Figuring Hidden Figures

hidden-figures-750x315_origThis film is not one I would normally pay any attention to, yet someone I love enlightened me to it! And so, in her honor and in the honor of the hidden figures, may I share my insights:

—NO SPOILERS—

——1) The film tells the story of three Black women working for NASA during the American Space Race with the USSR. During this heated time between the two world powers, we see the Soviets outpace the U.S. time and again: they get to space first, they send animals to space first, and they send a human to space first, and they bring him home safely, first. It’s all about first.

That leads me to my sole criticism of the film: it overemphasizes the worth of being first in something, it seems to claim that being first is the reason something should be done, but this is a dangerous idea. Sure, being the first female engineer at NASA is great! Sure, being the first person to explore a jungle is great! Sure, being the first in your family to finish college is great! But what about being the first sinner (Adam and Eve)? The first murderer (Cain)? The first to betray Jesus (Judas)?

And so, being first in something does not automatically make it meritorious or worthy. One must be first in something virtuous, just, holy and true; yet even if one cannot be first in those things, being last also works because goodness doesn’t matter if you’re at the top or bottom, but only if you are faithful.

——2) This film is also not just about women! It’s about healthy women who are in healthy marriages and good families. In sum, it is about the feminine genius that St. John Paul II talked about a lot, about how there is a false feminism and a true feminism. Here are the differences between the two:

False feminism advocates that women must be exactly like men in order to succeed, that men and the male lifestyle are the standard, and in order to win, that women must crush men and replace them. The woman must become manly in order to beat the man.

True feminism sees that women and the female lifestyle have their own standards, that a woman never needs to compare herself to a man, because she is incomparable! Men have their own weaknesses and flaws, and so they should not be imitated, but rather challenged and inspired by the women around them to rise to greatness. The feminine genius, and the way God meant for men and women to be, is to support one another as each grows into greatness! We are not opposing teams, but we are a family!

And Fulton Sheen summarizes this well:

To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood.  When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.

hf-gallery-05-gallery-image——3) We also see that a nation that is divided by racism and sexism is unable to accomplish great things. A nation suffering from prejudice and unjust discrimination is wounding itself. This point is clear when we see that only when such unfairness is set aside do we see America rising and outpacing her opponents. I hope we have learned this lesson.

——4) Lastly, in President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech about America’s lunar mission, we hear him say that:

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win …

From this, I saw that the hardest thing to do of all is not going to the moon, or going to Mars, or wherever/whatever. The hardest thing to do in life is to love! Real, true and selfless love for God and for others! And only through this love do we have a chance to accept God’s invitation to enter Heaven!

Common misconceptions of love see it as a good, mushy feeling, but true love is actually a pure decision to keep caring even when everything feels terrible, even when being devoted feels tortuous. In fact, if all those NASA engineers and staff did not love the astronauts they were blasting into orbit, didn’t love the country they represented, didn’t love the mission, then nothing would have happened! John Glenn would never have reached the heavens!

And we will never reach Heaven either if we do not love truly and selflessly.

Interpreting Interstellar

InterstellarA dozen of us from the seminary just experienced in IMAX Christopher Nolan’s latest film: Interstellar. There was so much nourishment in the film to milk, that I’m going to have to return for seconds during Thanksgiving break, but for now, here is what left me most satisfied (and no, it’s not just the Buddy’s Pizza we just inhaled):




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) About halfway through the film, the astronauts come to a fork in their journey and have to decide definitively which planet to visit. They appear to have two solid options, but Anne Hathaway’s character – Amelia Brand – chooses illogically and with great bias. The other two crew ask her why, since their choice is more reasonable and has better chances. Her answer made the audience laugh, me included. But then Ameila explained, and I caught myself falling in love with her answer. It resonated with me. I myself thought about it for a long time: Why does love exist? What is the reason for love?

Answer: there is no reason for love, because Love IS the reason.

Here’s what Amelia said, roughly paraphrasing: I choose this planet, and not the one you have decided on, because somewhere on this planet is the man I love. I cannot explain why, but I know my heart, and I’m trying to follow it. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s because love transcends what we can sense, what we can measure and quantify and experiment on. Love cuts through time and space, because even though I haven’t seen Edmund (her lover) for years, I still love him and am drawn to him. Even though I have every reason to think he is dead, I need to be with him, to know for sure. There’s no reason any of us should keep loving people who are gone, who are far off, who we may never see again, but we still love, because love is the only thing the universe cannot explain.

And the reason why the audience laughed was because we thought she was going to be all mushy and sentimental about her choice: Oh, here we go again… all this follow-your-heart and lovey-dovey stuff… bah humbug!

BUT that’s where Philosophy and Theology kick in: it is true that love transcends the world, the universe. It is completely beyond what is necessary for the universe to keep going, and also completely unnecessary. Love, in short, is supernatural; it’s above nature, not found in nature, and does not naturally occur. Animals, plants, and atoms do fine without it. Love can even put us at risk of danger. Nature would be fine (maybe even better) if love didn’t exist, except that it does exist. And if this supernatural thing we call love actually exists, that means there’s a whole bunch of stuff out there that is beyond our science (“stuff” like God, the Divinity, the Creator). The film even lays it out: “Science is about admitting that we know so little.”

 

CainAbel

[Cain murders his brother, Abel. This screenshot is from Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”.]


—–2) When the remaining crew land on a planet and revive Mann, a huge twist in the story comes up and reminds us of Cain and Abel. The parallels are unmistakable: Mann is Cain, and both are the elder character (Mann was on the planet first and for a longer time). Cooper is Abel, both were the younger character (Cooper arrived later on the planet). Mann tells Cooper (Cain tells Abel) to go out into the field (the wilderness) with him, and that’s when the elder rises up against his brother out of selfishness and seeks to murder him (see how similar it all is to Genesis 3).

Right away, goosebumps filled my epidermis: here they were, in a new world, ready to begin another civilization, and here was the original sin, back with vengeance. Our fallen nature as sinners goes with us wherever we go, even to Saturn, even through a wormhole into another galaxy, even to the edge of a gargantuan blackhole. We cannot rise above without help from outside the human race. Our world/s will be tainted, like the cursed Midas Touch.

Coincidentally (but probably not), the film’s mighty organ music pipes up during this scene (track “Day One Dark“). Given that the organ is rarely featured in film scores, and the prominence the organ has in this very Biblical scene, one has to wonder what Mr. Hans Zimmer was implying by using this instrument that was adopted specifically for the Traditional Latin Mass of the Catholic Church. [Update: click here for all about the selection of the organ for the score!]
—–3) Jessica Chastain’s character – Murph – goes behind her big brother’s back and undermines him and his [insane] will for his family’s future. The tension builds as he returns to discover his sister’s cunning, and just when we think he is going to do something terrible to everyone, Murph runs out to him, smiling, gushing with hope and love, and she embraces him. Immediately, I knew the phenomenon. I experienced is many times and have dubbed it “Severe Tenderness”. It goes something like this: A few years ago, I was at work one day at the sushi restaurant. My shift on Friday evening was the forbidden hour. I was regularly alone at the front during the dinner rush (4-6pm), taking orders, running orders, preparing dishes, washing dishes, cleaning tables, etc. I learned how to work without thinking, to grow four extra arms, and to lose my temper. But always at 6pm, backup would arrive and pitch in. This woman only worked for two hours (6-8pm), but when she would arrive, I was ready to dump all my frustration out on her. Except, when she came up to me, said hello, asked how I was, and so ready to help me… my anger, stress, and tantrum melted away.

Her smile and sweetness was tender enough to soothe me, yet severe and powerful enough to cut through all the mess that was attacking me. It was instantaneous, and instead of blowing up in her face, I smiled back and worked even harder to help her have an easier evening at work. She became someone for me to serve, and I loved it.

Severe tenderness is a gift, a strength not everyone has, and even in my life there are only a handful of people who have that effect on me, consistently. But don’t go and try to see if you’re one of them, okay?

—–4) At the epic’s end, we find Cooper being sent on a mission: somewhere out there in the new world (new planet) is a new Eve (Amelia). It is not good for her to be alone. Go find her. She’s waiting for you. Be her new Adam. (Yes, strongly echoing Genesis again!) [This also strongly hints how Mary (the true New Eve) comes first and awaits the coming of Jesus Christ (the True New Adam!).]

And when Murph tells Cooper of this, reminds him about Amelia, his love for Amelia is roused. This reminds me strongly of the love story found in the Book of Tobit: the love of Tobias and Sarah. You’ll have to find it in the Bible yourself, read it and watch Interstellar to understand what I am saying. But trust me. It looks pretty parallel to me.

CryoEmbryo—–5) Lastly, Interstellar mentions cryogenic-embryos as part of the backup plan to ensure mankind’s survival. I’d like to point out that the film eventually determines this option to be inadequate, because it means giving up on saving those who are alive. This is not the only reason why cryostorage (super freezing) of human embryos is morally evil, mainly because human persons deserve better than to be left vulnerable in canisters and left there as a resource to tap, manipulate and own. I won’t go any deeper on this point for now, because my philosophy thesis is on this issue, and when it is finished, I’ll be sharing it then. This review is already lengthy enough.

—–BONUS) The biggest plot hole in Interstellar is actually a powerful sign of a something more. Philosophy labels this “plot hole” in reality the Infinite Regress. This is a bit difficult to follow, but hear me out:

      At the film’s end, we discover that:
a) Cooper goes back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper2) about the secret NASA coordinates.
b) Cooper2 gets the message and goes to the NASA coordinates, and begins his journey.
c) Cooper2’s journey leads him to the blackhole, where he finds a way back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper3) about the secret NASA coordinates.
d) Cooper3 gets the message and goes to the NASA coordinates, and begins his journey.
e) Cooper3’s journey leads him to the blackhole, where he finds a way back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper4) about the secret NASA coordinates.
f) Cooper4 gets the message and goes to the NASA coordinates, and begins his journey.
g) Cooper4’s journey leads him to the blackhole, where he finds a way back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper5) about the secret NASA coordinates…
ETC. ETC. ETC. for infinity…

But, who told the first Cooper [about NASA] in this infinite chain that goes nowhere and leads nowhere? Was it another Cooper? In that case, who told that other Cooper? And who told that Cooper? And that Cooper? And that Cooper? Etc. How do we even know that this chain of events can change?

This unsatisfying answer/explanation is actually a way to dodge the question, because it gives you no knowledge of anything. This is the INFINITE REGRESS, and it shows that we have to find the first person who started off everything, aka: the first causer, the one who is outside of the chain, outside of our universe, outside of Creation, outside of our reality, outside of the Big Bang, the one who started it off and set things in motion. Philosophy (and St. Thomas Aquinas) calls this first cause by the name God. Theology calls Him Father.

For those of you who want to give Philosophy a go, here’s an excerpt from page 217 of the text (The One and the Many) we’ve been studying in class at seminary (to further flesh out this concept):

[from W. Norris Clarke's "The One and the Many"]

[from W. Norris Clarke’s “The One and the Many“]

All in all, despite some shortcomings in the film, the good points far outweigh the bad. I was very impressed, and was left breathless at all the science, philosophy, subtle theology, love and sacrifice blended together in harmony. I loved being tested on how much I knew and if I could follow along, instead of being spoonfed (like how most of Hollywood does). Thank you, Lord, for storytellers like Christopher Nolan and Co., and thank you for creating us with the wits to enjoy such stories. Amen!

BlackHole

Just viewed Interstellar again (Nov. 29th, 2014) and had a few more sweets to share with y’all!

—–6) We find out about the MONSTROUS LIE, the temptation Mr. Doctor Brand (Michael Caine) used to bait Amelia and Cooper on the mission. This scene became clearly alluding to the Original Temptation in Eden, when the serpent lies a monstrous lie to Eve, and Eve’s fall brings down Adam (arguably because Adam did not rise up and smash the deceiver instead!). In this film, we see the same thing play out, and the lie, no matter how good it sounds (because nobody wants something evil, but we all want things we may think are good), is always deeply hurtful to the relationships involved.

—–7) Plan-A, or Plan-B? One of the main objections to Plan-B in the film (and rightly so) is because it gives up on those on Earth. It condemns the living to death, labels them hopeless, and then dismisses them. This reminds me of the Pro-Abortion mentality: a woman becomes pregnant, and since she cannot raise a child because of poverty,diseases, etc., she and others are pressured to abort the baby. The baby is condemned to death and the mother is condemned to murder. The child is labeled hopeless and the mother is hopeless if she does not kill her child. The child is dismembered and dismissed as medical refuse, and the mother is dismissed, left to her own again, so that if she was in poverty then she remains so, or if she was abused and raped then she is vulnerable to being harmed again, or if she experiences post-abortive trauma then she is left to struggle with that alone. Plan-B is the first failure. And Plan-A is amazingly open to the genius of man and the providence of God.

—–8) St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body more than mentions the FEMININE GENIUS, and Interstellar is supersaturated with it. Throughout the film, we see a very strong showing of girls and women who know truths beyond science, beyond logic and beyond explanation. We understand this supersense that is peculiarly feminine as intuition, and we see this when Amelia schools us all about love and its transcendental nature, and we see this when Murph calls the ghost in her bookshelf a person, and we see this in how the love of father and daughter knows no bounds, and how Murph arrests her furious brother’s heart and wins him over (as discussed in #3 above). Just view the film with this Feminine Genius in mind, and you’ll see what beauty I mean.

AP CLIMATE FLICKS A ENT FILE—–9) And the New Adam/New Eve typology (symbolism of Jesus and Mary) goes further still! When Cooper detaches from Amelia and the rest of the Endurance Space Station, he plummets into the black hole, sacrificing himself in order to let Amelia rise to safety and continue on to the new world.

Compare this with the Gospel: Jesus Christ surrenders Himself to the Crucifixion, sacrifices Himself and plummets into the place of the dead (aka: Hades). He is buried in the tomb, which is a black hole in the cave, in the ground. His sacrifice allows, actually it propels Mary (as New Eve and as the beginning and perfection of His Church) to rise and continue into a new world, a new redeemed Creation.

Lastly, recall that Amelia also believes Cooper to have perished in the black hole. She thinks herself alone now in the new world. But… Cooper is on his way to her, seemingly rising from the dead, out of the black hole and back to be with her. Now if this don’t sound like the Resurrection

—–And that’s all I got. For now… let’s see what a third viewing brings…

The Masterpiece

Hey! So I made a little meme and poem in honor of God’s masterpiece:

God finished on the Sixth.
He finished everything but one.

After creating all
And doing all to be done,
Almighty He edited some…

The light was good,
But not that great.
The day was bright,
And night was easy on the eyes.

The sea was plentiful,
But not that beautiful.
The land was pleasant,
And yet it wasn’t.

The plants and flowers,
Green and all colors…
Still they lacked
Something or another.

The animals and creeping things
Of sky, land and sea…
Clever, cute, and coy,
Yet still incomplete.

So Almighty He created him,
In Their image They created
Little hungry Adam…
Curious, cared for, but lonesome.

All was good.
All was in place.
Still, all was made of mere dust,
Sand, mud, and paste.

After creating all
And doing all to be done,
Almighty He realized He wasn’t done…

He put little Adam to sleep,
Took some rib meat,
Polished and tweaked…

Eve into the masterpiece.

Masterpiece

[the golden gilded artwork is by Lorenzo Ghiberti]

© Evan Pham . September 23rd 2008

*Inspired by the Book of Genesis and Christopher West’s Theology of the Body talks on the Feminine Genius

**Click here for the continuation of this poem.

UPDATED: Getting to Know “Noah”

Noah

Be warned: SPOILERS POSSIBLE

Ten years ago, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ cemented itself as the greatest motion-icon about our Lord’s Passion. Today, there is still no comparing it with any other film about Christ. It has set the bar, and the bar is in orbit.

Yesterday, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah did the same for the Genesis narrative about the Great Flood. So be warned now: if you’re looking for a rant against Noah, you won’t find it here. Instead, I believe the film did more good than bad, more beauty than bumbling, and more creativity and faithfulness to the Flood story than what I’ve seen in a long time. (If you have a specific critique of the film, please feel free to comment!)

Links to various reviews and interviews will follow, so you can see what better critics than I have been saying, but before that, let me share my favorite scenes (these are obviously spoilers):

  1. The Creator sends a little raindrop down. It hits the dirt. Noah (played by Russell Crowe) looks to the sky, sees not a cloud, and wonders where the drop came from. He looks down again and it pops like popcorn into a flower. I don’t know about you, but I would go nuts if ex nihilo happened right in front of my face! (Ex nihilo is Latin for “out of nothing,” meaning God alone creates out of nothing.)
  2. Illa (played by Emma Watson) is ashamed of being infertile, to the point of trying to convince Noah to find another woman for his son. She believes to the point of tears that she is worthless because she cannot be a mother. But Noah refuses. He tells her again and again: “I thought you would be a burden, but I was wrong. You are a gift. A precious, precious gift!”
  3. When a grounded angel repented to God for having sinned, he was blitzed straight to Heaven – like a shooting star in reverse. The beauty of a saved creation, a contrite spirit, a redeemed beloved (like the Prodigal Son), always brings tears of joy to me.
  4. And the best for last: Illa, as a new mother now to her newborns, begs to at least be allowed to sing a lullaby to her children before they are taken from her, to at least calm them to sleep first. Trust me – you just have to see and listen to this scene for yourself. Even if you dislike the whole movie, this scene is worth it. Emma Watson just ravaged my heart. At display here is what Pope John Paul II coined the Feminine Genius, and what I call severe tenderness (more on those another time).

Other reviews:

Illa