Monday, June 20, 2005

Star Wars III-- Very Dark Vader

The cycle of Star Wars films which began in the late 70s is now complete, and it ends on a truly dark and down note. The Revenge of the Sith, which is the name of this particular episode is indeed all about the apparent triumph of evil. While this would have been fine if, as with the Lord of the Rings, we finish where the cycle properly ends, this is not the case with this film. It is the last of the three prequels and the little children who go to see this film will leave with foreboding images in their heads, having not seen the previous films, particularly not the first three which came out so very long ago. This is not a case of all's well that ends well.

The film is well put together, the plot makes sense, and the stuggle between good and evil goes on, but my concern is with the portrayal of evil in this film. Towards the end of the film there is a tell-tale remark--- "Only the Sith believe in absolutes". The 'good guys'as it turns out, are relativists. After Anakin Skywalker busily slaughters the Jedi innocents, we still hear his girl friend/wife urging-- "there is good in him". Not really in fact-- he even puts the choke hold on her at one point and accusers her of collaborating with his betrayers. He is a very Dark Darth Vader indeed by the time this movie is over.

But even the good guys believe in a continuum of good and evil. In fact they don't believe in dualism of any sort. There is simply the one force which has a dark side and a good side, and one can be lured or attracted to either side of the force. From a Christian point of view, this is not a philosophy that we should be blithely endorsing. For one thing it involves a denial not only of absolutes but also of an absolutely good God. The philosophy is rather like ancient pantheistic Stoicism that believed some impersonal power or force was really running the universe, and that there was a bit of it in everyone. Now when you have a force running a universe you may be able to feel it, or get in touch with it, but you can't have a personal relationship with it, and of course this is a movie without any praying persons. It is a very secular vision of good and evil, and good and evil are always being exercised by sentient beings-- there are not even any angels or demons, only mortals of one sort or another.

And as for the resident philosopher Yoda, he serves up the following message "death is just a natural part of life. You should not grieve or mourn the loss of loved ones." Its all a natural part of this great big impersonal life cycle in the universe. This could hardly be less like a Christian approach to death or mourning for that matter. There is nothing natural about human death. As Paul reminds us in 1 Cor. 15, death is the wages of sin.

I have no problems with sciene fiction, and I have enjoyed much these imaginative Star Wars films have to offer, but Christians should not be beguiled into thinking that these films are value neutral. They are not, and so should be critically sifted. This is all the more important in a post-modern culture where we imbibe and even come to inhabit and imitate the stories we admire. As one wise man, not named Yoda, once said--- "You become, what you admire."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

From Cinderella Man to Batman

Two very different but highly regarded movies are currently in the theaters whioch critics say will garner some Oscar nominations, so some reflections on these films are in order. In the first place both of these films are well crafted and their cinematography is excellent, especially in the case of Cinderella Man. Furthermore the acting is excellent in both these movies, especially the performances of Russell Crowe, Rene Zellwegger and Paul Giamatti in the former film, and Michael Cane in the latter one.

Cinderella Man has been called the human equivalent to Sea Biscuit which is a fair comparison in some respects since both are underdog becomes topdog films. Americans are especially apt to cheer for underdogs. Even for those not especially partial to boxing films, this one is exceptional, easily out classing even good recent films like Million Dollar Baby.

What is especially impressive about these films is that they do not pander to the audiences. There is no merely gratuitous sex, violence, or bad language in either film really. In fact there is no sex or violence in either film at all-- a rarity these days. It shows that at least some directors know that these elements do not need to be included to attract a good sized audience. If for no other reason than this Christians should support these films.

But there are other good reasons why Christians should see these films. In the case of Cinderella man you get to see a marital couple who genuinely love each other and their children and struggle hard to keep their life situation afloat in the midst of the depression. They are Irish Catholic and this becomes apparent at several points in the film, but the film is also honest for example when Jimmy tells Mae he is all prayed out when the Depression deepens and he still finds it almost impossible to find adequate work. The sheer dignity of this couple in coping with long odds is inspiring on many levels. It makes you want to be a better husband and father, and to keep going even when life deals you difficult blows.

As for Batman the movie begins in somewhat choppy fashion (there is not enough done with the childhood of Bruce Wayne and we are never quite sure why in the world he ended up in Tibet). At one juncture it appeared there was a danger that a kung fu movie was about to breakout. But once Wayne becomes an adult the story becomes much more viable and vital, and Michael Cane and Morgan Freeman are especially appealing in their secondary roles. The struggle between good and evil is reasonably clearcut in this movie with the exception of the case of Liam Neeson's character, and it is interesting to see a fantasy like this have some depth in character development, when Wayne learns how to face his fears, particularly of bats! The action sequences are well developed and the gadgetry is fun to watch without overwhelming the film. We can hope for a sequel to this well done film.

But what these films share in common is the near universal longing for the good to win out in the end, and for justice to be done at the same time. In fact the tension between justice and compassion receives some good interplay in the Batman movie. These movies in the end are both morality plays of a sort and as I would stress once more-- they are films Christians should see, support, and reflect on. One last thing. Both films suggest that violence is necessary for good to triumph. This sits rather uneasily with the Gospel theme in Cinderella Man, and it would be well then if we ask whether our own culture has come to the conclusion that violence and even killing is indeed a legitimate means to good ends.