Movies for an Intense Lent

*updated March 22, 2017* Lent is a long season. And to help me get in the mood of reflecting deeply on my faith, and contemplating deeply about Jesus Christ’s Passion, I have five movies I can turn to (or check my list of music for an intense Lent). But be warned. These films are intense and will not slip from your memory any time soon. The struggles, challenges, drama and suspense lingers… lingers…

SisterLuke——First up: The Nun’s Story, starring none other than the exquisite and stunning Audrey Hepburn as Sister Luke. In this film, we see a young and beautiful woman discern the religious life, but all the while, we see something not quite right. Did she enter for love of Jesus? For love of the Church? Or was the sisterhood merely a tool for her? When I first saw this film, I could not believe what I was seeing. As an Audrey Hepburn fan, as someone who was open to discerning the priesthood, and as a fan of film, this movie was a major treat and surprise. Click here for the whole film (while the link remains active).

——Second: The Passion of Joan of Arc. This is a silent film with a haunting score, a haunted past, and a haunting recovery. The real life struggle to get this movie on screen is already harrowing enough to make one think the devil tried to keep this where the sun don’t shine, but today, it is considered one of the top ten films ever. Don’t let its age, its novelty and its daring discourage you from viewing this movie. Search for it at your library, or online. There are at least three versions now. I only recommend the one accompanied by Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light score (click link to listen!).PassionOfJoan

——Third: Noah. A movie misunderstood by many to be Christian, but it’s actually a Jewish film that stretches the story of the Great Flood in ways that kept me at the edge of my seat. I was stunned to see how riveting the story was, how terrifying such a flood must have been. And since I wrote extensively on this film already, please click here for my review and for the thoughts of others more learned than I. 

——Fourth: The Flowers of War. Though the movie is about the 1937 December invasion and Rape of Nanking by the Japanese army, its portrayal of utter human suffering and redemption is perfect for Lent. The movie stars Batman: aka, Christian Bale, and is directed by Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony). In this epic, Bale finds himself having to play the role of a Catholic priest to protect 12 abandoned school girls trapped and stored in the Cathedral by the Japanese for future use. This film is so intense that I cannot recommend it for family viewing whatsoever. Be advised.

——Finally: The Passion of the Christ. I save this one for Good Friday, and for good reason. And unlike many, I don’t shed a tear at all… until Mary meets her Son on the road to Calvary. I love Jesus. I believe He is God. And God can take care of Himself. But when Mary appears, her broken heart cuts me down. Gets me every time…

——BONUS: this film The Road is also very intense and not to be viewed lightly by families and children. The story is a man trying to care for his son in a post-apocalyptic world that is two-thirds the way to hell. The sacrifices, struggles and sheer terror of what this world is reminds me of what sin did to us, and what sin still does to us when we let it reign. Give this a watch if that sounds like something that will help you stop taking sin lightly, and stop taking life for granted.

——AND A DOCUMENTARY: History Channel produced this detailed and fair research on the mysterious Shroud of Turin (the most studied human artifact, ever). This cloth is believed by many, scientists and faithful alike, to be the original burial linen of Jesus Christ. It is also believed to have been physically affected by the Lord’s  resurrection, affected in a way that science has been unable to explain, to date. Give The Real Face of Jesus a watch (but beware of the heretical and nonsense gnostic material inserted awkwardly (and unnecessarily) in the middle of the documentary). More documentaries researching and studying the Shroud here.

Lisa Ling Visited and Made a Documentary

A few years ago, Lisa Ling visited the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan to help Oprah viewers get to know how Catholic religious sisters live, love and serve God.

The show was so successful that Oprah asked the sisters to visit her studio! Yep!

But that wasn’t the end of Ling’s fascination with the Church.

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[God bless you both, Fathers!]

LisaLing2 LISA LING: THIS IS LIFE

This year she visited Michigan’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit (I remember her and the CNN crew walking around in the Fall) and filmed a documentary about two twin brothers who just finished formation here last spring and were ordained priests over the summer. This is the episode — Called to the Collar — for your evangelization enjoyment. Find out why Michigan was special enough to beckon Lisa Ling all the way over here!

A Look-See at Lucy

Lucy-BannerWhen the first Lucy trailer hit my face, I was about to scream plagiarism!

On a warm autumn day in 2002, I daydreamed about a girl who had an accident that fully unleashed her mind. From then on, the scenes of how she would live played out in my imagination… and eventually give rise to the raw origins of my novel: Little Miss Lucifer.

I wasn’t worried though, and am not even threatened by Lucy. The story is way different. But even so, after spoiling it by reading the plot on Wikipedia, I still wanted to see what director Luc Besson could do with such a character. Here’s what I think of Lucy:

[SPOILER ALERT]

Saint Lucy1) First, the name of the film and Johansson’s character is — you guessed it — Lucy. But who was the person who popularized that name? Who is the person who every “Lucy” afterwards was named after? Well, like most names we have in English today, those names belonged to saints who launched them into popular use. Think of MaryAndrewJohn, and yep… Lucy.

Saint Lucy was a young Christian woman who was persecuted for her love of Jesus. One of the ways she was tortured before being martyred was that her eyes were ripped out from her face. Many icons of St. Lucy depict her holding her two eyeballs in a dish.

But here’s how this relates to the movie: In Latin, the “lu” in the name Lucy refers to “light,” as in “luminous” or “luster”. When St. Lucy was blinded and murdered, she no longer saw created light (the light of the sun, stars, firelies and lightning), but instead became able to see the true Light of the World: Jesus Christ, the God who created all other lights. (Btw, notice all the emphasis and focus on Lucy’s eyes in the film and its ads.)

In the film, Lucy also symbolizes this as someone who becomes able to see more than light. She can see, and sense, the world we know as mystery. She even explains that time is the standard of defining reality, not us humans and our standards, but time. Now, I don’t agree with this because even time itself can be destroyed (since spacetime is only a product of the Big Bang), and if time itself can be destroyed, then what? Instead, what I take from this is that we do not define what is real or true. Instead, the film tells us that reality and truth exist apart from what we think of it. In short, the film busts relativism (the idea that something is true only as long as we want it to be, and that we can all have our own truths about reality) into smithereens!

Creation of Adam2) Lucy in the movie also amasses huge amounts of information. She and others believe that knowledge is the purpose of life. She gains the ability to time-travel, manipulate matter, teleport, and even control other people. There’s criticism out there that the film’s use of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam suggests that Lucy has become god. However, if this is the film’s intention, then it cancels itself out in a few ways. First, Lucy knows a lot about how and what things are, but she does not know why: as in why is there such a thing as the universe as opposed to nothing? Why is there life? Why does she exist? Why does she love her parents (their conversation was one of my favorites in the film)? Why is there love anyway? And what is love? Why are some things beautiful and others not? Why does beauty exist?Why does anything exist at all? Second, Lucy can do a lot, but she couldn’t even save her own body from decay. Unless there’s a sequel about her resurrection, she’s a pretty flimsy god. Third, she’s an even flimsier god since she needs a cell phone to tell her friend that she is everywhere (and more on this below). Fourth, is it really enough to know something, to know all things? If you had all the information in creation, but nobody ever existed to share it with, would that be enough for you? If you knew about love and what it was, but you were never loved by anyone, and had no one to love in return… would that be enough for you? What I’m saying is that knowledge is not the purpose of life… love is! And this reminds me of a quote from beloved Pope Benedict XVI: “For those who love, you can never have enough information” — meaning that a lover never tires of discovering and rediscovering  the beloved.

3) So, what’s up with Lucy needing to use the cell phone? In fact, what’s up with all these latest mind-movies (like Transcendence and Her) showing that untethered consciousness still needs a way to be physically expressive? Could it be because God (the real One) created us humans that way? That we need the physical to make ourselves known? That “the body alone, and only the body, can make visible the invisible” (I stole that quote from Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body). Think about it: if I had an idea, how would anyone know about it? Unless… I used my brain, nerves, eyes, hands, skin, bones, muscles, etc. to pick up a pen and write it out. Or used my vocal cords, lungs, breath, tongue and teeth to speak it out? We need our bodies, because we are our body. It’s not just something we have, it is us.

Lucy4) And back to the beauty question from #2 above: beauty is one of those realities that knowledge and information alone cannot explain. I mean, how do we recognize beauty? Why does it exist? Why is it important to us? And don’t just think of visual beauty, but think of music, flavor, fragrance, and texture! (Yes, this movie did make me think of this, after all… if knowledge was everything, why bother making it all pretty with Scarlett and cinematography?)

5) Scarlett made me notice another thing: when her roommate was gushing about her night with a man, Lucy was totally disinterested. Lucy not only didn’t care, but even mocked it. This reminds me of why some men and women in the Catholic faith choose a life of celibate chastity. I’m thinking of priests and religious sisters (aka: nuns). That’s right! Scarlett Johansson’s character just exemplified celibacy. Here’s how: priests and nuns put the ordinary and natural desire for married sexual intimacy aside and instead choose the extraordinary and supernatural desire for intimacy with God. By living celibate lives, they’re witnessing that we were not meant merely for marriage with another person, but were meant for marriage with the Person, with God who is more real than any creature, more beautiful than beauty (since He created beauty). In the movie, Lucy knows reality more than the average person and sees that sexual intimacy is not enough for her — that compared to intimacy with supreme reality, sexual intimacy is kind of a joke. [NOTE: Catholic teaching does not say that sexual intimacy is a joke (married intimacy is very holy), only that any other intimacy is incomparable to intimacy with God.] (Click here to see what I mean (these sisters went on Oprah to share their story!) (And click here for how Professor-X from X-Men also exemplifies celibate chastity.)

6) The movie starts and ends with this voiceover: “We were given life over a billion years ago…” Notice that it says we were given life. Not that life popped out of nowhere, or that we gave life to ourselves, but that it was given to us. In that case… who gave it to us? Being given something implies there’s a giver…

7) Lastly, there’s a sort of throwaway line that Lucy says when the lead police officer warns her about people dying. She says point blank: “No one ever really dies.” Now, this is a claim Christians should know very well, since we profess to believe in the Resurrection and the Life, that we will all live forever, and not just spiritually, but bodily too! So, not sure what to make of this line from Lucy since nothing else follows it up and fleshes it out.

8) All in all, I enjoyed Lucy. It made me ask a lot of philosophical questions and hinted at theological truths. It was fun, although corny at times. I’m just glad it wasn’t a waste of 90 minutes and a free admission, and I’m even more glad Luc Besson didn’t steal my idea about a girl who goes 100%. Yet, the greatest disappointment was that Besson himself didn’t go 100% on this film.

X-Men: Days of Future Past, now with Catholic Symbols!

The X-Men films have been more and more surprising to me! First, there was First Class’ symbolism of Professor X choosing a life of Catholic priestly celibacy for the sake of his beloveds, and now there’s even more Catholic symbolism in Days of Future Past! Here’s what I saw (warning – possible spoilers!):

  1. X-Men: Days of Future PastThe Chinese temple the X-Men hide in during Logan’s time-travel doesn’t seem pagan to me… not at all! For one thing, I’ve never seen Chinese pagan temples with an altar like that, much less use stained-glass windows like that! I mean, when I say “stained-glass”, most people think “church!”
  2. Logan rests upon the altar during his time-travel. Why an altar? Why signify that this is a sacrificial act for Logan? Why the intimate symbolism with Christ’s sacrifice at the Mass upon Catholic altars?
  3. Then there’s Professor X almost breaking out a gospel song/psalm/hymn with: “Lead me… guide me…” If you don’t believe me, just Google “Lead me… guide me…” and you’ll see how Christian that line is.
  4. And despite Jennifer Lawrence’s (as Raven/Mystique) butchering of the Vietnamese language (nice try! But no.), she too was involved in Catholic symbolism. When she sought help for her wound, where did she go? A Catholic hospital! With a crucifix smack dab in the middle of the opening shot! And when the world reacted in terror of Mystique and other mutants on the news, what did the Catholic religious sister wonder? She wondered if the woman – the mutant – has a family. She wondered with concern and compassion. When the world freaked, the Catholic sister loved and nursed.
  5. Audrey Hepburn as Sister LukeAnd if that wasn’t enough, when Mystique flees from an insane Erik (Magneto) in a crowded subway station, who do we see file into the shot and veil Mystique’s escape? A half-dozen or so religious sisters in full habit! I bet Mystique morphed into one of them and slipped away… I bet!
  6. Finally, the last scenes in the movie invoked in me a glimpse of eternal life in Heaven. Wolverine wakes to find that despite the terror and horrific sacrifice he witnessed in his life, when he wakes… everything is okay. And not merely okay, but perfect. In this life, we face terrors and are called to make incredible sacrifices for our beloveds, for our Beloved. And by doing so, we experience in Heaven that it was all truly worth every drop of sweat, blood and tears. Everyone who loves is there with us, and it is the greatest reunion ever – replete with sharing epic stories of how we struggled with life and faithfully finished the race. Well done, good and faithful servant, good and faithful friend.
  7. And a bonus: The overall story arc that the future is not set, that our decisions have weight, that we have free will is a holy smack against the heresy of Calvinist Predestination. We Catholic Christians believe God is love, but if we have no free will, then love is only an illusion. I don’t know about you, but love is pretty real to me. [More about this in detail here.]
  8. Now don’t take my word for it… see for yourself!

*Want more? Here’s a great Days of Future Past review by Steven Greydanus.

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P.s. I have no idea why these symbols are present in the movie… but I like them!

LML: Secrets of Intervention (CH:02)

[WARNING: what follows is an interview that reveals the details and depths of Little Miss Lucifer: The Legend of the Exorcess. SPOILER ALERT.]

02 Intervention

—You: The second chapter’s title Intervention reminds me of the phrase “divine intervention”. I’m guessing that’s what you were going for?

—Evan: You guess well – that’s exactly what I was going for. It’s a pretty common phrase, even found in pop songs like Mraz’s “I’m Yours”. It usually means that God (Divinity) cuts into the world to directly make a miracle happen. The Lord usually let’s be the laws of nature (that He designed), but sometimes He will make an exception, and not to go against nature or logic, but to go above nature: to cause supernatural phenomena.

—You: And in Intervention, we see a sort of Great Escape.

—Evan: You know what, I wasn’t even thinking this when I was writing the scene, but it reminds me of when Peter was imprisoned. An angel sears into the jail cell, wakes Peter and breaks him out! My goodness… this scene matches really well with Luke’s account in Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 12. There’s even the light shining on Peter, as there is a light shining on the protagonist in Intervention!

—You: I’m going to read Acts 12 and see for myself! But I sort of recognize the beginning of your second chapter: “In the sixth month since…” It just doesn’t sound like something anyone would write these days – the style.

—Evan: That’s because I’m alluding to the Gospel of Luke’s first chapter, verses 26 and 36 (I actually just realized it matches with 36 too!). In verse 26, the Angel Gabriel visits Mary in the sixth month, and in verse 36, the Angel Gabriel shares with Mary the news of her cousin Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy. So… there’s some recurring theme here…

—You: Haha, not to mention that the Angel is an agent of divine intervention. Very Biblical! I noticed terms like fishermen and mission too.

—Evan: Yep, I decided to stick to metaphor. There’s just so much weight and richness when using metaphor and analogy.

—You: I noticed. You supersaturate the pages with metaphor. In fact, I don’t think you even used the word cry or tears at all in this chapter. I’ll have to reread it to be sure, but all I remember are words like heavy rain, streams, rapids, waterfall, ocean, whirlpools, monsoons, typhoons, tsunamis and weeping mommies.

—Evan: And aren’t those words a bit more expressive? I’ve decided that in my writing, I want to describe and say things in ways no one has said them before, or at least in ways rarely used. In this story, I also tried to use an organic approach: I wanted to use living and natural things in my descriptions. I avoided techie and artificial objects. It makes the tone more… gritty and alive. Of course, it matches the type of story too.

—You: One thing I’d like clarified is the “sisters” we’ve been reading about. Are they all related, like biological siblings here? Or are we talking about Catholic nuns?

—Evan: I’ll have to let you think that out. But I will share this: All nuns are “sisters”, but not all “sisters” are nuns; and when I say nun and sister, I mean Catholic Christian women who have taken vows to live lives of poverty, chastity and obedience. Such women are called consecrated/religious sisters, and such men are called consecrated/religious brothers.

A nun is different from a religious sister in the same way a monk is different from a religious brother. Nuns and monks are cloistered, meaning they lock the world out so that they can focus on a simple life and pray the rest of their lives, praying for you and me, praying for those of us who have no one to pray for them. In fact, that’s kind of what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI decided to do when he retired from the papacy. He went into a monastery to pray (for the rest of his life) for Pope Francis, for the Church, and for the world. He didn’t retire to relax!

Religious sisters and brothers do not go into cloister. Instead, they work in the world, minister to the ill, the weak and the abandoned. They become teachers, nurses, engineers, and even multimedia specialists. Anything to help evangelize. There was even a religious group of sisters who went on Oprah!

—You: Ohhh, I see. So Mother Teresa is a religious sister, not a nun. And that’s pretty cool that Benedict XVI is doing that. I didn’t know!

—Evan: So these sisters you’ve been meeting in LML are not technically nuns, nor biologically siblings.

—You: They’re religious sisters, and spiritual siblings? I get it now, I get it. And those prayer knots, I think you called it a knotted thread? Is that what I think it is?

—Evan: If you’re thinking it’s a Rosary, then you’d be right. You can actually make one yourself! It’s not too difficult, and with enough time and practice, even middle schoolers can make them (I helped a bunch of them learn during a Lent retreat last year).

—You: Aren’t Rosaries made of beads though?

Cord Rosary—Evan: They can be beaded, but the simplest ones are just a series of barrel knots. I actually like these cord Rosaries best. They’re durable, resilient, light and quiet. I’ve seen people use big cords to make knots as big as fists, or they can be the usual pea size. All you need is enough thread/twine/string/etc. Anyway, I’ll share more details about it in the coming chapters. It makes a reappearance. And hang onto the setting of this scene, it’ll come in handy further along the story… when flashbacks happen *hint hint*.

—You: Hmm… all right, until next time!

—Evan: Happy Feast of the Epiphany And enjoy your snowday!