Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Wedding Crashers

"When perfect love comes, the partial will pass away. Just as when I was child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, act like a child. But when I became a man, I put away such childish things." 1 Corinithians 13:10-11

It is ironic that the Scriptural theme of a movie like Wedding Crashers is actually referenced in the film itself: During a church wedding, the two main characters John and Jeremy (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn) take bets on which Scripture reading will be read at the Mass, and sure enough, it's First Corinthians.

The wedding crashers of this film are two lifelong best friends who have played the summer game of going to weddings, crashing the receptions, and working on getting one-night-stands with as many women as they can. These are truly the acts of two adult "children," two guys who have never really grown out of adolescence. In fact, the two engage in an annual birthday ritual of an overnight sleepover on John's birthday each spring.

John and Jeremy may be adult lawyers in Washington DC, but Wedding Crashers is, at its heart, a coming-of-age story.

(a side note: I was impressed with the fact that the wedding crashers not only attend the receptions, but also the religious marriage ceremony for each wedding they crash; in an age like today, it is a good reminder of the religiosity of marriage).

After seasons of crashing, the film shows that John is finally tired of the experience. He agrees to one last crash, this time at the wedding for the daughter of Treasury Secretary Cleary (Christopher Walken). It is here where John "puts away such childish things" (as 1 Corinithians 14 goes), and falls in love with another of Cleary's daughters, Claire (Rachel McAdams), whom he pursues throughout the rest of the film despite the pleas of Jeremy to move on (and who has his own infatuated girl problems to worry about).

In the midst of exploiting the sacrament of love, here is a boy who has become a man because he found a "perfect love." When St. Paul talks about finding perfect love, he may have not had this movie in mind, but he does extol its virtues in a passage that has almost become cliche: "Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous. It is not pompous. It is not inflated. It is not rude. It does not seek its own interests. It is not quick-tempered or brood over injury. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices always with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things." (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

In this film, Claire's boyfriend (and eventually fiancee) represents all those attributes that St. Paul said love is not: jealous, pompous, inflated, rude, brooding over injury, quick-tempered.

On the other hand, John is the antithesis of all of these traits (and even his "wrongdoing" is something he has come to reconcile, beg forgiveness for, and leave behind). Though it takes some time (remember that true love "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things"), John's example of this "perfect love" eventually wins the day.

While Wedding Crashers may offend some sensibilities, it is truly a story of growth and repentance. The story of St. Augustine would need to cover the early excesses and exploits of Augustine's youth. The story of St. Paul would need to cover the killing sprees of Christians that defined his life before finding Christ.

In fact, there is one scene in the film where Jeremy feels the need to confess his sins to the family priest (albiet over a few drinks, but the sacramental concept is still there). Reconciliation awaits all those who seek God's mercy and forgiveness.

We, like the wedding crashers, are sinners and in need of growth. We must pray that we, like John and Jeremy, are open to positive change in our lives so that we, like St. Paul, can one day boast: "I have put away such childish things!"

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Just Like Heaven

"For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we born to eternal life."
- St. Francis of Assisi

With a film with a title like Just Like Heaven, there is bound to be a lot of gospel messages imbedded into the reels.

Here is the story of two individuals: Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon), a busy, perky doctor who lives life at the office and hardly anywhere else; and David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo), a loney, depressed widower who now lives life like his last name: cloistered, removed, and interior. While one may be filled with energy and the other is devoid of any, they are connected by the fact that they both are dead to the world.

We are led to believe that Elizabeth dies in a car crash, and her "ghost" comes to haunt David, who now resides in Elizabeth's old apartment. I guess this is how two seemingly dead people can ever find each other: as specter and recluse (The Ghost & Mr. Chicken, perhaps?).

When they do find each other, both David and Elizabeth begin to live again. Since it is her "subconscience" that visits the apartment, David must help her remember who she was in life. And in so doing, Elizabeth helps David remember who he really is inside before his wife passed away and he cloistered himself up on a couch.

As I posted in a previous blog, we are made for each other. God created us to live for each other. And here is the story of two people who are truly made for each other - they need each other to bring life back into their lives. Remembering Christ's declaration, "I have come so that you might have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10), we can see that real life, abundant life, was missing from the existances of David and Elizabeth until they really lived.

This movie promotes what I would call "pro-abundant-life." Just because we breathe doesn't always mean we're alive. David and Elizabeth are non unlike many young adults out there - either overworked or sadly depressed - who are not truly "alive."

When David and Elizabeth work together on reviving an accident victim in a restaurant, they both received a sense of purpose and meaning to their lives. Through their actions, they were able to make a positive, life-giving difference. They got a glimpse of the abundant life. The challenge to us in this film is to ask ourselves what are we living for, what our purpose and meaning is in this world, and how we can make a difference beyond working ourselves silly or making a permanent indent on our couch.

To fully appreciate abundant life, David and Elizabeth had to die to their mundane lives, just as St. Francis prayed centuries earlier: "it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." If we find ourselves in a dead life, let us pray for our own resurrection into abundance, too.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

"'Be prepared, watch, and pray, that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Matt. 26: 41

This exorcism movie is not necessarily about the theology of exorcisms.

When finding the struggle between God and the devil in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the temptation is to look at the "big stuff"... the exorcism rituals, the six demons inside the possessed girl, or the scenes of blood dripping from statues, crosses, or stain glass windows.

But in Emily Rose, the devil is truly in the details.

We are just as likely to see evil rear its ugly head in the unphotogenic courtroom scenes just as much as the supernatural, special-effects-laden flashbacks of this film. The craftiness of evil is that it's most disturbing where and when we least expect it.

In our own everyday lives, we don't encounter evil whenever scary music is playing or every time there's a violent thunderstorm. We live in the real world where evil can exist in the unlikeliest of situations, and often does.

In his ministry, Jesus scolded the devil in his many exorcisms as well as when Simon Peter was pushing him in a wrong direction ("Get behind me, Satan!" he tells Peter in Matt. 16:23).

Yes, evil is real. And that evil comes in many forms.

Sometimes it can be loud, messy, speak in ancient languages, and eat bugs off the floor. The six demons possessing Emily Rose in this movie reminds us of the Gerasene demonic who said to Christ, "Legion is my name, for there are many of us in here." (Mark 5:9). Possessed people are indeed real and that cannot be denied.

But at other times, though, evil can wear suits and ties, and attack a simple country priest for his beliefs or a defense attorney for sticking to her conscience. The lawyers reminded me of the lawyers of the law in the Gospels whom Jesus called "whitewashed coffins that appear beautiful on the outside but that are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth." (Matt. 23:27).

Both images of evil show up in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but unfortunately only one of those images will get all the press.

In the Catholic Church, since the time of the early Christians, we believe in the power of exorcisms to draw out demons from the possessed. Catholics also believe in the power of people to overcome the evil that exists in the everyday through actions of compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.

We may very well encounter both in our lives, and we must pray that we are prepared to "undergo the test" - either with prayers and rituals or with love and action.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Transporter 2

"The Lord is my strength. He makes my feet swift as those of the antelope, and he gives me the power to climb mountains." Habakkuk 3:19

About a month ago, I blogged about a car chase movie (Dukes of Hazzard) and likened the Dukes family to Amos and the prophets of Israel. After a few weeks without seeing the August films, I am writing about another car chase movie (Transporter 2) and comparing its hero to the minor prophet Habbakuk and the prophets of Judah. Perhaps it has something to do with those fast cars and adreneline-pumping chases...

Before going on, I must admit that I did not see Transporter 1. I saw this film based on the action-packed trailer and Roger Ebert's enticing review. I like what I saw.

In this movie, Frank (the titular transporter, played by Jason Statham) is a well-dressed 'chauffeur' for a rich Miami couple's six-year old son, who eventually gets abducted by a group of bounty hunter kidnappers in order to infect the boy with a virus that will spread to his father, and then all the politicians he knows. The real story, however, is Frank and his Audi.

Frank is Habbakuk, who finds his strength in his honesty, gentlemenly manners, and right judgement. In Transporter 2, he is tempted, pushed, and threatened, but his moral center never wavers. He is a model hero that saves the day while staying true to his heart values and the promises to others. He never betrays another's trust, and the protection of the innocent is always the first of his priorities.

"Rules are made to be broken," is what one of the villians tells Frank, and this is also what our world tells us. But this film's postmodern hero sticks firmly to his convictions and values in the face of temptation, adversity, and struggle. Here, finally, is a character who makes following rules look cool.

Like Frank, we too must find our real strength comes out when we allow ourselves to be swept up by our God. On the surface, submission to the Lord looks like something a weak person would do. But on a week when we celebrate the feast of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, no one would ever doubt that this diminutive sister was probably one of the most powerful figures in the history of the world.

If we really want power, we'll only find it in humble submission to God and his Word.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Harry Potter, Open Water, and Pope Benedict

What I did on my summer vacation...

It has always been my pet peeve with Hollywood that August is typically devoid of any good movies. From the end of July to a few weeks after Labor Day, the blockbusters fizzle, the Oscar potentials are a no-show, and a movie theatre is only as good as the chill of an air conditioner and the smell of freshly-popped popcorn.

All of which is why I have not blogged for several weeks.

So what does a movie blogger do in the meantime? Read books, rent DVDs, and make an overseas visit with the Pope (just your typical summer stuff, right?).

This summer, I read the new tome from J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I watched several movies on the small screen including Constantine (with Keanu Reeves), The Interpreter (with Nicole Kidman), and Open Water (with two unknowns and a sea of sharks). Then I took a British Airways flight to Cologne, Germany, for World Youth Day with Pope Benedict XVI.

From all that and from the lessons we have learned from Hurricane Katrina, one theme has emerged loud and clear: We have not been made to be alone.

Into a society that treasures individualism have come hints (perhaps shouts) from we are created for one another. Even in the first pages of the Scriptures, God reminds us, "It is not good for man to be alone." (Gen. 2:18) This summer, Rowling, a pool of sharks, and the Vatican are reminding us of this central theme of creation, too.

In Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter cannot confront Voldemort without the aid of Professor Dumbledore... and Dumbledore cannot do it without Harry. In Open Water, it goes without saying that a young couple's refusal to stay with the pack (and a boat driver's reluctance to really take a good look at his divers) leaves them all in hot water (pun intended).

While being packed like sardines in cable cars in Cologne and being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of other people in the middle of an ancient German city, I couldn't help but be reminded that we were never truly alone in that pilgrimage.

And here we are, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and with all the outpouring of generosity from all over the country to aid the victims and survivors, we find again that we are not alone. We are made for each other: to help each other, to encourage each other, to love each other. Tonight at my church we packed up a large van with clothes, bedding, toiletries, diapers, and food that had been donated by parishioners and young adults from our area. God was truly present in the hands that loaded the van and in the extreme generosity of the people who selflessly gave of their possessions.

We are not made to be alone. God made us to lift each other up, whether it be the people of New Orleans or simply the people we run into every day.