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.

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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.