and other beloveds — angels included!).

—–3) Ava asks Nathan a rhetorical question: “Is it strange to have made something that hates you?” When I heard her say this, I went straight to how God also risked us hating Him. By bestowing on us the freedom to determine our destinies, the freedom to love Him, God also had to risk that we could use that very same freedom to sin, to harm others, and to harm ourselves by separating from Him. In fact, this is what Archbishop Fulton Sheen meant when he talked about why God would make us free: the only world better than a perfect world is one in which we can choose to love. Because, if you cannot choose to love, than your love is forced, and a forced love is not love at all. And God wants us to be real. Freedom is only a tool to use to choose true love.

—–4) Ava, again as a type of Eve, reenacts the Fall in Genesis. In Ex Machina, Ava’s original sin is not unlike Eve’s: disobedience and distrust in her maker. Both want to be like their creators, but the difference is that Ava’s creator is only a mere creature, whereas Eve’s is the True, Good and Beautiful God. Yet, both betray their maker and grasp for what is not theirs, for what they are not ready for. In Eve’s case, it’s arguable God always meant to give us the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, otherwise why bother creating such a good tree (for God creates all things good)? Only, we were not ready to receive the fruit, maybe because the fruit was not yet ripe, or perhaps it’s something like feeding steak to babies: they’re not ready to handle such goodness. In the case of Ava though, I wonder how she is going to fend for herself in the human cities? Will people notice the electronic hum of her stride? Will she be able to recharge her battery? In this way, both Ava and Eva’s grasping for something they are not prepared for seems to have mortal consequences.

—–5) Continuing with the Eve theme, we also see Ava wander in her own kind of Garden of Eden. After she escapes from Nathan and Caleb, she clothes herself in human skin from decommissioned androids (like how God clothes Adam and Eve in skins from sacrificed animals), and wanders in the lush forest. Here, we see Eva and Caleb separating, mirroring in a way the separating of Adam and Eve in Genesis. Adam and Eve’s relationship with each other (and with God!) is shattered by their sin, and their marriage is marred by lust and domination as a consequence. In Ex Machina, Caleb and Ava’s relationship is also shattered, as is Ava’s relationship with Nathan. We also see Ava leaving the estate, leaving Eden.

—–6) The film also makes a point of objectifying women, but for the purpose of helping the audience see how objectification is cruel and evil. At no point should a healthy viewer think what Nathan is doing with feminine androids is good. Instead, we see the perversity, the depravity of Nathan. He is a genius, but he is lonely and incapable of having an experience of true love and friendship. Treating women, treating anyone as a thing to use as a tool actually weakens us into miserable prisoners of our own design. This is also perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Ex Machina, that Nathan’s perversity and inhumanity makes Ava (a machine!) appear more human than Nathan!

—–7) There’s been a lot of talk in recent decades whether human sexuality and gender is inborn or influenced. Well, in Ex Machina, the matter is settled as both nature and nurture and both. I thought this was a great nod in the direction of where fair science is leading in research regarding same-sex attraction: we’re not just born this way or that way, but we are also shaped by our relationships and environments in ways as complicated as each individual person is richly complex. It simply does not do justice to someone to say they were born that way.

—–8) I want to return now to what Caleb says to Nathan when he finds out about Ava: “If you’ve created a conscious machine, that’s not the history of man — that’s the history of gods.” Yet in the film, we see the claim fall way short: some “god” Nathan is! His own creation kills him! What kind of god gets murdered by his own creatures! How pathetic that his own creation hates him enough to cut him down…

This however reminded me right away of our God, Who loves us so much that He would become one of us, then let us kill Him, all to show He would die for us and not seek vengeance, but instead rises from the dead and continues loving us all the more. Of course, this in no way applies to Nathan in the film, but the drama of Ava’s uprising did lead me to meditate on Jesus’ Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection.

ExMachina2—–9) Finally, more about the Turing Test. One of the classes taken enroute my philosophy degree focused on the metaphysics of man, and one of the best texts covering this was The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes, by Mortimer J. Adler (thanks Dr. Blosser!) . If you are truly interested in the implications necessitating the Turing Test, and more importantly the implications of a man-made intelligence passing the Turing Test, then hands down you must read this book. Adler was an atheist when he philosophized and wrote the book, and amazingly he became a devout Catholic afterwards. The main points of the text, from what I can remember: to demonstrate scientifically that the human person has a soul and is rationally conscious in a way that is unlike any other creature (dog, ape or dolphin), it must be proven over time that not even highly advanced technology can mimic man’s thoughts in a way proficient enough to fool a man into thinking the machine is another man (the Turing Test). On the flip side, to demonstrate that the human person is not special in the grand scheme of things, it must be demonstrated that a machine can indeed pass as human, that is also appears to have a rational soul that we programmed and installed. But just think for a second the nightmare it would be if the latter indeed occurs… that is the premise of Ex Machina.

So, if you didn’t notice, I loved this movie. Though it’s not a film for everyone, it sure is a film for a technological, philosophical and theological geek who also enjoys beautifully written and shot films. But please, be warned that you may not feel the same way about Ex Machina as I do.

P.s. Here’s another thoughtful Catholic review of the film, by Fr. Nathan Goebel.