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.


Sven said...

" 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."

Good point. I think the idea is present in our culture that violence and killing necessary for good to win out over evil, though I don't recall seeing any films that seem to conclude that in using the means of their enemies to fight, the good guys become evil and corrupt themselves.

The best example of this that springs to my mind is in the Vietnam movie 'Platoon', where the fresh-faced patriotic recruits are so dehumanised in attempting to fight violence with violence that they themselves become completely inhuman and every bit as evil as the evil they try to fight.

Ben Witherington said...

Sven your point is well taken. I would also point to films like Blackhawk Down or even Gandhi which make clear not only the dehumanizing nature of violence, but also the viability of alternatives.



Mike Morrell said...

Hello sir! Nice blog. I'll be adding it to my directory, if you don't mind.

I agree, Batman is amazing. If you want a little bit of the backstory, you should check out the following graphic novel (read: comic book)-- Batman: Year One by Frank Miller (the guy who was also behind Sin City, yes) and David Mazucchelli. In the late 80s, Miller fleshed out and redefined Batman, and this (as well as his Dark Knight Returns) is ground zero source material.

If you've never read a comic book before, you owe it to yourself to read these two classics.

Ben Witherington said...

Howdy Mike: Well as far as comics go, I was strictly a Marvel Man, particularly Spidey, though I also liked the Fantastic Four and X Men

Brett Berger said...

I would love to see you do a post reflecting on the issue of violence and justice. I have been very ambivalent on this topic because I see Jesus as taking a definite stance of non-violence. On the other hand, historically violence and war has been a means of restraining some very gross evils.

If you don't mind, I would like to put a link to your blog on mine.