Wonder Woman’s Weakness

wwposterrdcd_579260f4b9aba4-81209460By now, there have been so many thoughtful and decent reviews of Wonder Woman that I don’t have to repeat them but just cite them for you. Whatever I have to say, they already have said it better. Here are the points that shine in this film:

SPOILER ALERT

——1. The film models a healthier and truer feminism, one that Susan B. Anthony and her fellow suffragettes would be somewhat approving of, considering how wayward feminism has become (seeing all men as the enemy, but also seeing men as the standard, is not helpful, much less realistic). Here, let me quote from this Verily Magazine article:

Yet the film’s most compelling moments are when Diana and Steve’s characters are complementing each other. When struck with the painful sight of war, she is unafraid to show her emotions. And when confronted with a baby for the first time in London, she becomes excited. It is in such moments that Diana’s strength has an authentically feminine quality, emphasized more clearly by her contrast with Steve. When she is passionate, Steve is practical. When she is emotional, Steve is rational. But all these qualities are necessary to the success of their mission.

——2. The mythology of Zeus and Ares awfully reminded me of the Fall of Lucifer, to the point I think that this is not original to genuine Greek mythology, but is a Hollywood revision (using Christianity) to help make Diana’s origin story more compelling, and why not? After all, the Christian belief of the creation and fall of the angels from Heaven is super powerful and meaningful, and true. (And BTW: real “gods” don’t die.) Supporting this hunch is the movie reviewing Dcn. Greydanus:

Diana believes that mankind is basically good, reflecting the good deity in whose image we were created, though we have been led down the wrong path by a malign spiritual influence. The catch is that the good deity in question is Zeus, whom we are told brought Diana to life from clay. Also, the malign spiritual influence is Zeus’ son Ares, the Greek god of war, albeit a version of Ares more like Lucifer than anything in Greek mythology. houston-sharp-12-asc-ww-zva-final-newares

——3. And now for the negative, the weakness of Wonder Woman that I am so sad happened. In fact, while I was watching the scene, I had hoped so much that Steve would be the dignified gentleman I had reckoned him to be, but instead of escorting Diana to her bedroom, and then leaving her to her privacy, he spends the night with her in a way only her husband should be privileged to spend. To me, this was very sad considering how much virtue Diana had been inspiring in the men around her. The film would have been so much the better for this scene to have been otherwise, instead of following the lame and usual Hollywood formula of fornication/adultery. Imagine with me:

Steve walks Diana to her quarters for the night, and they share a gaze as he backs toward the door. She doesn’t want him to leave, nor does he want to leave either, but he knows that leaving would be the best way to respect and honor her. She knows this too, and knows that despite how attracted they are to each other, for him to have the will power, the self-control, and the love to treat her better, would be an incredible sign of how much he values her. This would have made their love grow even more.

Love grows when it is protected by chastity. For Steve to have honored Diana’s chastity (and his, too) would have showed true love for her in a way that fornicating with her could never. This was such a weakness that could have been so much stronger for the film. This was a missed opportunity for the film to become something even more special. And we need special in this broken-and-fake-love culture of ours.

wonder-woman-pic-1496431079Even worse: we see only later that Steve finally says that he loves Diana when he is about to sabotage the poison plane. So let’s get this straight: they share a night in bed, and only much later does Steve express his love to Diana? First they have sex, and then comes love? How backward is that? Shouldn’t love come first? This reminded me of how backward things are in another typical and lame Hollywood fornication story: the Age of Adaline:

Unfortunately however, the emphasis on marriage’s demands for fidelity is conflicted with Adaline and Ellis sleeping together. What is really jarring though is when Ellis tells Adaline that he is falling in love with her… but only after they had been sleeping together for a few weeks. Now doesn’t this seem strange? That they had been sharing their nights together before there was love in the relationship? Did Ellis not love Adaline all that time prior? It sure seems that way in the film’s dialogue. So then what… love comes after sex? Doesn’t that seem backward? Shouldn’t love come first? Before anything? Before everything? Sex is meaningless without love, and for Ellis to bring up love this late in the timeline is lame to me. First, you meet her, get to know her, then love her, commit to her, vow to her before witnesses that you’ll be hers, be married to her, and only then give your body and soul to her, all the while choosing to love again and again. That’s the order. Going backward, or hopping around is just weird when the rest of the film encourages faithfulness and seriousness in marriage. This was one messed up moment in an otherwise decent film.

There was more mutual love and respect when they rested chastely on the boat, sailing to England, but alas… Patty Jenkins, Chris Pine, and Gal Gadot missed this chance to shine up Wonder Woman even more. To see more about this epic failure, please see this Verily article, from a young woman’s perspective and hard learned lesson.

——4. That all being said, I did enjoy this film and wouldn’t recommend you pass it up if you have the time to see it. Since the Dark Knight trilogy from Christopher Nolan, DC Comics has been in the dumps with their films, but Wonder Woman shows that a come-back is possible!

——Bonus: Did you know Gal Gadot is a happy and proud mother who filmed the movie while she was 5 months with child? Read more here!

——Bonus two: Check out this list of pro-life insights from the movie.

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I Saw The Light Between Oceans

140672CM01B_Trp_Email_LR.pdfAn actress who has become a fast fave of mine is Alicia Vikander. When I saw she was in “The Light Between Oceans,” I knew I should see it. Coupled with Michael Fassbender, and it became something I had been looking forward to for a few months now. And so thankful am I to have not been disappointed. Here are the shining moments of the film:




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) As a man, it is difficult for me to relate to the experience of miscarriage. Yet, my heart was pierced and my gut was gutted when I saw the trauma in Isabelle’s (Vikander) two losses. The helplessness of both mother and father as the child comes stillborn, the vulnerability of life, the hopes suddenly spilling, all of it was so cruel and devastating. It helped me think of times my own friends endured such loss, and while I only heard the news after the fact, seeing it portrayed as it happens is terrifying.

Yet, the scene here also shows the irony of intentionally and deliberately terminating unborn children in the womb, aka: abortion. We have couples who are desperate to save their unborn children from miscarriage but are helpless and at the mercy of their infertility, yet then we also have merciless couples desperate to destroy their unborn children. And the only difference between the two kinds of couples is that one truly loves their children, and the other is inconvenienced by them.

the-light-between-oceans-michael-fassbender-alicia-vikander-rachel-weisz-002159-r_1920_1080-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx—–2) On the note of parenthood, Isabelle shares that (paraphrasing): “When a wife loses her husband, she becomes a widow, but when a mother loses her child, she remains a mother always, even if she has no children left. I wonder if I am still a sister, since I have lost my brothers.”

This is such a profound insight that reflects the “till death do you part” vow in true Christian marriage, when spouses vow their fidelity with such determination and faithfulness that only their death might end it. Hence, a surviving wife becomes a widow, or a surviving husband becomes a widower. However, this film demonstrates the permanence of motherhood and fatherhood on many levels.

One level is that Isabelle and Tom (Fassbender) are parents, even with their loss of two stillborn children. Parents are always parents, even if all their children have gone to judgment before them (by whatever means). Parents who loved their lost children must realize however, that the children are not lost, but are waiting for them in the hereafter. Parents should then live so as to strive to be with their children again, to pray for them and ask them for prayers.

Another level is Hannah (Weisz) remains a mother too, despite her thinking her daughter is dead. And we also see that she remains a loving and devoted wife to her lost husband, revealing that though she is a widow, she remains his.

And powerfully foiling Hannah, we see that Isabelle struggles to remain Tom’s. She disowns him for surrendering to justice, and she does not allow herself to love him again until it is almost too late. Eventually, she finds forgiveness and also surrenders to the truth. I was so grateful to see this story go this way, the way of fighting to keep a marriage, to keep a love beating at the moment it has bled out.Alicia-Vikander-in-The-Light-Between-Oceans

—–3) And we see in this story (unlike in Kubo and the Two Strings) that the truth must always and will always have its day. Nothing good, not even a seemingly happy family, can be built on a lie and deception. Tom’s character, so morally formed and conscientious, cannot live with the lie, with keeping a child hidden from her true and loving mother. Tom knows the deception and must right it. Even in the end, Isabelle realizes her love, however honest it is, is flawed when founded on a lie.

In fact, the lie ages and wears down Tom and Isabelle and leaves them childless in the end. Even Isabelle yearns and hopes Hannah could forgive her for the evil she did. This film is dripping with the characters wrestling with the truth and finding out that the truth is alive and far more subtle and cunning than their greatest deceits. Lies die, and then Truth rises up alive.

Most beautifully done, however, is that we see after the truth is respected, the relationships bloom on a sure future. When truth becomes the foundation of love and relations, then it becomes easy and beautiful. The catharsis we see when Lucy-Grace (as a grown woman and mother herself) visits an aged Tom is something that could only have happened with the support of the truth.the-light-between-oceans-michael-fassbender-alicia-vikander-rachel-weisz-349486-r_1920_1080-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx

—–4) Finally, great acts of forgiveness abound in the story; acts so great that even the police question why anyone (in this case, Hannah) would forgive the couple who is suspected of murdering her husband and kidnapping her daughter. But we see that this is how a happy and fulfilled life should be lived. Hannah remembers wise words from her husband (paraphrasing): “It’s too hard to resent, you have to think about it and remember it all the time. It’s tiring. It’s better to forgive so you can live.”

We also see, as mentioned earlier, how Isabelle forgives Tom, and thereby allows them to live a better marriage into old age. However, we must also note that Tom has forgiven Isabelle: for originally insisting they keep the baby and hide the body of Hannah’s husband, for refusing to admit the truth, and for finally revealing the truth even when it meant her conviction and imprisonment. We see here how Tom’s love led him to forgive her all these times, every time.

And that’s exactly it: only love makes it possible to forgive, and if not your own limited love, then for God’s infinite love.

—–BONUS) Two mothers fighting to keep/regain a child… sure reminds me of the case King Solomon once heard (1 Kings 3:16-28). Yet, in “The Light Between Oceans,” we see both women willing to part with the girl when they realized she was better off with the other. How beautiful a twist to put on the renowned Biblical story.

—–Note: I also appreciated the sound baptism and Christian marriage being celebrated, and the chastity portrayed in the couple’s relationship. But religiously, what caught me most was the solemn chanting of prayer in the score when Tom first encountered his daughter’s true mother, and the truth staring him down and demanding him make things right. In the background, a minister’s words about sin, and our mission to oppose it and refuse it, also adds to the theme of the story: A lasting love and family must be built on truth.

Child Will Miss This

Child will miss this,
Will miss wind on her skin,
Miss this air lifting her cries,
Whisping her voice to the skies.

Child will miss sun on her hair,
Warming each strand
As Mother’s hands braid
And comb them into a crown.

Dad will miss the sound
Of Child’s laughter,
The only sound that
Blooms into music in life hereafter.

Child will miss Brother and Sister,
Will miss the rivalry
And the revelry of sharing
Family together.

Child will miss this world
As much as the world is deprived
Of who Child could have been
If only Child had not died
While yet inside

Mother misses Child,
As her tears have testified.
And Dad prays for Child,
Never to neglect.

Brother and Sister neither forget
Their friend,
Though they have never met,
They long a reunion

Perhaps in dream and pondering,
Merely wandering their fantasies
At who Child could have been
If Child were named rather than maimed.

Child will miss herself,
Will miss discovering her life
And miss knowing the love
We were meant to give her.

 

Evan Pham – May 12, 2016 – In honor and memory of children, motherhood, fatherhood, and siblinghood lost to abortion.

My First Rorate Mass

This morning was my very first Rorate Caeli Mass (please click link for stunning photos), a unique votive Mass starting in the dark of night’s end and ending at dawn, presenting for us how we are to wait for the true Light of the world (the whole point of Advent).

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The entirety of the liturgy is in candlelight. The shadows of the saints adorn the vaulted ceilings and walls. The altar shimmers in the firelight. The pews and handmissals glow under the candles. Everyone has their own little censer of wax, wick and fire.

Yet the moment that moved me most was the very end, at the Last Gospel (John 1: 1-14), the same Gospel read at the end of each Tridentine Mass. But today, as I was listening to the priest read the holy words, as I was wandering lost in the Latin and in the silence, waiting in the darkness of daybreak, waiting with a church full of people, waiting with my dwindling candlestick succumbing to the dark, waiting… waiting to genuflect at the very moment THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH.

My knee hits the floor.Nativity by Rembrandt.jpg

And then I understood. God Himself came down from Heaven and hit the ground. He covered Himself in the dust of earth, clothed Himself in the mortality of man, smothered Himself in our fallen nature. Touchdown: the Lord touched the ground, touched Creation and began His reclamation. He wore our worn world, but adorned you and me with Himself, with Divinity. And the least we could do was genuflect when we remember He did all this to be with us (Emmanuel), and for us to be with Him.

The world waited for the moment THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH. And the girl the world waited for, and for her yes. The pathetic candlelights waiting for the sun. The blind and those in darkness waiting to wake. Hopeless and helpless sinners waiting for more to life, waiting for a way to become saints. All of us waiting for a way to Heaven.

Let’s stop waiting.

Because it’s all been accomplished. All that’s left to be done is for you and me to decide: will we say yes, too?

Merry soon Christmas.

*All this meaning in the simple gesture of genuflecting…

**More awesome photos of Rorate Masses around the country.

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The Master Plan

And so Lucifer peeked at God’s plans for Eve.
He then realized the honor She would receive.

After being the light,
The brightest and best,
Lucifer was to be dethroned.

In envy he was shown
How he would lose his place
Before the face
Of the Holy Trinity.

SatanFalls GustavoDore

[“I beheld Satan as lightning falling from Heaven.” –Luke 10:18]

In pride he denied
The destiny God made
That though Woman would rise
Lucifer should behave.

In rage he disfigured himself,
Desperately trying to beautify himself.
Twisting his teeth, parting his hair…
Chewing his cheeks, nothing was spared.

God watched His angel deform,
Asked the seraph to reject the vile.
Lucifer stared back and said with a smile,
“Not so long as Woman is born.

Never will I accept She is my superior,
To only You I am inferior!
If You are to make Her so far greater…
I want nothing to do with Her maker.”

God’s love was crushed by Lucifer,
And His sorrow disgusted His angel.
Lucifer left Heaven.
His past and all he left abandoned.

Lucifer dwelled in hell,
Renamed himself satan.
He planned to thwart and rebel…

On the very day Eve saw Eden,
satan snuck into the garden…
Slipped past Adam…

“Hey Beautiful… want an apple?”

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

© Evan Pham . October 28, 2008

*Click here for the first part: The Masterpiece

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.