How is “The Book of Eli”?

John Boot says that the ultra-violent “Book of Eli” is “a proudly Christian movie.” Did anyone see it last weekend? Is that correct? Is it worth seeing?

Cross I Am Legend with The Ten Commandments and you’ve got The Book of Eli, a genuinely religious parable that inherently rebukes pointless end-of-the-world movies like The Road. This time there’s a purpose to the post-apocalypse: Eli (Denzel Washington), one of humanity’s survivors, is heeding the word of the Lord to protect the world’s only remaining Bible and bring its teachings to the West.

via Pajamas Media » The Book of Eli: A Proudly Christian Movie.

The 3-D movie is one-dimensional

I went to see Avatar on New Year’s Day. It was just awful–ludicrously, unintentionally-comically awful. The story was insufferable, making a clumsy parallel with the War in Iraq, just as you commenters who saw it reported. James Cameron had the idea for this movie for years, we are told, and back then in his circles our conflict in Iraq was all about the evil President Bush and how we were just fighting the war over oil. I wonder if Mr. Cameron sees the war in the same way now that President Obama is fighting it. I would just say that the movie’s portrayal of our military men as cartoon villains is unconscionable. The movie is proof that parts of our society are quite ready to villainize our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as was done to our Vietnam veterans. It’s also interesting to see how this mindset apparently thinks of our adversaries: as simple, virtuous noble savages with no gender role differences.

But this political theme, along with the radical environmentalism and pantheistic religiosity, is not what makes this a bad movie. It is possible to portray liberalism, environmentalism, and pantheism with subtlety, complexity, and creativity. Avatar, on the contrary, is stereotyped, cliched, predictable, preachy, sappy, and (ironically) one-dimensional. The characters are superficial, the dialogue is laughable, and there is absolutely no irony, wit, or self-awareness.

Visually, though, the movie is fun to watch. The cinematography, the computer effects, the editing, and the visual spectacle are impressive.

As for the 3-D, which I was eagerly anticipating, I was underwhelmed. The technology is an improvement over the old cardboard glasses with the red and blue cellophane, but it’s not much different from that. You still have to wear glasses–these have some kind of polarized lenses–and it’s still based on the same optical illusion made possible by our having two eyes side by side. What we see is nothing like a hologram, with fully molded 3-D figures, just a heightened foreground and objects that appear to float towards the viewer. I’m sure the technology will get better. The previews featured several upcoming 3-D movies, mostly if not all from Disney, including the new Shrek. But in Avatar, though it was the most appealing part of the movie, the 3-D elements failed to produce the sense of wonder and amazement that the movie desperately needed.

Other than that, I really enjoyed it.

It’s a Wonderful Life, if you live it for others

I did not realize that Joe Carter is such a perceptive literary critic, but he is. Here is part of his comparison of George Bailey of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life with Howard Roark of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. From The Fountainhead of Bedford Falls » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog:

Howard Roark, for example, is an idealistic young architect who chooses to “struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision‚” by conforming to the needs and demands of the community. In contrast, George Bailey is an idealistic young architect-wannabe who struggles in obscurity because he has chosen to conform to the needs and demands of the community rather than fulfill his artistic and personal vision. (Howard Roark is essentially what George Bailey might have become had he left for college rather than stayed in Bedford Falls.) . . . .

What makes George Bailey one of the most inspiring, emotionally complex characters in film is that he continually chooses the needs of his family and community over his own self-interested ambitions and desires—and suffers immensely for his efforts.

Although sentimental, Capra’s movie is not a simplistic morality play. In the end, George is saved from ruin but the rest of life remains essentially the same. By December 26 he’ll wake to find that he’s still a frustrated artist scraping out a meager living in a drafty old house in a one-stoplight town. In fact, all that he has gained is recognition of the value of faith, friends, and community and that this is worth more than anything else he might achieve. Capra’s underlying message is thus radically subversive: it is by serving our fellow man, even to the point of subordinating our dreams and ambitions, that we achieve both true greatness and lasting happiness.

This theme makes Wonderful Life one of the most counter-cultural films in the history of cinema. Almost every movie about the individual in society—from Easy Rider to Happy Feet—is based on the premise that self-actualization is the primary purpose of existence. To a society that accepts radical individualism as the norm, a film about the individual subordinating his desires for the good of others sounds anti-American, if not downright communistic. Surely, the only reason the film has become a Christmas classic is because so few people grasp this core message.

Or, to put it in Cranach terms, George lives in vocation, sacrificing himself in love and service to his neighbors, which results ultimately, when he realizes it, in a fulfilled, meaningful life. Howard, in contrast, wants to be served, rather than to serve, and so represents the twisting of vocation into self-aggrandizement. He ends up destroying what he himself had made. But as Joe says, it’s the latter vision of self that we find everywhere in today’s culture.

Selling the end of the world to Christians

Have any of you seen 2012, the movie based on the notion that ancient Indian texts predicted the world will end in three years and that those ancient Indians were somehow right? I’ve actually had Christians ask me about that, if there might be anything to it. If any of you would like to report on the movie, I’d be glad for your comments.

In the meantime, another apocalyptic end-of-the-world tale is coming to the silver screen, The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s depressing novel about a father and son trying to survive after an unspecified catastrophe wipes out civilization. That’s fine. But what’s intriguing is that the makers of the movie are trying to market it specifically to Christians. They have signed up the same PR firm that has pushed “The Passion of the Christ,” the Narnia movies, and other religious-themed movies, inviting pastors to pre-release showings and setting up special deals for churches. (Pastors, watch for your invitations.)

But “The Road” has nothing to do with Christianity. The R-rated flick features cannibalism, but no redemptive elements that anyone has been able to identify. Are the filmmakers so ignorant of Christianity that they think since Christians believe the world will end someday that ANY end of the world story will do?

Maybe they think the father/son angle will appeal to family values types. Maybe it will. The end of civilization would surely include the end of TV, sports, school activities, the internet, and meetings. Then and perhaps only then could fathers spend quantity time with their sons.

HT: Steve Rabey at Get Religion

Muhammad: The Movie

In the “you don’t know what you are getting into” department, one of the producers of The Lord of the Rings movies is planning on making a movie about the prophet Muhammad:

Producer Barrie Osborne cast Keanu Reeves as the messiah in The Matrix and helped defeat the dark lord Sauron in his record-breaking Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now the Oscar-winning American film-maker is set to embark on his most perilous quest to date: making a big-screen biopic of the prophet Muhammad.

Budgeted at around $150m (£91.5m), the film will chart Muhammad's life and examine his teachings. Osborne told Reuters that he envisages it as "an international epic production aimed at bridging cultures. The film will educate people about the true meaning of Islam".

Osborne's production will reportedly feature English-speaking Muslim actors. It is backed by the Qatar-based production company Alnoor Holdings, who have installed the Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi to oversee all aspects of the shoot. In accordance with Islamic law, the prophet will not actually be depicted on screen. . . .

The as-yet-untitled picture is due to go before the cameras in 2011. It remains to be seen, however, whether it will be beaten to cinemas by another Muhammad-themed drama. Late last year, producer Oscar Zoghbi announced plans to remake The Message, his controversial 1976 drama that sparked a fatal siege by protesters in Washington DC. The new version, entitled The Messenger of Peace, is currently still in development.

A Hollywood non-Muslim is going to teach the world “the true meaning of Islam”? Either he will offend actual Muslims or he will present a white-washed version, one that possibly will inspire Westerners to embrace a new Westernized and sanitized form of the religion. (See what some Americans have done to Hinduism, Buddhism, and paganism [below--note the lack of sacrifices].)

The earlier movie “The Message” offended Muslims to the point of violence, but this remake looks like it will atone for that insensitivity by rendering the prophet as “The Messenger of Peace” for this religion of peace.

Shooting the movie without showing the main character, though, will be an interesting challenge. “Ben Hur” managed scenes with Jesus that never showed Him, but that was only for very short sequences. And the point of view shots that replaced the visual depictions of our Lord (which still bother some Christians to this day) show a degree of adoration that would probably also violate Islam.

The meaning of monsters

Stephen Asma is a philosophy professor writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Monsters and the Moral Imagination. Here is some of his theory:

The uses of monsters vary widely. In our liberal culture, we dramatize the rage of the monstrous creature—and Frankenstein's is a good example—then scold ourselves and our "intolerant society" for alienating the outcast in the first place. The liberal lesson of monsters is one of tolerance: We must overcome our innate scapegoating, our xenophobic tendencies. Of course, this is by no means the only interpretation of monster stories. The medieval mind saw giants and mythical creatures as God's punishments for the sin of pride. For the Greeks and Romans, monsters were prodigies—warnings of impending calamity.

After Freud, monster stories were considered cathartic journeys into our unconscious—everybody contains a Mr. Hyde, and these stories give us a chance to "walk on the wild side." But in the denouement of most stories, the monster is killed and the psyche restored to civilized order. We can have our fun with the "torture porn" of Leatherface and Freddy Krueger or the erotic vampires, but this "vacation" to where the wild things are ultimately helps us return to our lives of quiet repression. . . .

According to the critic Christopher Craft, Gothic monster tales—Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dracula, Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles—rehearse a similar story structure. "Each of these texts first invites or admits a monster, then entertains and is entertained by monstrosity for some extended duration, until in its closing pages it expels or repudiates the monster and all the disruption that he/she/it brings," he writes. . . .

Monsters can stand as symbols of human vulnerability and crisis, and as such they play imaginative foils for thinking about our own responses to menace. Part of our fascination with serial-killer monsters is that we (and our loved ones) are potentially vulnerable to sadistic violence—never mind that statistical probability renders such an attack almost laughable. Irrational fears are decidedly unfunny. We are vulnerable to both the inner and the outer forces. Monster stories and films only draw us in when we identify with the persons who are being chased, and we tacitly ask ourselves: Would I board up the windows to keep the zombies out or seek the open water? Would I go down to the basement after I hear the thump, and if so, would I bring the butcher knife or the fireplace poker? What will I do when I am vulnerable?

He goes on and on about such “monsterology,” but I don’t find any of these points particularly persuasive about why we find zombies, vampires, aliens, and slashers so compelling. What is YOUR theory? Put another way, if you are a monster fan this time of year, if you love to get scared, and if you enjoy horrific images, what’s the big attraction?