Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Scores and Picks 2011

What score and who will score at the Oscars this year?

This year, in advance of the Academy Awards, I would like to focus on two races that have captivated me this year: Best Score and Best Picture.

First, let's cue the orchestra. I believe that music stirs the soul - and as a blog focused on the spirituality of the movies today, I think the musical compostions nominated for Best Score need a little spotlight. A category that is often overlooked, this award highlights the undercurrent of emotion, excitement, and drama which can tie a film together and punctuate the acting, direction, and cinematography.

In the past year, there were a number of good soundtracks, but the five that have filled the Academy's nomination slate give five distinct ways to touch the soul: John Powell's piece for "How To Train Your Dragon" was electrifying, making the viewer feel like the wind was blowing through their face; A.R. Rahman's score for "127 Hours" hauntingly captured the solitude and barreness that the movie portrayed; Alexandre Desplat's simple, flowing take on "The King's Speech" reminded us that despite being king, George VI suffered like any other man with a speech impediment; Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' soundtrack to "The Social Network" was technologically creative, yet with an undercurrent of manipulation and growing frustration, which embodies the creation of Facebook; and Hans Zimmer's intense musical cues in "Inception" complimented the film's journey into the depths of the human mind and its complex dreamscapes.

Each score touched the soul in a unique way - from loneliness to intensity and from simplicity to technologically complex - making it more difficult to pin down one for the best of the year. One way to make a decision is to look at which breaks new ground, where no score has gone before. With that in mind, my pick goes to Reznor and Ross for showing us what the score of our digital age might sound like. As we wrestle with technology and its application in our lives, this score allows us to think and pray on how we might use our viral resources for the good - while still being cautious about navigating our relationship with God and with others in the world beyond the screen.

As for Best Picture, it boils down to a competition between the head, the heart, the memories, and the gut. Of the list, the four movies that moved me spiritually in four distinct ways were "The Social Network," "The King's Speech," "Toy Story 3," and "Inception."

"Social Network" made me think about my relationships in a Google world. "King's Speech" touched my heart with its stroy of triumph over stuggle. "Toy Story 3" was nostalgic for years gone by. And "Inception" mezmorized and excited me about the depths of my dreams and the way to create a whole new idea. Like the soundtracks, each film challenged me to find God in each of those four areas of life: technology, struggle, memory, and dreams/visions.

Each is important for me - but the area that I need to work on most in the future is how I handle the frustrations of life - and "King's Speech" gave a heartfelt response to handicaps and personal difficulties. While I will always be conscious of spirituality of a digital world, my own past, and my visions for the future, those are not where I need to spend time in prayer. For me, it is how to handle life's struggles - and with that, I will be pulling just a tad more for the incredibly well-performed tale of the king and his speech therapist.

On all the other races, I have some picks and favorites - but these are the two that have occupied my prayer this season. Blessings on all the nominees for their craft, their creativity, and their work to make us laugh, cry, think, and yes... even draw closer to God.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


"Who do you say that I am?" Mark 8:29

Unknown is an action-infused thriller where the audience gets to accompany an amnesia-stricken scientist Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) as he uncovers who he is and what is going on all around him. Like the film's title indicates, we journey with Harris into the great unknown.

The premise is that on a business trip to Berlin with his wife (January Jones), Harris loses his passport and on the way back to the airport to retrieve it, ends up in a horrible car accident. Unconscious for four days, he finally wakes up but has a hard time remembering details due to a seemingly slight case of amnesia.

When he finally remembers his name and the reason for his trip to Berlin, he quickly goes to find his wife at the hotel where they were staying. Unfortunately, upon his arrival, his wife no longer recognizes him and another man (Aiden Quinn) is posing as Dr. Martin Harris. Now the movie moves into a detective story where the "real" Harris teeters on uncertainty - are my memories wrong? am I insane? is there a conspiracy to replace me? what do I know that is worth all this trouble? And most importantly: who am I?

In the Scriptures, Jesus posed this very question to his friends and followers: "Along the way, Jesus asked the disciples, 'Who do people say that I am?' They said in reply, 'John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.' And then he asked them, 'Who do you say that I am?'" (Mark 8:27-29)

What meant so much to Jesus was not just who he was (for he knew that and was confident and secure in that knowledge), but how others saw him. Was the person on the inside really who the people on the outside saw and experienced when they encountered him?

Like Jesus, we must all take stock of our identity from time to time. We can craft our own story, hone our personality, and work towards living a good and moral life. However, we should also be conscious of who we are to others - and what kind of person we are in this world. We might think we're on the right track, going to church, believing in right and ethical teachings, and living a well-balanced life. Yet if we ignore people who don't share our lifestyle, treat others with disgust or anger, or get easily frustrated in mixed company - our outsides will not match the person inside.

Martin Harris struggled to figure out who he was. When he awoke from his coma, his inner personality came forth yet, for some reason, this kind and thoughtful person was being dismissed by his wife and hunted down by assassins. Who did people say that he was?

Martin's inner self was a gentle soul with a desire for a loving relationship. He was friendly person who attracted the help of an illegal Bosnian immigrant Gina (Diane Kruger), even though their connection could and would cost her anonymity in German society. He was a lover of the arts who longed for a restful break from his busy life.

For some reason, the amnesia was able to bring forth this personality, but he still had to endure the difficult effects (car chases, assassination attempts, confused faces, etc.) which resulted from whatever kind of person he was before the accident. Likewise, no matter how much we work on our inner selves, it is the outer image that we will need to account for in this world.

We are called to a right relationship with our transcendent God, which often happens in the silence of our hearts and our innermost thoughts. It manifests itself in our beliefs, our emotions, and the person we are when no one is looking. However, we are also called to a right relationship with everyone around us (see the "greatest commandment," Mark 12:30-31). This exhibits itself through our friendships but also in our encounters with the poor, the outcast, the stranger, and especially in how we treat those whom we regard as "enemies."

One might argue that all this doesn't matter since God will know who we really are in heaven; however time and time again (especially in the prediction of the "last judgement," Matt. 25:31-46), Jesus reminds us that our outer personality and our relationships with the world will be just as important to God as one's inner self.

How would Dr. Martin Harris be judged by this standard? By the kind inner self that emerged from the coma? Or by the impact he must have had in his life before the amnesia? Christ would say to him and to us: "both." Let both be known.

So with that in mind, let us reflect more intentionally on the person we are among others - and not just our loved ones. Let us be mindful of our relationships both with God in our innermost heart and with others in our daily encounters - and that the two are always in sync. Then you can ask with certainty, "who do people say that I am?"