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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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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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.

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:

Closing Thoughts on Korra

The Legend of Korra has ended, and what a series of surprises! I have to say my favorite Books of Korra have to be One and Three. Amon was such a tragic and complex villain, and the peril inflicted on Korra by Amon and the Red Lotus really tested our heroine’s character.

—–1) But let’s take a closer look at Book Four‘s episode 8: Remembrances. This episode was more like a recap to prepare us for the finale stretch, but this was no filler episode. Some intense insight was to be seen:

KorraMakoWhen Mako and Prince Wu are sharing their stories with each other, Mako shares with us what he learned from his time with Korra, and then with Asami. The takeaway here is that when we date, we should be able to breakup without turning our girlfriend/boyfriend into an enemy. If the two do become enemies, then what was the relationship worth in the first place? Obviously then both were too immature and irresponsible with one another’s hearts. Now, this doesn’t mean the two cannot argue. Arguing is actually a healthy thing if the argument is over something extremely important! But it’s vital not to tear each other down in the argument, but to work together and find out the truth. Arguing should strengthen your relationship, not bomb it into oblivion.

But here’s the gem from Mako’s experience, when he says: “I had to figure out who I was without a lady in my life.” This is exactly why it’s so important for boys and young men to have good fathers and big brothers. Boys will stay boys if they don’t have a mature man to guide and challenge them. Boys will stay boys and really mess up their girlfriends if they don’t learn from their fathers how a women should be respected and honored. For Mako and Bolin, they grew up without a father or mother, so we can see now why it took them so long to mature, and to do it the hard way with much hurt and hurting others involved.

This is also a reason why seminarians focus so much on fraternity (the good kind, not the college frat-boy kind) and put dating on hold (either temporarily or permanently). We’re finding out who we are, so that we can better serve and sacrifice in whatever vocation God is calling us to. Because without this self-awareness, then we have no idea what our flaws and strengths are, and without this understanding we can never better or humble ourselves. Chastity and modesty are the virtues that help us achieve this. Men also need more time alone in prayer with God, without the distractions of dating (because dating should only happen after our relationship with God [Love itself] is on the right path — after all, how can you hope to love anyone if you don’t first know Love?). For more about this, please visit ChastityProject.com.

And there’s seemingly a throwaway line from Prince Wu: “I’m not strong like you, Mako! I can’t help being weak! I was born this way.” Yet, there he is, Prince Wu learning to toughen up under Mako’s training. It goes to show that yes, we are all born weak, illiterate, ignorant and with a bunch of other deficiencies, but does that mean we should stay that way? Heck no! And we see the Prince really mature as the season progresses.

—–2) And as for the series’ finale with episode 13: The Last Stand? A few things stuck out to me:

KorraSavesKuviraFirst, the whole series has been recurrent with self-sacrifice. We see this again, but this time Korra sacrifices herself to save an enemy (no one before Jesus ever taught us to do this!). Especially noteworthy is that it’s Kuvira’s own weapon that is going to kill her, until Korra steps in as a body shield. This analogy fits well with how Jesus took on our fallen nature and our sin (our own weapons, our own mess and selfishness was going to condemn and kill us) and died in our place.

KorraBrokenSecond, after both Korra and Kuvira are blasted into the Spirit World, Korra shares that she has finally realized that all the suffering she has gone through actually were blessings in disguise — without them she would not have matured and grown in wisdom, humility and compassion. Throughout the season, she was struggling to find meaning in her near-death experience and past trauma, and it was only after saving Kuvira that Korra understood. This is one reason why Christians believe suffering is permitted (not caused directly) by God, and that just because someone is suffering does not mean it is better for them to die, thus why euthanasia is morally evil (because murder is a sin, but suffering can be for our good as long as we suffer with Jesus).

Third, forgiveness of one’s enemies was found three times in this episode alone: when Asami forgives her father’s betrayals and deceptions, when Korra forgives Kuvira and saves her out of compassion, when Kuvira herself forgives Korra. Earlier in the season, we saw Korra forgive even Zaheer and accept his help! And it’s important to understand that forgiveness does not necessarily mean trusting the offending person again. It means you let go of the resentment you have for the person who hurt you and move on.

BONUS: the final scene of The Last Stand has most viewers interpreting it in a way that advocates for LGBT issues. All we see is Korra and Asami walking into the Spirit World hand-in-hand and turn to face one another. To me, this is more likely to be about the two becoming closer as sisters. We saw earlier how Mako and Bolin grew as brothers, but now we also see how Asami and Korra grew in their sisterhood. This is supported by the fact that the whole series moved from the romance between the friends in the beginning (Mako and Korra, Mako and Asami) to their love of one another as close siblings at the end. To see this love between Asami and Korra as romantic seems a far stretch to me, and is a sign of how lustful and perverse our society has become to see even this simple innocent gesture between them as sexual.AsamiKorra

Yet, even if our two leading ladies have same-sex attraction: all persons are called to love and to be loved, including those of us with same-sex attraction! And to have same-sex attraction itself is not sinful (despite what many Christians wrongly believe), but to act on that love in a sexual way is a sin, because love need not be sexual (if it needs to be sexual, then it ain’t love). In fact, sexual expression is only appropriate in a holy marriage between one man and one woman (not a marriage done for lust, for social gain, for politics and power, for money, for polygamy, etc.), because the marriage vows [of sacrificial love] help the husband and wife prevent sex from becoming lustful, abusive, perverted and harmful to their love. Catholic teaching pushes back against this culture’s lust and perversion with true love that is understood to be genuine and selfless, chaste and courageous. I hope to share more about this in a more in-depth post, but for now, please let me share these insightful videos and interviews of persons with same-sex attraction instead: The Third Way, and the Desire of the Everlasting Hills. And for more authentic and compassionate Catholic wisdom on this topic, please start here.

Well, that’s all I have for now about this latest Avatar series. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey it put me on, and I hope the best for the creators and cast of the Legend of Korra. Pray for them all!

For more about Korra on HolySmack, look here: The Avatar and the Pope and the Passion.

What Kind of God Do You Want?

Even if you don’t know if God exists, even if you don’t believe God exists, you can at least think about what kind of God you would like to exist, right? It’s like daydreaming: even though I’m no billionaire, I can at least fantasize about what kind of billionaire life I would like to live…

So play along and think about this: what kind of God would you want?

A powerful God? A God who is master of all?

Don’t misunderstand me, I do want God to be powerful and masterful. By definition, God is Power itself and Master itself. But think about it: if God was first merely Power, then what’s keeping Him from using that power to intimidate, to manipulate, to oppress and dominate us? Same with God if He was first merely our Master — what’s stopping Him from being a tyrant, a slave-driver, an abuser?

There are religions out there (I’m thinking specifically Islam) that believe God is Power and Master first, before He is anything else. But like we saw above, if God is first merely those things, or anything else along those lines, then what’s keeping Him from abusing His almighty authority, power, omniscience and etc.?

GodIsLove

Because God is first, before all else, a father… Our Father.

Not the kind of father you and I have, because human fathers, earthly fathers can make mistakes, can be selfish, can be ignorant and even evil. But the Father in Heaven — the Father who all other lower fathers are meant to imitate and symbolize — is Love. Our Father is Love.

And as Father, as Love, God will not abuse his authority, not enslave us nor intimidate nor manipulate us. As loving Father, He will not use omniscience, wisdom, or anything to hurt us. Instead, He will use all that He is to love us and help us…

He even sent His Son to be a man and die for us.

So I don’t know about you, but I’d want a God who is Father, who is Love. And I’m grateful this God is ours — the one and only.

For more, check out Dr. Scott Hahn’s excellent discussion on who God is to us:

Blasphemy with Breakfast

Abba or Allah?

Slaves and Sons