Category Archives: movies

Guardians of the Galaxy: Nihilism Rejected

Ronan the Accuser, Gaurdians of the Galaxy (copyright Marvel Studios)
Ronan the Accuser, Gaurdians of the Galaxy (copyright Marvel Studios)

One of my initial thoughts about the characters in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy–as a Christian who wonders about my duty and role in the salvation of others–was, “Could those guys’ lives really be turned around like that?” You see, this is the story of how the Guardians met and who they were before being awarded that title.

These characters (Peter Quill/Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Groot, and Rocket) aren’t all bad, just selfish with a general disregard for the possessions, and maybe even the lives, of others (oddly enough, Drax the Destroyer seems to have the least of these unpleasant characteristics).  But, of course, as the story unfolds we find that things are not always what they seem.  These characters are rough, violent, and self-serving, but they all have reasons for their behavior–they’re not simply sociopaths.  They were either forced into a life not of their choosing (often brutal) or are reacting to a sense of nihilism.  Those with power control you, even modify you, and no one cares so why not simply do the selfish thing?  But we all are forced into a life we didn’t choose, to some degree at least, and our character is developed and shown by our reactions to life’s crap-grenades.

By the end of the movie, however, the characters have come to know that something exists that they came to think was impossible: there do exist others who actually can, and will, be a friend (you know, a real one).  Their early abuse of each other was just as effective as any armor in keeping others out of their lives, but they learned to let the shield down and not treat others as simply a thing to be used.  I haven’t read the comic that this movie is based on, though I can guess that the story was changed a lot.  It seems to reflect our present socially dispossessed age well.

I’ve only seen the movie once so far and may do a more in-depth article later, but I wanted to “put out there” that the writers of this movie purposefully included dialogue that affirmed an after life.  Many Christians put down Hollywood as wholly ungodly and anti-Christian, but I don’t believe this is justified.  There are script writers, producers, directors, etc., that in their perhaps subtle way acknowledge our spiritual identity.  For any militant atheist, I doubt that the tiny spiritual aspects in this movie seem subtle.

Also, generally speaking, the movie is hilarious and intelligently pokes fun at the super serious and dark sci-fi movie genre.  This movie is different, too, in that it blends ancient myth or legend with the futuristic in a way that can teach any “serious” movie a lesson.  As long as you’re not against some swearing and contemporary crude humor, I highly recommend Guardians of the Galaxy (rated PG-13).  For a ton of details about the film, see its special page at IMDB.

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The Dark Knight Rises: Impressions

We waited a bit to see the newest batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.  This is not a formal review, but for some reason I didn’t like the movie all that much in the end, and I wonder about it.  What do you think?  If you liked it a lot – why?

Without giving away anything really, without giving a spoiler, I think I can say that the end was just lame compared to the first half or so of the movie.  There are really two endings, and I am referring to the one that explains the “why” of the Gotham City attacks.  To me it’s as if the movie makers wanted to provide some messages – that this wasn’t simply an action film – and that a great deal of the movie’s story ending didn’t really have much to do with the messages.  The story seemed to me a very flimsy vehicle for the messages.  (The second ending makes me actually look forward to further movies, which I think may be better than this one.)

And what were the messages?  My impressions are from only seeing the movie once, so please be kind to me if you respond with a comment.  My first impression was that the movie was saying that we can’t rest easy after eliminating some criminals.  There are always threats and we need to be prepared.  But more specifically, it seemed to be alluding to terrorism.

All throughout the movie the theme of failure and fear, fear of failure, what makes us not fail, was obvious. Yet, when these things were spoken of, it just didn’t seem deep . . . I couldn’t feel that these things affected batman in the way everyone kept saying (apparently this has to do with the first and/or second movie, which I can barely remember now).   The only part related to Bruce’s feelings and courage that seemed relevant to me was the issue of fear of death.  So many heroes say they’re not afraid to die – it’s almost a cliche.  But in order to continue to help anyone at all, batman had to let himself feel the fear of death.   Nice touch.

An important aspect of the film was discerning whom to trust.  Sometimes good people have to do bad things, so that a better thing may result; one has to sometimes choose the lesser of two evils.  Sometimes good seeming people are only self-serving and manipulative–others that seem bad may only be being honest, and so they are far more virtuous.  I like this theme the most, as I think it is the most relevant to our everyday lives – and it is such a significant aspect of life among humans.   I was reminded of the short biblical story Jesus told (Matthew 21:28-31);  though His specific application was different, it still reflects how people are and how we need to judge by actions, not just words:

“What do you think?  There was a man who had two sons.  He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing.  He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Other than those more serious impressions, I enjoyed the acting–Joseph Gordon-Levitt was just fine in his role–and the music.  Great stuff.

The Dark Knight (http://www.thedarkknightrises.com/gallery.php)

Secular girl activist meets Christian girl activist: love and necromancy, OR, An Encounter with Simone Weil: A film review

This film is not yet out for general release.  See this FB page  or the website for more info.

Normally a review would recommend an audience for the book or movie or whatever it is that is being reviewed, but this film makes it difficult to say who exactly would prefer it or get the most out of it.  I love the late Simone and seriously looked forward to “An Encounter with Simone Weil,” but I was in for a surprise with this pseudo-documentary.  This film (the Director’s Cut), by Julia Haslett, is like a personal travel diary only instead of the destination being a place, it’s a person.  And the road there is strewn with corpses.

Ok, so let’s make a stab at the audience, or in this offering, audiences.  The filmmaker comes from the liberal anti-American, anti-Christian segment of America, as is made apparent in the film, so that same audience is probably the intended one (since a quote from Michael Moore is on the front dvd cover, this is not a risky guess); the secondary audience would be those who otherwise like Weil or want to know more about her, most likely having heard of her in Christian or philosophy circles.

Simone Weil (1909-1943) was one of those rare of the rarest of human beings, a person with extreme intellectual prowess fused with extreme empathy and charity.  She was an intellectual who taught philosophy (and taught it all in the original languages), gave up her teaching job to labor with factory workers, had conversations with the likes of Trotsky . . . but scratch the record . . . she was also a Christian mystic.  This film touches on her academic career, but focuses on Simone’s social activism (“political” activism in the film) and her unfortunate and apparently irrational taking up with God (film’s view, not the reviewer’s).   It also has much interesting archival footage.

Haslett makes this film, does this research, due to her sadness and feeling of regret after her father’s suicide.  Could I have done something to stop it?, she asks, and Can I do more to help others who suffer?  She is inspired by something Weil wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”  Indeed, surprisingly true and knowledge worth acting upon.  How did Simone give attention, how did she alleviate suffering (or at least how did she try), and how does Haslett emulate Simone in this regard?

Without going into too much detail (a short bio of Simone can be found here, there is an excellent biography at the beginning of the book, Waiting for God, and there are numerous other sources about Simone as well), Simone didn’t just research social problems and make suggestions to the government.  She knew that the only way to understand someone’s suffering, at least to some degree, was to become them.  Thus the factory work episode mentioned earlier.   She also, from a very early age, paid attention to the sufferings of soldiers and workers and ate the small amounts they ate, or didn’t pay for heat if her fellow workers could not afford it.  She gave up on pacifism when she saw that war was inevitable and that providing help to the better side was a good; she fought in Spain for a short time (in 1936) with those against the fascists, and she volunteered to be a front-line nurse early in the Second World War.  She didn’t just talk, she walked the walk.

This is all well-known material regarding Simone Weil.  So what did Haslett do?  She does what she can to suffer alongside her brother who is in and out of depression, and she is involved with causes that are meant to alleviate suffering and bring about justice.  The problem with these causes is that they are very political and Haslett can’t seem to get herself to look at all the sides of the issues (she shows that there is voter fraud in Florida, on the side of the Republicans, but she ignores the voter fraud perpetuated by the Democrats).   Simone was very good at (and purposefully so) looking at opposing information.  Haslett’s inability to look at the other side, of humbling herself for that (or simply not villainizing the “other side”), shows up in another important way in this film.

Haslett is so enamored with Weil, and so mystified by some things about her, that she wants to meet her.  Since she can’t actually bring her back from the dead, she hires an actress (obviously a sharp one) to read and absorb Simone’s writings, and work in a factory like Simone did (sort-of), in order to “become Simone” so that Haslett can ask her questions.   [I’ll pause while you take that in.]   My first thought was, Why doesn’t she just try and understand Simone herself?   Haslett perhaps realized that she was incapable of doing so, but then, what use would there be in talking to and getting annoyed with an actress when you can basically do the same thing with a book?  It does indeed come to the inevitable head when the actress (bless her) says that “I” -meaning Simone – did not kill myself and by being  a slave of God’s I could get beyond my pain (Simone had very bad and long-lasting migraines) and try and do what I was called to do.

“Simone” insisted that she did not kill herself.  This is in reaction to many people’s claim that she passively ended her own life by not eating enough (while trying to get over tuberculosis); something the doctor who filled out her death certificate claimed.  Knowing Simone’s lifelong habit of only eating so much based on someone’s suffering–in this case, it was the amount allotted to her occupied countrymen in France–many question the doctor’s judgment.   But Haslett seemed to be trying to make the case that Simone killed herself, and had earlier submitted to Christ, out of desperation–desperation over not being able to stop the suffering of so many, and knowing that suffering would never come to an end.  It is presented that Simone had to have turned to religion only as a last resort – after all reason and rational thought were used up.  Reading Simone’s writings, one would be very hard pressed to come up with a justification of this opinion of Haslett and others.

For one thing, Simone insisted that “she had not needed to be converted; she had always been implicitly, in ‘secret’ even from her lower self, a Christian” (Fiedler 1951, 23).  Regarding suffering, she came to view her own, from the migraines, as a gift.  Of course, suffering caused by man should be worked against.  Regarding reason and rational thought, consider her claim:  “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth.  If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms” (Weil 1951, 69).  Very unlike Haslett, Simone knew that humans needed salvation.  In all the history now known there has never been a period in which souls have been in such peril as they are today in every part of the globe.  The bronze serpent must be lifted up again so that whoever raises his eyes to it may be saved” (Weil 1951, 76; see Numbers 21:5-8 and John 3:13-15 for biblical references).

All this is significant since Haslett is against it . . . yet she can’t seem to dismiss it.  At the end of the film we find that the brother she includes in the film, who suffered depression after his father’s suicide, committed suicide himself.  Haslett equates his suicide with Weil’s, though this seems very far from the mark (especially if you are of the opinion that Weil did not commit suicide).  She says that, since the world is doomed, the only choice is whether to commit suicide or not.  Wow.  I do hope that if any suicidal persons see this film that they aren’t encouraged negatively by it.  In any case, there actually seems to be hope in the end.

Amazingly, Haslett, for the first time, gives a nod to the supernatural; she says that to give attention is a “miracle.”  As she kisses a wall, she ends the film with this Weil quote:  “Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall.  The wall is what separates them but it is also their means of communication.  It is the same with us and God, every separation is a link.”  Perhaps the best audience for this film are all those who desire Haslett (and others like her) to look toward God longer, until she desires Him instead of the vessel in which He worked so brightly (Simone).
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Fiedler, Leslie A.  “Introduction,” in Waiting for God.  Simone Weil (New York: Harper Colophon 1973)

Weil, Simone.  Waiting for God (New York: Harper Colophon 1973; reprint of G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1951)