Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mirror, Mirror

"Who is the greatest in the kingdom?" (Mt. 18:1)

Mirror, Mirror is just one movie in a string of fantasy films and television projects that have been emerging into the pop culture stratosphere this year.

In addition to this latest film, TV audiences have been caught under the spell of Grimm and Once Upon a Time. And later this summer, we anticipate seeing Snow White and the Huntsman, Brave, Dark Shadows, and the extremely historical fiction piece, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

What connects all these elements together is the fact that fantasy stories provide us an allegory of our lives - a chance to put ourselves into another character's shoes (or glass slippers, etc.). Fantasy characters reflect who we are, yet at the same time, we enjoy them because they are nothing like who we are.

They exist in another "universe" where the rules are slightly different and the stories can be beyond the bounds of reality... but in some ways, they are still grounded in our everyday experiences: love, betrayal, heroism, danger, and so forth.

Just as the evil queen (Julia Roberts) asks, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?,” we too might try to throw ourselves into the role of the charming prince (in this case, Armie Hammer) or the beautiful Snow White (Lily Collins) – but we find the connection just isn’t there in every scene.

Sometimes the mirror reminds us we’re just plain Dopey.

That's not to insult us. Consider the seven dwarfs here, modeled after the traditional "Disney" seven. Amongst all the fantastical characters in this film, it was the collection of dwarfs that truly caught my attention. It might have also had to do with the fact that, among their number, we could find the some of the best acting in the movie. But I digress.

Mirror, Mirror took some liberties with the naming of the seven, but the characteristics are still the same. These are the ones who might reflect us more than the inhabitants of the castle. These are the ones whose lives are more akin to middle class movie-goers than the story of the aloof Charming or the bitter Queen.

In fact, we might say that it all depends on the day as to which dwarf we're more connected to as we watch the film.

Some days we’re content with the happenings of our day like Happy/Chuckles (Ronald Lee Clark), while other days we’re overwhelmed, lethargic, or tempted to procrastinate like Sleepy/ Grub (Joe Gnoffo). Sometimes we get angry like Grumpy/Burtcher (Martin Klebba), while at other times, we’re ready to take charge like Doc/Grimm (Danny Woodburn).

Seeing how the seven dwarfs interact with one another and the critical role that they play in the story gives us a chance to put a cinematic mirror up to ourselves.

We can get frustrated when we find ourselves more aligned to these supposedly "minor" characters, but we shouldn’t. In these stories, everyone serves a purpose, even Dopey. In fact, with this timeless tale, the story would be flattened without these seven men. In fact, we should be happy (no pun intended) to be counted among their number.

In almost a similar cadence to the queen with her mirror, the disciples also asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Mt. 18:1) Jesus’ answer shocked them as it continues to shock us today: “Whoever humbles themselves like a child is the greatest in the kingdom.” (Mt. 18:4) This echoes another of Jesus’ proclamations; “Blessed are the poor in spirit…the meek…they who are persecuted…” (Mt. 5:3,5,10)

So when we feel humbled like Dopey or Grumpy (or any of the others, in whatever name we choose to give them), Jesus says, “blessed are you!” Even if we fall short of reflecting the hero or heroine of the fairy tale in our lives, God is still there with us and loves us just as much as princes and princesses and queens.

And that is no fantasy.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Titanic 3D

"See I am doing something new. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?" Isaiah 43:19

With the re-release of the epic movie Titanic in 3D to coincide with the centennial of the titular ocean liner's voyage and fateful sinking, audiences get a chance to take a new look at a timeless classic. And as moviegoers put on the 3D spectacles, they might notice a few things they never caught before.

For instance, the three-dimensional effect allows viewers to see the bubbles as they rise up from the ship's wreckage on the ocean floor or the trays of fresh fruit laid out before the first class passengers in their terrace cafe. Moviegoers may also notice the new array of stars high above the waters, as this new stellar composite was the only change director James Cameron made to the re-release.

But on a more harrowing note, the 3D also shows more clearly the enormous size of the propellers and the frightening height of the ship's stern as they lift vertically out of the Atlantic - and as the remaining passengers, dwarfed in comparison, plummet to their death in the frigid waters below. There are some moments where we are pleased to have this film in its three-dimensional glory, and there are other moments (like these) that make us cringe and turn away in horror or disgust.

Before we reflect any further, we must stop, pray for, and mourn the tragedy that this story tells. More than a fictional lost love, the true sadness is the loss of so much life one hundred years ago. Perhaps one of the most profound moments of Cameron's epic is the simplicity of the Titanic's band playing "Nearer My God To Thee" while those left behind on the sinking ocean liner courageously face their deaths: the dignity of Benjamin Guggenheim, brandy in hand, looking on as the Grand Staircase floods over; the guilt of Captain John Smith alone on the bridge as the ocean comes crashing in; the nameless mother who puts her children to sleep in a third class cabin, so that they might not feel the pain that awaits them; or Isidore and Ida Straus lying together in bed as the waters close in around them. Regardless of the special effects, music, or the romance of the leads, it is this simple moment that deserves our prayer the most. Rest in peace, all those who died at sea on the Titanic. We pray that, as this tragedy is recalled once again, we will not forget you.

Moments like these are more noticeable when we get the chance like this to re-watch a movie we've probably seen a few times before. When we see a film for the second, third, or twentieth time (as might be the case with Titanic), we can expand our field of vision beyond the love story or the special effects that might have caught our attention on the first viewing. And with 3D, our eyes are even more wide open to new and previously unnoticeable sights.

As Isaiah says, "See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Is. 43:19). Of course the prophet was not foretelling the rise of 3D movie going; he was helping the people of Israel see the new things that were unfolding before their very eyes but never stopped to notice.

In a sense, this is what makes the love story of Titanic so heart-warming. No one but Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) notices the pain and anguish that Rose (Kate Winslet) is experiencing as she copes with the restraints of Victorian culture. And no one but Rose bothers to notice the poor and hapless third-class Jack, let alone his skills in artistry or his adventurous risk-taking spirit.

We can identify with this love because, so often, we wonder if anyone notices us. We might worry that no one would miss us if we were gone. We can fall into a loneliness simply because we feel unheard, unseen, or unappreciated in the busyness of life or the crowdedness of our world today. Jack and Rose notice each other when few others did - and it captures our hearts.

The most precious moments of our own lives come when people do take an interest in us and in what we have to say or contribute. We draw close to friends who have bothered to pay attention to us, and we cling to the relationships where we are valued for who we are inside.

And on the flip side, we can make such an incredible difference in the lives of others by simply taking note. In a society that is constantly looking down and checking their cell phones, what a joy it would be when someone looked up and into another's life.

We are called to do something new, like Isaiah challenges us, and start looking around. Our world is in high def 3D all the time, but when do we take notice of the events occurring in our midst and the people who pass us by every single hour of every single day? Imagine what would happen when we would start paying more attention to one another.

And it's not just a voyeuristic observation of human nature, but a chance to take the time to invest in someone else beyond ourselves and engage with these people at a deeper level than ever before. When we do this, we are engaged in an intimacy with one another that would make Jack and Rose's relationship seem downright mundane. In the Lord's eyes, the greatest love affairs that can happen are the everyday encounters we have with another son or daughter of God.

Like a 3D movie, let us open our eyes wider and see more clearly the activities, circumstances, and people around us each and every day of our lives. We don't need special goggles to do this. We simply need to love as God loves and take joy in the wonder that surrounds us. And that, friends, is truly "timeless love."