The Identical Opens This Weekend. I’m Taking My Family to See It. You Should Too.

10502203_351218668359340_1151622593821814307_n-1

What is it about Elvis?

Decades past his death, his magic remains. Is it the smoky eyes, the unique voice and style? Or is it the good guy, the gentle, deeply-spiritual soul that behind those blue, blue eyes?

I think it was and is the whole package. Elvis was American and his story was the story of much of America at that time, only writ large.

His family suffered during the depression, clawed their way out of deep poverty after World War II, and Elvis himself took off like a meteor, right along with his country, in the 50s. Elvis was energy and maleness, wrapped in basic decency and kindness. He was us, as we were then.

He must still be us on some level. Why else would his image and his story continue to captivate so long after his death?

The Identical is a bit like Elvis himself, in that it is based on good people making hard decisions in tough times. The Christian ethos of Elvis the man runs throughout the story in a deliberate but unselfconscious way.

The story uses an Elvis look-alike as its main character and is based — very loosely — on the fact that the real Elvis had a twin brother who died. I’ve read that Elvis felt the presence of this brother throughout his life.

In the movie, both twins survive, but one of them is given up for adoption, due to hard times. Both boys grow up loved and cared for by parents who adore them. The adopted child ends up experiencing something I’ve witnessed in adopted people I know: The call of a heritage that doesn’t quite fit the family they love and that cherishes and loves them.

We are ourselves from the moment of conception. This innate self is shaped by and reacts to the environment in which we are raised and live. But no matter the environment, this innate self will always win out at some level.

A person who has a deep and abiding talent for, say, music, will feel the call of that talent, no matter if he or she is raised by a family of people who are tone-deaf and without rhythm or not. This difference between the adopted and the family that adopts them is a fundamental expression of the innate person they are.

It has nothing to do with loving their parents or being loved by them. It does not change the fact that this is their family. But it does mean that adoptive parents will raise happier adopted children if they give space for the real person their child is to emerge in healthy ways.

The Identical is a tale of adoption, and the striving to be oneself in a sphere that doesn’t quite fit.

It is also a story of love and grace.

Because love has the power to make all things right between people. And grace from God is the transforming agent that lifts love up.

I had an opportunity to see a preview of the The Identical.  I recommend the movie. It has a fine cast, topped by Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd. It demonstrates the maturing of Christian entertainment that is beginning to occur.

Ray Liotta puts in a beautiful performance as the adoptive father. This performance sharpens the movie’s dynamic and gives it power. He manages to create a character that is both a stern and a loving man; someone who is full of human weakness but who is also deeply and absolutely honorable and loving. His character is balanced by Ashley Judd’s performance as the gentle Southern mama.

It is no easy trick to give artistic dimension to good people. Any painter will tell you that the light is the hardest — and most important part — of the image.

Liotta pulls The Identical together and makes it tick because he achieves that.

The Identical will open in theaters this weekend. I’m taking my family to see it. I recommend you do the same.

YouTube Preview Image

God Is Not Dead and Messages that Resonate

O GODS NOT DEAD facebook

God Is Not Dead, the low budget surprise hit of the season, is drawing audiences and brickbats that seem out of proportion to the movie itself.

God Is Not Dead is an uber low-budget film that opened in a limited number of theaters to consistently terrible reviews. The movie has a predictable plotline and, with the exception of Kevin Sorbo, who had the starring role in the television series Hercules, unknown actors.

Yet it is pulling in the $$. The small side theaters where it is showing are filling up. It’s been in those theaters long enough for any roll that accrued to the film through early direct marketing to churches has died. But the audiences keep coming, and, surprisingly, they are mostly young people who cheer and applaud when the film’s hero vanquishes the villain.

At the same time, a matching vitriol, not toward the film itself, but toward it’s message, is dotting the internet like a bad case of chickenpox.

What’s with this little film?

I didn’t get around to seeing the movie until recently, so I attended it with a post-direct-marketing audience. I personally witnessed the full theater of young people, with late-comers going from aisle to aisle, looking for a seat. I saw and heard the entire audience cheer and clap at the gotcha line aimed at the villainous professor.

I came home wondering if this was an Oklahoma thing. I looked at the box office results, and it turned out that $2 million God Is Not Dead was in range with $125 million Noah for the weekend’s box office. Meanwhile the Christian-bashing thought meisters of the internet were in a rageful froth over the film’s astonishing success.

Predictably, this spiteful jabbing was aimed, not at the film itself, but at Christians in general. The basic message in these opinion pieces is simple. Here’s the gist of it: YOU CHRISTIANS ARE STUPID, PARANOID FOOLS! YOU ARE NOT PERSECUTED!!!! NOW SIT DOWN, SHUT UP AND STOP SPENDING YOUR MONEY ON A FILM WITH A MESSAGE TO THE CONTRARY OF WHAT WE TELL YOU!!!

It turns out that there are at least three underlying messages in the success of God Is Not Dead, and only one of them is in the film itself.

I think that God Is Not Dead is somewhat analogous to the Billy Jack movies of the 70s. It has a message that strikes a powerful chord with the younger generation of Christians. Every Christian kid who’s sat in a classroom while the professor derides people of faith, or who has been belittled and given lower grades for standing firm on their beliefs, knows from their own life experience that this movie is based on reality. I think that’s the reason that this movie has legs, and I also think it’s the reason that young adults in the audience burst into applause and cheers when the student zapped the bullying professor.

I know from personal experience that nothing gets the Christian-bashing crowd going more than Christians who call Christian bashing what it is. They turn personal in one ugly step. I’ve been accused of all sorts of things, including indifference to the mass murder of millions, because I raise these issues.

The Christians-are-crazy crowd is really heaping it on right now because of the surprise success of God Is Not Dead. They appear to be confounded by the fact that people will spend their money and go watch a film with a message about Christian bashing in higher education. According to them, Christians who believe that Christian bashing exists in higher education are all a bunch of paranoid hayseeds with very small brains.

What they fail to see is that this attitude in much of the media, along with the undeniable Christian bashing that occurs in a great deal of higher education, is exactly why God Is Not Dead is striking such a chord with so many people. It speaks to their experience, an experience which is denied, derided and belittled by both big-time entertainment and the internet mavens who are jabbing at God Is Not Dead’s surprising success.

I honestly thought that this movie had the possibility of a good run when I saw the previews for it. I knew that the Christian bashing that the film dramatizes is happening and that a lot of Christians are beginning to get enough of it.

I’m glad God Is Not Dead is a success. My reason is simple: I want Christian young people to stop allowing themselves to be bullied in the halls of academia by professors with personal problems.

To the extent that God Is Not Dead raises the self-awareness of Christian young people and helps then find their courage, I think it is a very good film, indeed.

YouTube Preview Image

Noah: PETA Meets the Animators by Way of a Wizard, with Mad Max and a Boat

347369 xcitefun noah 2014 movie poster 1

Noah, the movie, is such a messy mish-mash of conflicting memes that I’m not really sure how to characterize it.

It is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which a king, who bears the name Tubal Cain, has supposedly destroyed creation by eating meat and forging weapons of iron. The Biblical Tubal Cain was a descendent of Cain, and he did forge various instruments of bronze and iron, so I’m guessing that’s where the filmmakers got that idea.

The human race has descended to cannibalism and is so obviously on its way out that one wonders why God would bother annihilating it.

Noah and his family, along with the rest of humanity, live in a barren waste that looks like a lava field. There is no vegetation to speak of in this post-apocalyptic world; nothing to sustain the life of even one person, much less a whole “industrial civilization,” which is what the film claims exists.

The narrative arc of the movie is primarily the tale of Noah’s rise and fall in obedience to “the creator.” Noah rises to obedience to “the creator” by building an ark to save the animals, the “innocents” as the movie calls them, from the destruction of the Flood.

“The creator” has ordained that all people should perish, including Noah’s family, which is made inevitable, since Noah and his wife have only sons and the sons have no wives. Noah falls from obedience because he refuses to kill his own granddaughters in order to “end” the human race.

This is a massive departure from both the facts and the meaning of the story of Noah in Scripture. The first human beings with whom God made a covenant were Adam and Eve when He gave them dominion over creation and told them to “be fruitful and multiply.” They deformed this Covenant when they decided to disobey God.

Noah was the second person with whom the Almighty formed a Covenant. God spoke to Noah and gave him specific instructions on what he was to do. He also renewed the Covenant He had made with Adam and Eve with Noah, giving him and his progeny (unlike in the movie, Noah’s sons had wives) dominion over creation and telling them to be fruitful and multiply.

The entire narrative arc of the movie, which is built around the idea that it was God’s will that humanity be obliterated entirely, is anti-Biblical.

There is a brief mention in the movie of the real reason for the Flood, which is that fallen angels had mated with human women and the resulting offspring were such a taint in the human blood line that the line had to end and begin again. The movie is accurate in that the violence of humanity was also given as a reason. The entire line of Cain was wiped from the earth with the Flood.

Rather than connecting the dots about what the Nephilim were, the movie supplies us with Animators in the guise of fallen angels. The angels supposedly fell from grace when they disobeyed “the creator” and tried to help humanity. Their punishment was to become klutzy creatures, encapsulated in rock.

The animator/fallen-angels help Noah build the arc, and end up defending it Mad Max style against an invasion by Tubal-Cain’s hordes just as the rains begin. Their reward for this is that they are forgiven, shed their rock covering and warp off to the skies.

There is nothing in the movie of the grand theme of Noah, the renewer of the Covenant with humanity. The Bible story is edited significantly to provide us with the human-beings-are-bad/animals-are-the-innocents/humanity-must-die arc that the movie version of Noah’s story is woven around.

Noah’s movie encounters with God are limited to dreams. Instead of the precise instructions that the Almighty gave Noah in the Scriptures, we are treated to a Quest in which Noah goes to visit his grandfather Methuselah who acts as shaman and wizard. Methuselah lives in a cave with no food or visible means to provide food, and no contact with other humans.

He gives Noah a potion to drink which makes “the creator’s” plan a bit more clear to him. Later in the film, Methuselah heals Noah’s adoptive daughter with a touch, thus enabling her to bear the children which lead to Noah’s downfall. Methuselah does this at the behest of Noah’s wife, who, in a repeat of the Eve story, is the instrument which leads to Noah’s failure to obey “the creator.”

Instead of renewing the original Covenant with Adam and Eve, which is what the Bible story is about, Noah ends up renewing the Fall.

The Biblical story ends with humanity beginning again with God’s blessing. The movie ends on a hopeless note of fallen humanity separated from God forever. The only creatures who gain redemption are — get ready for this — the fallen angels.

Frankly, I think the movie makers are trying to get some of those $$$ that people of faith control. But they can’t bring themselves to make a movie that actually deals with the message that resonates throughout Scripture.

We are made in God’s image. We are fallen. We do have dominion over all creation. That is why we can tease out things like the Big Bang and unravel the secrets of how God did it when He made everything, everywhere. Although we are made of the dust of this earth and are bone and flesh, we are, in this essential quality, not the least bit like the animals. We can do great goodness. We can also commit great sin.

The Scriptures are the story of Jesus. Noah and the Covenant God made with him is the beginning of God’s active interaction with a fallen and depraved humanity. Over long millennia of slow interaction, God will raise up a people, who, after many falls and much chastisement, will give humanity its Christ, the final and absolute un-doer of the curse of the Fall.

I don’t expect a movie about Noah to tell this whole story. But I do expect it to be faithful enough to the Biblical narrative that I can, by watching it, place that story within the narrative whole of the Scriptures. This movie goes the other direction in order to deliver a message that is not only not part of the Biblical narrative, but in most ways, it runs counter to it.

Human dominion over creation becomes sinful when it becomes exploitation and destruction. We, alone of all the beings on this planet, have the capacity to chose, and our call in relation to creation is to chose to be responsible in how we use it.

This strikes to the heart of our politics, commerce and endless warfare. It shows us our sins in a glaring way that many people deny.

But the PETA-esq meme of this movie denies the essential fact of humanity as it relates to the created universe. We have dominion; it was created for us.

 


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X