Fury: The Beautification of Violence?

FuryGuest post by Christine A. Scheller

I loathe violent movies. When my husband watches them at home, I escape to another room or ask him to change the channel. This has been especially true since our son died a violent suicide death. I don’t want to see blood and guts. Death is too real and broken bodies are too precious for me to want to consume them as entertainment, or be confronted with them in art.

So it was with considerable trepidation that I attended a screening of the new World War II flick, Fury. I had heard that the film is brutal. It is.

But it’s also that rare breed in which the violence is necessary. This may seem obvious given that it’s about war, but other war movies revel in lingering scenes of carnage. Aside from one grotesque sequence, this film never does.

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Ruin and Possibility in David Gordon Green’s Joe

How many of our triumphs in a long and confusing life are accountable not to the things that we do, but to the things that we ultimately cannot do? How much larger is a soul for the many unmarked feats, the unnoticed evidence of furious battles fought against the self, just to hold back, to tamp down, to remain and endure when all would warrant otherwise?

Medals, trophies are given for action, not inaction. But it seems a terrible injustice to call the agonies suffered in attempts to retain basic decency “inaction.” The malgre lui who ultimately cannot do what everything inside him says that he should is a quiet, but nonetheless valiant, warrior. They also serve who only withstand and remain.

Such inner turmoil is at the center of David Gordon Green’s latest film, Joe. Among the many fine directors today, Green has consistently impressed with his signature vision, featuring intense sojourners in fraught landscapes. His premiere effort, George Washington—about the burdened lives of children who cover up a crime—was widely appreciated, as were his subsequent movies, All the Real Girls, a love story set in a small Southern town, and Undertow, about a young boy chased by a murderous uncle. Green wrote all of these efforts, but his current offering is based on a novel by the late Mississippi writer, Larry Brown.

In the film, Nicholas Cage has one of his best outings as a man with a past suggested to have been so violent that he’s always one burnt cigarette away from exploding into a rampage. He has to manage himself carefully, isolate himself thoughtfully, from interacting too deeply with others.

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The United Cinematic States of America

Guest post by Gareth Higgins

“You have to be a stranger to the landscape to regard it as a view.” — Geoff Dyer

“I wish I had your passion, Ray, misdirected as it may be. But it is still a passion.” — Terrence Mann to Ray Kinsella, in Field of Dreams

Author’s note: I’m delighted to be participating in the Glen Workshop this coming June, and would love you to join me to explore the personal (and American) dream narratives in cinema. The journey I took into this subject changed my life, and I hope we can have a similar impact in exploring the same questions together.

My new book Cinematic States takes a look at American myths in one of their most powerful forms. Looking at one movie from each of the fifty states of my adopted homeland I’m asking whether a Kansas yellow brick road really does lead to the end of the rainbow, and does it first have to pass through Colorado’s Overlook Hotel? Amidst the multipurpose woodchippers, friendly exorcists and faulty motel showers, resurrected baseball players and miracle-working gardeners, what do the stories we tell reveal about ourselves, and how can we reimagine who we are?

It was a fascinating experience to research the book, and I discovered immense wells of rich variety in this country that is so easily dismissed by many for its errors, real and perceived.

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Her and Him: Digital Love and Divine Analogues

Sunday at the Oscars, Spike Jonze deservedly won Best Original Screenplay for Her, his dystopian love story for the cybernetic age. In an alternative world, the kind that Jonze likes us to inhabit in his films—strange but relatable, infinitely ironic—I’m pretty sure that he also took home the award for Best Parable.

Or, in keeping with Jonze’s boyish persona that seems to shrug at his own brilliance, perhaps it was Best Parable In Spite of Itself.

Why in spite of itself? Because while Jonze obviously set out to write a screenplay, and then direct a film, I suspect that he did not task himself with the conscious making of a cinematic parable in the same gospel vein employed by Jesus of Nazareth.

But he did, and to no unimpressive end. (Not surprisingly, after all, this being the director whose precocious dexterity in his early films like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation felt like effortless deliveries of gemstones on a skateboard.)

Just put on your inner Jonze and imagine that Jesus hailed from Nazareth, Pennsylvania in our day and age. You can almost hear him begin the parable of Her to a street crowd in Philadelphia, many of whom must remove their earbuds and headphones to listen:

“There was a man who fell in love with an operating system…”

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The Arts and Faith Top 25 Divine Comedies

Guest post by Steven D. Greydanus

A joke can be so big that it breaks the roof of the stars. By simply going on being absurd, a thing can become godlike; there is but one step from the ridiculous to the sublime.

—G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton is known as the “Apostle of Common Sense,” but a 1922 article in a religious paper once called him something even more appropriate: “The Apostle of Laughter”—laughter being, for Chesterton, both the soul of common sense, and something far deeper.

For Chesterton, the spiritual life and high spirits are inseparably connected; there is even something divine about humor: “A good joke is the one ultimate and sacred thing which cannot be criticized.”

The internet abounds with best movies lists, including lists of comedies of all types: screwball and slapstick, comedies romantic and black; comedies of manners and of mannerlessness. There are even lists of religion-themed comedies, though of course a transcendently funny joke is not necessarily about religion, and jokes about religion are not necessarily transcendent or profound.

The Arts & Faith Top 25 Divine Comedies offers what may be, but should not be, an unusual angle on the comedy genre: It focuses on movies that explore the space between the ridiculous and the sublime. Explicit religious themes are not a notable feature in most of these films, yet all of them, in different ways, touch on questions of ultimate import.

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