For millennials like me Jurassic Park holds a special place in our hearts. The first movie was mind-blowing – for the first time ever Dinosaurs really came to life. Yes there were dinosaurs in movies before but there was nothing like it – they were living breathing dinosaurs on our screens – it was literally awesome – as in “awe-inspiring.” I think that was the appeal of the first movie – these creatures – those shots – were awe inspiring. The first time you saw the brachiosaurs you couldn’t help but have your jaw drop – it was your first glimpse a dinosaur – it was a taste of what Jurassic Park (the park, not the movie) was all about.
Then there was going through the gates of the park – a true woah moment.
And of course – there was the T-Rex. The tension of seeing the water ripple, the terror of it smashing through the glass of the Ford Explorer, and the raw power of its roar.
Rarely has a movie made the audience feel like they were facing something truly beyond us. All these feelings I’m describing are what made Jurassic Park – and they are feelings that haven’t been present in any of the other two movies (except for maybe the RV scene in Lost World). The point is, none of those movies have been able to capture the awe factor which made the movie what it was. Jurassic World however comes really close to recapturing the magic of Jurassic Park.
Jurassic World comes awfully close to re-capturing the awe factor of Jurassic Park.
I won’t go into details about the movie too much – but let me just say that I think Jurassic World is a home run. I give it a solid A rating. Sure the plot is typical of a dino-disaster movie (Dinosaurs are on the lose killing people), sure the movie self-satarizes product placement (I have never seen so many ads in a movie in my whole life), and sure the characters are super archetypal (the billionaire, the mad scientist, the kids with divorcing parents, the hero, the man eating dinosaurs), but I honestly believe you can set aside all those minor issues and say “DANG, this is Jurassic Park!”
What I Loved about the Movie…
Getting introduced to the park – and seeing all the attractions. The movie does a great job of setting up the park. And it makes you think – man, I would love to go there! For a Jurassic Park buff like me it was like a dream come true seeing a functional park.
The Dinosaurs – part of the magic of the first Jurassic park was that it didn’t use too much CGI, it was mostly really well made puppets. That’s why it didn’t feel “fake.” The dinosaurs in this movie feel real. But most importantly, when you see the dinosaurs there is that awe-factor present. There is that numinous feeling present in this movie once again. And, oh, there are some really cute baby dinosaurs too. Your heart will melt when you see the babies!
The Visuals – visually it’s a stunning film. Remember how you felt when they landed the helicopter? Or when you saw the lake scene near the beginning of the first one? Or the shot of the pterodactyls flying next to the helicopter? Yea – its that kind of beutiful. And the cinematography is spot on. The locations are beautiful. The whole thing is just beautiful. That is probably because they filmed it on real film instead of digital.
The Homages to the original Jurassic Park – attractions named after John Hammond, a book by Ian Malcolm, a guy wearing an original Jurassic Park T-shirt, the banner, the original gates to the park, even one character making a come back; all these things have a nostalgia factor built in that remind you of how much you loved the first one. But what I really loved – and don’t worry I won’t spoil anything – are the homages to certain shots and angles from the first movie that were iconic. The Ford Explorer scene, the sick triceratops, the galloping gallamiumuses, the T-Rex chasing the flare, the T-Rex vs. raptor fight are all re-worked (not in a copying the original type way) but in new ways which pay honor to the first movie.
The most epic ending EVER – let me just say – WOW. *MINDBLOWN*
All this to say, movie was a ton of fun, I will probably see it a few more times (and definitely in IMAX 3D). In a post-Jurassic Park world – it’s the only dinosaur movie that has come close to capturing the awe-factor of the first movie. And in a world where every movie is trying to blow their audience’s minds with epicness – to say that my mind was genuinely blow throughout and I had my jaw drop many times throughout the movie.
But more importantly – At the end of the day, it made me feel like a kid again. I felt like the wide-eyed 6 year old watching Jurassic Park for the first time. And to say that this movie can create those sorts of feelings – that is saying a lot.
I have been getting a lot of feedback on my post –Noah: A Sin-Full Movie Review – so I figured that I would write up a follow up on it. However instead of responding to everybody, I figured I would point out what some other reviews are saying about this film.
Noah is another entry in this filmography. It asks big questions: Are humans worth saving? What is the place of justice and mercy in existence? How ought people relate to both powers greater than themselves and to the world in which they dwell?
It takes the right sort of liberties:
Even the most controversial of their narrative choices—something I won’t spoil for you—has echoes of other Bible stories in it; it’s probably not what happened, but things like it happened later, so it’s not inconsistent.
It drips with God’s presence
Aronofsky and Handel rightly intuited from the Scriptural account and tradition that, ten generations out from the creation, and before God reveals his personal name to man (which is not “God,” incidentally), it would make sense for people to think of God largely as “the Creator.”
The characters in Noah—all of them, including the bad guys—believe in God. This is not a world with atheists or agnostics. This is a world where people live a very, very long time, long enough to pass stories down to their children, and where the presence of the Creator is still felt very strongly.
It has a strong theology of creation
There is what seems to me a good, balanced sense that the earth was given to man to both live in and care for. (Remember, man was not given explicit permission to eat animal flesh until after the flood, and even then with the stipulation that they should not eat blood, or the life of the flesh—a stipulation that carries into the New Covenant and seems to indicate this activity was going on before the flood.)
Instead of suggesting that the earth ought to be left alone, Noah tells his son early in the story that we only pick those plants that we’re going to use, and we leave the others to grow. That seems like good creation care to me. And when God causes the earth to grow trees so Noah has something with which to build the ark, Noah and his family are happy to cut them down and make them into a boat—because they need the boat for survival.
“I just remember being scared… I remember thinking as a kid, ‘What if I’m not good enough to get on the boat? I have wickedness. I have sin. Would I actually get on the boat and what would it be like if I didn’t get on it?’”
Co-writer Ari Handel echoed Aronofsky and said that these questions were a starting point in their exploration of the Noah story: Who deserves to be saved? Who gets to be on the boat?
It simultaneously tells a story of mercy and justice:
As I reflect on that peaceful ark in the midst of the wails of death, I’m reminded of other biblical instances of God’s simultaneous mercy and justice. It makes me think of Moses parting the Red Sea for the Egypt-fleeing Israelites, followed by the waters crashing in on the pursuing Egyptian army. Again: horrific watery demise for many; safety for God’s chosen people. Or God’s people in Egypt during the Passover: safe inside the walls whose doorways were marked with a lamb’s blood, while outside the mothers wail over slaughtered first-borns.
Noah is a complex character:
One strength of Aronofsky’s telling of the Noah story, and Russell Crowe’s performing of it, is the complexity given to Noah’s character. Consistent with his frequent interest in characters plagued by obsession and/or mind games (see Pi, The Fountain, Black Swan), Aronofsky depicts Noah as a conflicted man faithfully endeavoring to do what he believes he is called to do, however traumatizing it may be for him and those closest to him. Crowe delivers one of his better performances as a man trying to listen for God’s direction, even if he at times misinterprets what God is doing.
It accurately portrays the fact that Noah was still a sinner, just like the rest of the human race:
After the fall, we are desperately in need of grace. All of us. Noah too. Here is Spurgeon in his famous 1863 sermon on Noah:
“There was nothing in Noah why God should make a covenant with him. He was a sinner — and proved himself to be so in a most shocking manner within a few days… He was one of the best of men; but the best of men are only men at the best, and can have no claim upon the favour of God. He was saved by faith as the rest of us must be, and we all know faith is inconsistent with any claim of merit.”
Is Aronofsky’s Noah perfect? No. On a filmmaking level it sometimes seems confused about tone and genre. On a storytelling level it occasionally feels needlessly provocative in its attempts to defy audience expectations.
But Noah gets the theological heart of the story right. It shows that God’s wrath is entirely justified and his grace all the more graceful because of it. It beautifully depicts the struggles of faith and the mercy and justice of God.
It’s a film that does what too few films do anymore: it raises profound questions and demands a discussion. As such it will invite plenty of debate, especially within the ranks of the religiously devout (as it already has). But I also believe, and hope, that Noah will pique the interest of the irreligious and get them thinking and talking about God too.
I already said what I thought about the film, but my sentiments completely echo McCracken’s words – Noah is not perfect (ironically, that is the message of the movie too!), but it gets the theological heart of the story right, and it raises important religious questions for both Christians and non-Christians.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. – St. Paul
Without a doubt Aaron Aronofsky’s rendition of the Noah story falls short of the glory of its telling in the book of Genesis. At times it cheesy, at times its confusing, at times it doesn’t make sense, and at times it feels like I am watching a 1980’s claymation film (the Watchers were rendered horribly). However I (unlike many Christians writing about this movie) understand that Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel aren’t trying to stick with the biblical story. Both of these writers take creative liberties by including accounts from pseudepigraphal Jewish writings and on top of that they consider themselves to be engaging in the Jewish practice of Midrash while telling this story. All that to say, I don’t care if they added stuff, I care that they did a poor job carrying out some of these additions.
Most Christians out there are bashing this film. It seems like they really hate it. I on the other hand loved the movie. Was it biblically inaccurate? Heck yes! Was it theologically true? At its deepest core it was.
Noah is theologically accurate.
Let me go ahead and share with you two reasons why I think Noah theologically accurate and let me conclude by sharing why I think this film will actually do more for the sake of God’s mission than many Christian movies do.
Two theological truths that I think the film portrayed accurately.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
We evangelicals have done a good job of emphasizing this truth. Our liberal friends haven’t done such a great job – they tend to have a more positive view of human nature – and our secular friends, well…. They don’t have any conception of the innate sinfulness of human beings.
Throughout the movie, Noah tries to get people to understand that human beings really are sinful. He tries to show his family that we really have turned out back on our creator, that we really have decided to set ourselves up as kings and queens over and against the creator. Noah really understands the depths of our sins, even while his family refuses to see it. One key scene that shows this is when Noah refuses to rescue Na’el and lets her get trampled. Ham is understandably upset, because this girl was going to be his wife. He doesn’t understand how Noah could be such an evil man. He yells at Noah telling him “how could you let her die, I know her, she was good!” But Noah knows better, all have sinned. All are worthy of God’s wrath. None are good and none seek God. Even though she might not have been as blatantly evil as the rest of the humans, Na’el certainly was not good. She was sinful and she is part of the reason why God had to start over with the human race.
There is another scene that perfectly captures this truth. Naameh goes to Methuselah and asks him a favor (don’t worry I won’t spoil it for you). She pleads with Methuselah, telling him that her sons really are good, she can see it in them, yes they have some flaws, but deep down inside they are good people. Methuselah gives her a cryptic response to her request – essentially he tells her that she doesn’t know what good really is. Interestingly enough, Methuselah doesn’t call the kids evil, but he doesn’t call them good either.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Noah knows this, he sees Romans 1:18-32 on full display when he goes into the human camp. And in a Black Swan type moment, Noah sees himself in the humans and their actions. This is a turning point in the movie, some want to say that Noah snaps and has gone crazy. I like to believe that he has seen the depths of our depravity and knows that the only thing we deserve is death. While on the Ark, Noah explains to his family that they all must die, he isn’t going to kill them, but once they land they must all bury eachother. Maters get complicated when Shem and Ila have twin daughters. As a result Noah believes that his responsibility is to kill the two girls. This is probably the most intense gut wrenching part of the movie. Noah seems crazy, the viewer begins to dislike Noah, he has gone from being a hero to being a villain who desires to kill babies. Much like Pharaoh or Herod the great, Noah has joined the ranks of those who practice infanticide. Naturally the audience will turn their back on him – babies are good, they haven’t sinned, they are innocent – yet Noah has seen something that everybody else has not yet seen, that evil lies within all of them. Naameh is selfish, Ham is disobedient, Japeth is covetous. Essentially, some people have their behaviors under control, but at our depths we are depraved. Original sin lies in all of us. And we deserve death. Yet something happens to Noah and he refuses to kill the two girls. Later on, he is asked why he didn’t kill them. How does he answer that question? Does he say that he finally realized that there was good in all of us? No. Does he say that he saw that they had not yet sinned? No. He says he felt love. Love! Love was the reason why he had mercy on them. It wasn’t because they deserved it. It wasn’t because they were actually good deep down inside. His love made them worthy of living.
Noah paints a beautiful picture of the gospel!
This is the gospel at its core! Humans are totally depraved, we are infected with Original sin, and we deserve to die. Yet God loves us and has mercy on us. Its God’s love for us, and his love alone that motivates him to rescue and redeem us. Sin still deserves death, but instead of us having to die. God sends his son to die in our place.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life.
Mercy is the result of God’s love. Mercy is not based off anything within us. That is why God’s mercy is an act of grace.
We need to take care of creation.
I have heard some people complain that Noah was one long, big budget PETA add. Maybe they are right. But what is wrong with that? The director knows that evangelical Christians are going to flock to this movie – even if they don’t like it – here is his chance to speak to this particular audience, which traditionally has been averse to any sort of message that implies we ought to take care of creation. Sorry fellow evangelicals, but its true – thankfully it’s beginning to change, even Gospel Coalition is moving in this direction!
Throughout the film we are presented with two opposing camps – Noah and his family vs. Tubal Cain and the humans. They both hold to opposing ideologies – Noah thinks humanity’s purpose it to take care of and preserve the creator’s work. You see this in early in the movie, where Noah is collecting lichens and when he teaches his son not to unwisely pick the flowers. He mentions that the flowers aren’t simply there for our sake, they have inherent value. On the other hand Tubal Cain and the humans see creation as an endless bag of resources to be exploited and used. Everywhere they go, the humans strip the land clear of resources, making the land incapable of future production. Much like 18th and 19th century colonizers (even 20th century corporations) there is no regard for human life and human practices – the bottom like is “you have something we want” and we will get it at all costs, even if that means the destruction of another group of people’s way of life. Thankfully some people have drawn attention to these evil practices (at least when it comes to human beings) but companies continue to trample over other parts of creation in the name of development i.e. corporate greed. In the movie this ideology is most clearly articulated when Tubal Cain is having a conversation with Ham while on the Ark. Tubal Cain tells Ham that the Creator has commanded humans to “be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the creation” – creation was created for humans, they must make creation submit to their purposes. In addition to this, Tubal Cain says that the creator has left humanity to fend for itself – Tubal Cain and his humans live in a deistic world.
I find it fascinating that Tubal Cain uses explicit biblical language – he quotes the cultural mandate – and he twists it be an excuse for the way they are treating the Creator’s work. I cannot count how many times I have heard Christians say similar things; creation was made for our sake, we need to take dominion, creation is unruly we must make it submit, etc. Honestly I believe that dispensationalism is one major reason why this sort of belief has flourished, but more importantly (and I think Aaronofsky really is on to something) it is a deistic and now atheistic worldview that set Christians up for a lack of compassion towards creation. I find it historically fascinating that the rise of deism coincided with the rise of colonization, exploitation of native peoples in the name of “civilizing” them, and the industrial revolution. In a world where there is no sense of responsibility towards God, in a world where we think God has left us to our own devices, everything become acceptable – the first thing that goes from our sense of morality is our duty and responsibility towards other parts of creation, the second thing that goes is a respect for human rights, the last thing that goes is belief in God.
All this to say, Aaronofsky and Ariel correctly interpret the cultural mandate – Creation was not made for humans, humans were made to take care of and cultivate creation so that all of creation might be offered up as a sort of “living sacrifice” bringing glory to God. As John Walton has pointed out, creation was one big cosmic temple, our job as priests and kings is to take care of that temple, making sure that it is developed in a way that brings God the glory he deserves.
The Missional Implications of this Movie
Without a doubt culture in general has lost its belief in the concept of original sin. I venture to say that American culture in general has lost the concept of sin in general. Yes people make mistakes, people err, but deep down inside people are actually good. That seems to be the prevailing view of our culture. Even in preaching, some Christians refuse to use the word sin – they call sin being dysfunctional. (Sin is no less than dysfunction, but it surely is way more than just dysfunction). Noah is countercultural in this sense – American culture tends to believe that people really are good on the inside and that the most important thing is “love.” Noah destroys this worldview. In the movie there are three positions regarding sin –
Tubal Cain & the Humans who revel in their sin and see themselves as simply being humans. Their sin has almost reached an animal like state. They rape they pillage, they have no regard for human life or for creation. Their animal like state is graphically portrayed in the scene where they slaughter an animal and feast on it like a pack of rabid heyenas.
Naameh and her family who know that there is evil out there, but don’t seem themselves as a part of it. Naameh and her family believe that love is the bottom line, and that everybody has the capability to be good. This is the prevailing belief in our culture. Sadly though “love” is not the full orbed biblical sense of love, its more like feelings of benevolence. Naameh loves her children, but even then, her love for them is more about her than about what is best for her kids. In this worldview, the moral thing to do is the thing that is most kind (aka “loving”).
Noah who sees how low human beings can go when they pursue sin and when they forget their creator. As I argued for above, Noah has a biblical understanding of sin.
So what is the missional impact of this film? It vividly portrays human sinfulness. In a culture that has forgotten what sin is or has chosen to believe that sin is merely some outdated religious concept we need more art (film, books, stories, songs) that reminds us that sin is real and that the capability for doing terrible things lies dormant within all of us.
What Noah does, is that it opens up a conversation about sin with non-Christians. Non-Christians will be forced to ask themselves – why does Noah believe that even the kids are sinful? Is he some religious fanatic? Or are there reasons why he holds on to this strange belief? Are we capable of being like Tubal-Cain and the humans?
When they see the movie, Non-Christians might not understand why Noah takes such an extreme view regarding sin. Yet Non-Christians will certainly be moved by the scene where Noah enters the human camp. That scene is graphically brutal – it portrays how hideous human immorality (sin) really is.
All that to say, I think that the major value in this film lies in the conversation it creates about human sinfulness. This film is also capable of helping non-Christians believe in a concept of sin.
Finally, this film also has apologetic value. It shows that care for creation has a biblical basis. It shows that the destruction of creation is a distortion of biblical truth.
I know that this review was sinfully long, but I think we Christians need to do more than asses a movie based upon whether or not it is “biblically accurate.” When evangelicals think about the Bible they often stay very surface level (I immediately think of Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology), this means that they ignore deeper philosophical and worldview issues. We tend to do the same thing when thinking about cultural artifacts (movies, books, music, etc.) We need to do some deeper thinking – we can’t simply judge a film on whether it followed the biblical passage – we must ask ourselves “does this film portray something true about our Christian worldview?” If so then we must be open to admit that that film has some sort of value.
Everything is awesome! If the song is not stuck in your head after seeing Lego Movie then you probably watched it on mute and in closed captioning. Seriously though, the song plays over and over and over again – until you start believing that everything really is awesome. It’s a really clever trick though, play a song with a very simple message that reinforces the main message of the movie.
Everything is awesome – Everybody is awesome!
It’s a really simple message if you think about it. Everybody, even normal people have the capability to radically affect the world. However the key to actually affecting the world around us is “believing” (as a stupid cat poster once told us) that we really are awesome.
Name it and claim it! I am awesome! I can do awesome things!
I’m not going to pooh-pooh the movie though. I loved it, the humor was sophisticated – the “honey where is my pants” tv show was genius. The jokes about $30 cups of coffee, Lego cars stuck in traffic, popular songs, etc. are brilliant social commentary – kids won’t get it but who cares, this movie isn’t just for kids! And then to top it off (another spoiler alert) Will Ferrell showed up! Yes I loved it!
The movie was also filled with some great messages: creativity as opposed to conformity for the sake of conformity is something to be valued, working together as a team is better than working as an individual, we shouldn’t overlook “normal” people because “normal” people are often at the root of social change. I loved these messages. There is plenty of fodder for sermon illustrations in this movie, there were also plenty of clips that I would love to show in a sermon too!
Of course I had some issues with the movie. Maybe its me being too philosophical, but I noticed a lot of existential themes running through the film. Not that this is a bad thing (necessarily) but children are so easily swayed and indoctrinated that I am not sure I want them to draw from this movie in order to form their worldview.
(Sidenote: It goes without saying, but we need to be careful what we teach our children. We Christians are so quick to jump on objectionable material – sex, cussing, violence – and are willing to accept anything as long as it doesn’t have those three sinful things as a part of it. For instance, I know many Christians object to things like Harry Potter, yet they have no qualm with The Secret Garden because the secret Garden doesn’t contain evil things like witchcraft. Yet the Secret Garden espouses a pantheistic worldview; why don’t Christians ban stuff like that?)
There was another kids movie released recently that was chock full of existentialist messages. That movie was so over the top with existentialism that it was laughable. The Lego movie isn’t that blatantly existentialist, yet its still there. For instance – Vitruvius makes up the prophecy, yet if one chooses to live by the prophecy then the prophecy is true. This is basically the existentialist position on religion, there is no metaphysical backing for religion, yet if one chooses to live as though it were true, then that makes it meaningful and hence true. Then, and this is way more subtle, Emmet has to stare into the abyss before he can make the leap of faith…. Okay Kierkegaard!
Now onto the “Anabaptist” part of this review; I am no Anabaptist, I am reformed, yet I find something strangely attractive about Anabaptist political theology… So let may lay down some Anabaptist foundations before we examine The Lego movie,.
Howard Yoder distinguishes between three different forms of church: 1) activist, 2) conversionist, and 3) confessing. The Activist church’s primary concern is the building of a better society. The Conversionist church’s primary concern is inward change. Its primary concern is the individual soul, it isn’t concerned with social change or social ethics. The Confessing church however rejects the individualism of conversions and the secularism of the activists (as Yoder would say), its concern is primarily to be a faithful witness to Christ. For this reason the confessing church sees itself as an alternative polis. According to Stanley Hauerwas, the confessing church “knows that its most credible form of witness (and the most effective thing it can do for the world) is the actual creation of a living breathing community of faith.
Bare with me! We are getting to the Lego part!
The primary symbol of the confessing church is the cross. Hauerwas says that “the cross is not a sign of the church’s quiet, suffering submission to the powers that be, but rather the church’s revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers. Anabaptists call this “revolutionary subordination.”
The Anabaptist position of “revolutionary subordination” is the position of taking a similar stance towards the world as Jesus did on the cross. On the cross the powers and authorities used their power for evil, Jesus “revolutionary subordination” is Jesus commitment not to play according to the power games of the powers and principalities. Rather than fight back, or try to convince them of his innocence, Jesus willingly takes on the cross and in turn shows them their weakness and lack of power.
Revolutionary subordination suggests that one need not play according to the rules of the “power game” with the oppressive powers and principalities. It suggests that one ought not “play” according to their rules and their ways, rather one should let them “defeat” us because in our defeat they will be shown impotent.
Now on to the Lego Movie!
Think back to Lord Business’ goal in life; he wants everything to be perfect. He wants perfect towns, perfect workers, perfect models, etc. He wants awesomeness to rule the world! Now think of the Master Builders. How do the Master builders want to defeat Lord Business? They want to build the perfect model, they want the perfect spaceship, they want the perfect plan. They want something that is awesome.
Everybody’s world revolves around perfection/awesomeness – even though they (Lord Business and the Master Builders) are on the opposite team, they are playing the same game.
It’s the game that says “only some things are awesome – and we know what those things are.” Enter Emmet – the guy who doesn’t look so awesome on the outside (or on the inside for that matter). Here is a guy who doesn’t know how to play the perfection/awesomeness game. He is normal, he has nothing to offer. His plans aren’t awesome. The things he builds aren’t awesome. He is as boring and simple as you can get. He is a Lego man who cannot play the “awesome game,” if it were up to everybody else he would be on the sideline watching. Yet in the end, it is Emmet who defeats (of better yet reforms) Lord Business. How does he do that? Emmet refuses to play the awesome game. In a world that says that “some things are awesome” Emmet says “everything is awesome.” Now this is not strictly true, not everything is worthy of awe, yet everything is awesome in the way that Emmet redefines awesome. Emmet defeats the threat by redefining terms and by refusing to play the game that the “powers and principalities” are playing. One might call this an act of revolutionary subordination.
This movie shows us that one does not defeat the threat by playing according to the threat’s rules. One doesn’t need to “play” according to their rules and their ways, rather one should let them “defeat” us. Once they accepted the fact that they weren’t going to build “awesome” (at least by Lord Business and Master Builder’s definition) things, they were capable of disarming the treat that they faced.
All this to say….
The Lego movie is funnier, more complex, more philosophical, and more theological than any animated movie that I have ever seen. Yes there are some messages that I don’t agree with, but this kids movie is so thought provoking, that you cannot help but pass it up. Go watch this movie!
As someone who wanders the wasteland that is Christian blogging I have come across tons and tons of blogs about The Hunger Games movies. I have even seen some devotionals based on The Hunger Games (what ever happened to basing devotionals off the Bible?). Most of these blogs point out the Christological features of Katniss Everdeen. She comes from a backwoods, blue collar town on the outskirts of the empire. Jesus comes from a backwoods blue collar (fishers and stone workers) town on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. Katniss lives in a time of revolutionaries, all of them failed. Jesus lived in a time of revolutionaries all, except the Maccabean family, failed as well. Katniss sacrifices herself for the ones she loves. Jesus sacrifices himself for the world that he loves. Katniss ends up brining down the Capital and its hegemony. Jesus ends up bringing down not Rome but the Kingdom of the prince of the air; Jesus defeats sin, death, and Satan as George Eldon Ladd once said. Not to mention that in the case of Katniss and Jesus there are “deaths” (in the case of Christ a real death and in the case of Katniss a sort of death) that end in life. Christological parallels abound, or so some bloggers would like us to think.
On the other hand there are some bloggers who like to point out that Katniss is far from being a Christ figure, she actually embodies human frailty and sinfulness. She is the very embodiment of selfishness. She toys with Peeta’s and Gale’s hearts. She refuses to assume responsibility. She even kills people. Throughout the book you get the image of a narcissistic self-centered teenage girl, with archery skills to die for….
So how does this movie portray Katniss? Is she the noble self-sacrificing hero? Yes! Is she the self-centered narcissistic teenage girl? Yes! Is she a leader doing her part to take down the empire? Yes! Is she the coward who shys away from responsibility because its too costly? Absolutely. Contradictions abound in this movie. Katniss displays glimpses of being a Christ figure. Yet at the same time she also shows us the depth of human weakness and sinfulness. So what shall we say about Katniss? Katniss is a human being riddled with contradictions, much like us.
In Justification reconsidered Stephen Westerholm argues that Paul had a pessimistic view of human moral capacity. He argues that Augustine’s, Luther, and Calvin see human beings as capable of doing good, this is part of what it means to be made in the image of God. As Christians we know that Christ is the full image of God, so when we say that we are made in the image of God it means that in some sense we are made like Christ. Yet Westerholm makes an important observation about the great tradition, namely that on one level particular deeds done by untransformed human beings are good, but on a deeper level these deeds are not truly good. That is without God, humans are incapable of true goodness. This is an important feature to remember about unredeemed humanity. We are capable of Christ like acts, but these acts are not meritorious. Yes we are totally depraved, but that does not mean we cannot do good acts before human beings (contrast this with doing good acts coram deo).
Nobody understands this dualism more than Dostoyevsky. In The Gambler Tolstoy presents us with one of the most vivid portrayals of the attractions and pitfalls of gambling (as well as infatuation and pride). The main character, Alexey Ivanonitch gambles in a fictional German city, here we see the transformation from a man who has never gambled to a true gambler. In one of the early chapters Alexey enters the casino for the first time, he says that “it all struck me as so dirty, somehow, morally horrid and dirty….” He describes gambling as a “most foolish and imprudent pursuit.” However, at the same time he says that he felt “as I went into the hall of all this covetousness” that all this “covetous filth” was in a sense congenial and convenient. He suffers from a “plebeian desire to win.” At once he finds the casino morally repugnant but attractive. Disgusting but congenial. Is Alexey being double minded? Yes he is, but that is simply what it means to be an unredeemed human being. See, Katniss too suffers from this unredeemed double mindedness. Just like us human beings she struggles and vacillates between doing the good that she knows she ought to do and not the things that she knows she ought to do. Of course Katniss is not as complex as Dostoyevsky’s characters, neither should we expect her to be, nevertheless Katniss embodies what it means to be a human being made in God’s image. She has potential for Christlikeness but is totally depraved. She has potential for good, and at times we see her doing good, but at the end of the day she is just like we once were, sinners at the core. Thankfully though, because of Christ’s work on the cross on our behalf, he has taken up all our humanity into himself and redeemed and transformed us. Because of his death for our sake we are justified, and (don’t forget this) we are renewed in Christ’s image so that we don’t have to be double minded like Katniss.
(Spoiler Alert: If you were alive in 2009 then you know how Captain Phillips ends. So if you weren’t paying attention to the news when this story happened you deserve to have the movie spoiled.)
Over the last few days I have seen several reviews of Captain Phillips that point out that American Exceptionalism is celebrated in this film. Those who are critical of American Exceptionalism have decried the fact that this movie celebrates America’s unrivaled power and prowess in dealing with our enemies. They point out the fact that it celebrates the fact that in this story the American military saves the day, it’s a portrait of American militarism. Those who celeberate America’s unique role make a similar observation about the film.; at the end of the day America’s military saves the day. America’s power is unrivaled and our military prowess is exceptional. We should celebrate this. Both these positions miss something critical about the movie, namely that this film is not so simple. American isn’t the hero. America is not the villain. This movie isn’t even about America. Its about Captain Phillips……
Much like real life, this film shows the fact that life is more complicated than we realize. Its hard to tell who the “good guys” are and who the “bad guys are.” We tend to assume that Captain Phillips and the Maersk Alabama are the good guys, and the Somali pirates are the bad guys. At least that is what it looks like upon first glance, but that is simply not the case. The Maersk Alabama illustrates the negative aspects of capitalism. It represents greed and selfishness. Think back to the conversation that the Captain has with his crew after the initial pirate attack. There is a discussion about the inherent dangers of sailing this route. Neverthless, the company must run this shipping line. When the sailors complain about the dangers, Captain Phillips tells them that nobody forced them to sail this route, they signed up for it because they wanted the money. Money is the bottom line. Money is what leads these guys to put their lives in danger. The shipping company even refuses to pay for armed guards because it is an unnecessary expense! Money is what leads this company to risk the lives of these sailors. Our global economy doesn’t care about lives. Money is what matters at the end of the day.
You would think that the Somali pirates are the bad guys. They certainly do some bad things, but are they really the bad guys? The film gives several hints that they are not. First off the Somali pirates are victims of the Somali warlords. There is a scene in the movie where Muse is telling Captain Phillips of a $6 million pay day a few months prior to these events. When the captain asks him why he is still a pirate if he made $6 million Muse tells him to shut up. The audience knows that these grunts won’t ever see that money. The warlords will use the money to fuel their violent agenda. These pirates are just a pawn in the powers that be wargames. There is another scene in which Captain Phillips asks the pirates why they don’t do something more productive with their life; he asks them “is being a pirate or a fisherman the only thing you can do?” The answer to that question is sadly yes. Why is the answer yes? Economic oppression, American intervention into the region, Civil War, political oppression, western handouts. The factors that limit a Somalian’s prospects at success are endless. Their victimization has led people like Muse to compromise their morals for the sake of survival. To add insult to injury, the possibility of being fishermen is really off the table too. Muse mentions this in a dialogue between him and the captain. Muse mentions that foreign fishing companies have begun to fish off the Somali coast. Their fishing technology has stripped the sea of its resources, leaving the Somali’s with no fish to catch. The Somali’s were victims of economic greed. Who asked the Somali’s if they could fish off their shores?
So who is the bad guy in this movie? The pirates are violent and don’t have respect for people’s lives. The American economic interests are harming the Somali’s and leading them to do violent things. The truth is that everybody is to blame. The only person who is not guilty is Captain Phillips. Captain Phillips is the only “good guy” in this movie. Now I don’t know whether or not captain Phillips is a Christian or not, but he displays a lot of Christ like behavior. Foretelling his cruxifixion Jesus says “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Self-sacrifice for the sake of others is the greatest expression of love. Captain Phillips is a real life illustration of this kind of love; he willingly steps into the lifeboat with the pirates in order to save his crew. And that is only one of the instances of his self-sacrifice for his crew. Jesus also says “You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Bu I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Throughout the film captain Phillips looks out for the best interest of his crew (loving his neighbors) but he also looks out for the best interests of those who captured him! There are several scenes where he tries to offer medical care to the hurt pirates. Especially moving was the scene where he tries to bandage the 16 year old pirate’s foot. There is no reason why he should do this for him, Captain Phillips should let the pirate day, after all they have taken him hostage. However the captain genuinely cares for this boy. He doesn’t want to see him suffer. Maybe the kid reminds him of his own son, or maybe he really cares for him because he is “just a kid.” Neverthless, Captain Phillips loves his enemies.
So when its all said and done we need to remember that this film doesn’t try to give a positive or negative assessment of America or Somalia, it tries to tell the story of a heroic man called Captain Phillips.
Welcome to Shelbyville is a documentary recounting the story of the town of Shelbyville, Tennessee during the 2008 presidential election; it recounts the reactions to his election by various different groups: Anglo-Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and Somali Refugees. In addition to this, it also recounts the various groups’ reactions to a new group of Somali refugees. Through this film, we are presented with a microcosm of America; America is rapidly changing, it must figure out how it will react to the religious and cultural changes that are on the horizon. In this brief paper I will highlight some of the cultural differences between the groups and examine how their responses to each other might lead to the various groups becoming more culturally aware.
All four groups represent very different cultural values which are manifested in their views on politics, economics, and religion. In examining the Anglo-Americans values on politics we see that they desire to keep things the way they are. They feel threatened by change. Thus they display an aversion to risk. At one point some Anglo members of the local Rotary club say that “Shelbyville is not Mayberry anymore,” meaning that it is no longer the ideal picture of America that they are used to. This attitude towards political change is illustrated during the election of Barack Obama. At one point, a Presbyterian Pastor says that “the election is historic but troubling…the nation we know and love is changing.” The African American and Hispanic views of politics however is quite different. They see the change as hopeful. Having seen discrimination against minorities they see this new government as possibly bringing about change. In this election alone we see that the Anglos of Shelbyville have a strong uncertainty avoidance. Cultural differences are also displayed in the various groups views about economics. The Hispanics and Somalis are willing to work difficult, menial jobs in order to provide for their families. In fact, the Hispanic person Miguel Gonzalez is very proud to work for General Motors. He sees the value of hard work. The Anglos in the film however are best characterized by what the ESL teacher says about them, she says that some people wouldn’t work there (Tyson or General Motors) even if they paid them. This is an interesting observation, because at one point we see an Anglo couple complaining about how the immigrants have taken their jobs, however jobs are available, its just that the jobs that are available aren’t the ones the Anglos want. Cultural differences are also displayed in the various groups’ religious practices. Although we don’t exactly see their spirituality, we are given a view into how their political views impact their church services. Both the Anglo Presbyterians and the African Americans bring in their political views into their sermons. The Hispanics do not even mention their faith. The Somalis seem to be deeply impacted by their faith. We are told that they pray during designated prayer times, even if they are not at their mosque. We also see that their religious leader acts as a leader in the community, thus their religious life intersects with their daily lives, however they do not refer to politics in their meetings. Finally, the Anglo Baptists are also shaped by their religious views. They too do not allow their politics to intersect with their religious practices, but they do allow it to affect their social life. This is displayed in their decision to have a church put on community outreach for the Somalis.
In addition to the differences between these groups that are seen in their politics, economics, and religion we also see differences in their reaction to the Somali refugees. The Anglo Americans have the most hostile reaction to them. For instance, the former Mayor says that the Somali’s “have diseases,” the “Muslims are here to kill us,” the “Somalis don’t like us.” On one radio show we hear an Anglo complain about being forced to comply with the Somali culture. Another Anglo says that “they are more aggressive,” he complains that they try to bargain and haggle at the store, he sees them as being rough and impolite. These attitudes are only one type of reaction typical of the Anglos. The Presbyterian pastor Stephen Caine, displays a more mild manner aversion to them. He points out that the Anglos are now the minority, and their ways are being threatened but he also realizes that if the churches are going to survive then need to learn to adapt. The African Americans take a more neutral stance towards the Somalis. They find them strange, they have strange food and wear strange clothing. One man at a barbershop complains that he can’t communicate with them. He doesn’t see them as a problem, however he finds that situations get awkward when the Somalis are around. The Hispanics display the most positive attitude towards the Somalis. The ESL teacher that is helping them become culturally oriented is Hispanic. The same ESL teacher also helps them address the problems they face with the news reporter, Brian Mosley. In addition to this it is also the Hispanic community that initiates the “welcoming initiative.” Being immigrants themselves they understand the problems the Somalis face. The greatest difference between the groups lies in their reaction to the Somalis. The anglos react negatively, whereas the Hispanics and African Americans take a more positive stance towards them. The African Americans are in favor of reaching out to them, but they are not willing to take an active role in doing so. The Hispanics lead the charge in this area.
The differences between the reactions towards the Somali’s are rooted in struggles for power. The Anglos are losing power. They are becoming a minority, they are “losing jobs,” and they are being forced to change the ways of life that they were accustomed to living. The African Americans are also being forced to change, but since they do not possess as much power as the Anglo’s they do not feel as threatened thus they are not as averse to the changes that are required of them. Finally, the Hispanics, which possess the least amount of power in Shelbyville, are the ones who have the least conflict with the Somalis. This is likely because they are in a similar position as them. Both are relatively new to Shelbyville and the Southern States. Both work “menial” jobs and both struggle with the language. Thus their similarities bring them together.
Another reason for cultural conflict lies in what the groups believe that America should be like. The Anglos believe that it should stay the way it is, the other groups are open to change and are even hopeful that it will happen. This is seen in their responses to Barack Obama’s election. The Presbyterian church finds the election historic but troubling. The African American church sees hope in Obama’s election. They believe it will bring financial, physical, and spiritual well being to the country. The Hispanics believe it displays what they love most about this country, namely that anyone can make it if they work hard enough. The Somalis have little to no reaction to the election.
Different conceptions of what America should be like are also seen in how the groups respond to the cultural differences in the Somalis. The some want them to leave, others want them to conform to their ways, and some are willing to assimilate them as long as they leave behind their cultural values and adopt American values. The African Americans play a small role in welcoming the Somalis helping the become acculturated. They are willing to help them feel welcome, but they do not take an initiating role in welcoming them. This fact is seen in the scene involving the meal between the various groups. The African American ladies are friendly towards the Somali’s, they even try to understand what Somalia is like, however they display cultural insensitivity when it comes to their style of dress and the topic of terrorism. It is the Hispanics that initiate the most beneficial cross-cultural initiatives. By teaching the ESL class, organizing the meeting with the Newspaper, and initiating the meal between the Somalis, African Americans, and Hispanics all groups begin to move towards being culturally aware people. These initiatives are helpful because they help break down language barriers and help remove misconceptions that exist between the groups. Both of these tasks, the breaking down of language barriers and the correction of misconceptions help the groups identify with each other. As the groups begin to identify with one another they learn that they have nothing to fear when it comes to the changes that are happening around them.