On this episode of Finding Christ in Cinema, we take a look back at 2014 and reconsider all the podcast episodes and Monday Movie Reviews to explore which ones we believed to be the most effective for fulfilling the Great Commission. All that and more in 3…2…1!
Year-End Countdown: Monday Movie Review
As I began choosing my half of this list (no, not that List), I realized that I wanted some kind of structure to it – something that goes from one end of a spectrum to the other. While chewing on this, I also thought about how each film’s story had its effects on the audiences that viewed them (after all, any form of art should be intended to produce an effect in the audience and just be a self-gratifying moment of expression for the artist). With these in mind and with no more ado…
For some time now, I’ve been waiting for film that would show the true horrors of the dog-eat-dog world of the American Dream. Louis Bloom, the titular “nightcrawler,” does just that. To someone who would do anything to get to the top, Bloom is the quintessential character for that type. But for an audience that actually has a heart, we feel remorse so powerful for Bloom that it should stir us to not let a high-and-mighty work ethic get in the way (and even take the place) of human life.
It’s the alienation brought on by Louis that sets it at the farthest end of the aforementioned spectrum: the end where self-actualization is the underlying motive. Louis wants nothing more to be on top, and when you see the film, you’ll see to what extremes he goes – what lives he destroys – to accomplish that goal. If the focus of the Gospel is relationship, then Louis Bloom is the farthest from it. Sure, he has his “business” relationships – with his cameraman and the news director – but those relationships are just as poisoned as the rest of the world of this story; if there’s no business, then there’s no relationship. That’s one of the most accurate (and should be one of the most convicting) images that came out of the 2014 box office. and hopefully this film being on this list better highlights that gravity where it may have been missed before.
This is one of the few films that was able to stay truly mysterious until its release, and I love it when producers can work a film’s surprise factor like that. I wasn’t sure of anything when I sat down my seat, and even when the first scene started to show, I still didn’t know what was going on. But I was engaged as an audience member to keep up with the film’s pace (thanks to some of the experimental conventions that the filmmakers used). And even though my background is in theatre, this film is so accessible that you don’t have to have that background to enjoy it (since the plot revolves the backstage area of a professional theatre).
Michael Keaton’s character Riggan Thomson is similar to Louis Bloom in his selfishness, but Riggan isn’t as alienatingly aggresive as Louis; whereas Louis is seeking to be known as the best, Riggan simply wants to be known as relevant. We as the audience, however, should be able to pick up on the difference of the two (even if Riggan can’t). And Riggan doesn’t fly solo: even though his relationship are estranged, they at least exist and have the potential to be better. This is what makes Birdman one remove from Nightcrawler, that Riggan actually cares for the other people in his life, even if he misses the mark in showing it.
It’s the perfect send-off for future X-Men films bringing in the new cast. Because the past has been set to rights, the present has corrected itself (yes, I’m regarding Jean Grey, Cyclops, Iceman, Colossus, and any other of the fan favorites that died either in this film or another). It’s given hope to a universe that turned really bleak really quickly. And can I just mention the Quicksilver and “Time In A Bottle” scene one more time? Yes? Okay, I did.
With this film, we see something that we haven’t yet seen in the other two films: teamwork. Mutants came together (as they are wont to do) to fight a common, estranged enemy: a political figure determined to squash out the mutant gene with his Sentinels. The mutants rally together and take him down, demonstrating to the audience how overcoming differences can help overcome obstacles. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is the underscoring pretense of this film, and it’s what gets this film in the middle of this spectrum. Relationship, even if among temporary enemies, is strongly present within this story on all sides.
Andy Serkis was the main entity that drew me to this film, but I’m glad that there was so much more to it. That, and the whole reboot of the POTA saga was digging deeper into what really caused the Earth to become what it did in the original film. What’s always fascinated me is how close of a look into the human race this is (thanks, science fiction). The endpoint always seems to be that humans had our chance in the beginning, but we blew it. And realizing that is always sobering.
Teamwork is also abundant in this film, but I think it’s at a more relevant state; it’s not just teaming up fighting a common enemy, it’s teaming up against each other. In this film, there are two families trying to coexist in the world: the humans and the apes. Some humans hate apes, and some apes hate humans; however some apes love humans, and some humans love apes. It’s a complicated scenario in which the lines of Family and the lines of Enemy aren’t so distinctively drawn. This gives ground for something that X-Men: Days of Future Past didn’t have: faith. Specifically, we as the audience see apes and humans having faith in each other despite betrayal of each other (which also entails forgiveness, I’m just saying).
Yes, this film is my number one film for 2014 for several reasons. Firstly, the film’s story is actually good in that, despite the scale on which is told, is fairly concise and moves almost like a symphony. Secondly, still regarding the film itself, it is beautifully and carefully produced. Aronofsky never fails to make a wonderful experience. Thirdly – and most importantly – this film calls everyone within and without the faith to recheck themselves.
Believers are called to really think about why they believe the account of this story as it’s told in Genesis. It really brings Christians to a proverbial fork in the road; one way is believing and standing behind the Genesis account as it written and as stone-hard facts upon which to stand and shout against this “travesty” of a film, and the other way is accepting the fact we simply cannot fully understand this story because we were not there to see it for ourselves, which means we have to accept the deeper fact that we cannot and will not know everything (not at least in this life). It’s all good, though, because both roads are still a part of the Straight and Narrow Path. Of course the film is fascinating enough to non-believers to actually draw them to the Biblical account. This is called planting a seed, and it thus provides us Christians an opportunity to water that seed via relationships and love over time.
We also come to the epitome of the spectrum: faithful teamwork with God as the witness (yes, the Hebrew God is in this film). We see Noah’s family faithfully serving God as well as each other. We even see the Watchers helping the humans who once betrayed them, and that takes faith. We also see a well-intended-yet-misguided faith (how familiar is that, am I right) not only in the antagonist Tubal-Cain but in Noah himself…a well-intended-yet-misguided faith not unlike what we’ve all had before.
No, this film isn’t a verbatim replica of this story as it’s told in Genesis, but it’s honestly a film good enough to be a seed for non-believers. This film gives us the chance to rally ourselves as believers – with God as our witness – and begin relationships with our unbelieving fellow humans and help them understand the epic of Noah the way it’s supposed to be understood: an allegorical/historical predecessor for God’s own rescue operation through Jesus the Christ.
This probably sounds like putting too much faith in people, but we think it’s better to err on the side of grace anyway.
Year-End Countdown: Podcast Episodes
We really should have made this episode happen in the beginning (oh wait, we kinda did), but I think this episode specifically benefits from the seasoning of the thirteen before it. In it, you can tell that we’re still feeling our way through the show as it since progressed, but we still hold true our manifesto as explained in the podcast’s introduction.
Our suggestion is that, if you’re going to choose five episodes to introduce not only this podcast but the Gospel itself, you start with this one. It will hopefully serve as a primer for the mechanics of this show as well as a ground-plan for fulfilling the Great Commission.
In the beginning of the film, Neo is constantly searching for answers. He knows something isn’t right with the world in which he lives, and he knows something else is better. His perception of a better, more realistically true way becomes reality when he has the first of many personal revelations. But even when he is rescued from field, he still has to feel his way through a journey not fully knowing what really lies at the end. It doesn’t matter, though, because he is stirred enough to keep taking the steps.
Definitely a crowd favorite, this episode looks at four different images: Fezzik as a reborn slave to righteousness, the relevance of the framing device, the ROUS’s and how we handle sin, and the ultimate union of Westley and Buttercup being similar to the ultimate union the Christ will have with his Church.
When we first meet Fezzik, he is a goon working for Vizzini. He is expected to be just as cruel and mean as his boss, but he knows better. Still, he is a slave to Vizzini if anything because he is scared of him. This changes throughout the course of the film, as Fezzik ends up serving Westley and Inigo not out of fear but out of love. Thus, he becomes a “slave” to righteousness.
If you’ll recall, the narrative of Westley, Buttercup, and the whole lot is actually being told by the grandfather to the boy (and to us). This “storytelling” serves as a framing device – which thus becomes a story within a story. Most wouldn’t call the grandfather/boy narrative a “story,” though. But it technically is a story because the characters involved are different in the end than they were in the beginning. At the start of the film, the grandfather and the boy aren’t that familiar with each other. But the two grow closer as the former reads to the latter.
As our heroes are trudging through the Fire Swamp, Buttercup warns Westley about the ROUS’s. Westley’s response: “I don’t think they exist.” Of course, just as he says it, an ROUS jumps out of some bushes and attacks him. Just a reminder that we are most susceptible to evil when we begin to doubt its existence.
The love Westley and Buttercup is an epic one. They meet when he is a servant, and from that moment, they’ve loved each other. Even when Westley is presumed dead and Buttercup “moves on” to Prince Humperdinck, she still longs for her farm boy. And he still loves her, as we see the film unfold and as we see Westley become the Dread Pirate Roberts and pursue Buttercup until she with completely with him once again. Ultimately, this love is like Christ’s love for the Church in that he has pursued us all the way by dying for us, and as he has risen, he shows us what the ultimate union between heaven on earth will be like.
First, we look at the Bishop and how he is the Christ-figure in this film. He finds the fugitive Jean Valjean hiding on the church property and invites him in instead of pushing him out. He wants Valjean to eat and rest at the church before he continues on his journey. Even when Valjean tries running away with a bag of stolen goods and is caught by the authorities, the Bishop still loves Valjean by advocating Valjean’s lie – yes, the Bishop took Valjean’s sin and eradicated it. The Bishop then urges Valjean to go out and do the same for others.
Valjean is then given chance after chance to forward this love and mercy to everyone around him throughout the film – including his enemy Inspector Javert. In fact, at one point, Valjean is in a position to kill Javert and avenge himself for twenty years of cruel and unusual punishment; however, Valjean chooses a better path: the path of mercy. He gives Valjean his life and tells Javert to leave. Javert doesn’t accept this new grace and warns Valjean that nothing has changed between the two, but Valjean lets him live still. He was merciful, just as the Bishop and his Father in heaven were merciful to him.
Death row guard Paul Edgecomb has been healed of his bladder infection by the Mile’s strangest inmate John Coffey, a lion-hearted man who is more “heart” than he is “lion.” This tender giant has a miraculous ability that allows him to heal the affliction of anyone he touches, but he heals at his own expense because he momentarily takes on their disease before releasing it. Isn’t this like Jesus, who has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” to heal us as Isaiah exclaims?
Paul doesn’t want keep this miracle for himself; instead, he wants to share it with the warden’s wife Melinda, who is suffering from a brain tumor. Paul knows John can heal Melinda just as he healed Paul (and the previously “busted” Mr. Jingles, at that). This mirrors the situation in Mark 7 after Jesus has just healed the deaf man. Although he tells the witnesses to keep the miracle under wraps, they can’t help but proclaim all the louder, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
And this is what it should be like while fulfilling the Great Commission: sharing the healing power the Jesus has brought to us with those around us who need it.
A Final Benediction
Well, that’s that. It’s been an excellent first year with this show, and Michael and I are both extremely grateful for sharing it with you guys and gals. We have some changes coming up in the next year (nothing too devasting, I hope), and we hope y’all don’t mind sticking around and seeing what we have in store. Who knows, maybe we’ll all meet up one day and be able to kick our feet up to some of these movies. How cool would that be?
Until then, God bless you.
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Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes, including links to articles discussed, by clicking here.
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