In the Company of Women, Part II

By Jeffrey Overstreet

2783315627_94f68e493d_zContinued from yesterday

“You’re the sort of man who can’t know anyone intimately, least of all a woman.”

That may be the most stinging, hurtful reprimand I’ve ever heard.

Thank God it wasn’t aimed at me: Those words were spoken by Miss Lucy Honeychurch to her fiancé, Mr. Cesil Vyse, in 1985’s A Room With a View.

The insult broke their engagement. It also broke the poor man’s heart, just as it would have broken mine.

As I wrote yesterday, movies have influenced how I feel and what I think in the company of women. [Read more…]

In the Company of Women, Part I

By Jeffrey Overstreet

6978815032_613400725d_zIn late July of 1992, Batman Returns ruled the box office.

I bought a ticket for something else: A film about two married women and a grumpy widow who take a holiday and, as The Seattle Times put it, “rediscover their sensuality on the sunny Mediterranean.”

Strange, I know. But there I was, a twenty-one-year-old male, spending what little money I had to see Enchanted April.

How many college guys would you guess were in the audience watching this ladies-only getaway, listening to women ponder, dream, commiserate, and grumble about their husbands? I doubt that the film’s marketing strategists considered my demographic. [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…]

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…]

Brooklyn: A Drama of Discernment

BrooklynOne of the hardest things in life is having two good choices that are completely exclusive of each other. It’s not a matter of picking a major in college, regretting it, and changing to another track; not a matter of taking a job at the wrong place and eventually finding your way to another one. Many choices—perhaps most choices—can be undone, however long and laborious the undoing.

But those decisions that are irreversible, unalterable, and unavoidable are the ones that cause the most anguish, especially when there’s much to recommend both of the alternatives (of course, at times we’re cursed with an array of good options, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll keep it to two). In these dilemmas, we have an embarrassment of riches. The stakes are high: Pick one and lose the other forever.

Arguably, in this day and age, such dire consequences are less often the case than they used to be. What were historically lifelong commitments are now temporary engagements; wherever you are, you can get out pretty quickly. Affiliations, careers, and faiths are imminently interchangeable now.

Even marriage, which was once a permanent choice, has hardly the strength of a hair anymore, let alone a chain. You can divorce several times without stigma, though with somewhat more financial burden. And to our eternal shame, even children can be opted out of now, with the backing of a vast secular orthodoxy and the many huge industries that make a profit from it.

But that was not always so. There was a time when choosing meant you made a promise that honor and decency demanded you keep. In one of the loveliest movies to come along in a while, one of the loveliest characters to come along in an equally long while has to make such a choice—between two good things that she could never have predicted would present themselves. [Read more…]


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