Let’s talk about movies!

So the 82nd Academy Awards are scheduled for Sunday and even with the new extended list of nominees for Best Picture, Dan and I are a little behind. (We’ve got a pretty sweet setup in our basement for movie-viewing + we have a moral aversion to spending $25 for 2 hrs. of entertainment = we wait for Netflix to send DVDs to our mailbox.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the following movies, nominated for Best Picture:

  • District 9 (In my opinion, over-hyped, kinda disappointing.)
  • An Education
  • The Hurt Locker (In our Netflix queue)
  • Inglorious Basterds (In our Netflix queue)
  • The Blind Side (In our Netflix queue)
  • Precious
  • A Serious Man
  • Up (I cried during this movie. I bet y’all know which part!)
  • Up in the Air

Feel free to make a case for your pick for Best Picture, rant about your least favorite of the ten, review all the ones you’ve seen, or share your thoughts on Driscoll’s controversial remarks.

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Angels, Demons, and Summer Vacation

Dan and I usually take our vacation early, and this year we travelled north to see his family in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Dan is the youngest of six, so we stayed really busy over the last two weeks playing with nieces and nephews, reconnecting with old friends, and eating lots and lots of food.

Among the highlights: getting to know my sisters-in-law better, participating in perhaps the best church service I’ve been to in years, indulging in Maki Evans’ delicious cupcakes gourmet, enjoying an impromptu living room concert from the Beekeepers, seeing more wildlife in one week in New Jersey than I’ve seen in years in Tennessee (deer, rabbits, foxes, turkeys, etc.), watching Veggie Tales with my beautiful nephew Will, long morning walks with my mother-in-law, and a Mother’s Day gathering that included half of the family (which is over fifteen people!).

Needless to say, I fell a little behind on blog posts. Tomorrow look for our next book club discussion on David Dark’s The Sacredness of Questioning Everything. On Thursday look for a post about my fantastic experience at a Reformed Church on Mother’s Day, and what it taught me about my own biases and assumptions. (Those who follow the blog consistently will know why a positive Reformed experience might have been a surprise for me!)

So yesterday we went to see “Angels and Demons” with my family for a belated Mother’s Day celebration. I enjoyed it a lot. It was visually stimulating and fast-paced, with an interesting plot and good acting – everything you want in a summer flick. I’m not sure why some in the Catholic Church were upset by it, except perhaps because it was based on the sequel to The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, which was more controversial.

What were your thoughts on the movie? What other summer flicks have you seen/plan to see? Any exciting summer travel plans? I know that our friend and resident history buff Kristen is currently in Egypt, teaching at a field school. Mitch (who is normally in New Guinea) is in Australia awaiting the birth of his third child. Where will you be?

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Prejudice, Positioning, and the Power of "Doubt"

Transient

If you’re in the mood for a great conversation, I recommend that you gather together some friends and watch the movie “Doubt.” The acting is great, the story compelling, and the writing spot-on. I especially loved it because the characters had so many layers. Just when you think you’ve figured one of them out, circumstances change and he or she does something that surprises you.

Based on the Pulitzer-Prize-winning play by John Patrick Shanley, the story is set in a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, a time of great change for the Church. The conflict between a charismatic priest—Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman)—and a strict, old-fashioned nun—Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep)—comes to a head when Sister Aloysius suspects Father Flynn of taking too much interest in a young black student.

There are so many angles we could take in a discussion about this movie. It touches on themes of change, doubt, certainty, faith, community, epistemology, prejudice, and authority. One thing I noticed as Dan and I talked about the movie afterward was how much our personal backgrounds affected how we saw the characters.

For example, I had more sympathy for Sister Aloysius because I felt frustrated by the way she and the other nuns were often sidelined by male authority. I was more open to her intuition-based suspicions than Dan was, probably because my mother has always had good instincts about people and I’ve learned to trust that some people (particularly women) just know when something is wrong. On the other hand, as a skeptic and a progressive, I identified with Father Flynn’s stirring sermon about religious doubt and his desire to see a more progressive attitude adopted in the school. And as an American, I remembered that I should presume someone innocent until proven guilty.

But in the end, I remained more suspicious of Father Flynn than Dan did. I think it’s because Sister Aloysisu reminded me of my mother—not at all in her harshness toward the students—but in her strong sense of intuition and her fierce sense of protection over the children in her care. I often think that, of all my affiliations and allegiances, what shapes my perceptions the most are my impulses as a woman.

How do you think your background/positioning affected your perspective of the movie and its characters? I’m curious to see how positions might differ in considering a mother’s perspective, a man’s perspective, an African American’s perspective, a gay perspective, a Catholic perspective, a teacher's perspective, and so on.

What did you like/dislike about the movie? And even if you haven’t seen the movie—what part of your identity or your story do you think most shapes your impressions of other people?

Doubt writer/director John Patrick Shanley recently said:

We are living in an age of extreme advocacy, of confrontation, of judgment and verdict. Discussion has given way to debate. Communication has become a contest of wills. Public talking has become obnoxious and insincere. Why? It’s because deep down under the chatter, we have come to a place where we don’t know anything. But nobody’s willing to say that.

I think he’s on to something, and the movie speaks powerfully to this sentiment.

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Lars, the Real Girl, and the Real Church

So while we’re on the topic of movies, I’d like to recommend one that Dan and I recently discovered, called Lars and the Real Girl. It’s a quirky dramedy about a delusional guy named Lars (played by Ryan Gosling) and his relationship with a doll he finds on the Internet.

Yes, it sounds dirty...but it’s actually one of the most innocent, sweet movies I’ve ever seen.  It beautifully portrays the purpose and power of community, as Lars’ friends and family rally around him and Bianca (the doll) until Lars' delusion has served its purpose, leaving everyone changed for the better. I also love the dynamic between Lars’ brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and his wife Karin (Emily Mortimer).  My favorite scene between the two of them is when they are talking with the doctor about Lars’ condition. Gus wants to know how to fix it, while Karin tries to understand the cause. It’s a funny picture of the classic differences between men and women.

The movie is sympathetically written, and I really like how it portrays Lars’ church. After the doctor tells Gus and Karin that it is best if they just play along and pretend that Bianca is real, they go to Lars’ church to ask for help and support. In a meeting with the pastor and members of the congregation, they explain the situation. At first, some members express reservations. One guy says, “We don’t want anything to do with her, (referring to the doll.) She’s a golden calf.” Another says it’s okay as long as she doesn’t come to church. They go back and forth until one feisty member reminds the group that nearly every family in the church struggles with some kind of dysfunction, that “these things happen...what’s the big deal?”

“Well, he’s not brining her to church,” one member insists, looking at the reverend.

The reverend responds, “Well, the question is, as always, what would Jesus do?”

The members exchange knowing glances, and the next scene cuts to Gus, Karin, Lars, and Bianca together in church...drawing a few stares, of course.

The congregation ends up playing an integral role in the story as it unfolds. They are unfailingly supportive. In one of the opening scenes of the movie, before the plot really begins, the reverend is preaching a sermon in which he says, “We need never ask ‘Lord, what should I do?’ The Lord has told us what to do. Love one another. Love is God in action.”

I like that the reverend and his congregation actually follow through with this teaching. It was nice to see a church portrayed sympathetically, doing what it is meant to do—absorbing dysfunction without judgment, accepting those who would not normally be accepted (like a delusional loner and his sex doll), seeing people through hard times, and loving unconditionally.

Hollywood is rarely this generous...(perhaps because the Church provides little inspiration)...so “Lars in the Real Girl” is in this way—and in many ways—special.

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