The Lone Ranger’s Easter Narrative

"THE LONE RANGER" Ph: Peter Mountain ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved.

His back to us and to the camera, the hero walks silently away. His work in this particular community is done. He has restored the community to its better self.

This is the closing image of the classic 1947 film The Bishop’s Wife, which I watched recently. Cary Grant as the angel Dudley—sent to guide the bishop away from his egotistical ways and back into the arms of his neglected wife—has effected this conversion not only in the bishop but in other characters as well.

And as I watched Dudley walk away from us and from the community where he has intervened for the good, I suddenly thought: I’ve seen this scene before. My husband and I are on a kick of viewing 1940s and 1950s Westerns, which often end this way (though the departing hero might be on horseback rather than walking). [Read more…]

Annie Spans the Gap, Part 1

The following appears as the editorial statement in Image issue 88.

Annie Dillard illustrated by Alissa Berkhan

Illustration by Alissa Berkhan

There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination. What can any artist set on fire but his world?… What can he light but the short string of his gut, and when that’s burnt out, any muck ready to hand? His face is flame like a seraph’s, lighting the kingdom of God for the people to see; his life goes up in the works; his feet are waxen and salt. He is holy and he is firm, spanning all the long gap with the length of his love, in flawed imitation of Christ on the cross stretched both ways unbroken and thorned. So must the work be also, in touch with, in touch with, in touch with; spanning the gap from here to eternity, home.

—Annie Dillard

Few books to come across my desk lately have stirred so many emotions as The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New by Annie Dillard. In the Atlantic, the critic William Deresiewicz says that the book “might just as easily be called The Absence,” because the author has published nothing new for years. It’s a clever lead-in, but devoid of substance. Our online culture, with its constant demand for hitting the feeds at peak times every day, may dictate constant publication unto death as a requirement for any self-respecting author, but thank God Annie Dillard grew up before the advent of the internet. I prefer to look on her body of work and celebrate the abundance. [Read more…]

Better Call Saul

better-call-saul-netflixBetter Call Saul, a prequel to AMC’s milestone series, Breaking Bad, further establishes co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould to be among the most intricate moral thinkers working in the dramatic arts. Whereas the first series rendered the ethical decline of a dying man who makes something of a noble bargain with his conscience—attempting to provide for his struggling family by entering the methamphetamine trade—the second series focuses on an altogether different landscape of principles.

Instead of depicting the inch-by-inch, then mile-by-mile, depravity that follows a dubious but not wholly dishonorable decision, Better Call Saul illustrates the confluence of causes that can make a man see himself in a certain way. If Breaking Bad’s Walter White is “Mr. Chips turned Scarface,” as Gilligan described him, Better Call Saul’s Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman is Willie Stark turned strip-mall consigliere.

The series, now beginning its second season, is set in 2002, some six years before the action of Breaking Bad. As such, it gives the backstory on how Walter White’s outlandish shyster lawyer, Saul Goodman, becomes the man that he is. Goodman is the epitome of the ambulance-chasing, tasteless advertising (“Better Call Saul”) attorney, complete with a debased clientele and a shameless talent for truth perversion. [Read more…]

A Space Program

2spaceprogramcvrThe tenth item on a list entitled “How to Watch This Film,” which accompanies Tom Sachs’ A Space Program, says that the film is “a love letter to the analog era.”

That obsession with all things handmade and non-digital was obvious as I watched the film—even though I was sitting on my couch, streaming a digital screener on my iPhone and beaming it over WiFi to my Apple TV, which is about the least analog thing a person can do.

But Sachs loves this stuff. He’s a sculptor, sort of—playing with all kinds of things from the natural and human-made world to form whimsical new objects, like boomboxes and in this case, fake planets and massive mission control centers and even the credits roll for the film, which looks like it’s rolling by on taped-together black construction paper. [Read more…]

The Coen Brothers, Plato, and the Imagination

By Santiago Ramos

Note: This review contains mild spoilers.

hail-cesarHail, Caesar!, the Coen Brothers’ latest offering, tells the story of a pious hero on a religious quest, and by all appearances is a movie that asks to be interpreted in a theological way. A quasi-parable set in a big studio during the Golden Era of Hollywood, the film is bookended by two sessions in a confessional, where the protagonist, a powerful Hollywood executive named Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), confesses a few, mostly venial sins.

Mannix is on a mission to complete and promote a big Biblical epic (“the prestige picture…of the year”) about a Roman Centurion’s encounter with Christ and eventual conversion to Christianity.

National Review film critic Ross Douthat was quick to seize upon the movie’s theological themes. “In the context of the movie itself, the studio system is … the Church Visible, The Body of Christ,” he tweeted. “It’s a motley corporate entity, shepherded by a suffering Christ figure [Mannix], in which sins are forgiven and people are guided into roles.”

But while the studio in Hail, Caesar! may be a hospital for sinners, it also never ceases to be a factory of images. While a theological interpretation works on many levels, it also misses a big part of the story. Hail, Caesar! is ambiguous about the power of the movie studio, Mannix’s role in it, and the nature of the movies themselves.

As much as it is a theological drama, Hail, Caesar! is about the Janus-faced, sometimes good, sometimes evil, nature of the imagination—that is, of Hollywood movies, and art in general. This theme has a way of simultaneously subverting and enlivening the religious elements in the movie. [Read more…]


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