Why I Loved Les Mis

The 2012 movie version of Les Miserables reminds me of the reception of Mumford & Sons’ latest album.  Throngs of adoring fans, having awaited the releases for some time, made both huge commercial successes, both were then widely panned by critics for being too earnest (and thus unbelievable), and both were sorta Christian.  The differences are important too. Whereas Babel generated a surprisingly hostile review from a significant number of critics, Les Miserables is holding out at a respectable 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been nominated for 8 Academy Awards.  Another key difference, from my point of view at least, is that I mostly didn’t like Mumford’s new album (really liked the first one, but am now a little worn out by the monotony), but I absolutely loved Les Miserables.  I came very close to feeling those dreaded emotions after watching it, and you can ask around, that’s not a common occurrence for me.

Now, I’ve read a lot of criticisms of Les Miserables.  The New Yorker, somewhat predictably, turned their collective noses up at it.  Anthony Lane did his usual cynical routine, and David Denby, usually the good cop, was even worse, saying that, “It’s terrible; it’s dreadful. Overbearing, pretentious, madly repetitive.”  Oh well.  At least Adam Gopnik liked it.  I’m not too bothered by The New Yorker.  It’s a publication for people who think of themselves as intellectuals, which is a distinct group, actually, from mere intellectuals.

More relevant to my circles, and more directly challenging towards my own sentiments, are those critiques coming from Christian viewers.  I’ve seen the basic concern that Victor Hugo was himself not a Christian, along with other criticisms about the too-heavy emotions of the movie, the perils of Romanticism, and the overshadowing of any true message of grace by a sort of Enlightenment humanism.  Here I was thinking that I’d seen a profound presentation of the impossibility of lawbut perhaps I’d been mistaken.  What are we to think of these observations? Continue reading

The Dude Abides, and So Must We

“The Dude” from The Big Lebowski is a lamed-vavnik, or so argues Cathleen Falsani in her very fun book The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers.

The concept of the lamed-vavnik comes from a certain school of mystical Judaism. Falsani explains its meaning and significance:

According to various kababalistic teachings, at any given time in history there are thirty-six righteous people (lamed-vavniks take their name from the Hebrew letters lamed– meaning “thirty”–  and vav– “six”) on whom the fate of the world rests. If even one of them were to perish, God would destroy the world. The lamed-vavniks–also known as menschen in Yiddish– don’t know the identity of one another and in fact don’t even know that they themselves are counted among the righteous thirty-six. Sometimes the lamed-vavniks appear to be humble fools– slackers or burnouts, in the parlance of our time– but the rest of us should take heed. We never know when we might meet one of the thirty-six, so we should treat everyone as if the fate of the world rests on their unassuming shoulders.  (110)

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Meet Joe Black

I just watched this for the first time.  It is an absolutely perfect movie, that is until the final scene.

There’s no way you resolve something like the realization that you gave your heart to Death, and they should have ended the thing with Pitt and Hopkins walking over the bridge.  It would have been immortal then.

Now it is just kind of bleh.

Endings can do that.

Seven Samurai

This is one long movie. I had to see it because it makes all of the “best ever” lists, and it was a good show. The camera work was beautiful, and it just felt cool. Still though, who has 3.5 hrs these day?

The most striking aspect of Seven Samurai is the final line. The winners turn out to be losers. Why even be a hero in that society? I’m sure there’s a Christological lesson here, as the movie leaves you with no reason to ever do a good deed.

There’s not even a future. At least Leonides’ 300 leave you with an eschatology. Not so with the Samurai. Even in glory, all is vanity.

The Forbidden Kingdom

I just saw The Forbidden Kingdom. This is a great film. There are lots of throwbacks to the classics of kung-fu and a good mixture of action and humor. There’s a clear spiritual dimension to the film, as well, even as it isn’t necessarily a Christian one. The parallels were interesting though.

I thought it was a sort of Eastern Lord of the Rings.

Metropolis

I’m showing Metropolis to my class next week. I bought the restored authorized edition, and watched it again last night. This is such an incredible movie.

The newest edition is still missing scenes. I don’t think the original can ever be restored. The original version is said to have been 210 minutes long, which is, of course, way too long for most people to tolerate. Unfortunately, it was chopped down pretty drastically, and now about a fourth of the footage is gone forever. This new version is 124 minutes, and some pretty important scenes are still missing. They fill in the gaps with text.

The most fun part of Metropolis is its expressionism. The movie is a work of art. The fact that it is a silent film requires the actors to emote more than usual, and so their facial expressions are also part of the art.

The animation is also pretty breathtaking. Having watched the director’s commentary and the documentary, it really is awe-inspiring to consider the amount of work that was put into the special effects.

The Babel-theme is great too. I think it might be a good springboard to a theology of the city, as there are clear evils to the city, but also great benefits.

Zombies and Salvation

I Am Legend was originally a book by Richard Matheson in 1954. It featured an air-borne disease that turned people into vampires. It used the apocalyptic theme to address social, ethical, and religious questions, with its twist ending, where the vampires become the normal and the humans become the legend.

Since its inception, I Am Legend has been made into at least three movies (The Last Man on Earth 1964, The Omega Man 1971, and I Am Legend 2007) and influenced many more (Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later). Each of these movies attempted to progress the theme and genre, with 28 Days Later being the first movie to introduce the “fast Zombies.”

The Zombie genre can simply provide screams (and laughs) in the vein of standard horror films, or it can use its extreme scenario to address topics that are very close to home. Indeed, the larger Sci-fi genre is known for doing just this, as Eastern religious ideas find their way into Star Wars, critiques of communism appear in Star Trek, transcendental Darwinism is explored in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and human rights issues regarding cloning and genetic manipulation drive the plot of The Island. X-Men directly speaks to racism and social issues, and the television series Heroes raises questions of ethical warfare and national security.

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Some Reflections on Juno

I saw Juno when it came out in theaters, and I have not seen it since. A friend asked me about my thoughts on it after watching it on video, and I put them down on paper. They aren’t a proper “review,” but simply some observations. Here’s what I got:

I think the message is basically that life is good and worth the “bumps” that come up along the way. Even though things can seem incredibly threatening, if you believe (in yourself? the integrity of man?) you’ll see that people are basically good. Even when certain people show themselves to be bad (in this case, the perspective adopting father), the goodness of the others makes it all worth it.

So basically, the movie lacks a “Christian worldview.” However, it is better than the typical dark movie, where life is hopeless, as well as the typical teeny-bopper film where there are no worries and free fun all around. Juno is, rather, a happy sort of realism.

We’re glad that Juno didn’t have the abortion, that’s for sure. The fact that the fetus had fingernails proved its humanity. So, it is pro-life.

We also learn that you have to grow up and take responsibility. The would-be father never did this. He kept his 90s grunge records, comic books, and rock t-shirts. The wife tells him that she’s tired of waiting for him to become Kurt Cobain (the success/suicide case).

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Babette’s Chiasm

Babette’s Feast is a delightful movie. The central message is that God is good and we know he is good because his creation is good. It’s a beautiful picture of the gospel. Here’s a short outline I drew up.

A. Introduction: The Church does well with the leadership of its pastor.

  B. Lowenhielm is sent to the village, where he falls in love with Martina. He departs in   sadness and failure.

    C. Papin visits the village, where he is struck by Phillipa’s singing ability.   He departs in sadness and failure.

      D. The pastor dies and conflicts arise within the church.

    C’ Papin sends Babette to the village.

  B’ Lowenhielm returns to the village for the feast.

A’ Babette’s cooking and Lowenhielm’s sermon resolve the conflicts and bring joy to the village.