Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Walk the Line

"So you are now in anguish. But we will see each other again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one can can that joy away from you." John 16:22

Walk the Line, the biopic of Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and his relationship with June Carter Cash (Reese Witherspoon), is a great Prodigal Son story.

This film succeeds because it is the classic story of love and redemption. Redemption seems to be the theme of so many movies because it is a story we all yearn and hope for in our own lives. We crave the redeeming power of patient love, and so we tell these stories over and over again to remind us that we have the capability of receiving it and giving it away.

What's even more impressive is that this film is not fictional. It is based on the life of Johnny Cash and June Carter's patient love that took him from walking the line to living above the line.

This means it's possible for each one of us, too.

What is God asking of us through this film? Are we the one struggling with our demons, with our past or present, in need of someone to pull us up and onto our feet again? Or are we the one placed in the path of another who desperately needs our love and support? Are we called to seek help or offer it up to someone else?

No matter who we are, either June or Johnny, we need to patiently take things step by step, because redemption takes time; but in the end, redemption is what we are here for. We are constantly being called to something greater. Our faith demands nothing less of us.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

"O God, I know that you are only pleased with honesty, sincerity, and a truthfulness of heart." Psalm 51:8

Brokeback Mountain can be difficult to watch, but not for the reason you would expect.

The pain of this story is the dishonesty that its two main characters, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger, in one of his best acting performances to date) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), experience both with each other and in their everyday lives.

This is a film about broken relationships, scarred by dishonesty and clandestine actions to hide a love story that society could not accept (and in many areas, still cannot accept). Ennis and Jack were forced to keep their real feelings a secret from those around them, and that forced silence created the pain that exudes from the screen as we watch this movie.

How often are we held back from being really real with those around us, so that we can live up to the sometimes false expectations set by others and by our world?

For some, that experience happens all too often.

What Brokeback Mountain tells us is that, if we supress these feelings, if we hide what's truthful, sincere, and honest about who God made us, then we can expect a hard and unhappy life. Christ said "the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32), and without truth, it would seem, we are trapped, we are imprisoned by our own demons.

What occured to me as I left the threatre after seeing this film was how much I wanted to re-write the story, to allow Ennis and Jack to be fully honest with their wives, and experience the freedom Christ desires for each one of us when we are finally honest with ourselves, and with the world around us.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

King Kong

The Best Picture of the Year!

At the close of the year, the biggest film of 2005 comes roaring into theatres with the biggest creature since Godzilla. And not only is it the biggest, under genius director Peter Jackson's care, this beast stars in what I consider the best movie of the year, too.

King Kong also looms large over its predecessors from 1933 and 1976 (as well as their sequels, spin-offs, and copycats). What's remarkable about Peter Jackson's film is that it achieves a feat very rarely heard of: it's a remake that surpasses the original in so many ways. In fact, after viewing the 1933 b-movie version with Fay Wray, it was a wonder that we didn't know what we were missing.

So just why is this Kong so special?

Because it's about relationships. Honest, real relationships.

More so than the previous Kongs, this film spends a good amount of time exploring the lives of the characters before we even set foot on Skull Island. We discover the financially-desperate motivations behind Ann Darrow (played by Naomi Watts), the greed of Carl Denham (Jack Black), and the reluctant heroism of Jack Driscoll (Adrian Brody). But more than anything, over the course of this film's three hours, we uncover the "personna" of King Kong himself.

Kong, Peter Jackson tells us, was a creature in search of a real relationship. Because of his size and power, the Skull Island inhabitants developed a fearful relationship with the ape. They sacrificed their women and built a 25-foot wall around their homes.

In 1933, Kong was a monster. In 1976, Kong was a sexually-motivated predator. But in 2005, Kong is finally a real soul.

The story's heroine, Ann Darrow, with her mix of compassion, understanding, and humor, was able to connect with Kong like no other when the ape ran off with her in the forest. In turn, Kong became Ann's incredibly loyal protector, guarding her against the most ferocious dinosaurs (not to mention greedy Hollywood directors) throughout their time on Skull Island. They gave of each other for each other, and in the process, saved each other.

The most prominent image of this, which is different from any other Kong before now, was the self-sacrificing walk of Ann towards the ape in his concluding rampage through New York City. In 1933 and 1976, Ann ran for her life. In this version, she runs toward him, not away. This is what sets this movie apart from the rest. This is what a monster movie should be.

Author Frank Peretti grew up as disfigured and lonely child. In his memior, The Wounded Spirit, Peretti recounted how his only refuges as a kid were the monster movies of Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, and King Kong. They, like him, were misunderstood creatures whom the world feared, but who in all honesty feared the world. In them, he could find solace. Through them, he regained his confidence and became a successful author of his own series of monster novels.

And here, finally, Peter Jackson has given us a real film about "monsters."

What saves the day wasn't the bi-planes who shot down Kong from the Empire State Building, but the relationship between beauty and the beast. Relationships are so important, our faith says as much. In the Gospels, Jesus is constantly sitting down for dinner not because he's hungry, but because in Middle Eastern society, the meal is 'ground zero' for building and nurturing relationships with others. Relationships are vital to our lives and our spirituality.

When we fear or avoid others (or other creatures, as the film suggests), we might lose sight of the relationship we could potentially have with them.

Yes, my eyes watered a bit as the monster fell from the skyscraper and the closing credits ran in the end of this movie. Finally, in the story of an ape and a woman, there was a real on-screen relationship of trust, understanding, compassion, and loyalty, and it didn't even matter that one partner wasn't even human. This is why King Kong is truly the movie of the year.