The Better Beauty and the Beast

large_tnml0g604pdrjwgj5fsusykfo9After months of fasting from watching the latest Disney live-action remake, I finally got to look over Emma Watson’s most anticipated film. And actually, after all the negative views I’ve read on it, I still walked away with some surprises. This version of the 1991 classic is slower paced, and not as compelling (some scenes actually bored me enough for me to pull out my phone and check the news, waiting for the lame parts to pass). It’s lacking musical beauty, the CGI was sub-par, and the story is too top heavy, trying desperately to out-do its origin by adding tacky changes. From the start, this remake was in trouble since it was trying to perfect an already perfect original, and you just can’t fix what ain’t broke. Instead of trying desperately to improve, they should have desperately tried to honor the original. But despite these failures, here are some things I appreciated more than I thought I would, and things I think you never noticed:

—SPOILER ALERT—

  1. Right from the get go, I noticed the fly-by camera in the opening Disney Castle logo sequence. I wondered and replayed it, and took a screenshot. Here’s what I saw:StMikeDisneyThat’s right! Atop the Disney Castle logo in this film (it’s usually a flag in other films) is a gold statue of St. Michael defeating Satan. And then at the end of the film, when the curse is broken and the Beast’s castle transformed, we see yet another gold statue of St. Michael, transformed from a gargoyle into the Archangel slaying the evil one. This leads me to wonder why Disney and the director (Bill Condon) okayed these clearly traditional Christian images, especially in a film that was supposedly designed in some scenes to push immoral same-sex relationships. Could it be that despite the attempts at evil, St. Michael was snuck in to show that Mickey and company belongs to St. Michael and company?6f17a9903a9e5487675b308eec8e8f28-hamburg-germany-munich
  2. Continuing the peculiar positive portrayal of the Church is the reverend/priest in the movie, who Belle meets with regularly to borrow his books. Granted that not many were literate in that time, it’s still strange to change Belle’s connection to literature from being with a bookstore (in the 1991 version) to a Catholic priest in the remake. And how do we know it’s a Catholic priest? Because there’s a giant crucifix statue, and Protestants and Orthodox don’t use crucifixes or statues. Also, the setting is France: a traditional stronghold of Catholicism (think St. Joan of Arc).
  3. Beast also has an almost throw-away line rebutting Lumiere’s claim of Belle being “the one” for Beast. Beast says: “there’s no such thing as the one.” This immediately reminded me of the correct understanding of love and marriage without the false fantasy of fate that negates freedom, without the this-was-meant-to-be lies. Blogger and author Matt Walsh explains this hilariously and clearly in this article: My Marriage Wasn’t Meant To Be. Here’s an excerpt (but seriously read it all):

    We think that our task is to find this preordained partner and marry them because, after all, they’re “The One.” They were designed for us, for us and only us. It’s written in the stars, prescribed in the cosmos, commanded by God or Mother Earth. There are six or seven billion people in the world, but only one of them is the right one, we think, and we’ll stay single until we happen to stumble into them one day.

    And when that day happens, when The One — our soul mate, our match, our spirit-twin — comes barreling into our lives to whisk us off our feet and take us on canoe rides and deliver impassioned romantic monologues on a beach in the rain or in a bus station or whatever, then we’ll finally be happy. Happy until the end of time. We can get married and have a perfect union; a Facebook Photo Marriage, where every day is like an Instragam of you and your spouse wearing comfortable socks and sitting next to the fireplace drinking Starbucks lattes.

    Yeah. About that. It’s bull crap, sorry. Not just silly, frivolous bull crap, but bull crap that will destroy you and eat your marriage alive from the inside. It’s a lie. A vicious, cynical lie that leads only to disappointment and confusion. The Marriage of Destiny is a facade, but the good news is that Real Marriage is something so much more loving, joyful, and true.

    We’ve got it all backwards, you see. I didn’t marry my wife because she’s The One, she’s The One because I married her. Until we were married, she was one, I was one, and we were both one of many. I didn’t marry The One, I married this one, and the two of us became one. I didn’t marry her because I was “meant to be with her,” I married her because that was my choice, and it was her choice, and the Sacrament of marriage is that choice. I married her because I love her — I chose to love her — and I chose to live the rest of my life in service to her. We were not following a script, we chose to write our own, and it’s a story that contains more love and happiness than any romantic fable ever conjured up by Hollywood.

    Indeed, marriage is a decision, not the inevitable result of unseen forces outside of our control. When we got married, the pastor asked us if we had “come here freely.” If I had said, “well, not really, you see destiny drew us together,” that would have brought the evening to an abrupt and unpleasant end. Marriage has to be a free choice or it is not a marriage. That’s a beautiful thing, really.

    God gave us Free Will. It is His greatest gift to us because without it, nothing is possible. Love is not possible without Will. If we cannot choose to love, then we cannot love. God did not program us like robots to be compatible with only one other machine. He created us as individuals, endowed with the incredible, unprecedented power to choose. And with that choice, we are to go out and find a partner, and make that partner our soul mate.

  4. And now the question of freedom and love: Beast finally learns this when he frees Belle from being his prisoner, even though she has become a willing prisoner. Being yet not fully free, her love is unable to be true, and his love is prevented from maturing also. But once Beast let’s Belle leave, once he allows himself to lose and become incredibly vulnerable to Belle’s rejection and abandonment, only then does Belle’s return mean anything. This insight isn’t unique to this remake, but is also in the original, and is a timeless truth about how love becomes true love. It reminds us that only a heart that can break is an honest heart, a real heart. And when Beast accepts his broken heart for love of Belle and her freedom and dignity, then does love truly bless and bloom, not wilt as the cursed rose.beauty_and_the_beast_emma_watson_rose
  5. That’s all I have to say about the remake. For more about the 1991 original masterpiece and all the bursting Christian and biblical symbols in it, please see Beauty and the Beast and the Bible. Finally, it should be obvious that I believe the better Beauty and the Beast is certainly not this remake. Sorry fans. Everything that was good in this version was already in the original.
  6. For another, more thoughtful review, please see here.

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Freedom Is Not Free

Today is Veterans Day (Remembrance Day in Canada). On this day, we remember the veterans who served us by risking their lives to ensure our freedom is protected.

We all know how important freedom is. People die to have it, and heroes die to give it to others (be grateful for them!). But freedom is not actually the highest value, is not the most important thing we can have. Freedom is not even actually free… freedom is a servant. Freedom is merely a slave.

Freedom is only a tool.

And like all tools, we need to use it correctly. In fact, bad things begin to happen when we incorrectly treat something: we do not use bleach to flush our eyes, we do not use sugar to brush our teeth, we do not use a hammer to trim toenails, etc. Instead, we use bleach to do what bleach does best: disinfecting things; we use sugar for what sugar does best: sweeten edibles; we use hammers for what hammers do best: fastening nails.

This logic goes for everything in life, including how we treat ourselves and other people. When we treat others with respect and dignity, we are being moral and good. When we treat others with disrespect and malice, we are being immoral and evil. We do not use people since people are not tools, but there is a way to treat them correctly.*

But as for freedom, many people treat it as the highest value, the end of all goals, when freedom is only a tool that exists for only one thing. Freedom is even useless if this higher goal did not exist. Take a moment and try to figure out what this “higher goal” is.

Answer: freedom exists only so that love can be real.

Example: if someone threatened that you must be their friend, then their friendship is not real, because they are not allowing you to freely decide to be their friend. In fact, stay away from people who do this to you!

Another example: if a man and woman were forced to marry each other, there is no freedom in their choice, and so there is no love (and for Catholics, in this case there is no true marriage).

Final example: if God made you without freewill and forced you to love Him, then that love is actually false, because in order for love to be real, you also must have the freedom to not love. (See my Lego Movie review for more about this! Worth it… trust me.)

Soundbyte: If you cannot say “no”, then your “yes” means nothing.

*So then how does someone use freedom correctly?

By freely choosing to love others, not treating others as objects, as tools, as disposable. Freely deciding to treat everyone with respect and dignity, despite how your emotions may sway or force you (because we cannot decide how to feel, and sometimes our emotions are just plain selfish).

But why should people be treated with love?

Simple: because as Christians, we believe God created all persons in His image and likeness, and we also believe that God is love. And so, all persons are made of His love. Logically then, the only way for us to live is lovingly, and the only way others should live is lovingly, and the only way we should live together is… lovingly.

Examining Ex Machina

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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.

Stay Strong Hong Kong!

It’s another David vs. Goliath story. If you haven’t heard of the anti-communist protests taking place right now in the city of Hong Kong, here are a few articles to bring you up to speed:

But bringing you up to speed ain’t the purpose of this post. Instead, I want to share with you how stupid I once was (thank God I’m so much smarter now… right…).

When I was a high schooler, first learning about different kinds of government,

I did what most teenagers do: think they know everything. And so we get to the topic of Communism, and being omniscient, I believed that it was a great idea with only one flaw: humans were involved, and since it involved people, it would fail because people are usually greedy, stealthy and selfish.

Hong Kong_pro-democracy_protest_092814.jpgI was only partially correct — and the worst lies are those that are partly true (because that little bit of truth masks the deception from being obvious).

The real corrupt core of Communism only became noticeable to me years later, and when I noticed, there was no way to un-notice: Communism is atheist. And not only is it atheist, but it is anti-Catholic, anti-God, and anti-freedom.

Communism holds that there is no God, and so there is no religion… none except one: Communism itself. A devout communist has faith in his party, is devoted to the party’s principles, and worships its supreme dictators: Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong-il, etc.

So the Communist party is pretty full of itself. It believes it can last forever and can control everything and everyone. It believes it has the authority to give life and to take it, to grant freedom and to cancel it, because if there is no God… then what’s stopping any one from trying to be a god? This narcissistic outlook has led from atrocity to atrocity:

  1. The Iron Curtain
  2. Cold War
  3. Fall of Saigon
  4. Division of Korea
  5. Failed Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward campaigns in China
  6. Millions of aborted Chinese children (mostly girls)
  7. Infanticide, forced abortions and sterilizations
  8. Tiananmen Massacre and the Tank Man (seriously, have a look at this documentary)

[Do you see him? The lone man against the column of tanks?]

[Do you see him? The lone man against the column of tanks?]

And Hong Kong has had enough. After merely 17 years of Communism supervising it, the city of seven million is demanding free elections and a democracy. It is a tiny pinch of China, but a really important and influential pinch — and its pinching back. The rest of China has suffered for over sixty years, and I’m hoping this little pinch becomes a Holy Smack.

Pray for Hong Kong, please. If the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre taught us anything about the Communist Chinese bully, we may be seeing another atrocity soon. May God raise saints from this good fight.

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[Has there ever been a protest this high-tech before? Can the communists cover this up at all, like they did with Tiananmen 1989?]

Lego Movie Theology

LegoMovieWhen I first saw the trailer for The Lego Movie, I thought: “Dude, who wants to watch Legos when you can play with Legos?” But now I realize: why not do both?

So after reading the ever trusty [soon to be Deacon] Steven Greydanus’ review, I finally had the chance to see the film for myself and I noticed a few things…




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) The movie revolves around a tyrannical perfectionist who tries to brainwash, dominate and freeze the Lego-world into what he thinks is the perfect Lego world and society. Opposite this obsessed character is a resistance group trying to inspire people to be creative, to think for themselves and use their free will.

SheenTIMERight away, this reminded me of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s talk on a Perfect World versus a Moral World: essentially, what kind of world did God create… a perfect one? or a moral one? and why?

Well, we all know the world is far from perfect. Even in the beginning, when Adam and Eve sinned, we were imperfect, since why could they sin if they were perfect? In fact, even before our beginning, one-third of the angels sinned and fell from Heaven! So… if even 33.33333333 percent of the angels crashed, what in the cosmos was Almighty God thinking when He made everything?
Again, we can see here that God had two choices: make a perfect world, or make a moral world. And obviously he chose a moral world. That leaves us to ponder: WHY?????!!

Because a perfect world would mean he is a puppetmaster, an overlord, a slavedriver, a Matrix. He would call all the shots, make all the moves, think all the thoughts, and do all things done. There would be no possibility for anyone else to have freewill, self-determination, self-mastery, etc., etc…. including LOVE.

That’s right — if God created a perfect world, there would be no love, because we would all just be programmed to love, we would all merely love because we would be forced to. And if love is forced… guess what? it ain’t real. We need to be able to decide to love. If we cannot choose, we cannot love. This is why we inherently feel there’s something off about a 100% arranged marriage (some parts may be arranged, but to the point of forcing the man and woman to join against their will? that’s not gonna fly in the Faith.)
HelixNebulaSo God took the humongous risk: to create so that his children have free will. Free will for what? Free will to decide if they will love each other, to love Him back. If He forced them to love, that’s not good enough because it ain’t real. So He let us choose, and many choose not to love others, not to love Him… but those who do choose love, well then their love is true, real, free, total, faithful, and fruitful (or at least become that way eventually).

God made us with freedom not so that we can do whatever we want, but so that we can choose love. Love was worth it for God to forsake perfection. Love is always worth it for Him to forsake perfection. And if even He believes so, then we should also believe perfection is worth losing for the chance to love. And once you have real love, then the true creativity begins, because no one creates something to hate it, but to love it!

And last thing: God is the only person who can make something better than perfect… over and over, for forever. What was great, He can make even greater. What was super, He can maker superer (I know that ain’t real word), and yes… what we think is “perfect,” He can upgrade into eternity.

—–2) There’s a line in the film where Morgan Freeman says: “Sometimes you have to believe in order to see.”

Well, as awesome Freeman is, this line is not his. Saint Augustine already thought this thousands of years ago, and I just learned this a few months ago! A lot of people think we need to see something before we can believe it, like an “I’ll believe it when I see it!” kind of attitude… but actually, the reverse is more important!

If scientists didn’t believe in the logic of the scientific method, if they didn’t believe the laws of nature were consistent and non-contradictory, if they didn’t believe the facts and the data, then they would never see the truth. They would be closed to their own illusions, unable to see the intricacy and complexity of what they observe.

This also goes in our relationships: if we don’t believe our mother loves us, if we don’t believe our father protects us, if we don’t believe our siblings care for us, then we will always be suspicious of them, make up reasons to think they’re untrustworthy and lying, make up a fantasy that fits our disbelief.

Augustine and ChildThis is similar in our faith in God: if we don’t believe He is real, we will not know how to see Him. If we don’t believe he could be real, we will not know where to seek Him. If we don’t believe, we close our mind (and heart) to Him and will make up reasons that explain Him away instead of thinking more, meditating and contemplating into the deep.

And so, keeping an open mind involves leaving the window open, but also keeping the screen on… since there are always pests that want to sneak in and distract you.

—–3) Lego is successful because it teases our creativity. There’s a line that Saint John Paul II once said: “Man is, in a sense, condemned to create.”

When I first heard this, it hit me hard, because it’s so true. Our creativity is a powerful gift. We can create — like no other creature can! Our cities, stories, songs, sagas, civilizations… our arts, technology, cultures, societies… these are amazing things. Yet, at the same time… these can be a burden, a curse, a condemnation to us. How many times does an artist slave over her work? How many engineers become workaholics? Creating is laborious, tedious, and exhausting… yet our creativity drives us on (like right now… I should stop writing to get to my studies, but… just… one more… sentence!). Creativity is a mixed blessing, given to us by God. I only hope we use it for love and not evil.

LegoEnemy—–4) Finally, we see in the film an example of the best way to crush an enemy: by making him into a friend. After all, if you kill your opponent, he dies as your enemy, he dies in evil ways (assuming you are right and he is wrong) and you become his killer. But, if you can win him over, get him to understand and believe in your cause, then he becomes an ally, a friend, and the evil in him dies and leaves nothing left but love and friendship. The person is not the enemy, but it is the evil he thinks, believes and does that is the true enemy.

That’s all I got! I hope you enjoyed those insights! Thanks for reading. Now go play with some Legos!