‘Gravity’ Wins Best Picture in Patheos Movie Awards, Full List of Winners

And the envelope, er tweet, please….

The results are in for the Patheos Movie Awards, aka the Pathies.

Channel Nominations

Patheos is made of many different faiths, each with its own channel. Each channel selected a movie from 2013 for Best Picture.

With the Entertainment Channel as tiebreaker, the Pathie for Best Movie of 2014 goes to Gravity:

 

Additional Awards:

The Entertainment Channel voted on additional awards. The full list of nominees are here. And the winners are:

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
June Squibb – Nebraska

Patheos Awards

We have two Patheos specific categories that are special to us. The winners are:

Interview: Roma Downey and Mark Burnett Talk ‘Son of God’ and Future Projects

Plenty of people want to make movies about the Bible. I hear pitches constantly to draw attention to this Bible project or that faith movie. But only a few have the experience to create a professional result and the connections to distribute them on a wide scale. Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are just such a couple, trading on their decades of success in Hollywood to create The Bible miniseries that astonished Hollywood with its high ratings and the new Son of God movie hitting theaters this week. And they’ve got more projects in the works.

I sat down with Downey and Burnett, with two other reporters, in a hotel in Washington, DC. Literally as the first question was asked, a fire alarm forced us into the snowy January day.

They could not have been better sports. Burnett led us to a bagel shop across the street, offering bagels to everyone, and they both chatted there in the booth like old friends meeting for lunch. One thing was very clear: They both love The Bible project and feel lucky to be able to work on it. They brim with excitement about it. It’s a passion project, one they’re delighted is having the success it is enjoying.

Here’s our conversation:

When did you first decide to turn the footage from the miniseries into a feature film?

RD: We had an editor on set with us, each week we’d look at rough assemblies. As the Jesus narrative was unfolding on the screen, I said to Mark, I wish we had been making a film because this is so beautiful. It’s spectacular and really deserves to be on the big screen. We decided there and then we would to that as well.

MB: With no clue of how we would possibly get the thing in the movie theaters. But we just knew….we’re very blessed with our careers, so we knew we could afford to get the movie made and somehow we’d certainly get it in a couple of theaters.

RD: At the very least we could do special event screenings. Not even really daring to dream that it would become what it has become with 20th Century Fox.

So you were filming with both a miniseries and a feature film in mind.

MB: Yes. Just because we thought it looked so great and Roma said it should be on the big screen. It took us a year in edits to figure out how to do this in only two hours. When we saw it, we realized this is really emotionally connecting. It just flies by with the pacing. Of course, it came true. It’s literally coming out 2/28 in three thousand theaters. What’s great, people who are seeing this who have gone to church their whole lives, pastors, theologians, who say, “I’ve never thought of these details.” These moments, you know, when Peter gets out of the boat, when Jesus walks on water, what are the other disciples thinking? “Peter, what are you doing? What are you doing? You’re going to drown!”

RD: We just decided to tell the story with drama, with the occupying Roman forces at that time, Pharisees led by Caiaphis, the disciples led by Jesus, on this collision course…On one hand I think the film plays like a political thriller. On the other, I know it plays like a love story. The greatest love story there ever was.

Please tell us about filming the crucifixion scene.

RD: It was the most intense scene in the entire picture. It took us three days to film it. It was challenging not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. And I think that everybody who was present was deeply impacted by the scene. The challenges that we had to put an actor up on a cross and we needed to make sure the cross is bolted to the ground. There were high winds one afternoon. There was intense sunshine on the second day. We had to figure out how we were going to get him up and down off the cross. We had to build a platform. How long could we keep him on the cross? How could he balance on the cross? There were many many rehearsals and we had different people up on the cross. It was the most moving thing for all of us was just to imagine what the whole experience must have been… I have have considered the cross my whole life but I never fully considered what his mother must have been. To be the mother of Jesus, to see your son so brutally murdered in such a way. I know that she was the mother of the Son of God, but she was also the mother of a son. So, yeah, all I could do was to bring a heart of a mother to it. I’m a mother myself.  We know all the disciples except for John were not present so the courage of his mother and of Mary to remain with him, to be there for him, you know? We also know Jesus only said seven things from the cross and one of those was to take time to look after his mother and make sure she was ok. Which of course says so much about him as well.

Did you imagine as you started out in Hollywood that you would do this? What does it take to get to the place to be able to do a project like this?

MB: Roma had intended to come here to act with National Theater of Ireland, and took a job to pay the rent as a coat check girl in Manhattan. My first job was as a housekeeper slash nanny in Beverly Hills, as a servant for $125 a week. So, cut to where we are now, it’s America. If you think of what we are doing now, only in America is this possible. In terms of making this film and the series, if it wouldn’t have been for Touched by an Angel and The Voice and Survivor and The Apprentice and Shark Tank, I don’t think we would have the leverage to have gotten this made. I know that’s true. It’s certainly gave us an entry point to getting it made so therefore you can look at things happen for a reason. It’s for such a time as this that we met and two careers.

If you also think back, interestingly enough, we both had huge success on CBS, so the only show that was really beating Survivor? 

Touched by an Angel.

Does that come up a lot in your house?

MB (laughing): Beaten by Roma.

What can you tell us about your upcoming projects, AD and The Dovekeepers?

MB: We absolutely had thought to write the outline for AD while in Morocco [as they filmed The Bible] because we’re living in the environment and thinking, boy, how did 12 guys take down Rome? Because really, wouldn’t it have been obvious that Jesus crucified, resurrects, there starts to become problems around the growing of realizing the son of god has been on earth … strange they didn’t just kill them all and just get rid of it that way.They weren’t exactly above killing everybody, were they? They crucified 500 people a day at one point. But it’s amazing you look at the four groups, the disciples, the Herod family who were insane, literally insane, the Romans who just wanted to keep peace and collect taxes, and the temple authorities who were literally battling against the people of the way and Rome at one time, it led to 40 years later, the temple finally falls, right? So that’s AD, AD is really through the line of Acts through Revelation, built around a huge drama about what was going on. By the way, it’s an amazing amount of church leaders who said to us, well, that’s a really important story because no one has really considered that much what they really went through.

And then Dovekeepers takes place actually, it starts, at the destruction (of the temple).

RD: Clearly we love this period of time and stories that show the triumph of human spirit in spite of the terrible times they were living through. And both stories have that as the heartbeat. Dovekeepers is a beautiful novel written by Alice Hoffman. In fact we’ve just gotten our first draft outline of the screenplay today, so we’re eager to get to read that, we’ll probably do that on the flight back. And it’s a great story that’s going to be a four hour miniseries, a special event miniseries on screen 2015 on CBS. And AD, we have a 12 hour commitment from NBC to make that series and we’re hoping that will be an ongoing series, that it won’t just be a one-off.

Is it through Revelation or does it go past, does it go into the early church fathers?

MB: Revelation is 95, ok? around 80, 90, 95  [AD]. We planned to get to 70 as the temple falls, however, like with everything on TV, I’m about to make season 29 and 30 of Survivor.

Congratulations

MB: If people are watching, it could absolutely go on. We’ve really thought of taking it to AD 337. You know what happens then, right?

Constantine.

MB (Laughing): You passed. Your teacher would be so happy.

I gotta tell you, I’m fascinated by the early church history. I would love to see that.

MB: You’d have passed that test.

I was in Italy this summer, so I had a little cheat.

RD: Did you see the Pietá?

Yes.

RD: You know the moment when we have Jesus dropped, lowered down from the cross, we wanted to pay homage to Michelangelo’s Pietá, the camera lingers for just a moment when Jesus is placed in his mother’s arms. It’s a beautiful statue that’s in Rome that is Mary holding the dead Jesus in her arms and Michelangelo, it’s the only statue he ever signed. He signed it  because he really felt it was inspired by God.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Noah

The Flood with Noah’s Ark, one of the most famous Renaissance-High Oil Paintings painted by artist Jan Brueghel il Vecchio.

On Sunday, December 26, 2004 – you probably remember – a powerful earthquake caused a tsunami that, suddenly and without warning, ended the lives of 230,000 people in a few minutes. Before that, a cyclone whiped out 500,000 in Bangladesh. After, the Haiti earthquake killed 139,000. And so it goes, all the way back to Pompeii, to Noah.

We think we have control of our destiny, but our lives can end in a second, with an earthquake or a sinkhole or a misstep on the sidewalk.

This is the story of Noah. It is dark and horrifying.

Noah is the story of judgement, of a God who exterminated all but a tiny fragment of humanity in a devastating flood.

People wonder how a loving God could do such a thing, but as I learn more of the world, I marvel that He holds back his hand. When I think of a nine year old girl chained to a bed and forced into sexual slavery in Thailand, when I think of the suffering in North Korea, of little boys forced to carry guns and kill in Sudan, I think maybe a mass judgement isn’t such a bad idea.

Judgement carries the promise of justice, of freedom for that girl, of justice for that boy. Things being set straight.

When we think of Noah, though, we frame it as a story of redemption.

Why do we Christians usually place ourselves on the ark, as God’s faithful servant escaping His wrath as he brings judgement on the world?

We’re on God’s side. We, rightly, escape. Such assurance in our own righteousness.

But we are more likely to be the people who mock, who carry on with our lives, who scoff at the idea of getting on the ship, who wonder what those odd animals are doing but not enough to truly search, and who writhe in the water as it covers our heads.

“Noah’s Ark Cycle: 3. The Flood” Kaspar Memberger

We are all under judgement. We all live under the crest of the tsunami, ten seconds prior to the earthquake, the week before the flood.

The Biblical story we paint in cute sunshiny rainbows on nursery walls and teach to our children in sing-song.

The Lord told Noah there’s going to be a floody, floody.

Get those animals out of the muddy, muddy.

This is a story we would rather fit on a nursery wall than consider in its rawness. It is a story we would rather clap our hand to than hold our hands over our eyes weeping. Safer that way.

It is a story of our own death, our own peril under the inevitable hand of justice, the unrelenting hand of judgement, the hand that will come whether we die in our beds at a ripe age or on a normal September Tuesday in the Twin Towers.

This is what we cavalierly talk about when we talk about Noah.

It is also a story of a surviving. We frame this as victory, and it is, but it is a hard and heavy victory. When you speak to the ones who clung to a balcony as the water swirled around and claimed others, who walked out of the towers just before they fell, who sat on the right side of the airplane, they say, they know two things.

One, there was no particular reason they survived. They were not faster or smarter or stronger or better or more worthy.

Secondly, there was a reason they survived. God had a plan. A purpose for saving them.

They generally say this with a sense of heaviness, a Saving Private Ryan sense of burden. Even a touch of PTSD. When you carry the weight of those who died, you carry it forever. You carry it uneasily. We once knew this in the aftermath of World Wars, but most of us have forgotten.

This is also what we talk about when we talk about Noah. Responsibility that is unbearable. Memories that are searing. Trauma that is unexplainable. Carrying on after the unimaginable. No reason to boast. Only to fall on our knees.

“Drunkeness of Noah” by Bellini

No wonder the man drank. He was only human, which is to say weak and inadequate.

I am glad a director with the insight and dark vision of Darren Aronofsky has taken on this story. It needs to be removed from nursery walls. It needs to be de-stuffed-animalized. It needs to be woken up.

I trust the vision of a director of Black Swan, somehow, more than those of us who sing:

The sun came out and dried up the landy landy….

Everything was fine and dandy, dandy.

It was not fine. It was not dandy.

This is what we talk about. This is Noah.

Christian Response to Aronofsky’s ‘Noah:’ Downright Embarrassing

I have not seen Darren Aronofsky’s Biblically-themed epic Noah.

You have not seen Noah.

No one has seen Noah, except perhaps Aronofsky himself. It’s not finished yet. (Although an early version was shown to test audiences, yes.)

Yet, the self-appointed forces of Biblical Orthodoxy are coming out against it.

Just because, you know….Bible.

As Peter Chattaway posted, the same PR firm that campaigned for Duck Dynasty during the recent Culture War moment is now riling the faithful up against Aronofsky’s Noah, a MOVIE NO ONE HAS SEEN.

They use this shockingly, horrifyingly, embarrassingly leading question:

“As a Faith Driven Consumer, are you satisfied with a Biblically themed movie – designed to appeal to you – which replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood?”

When the respondent inevitably answers “no,” the poll result is taken as a hit against the film WHICH NO ONE HAS SEEN.

No wonder Hollywood wants to steer clear of faith audiences. With crazy stunts like this, who can blame them?

It’s just embarrassing. The movie may be good, it may be bad, it most likely is a mix.

It may challenge our cute, fuzzy understanding of the story. It may even challenge our faith.

That’s what art is supposed to do.

And, let me tell you, “Faith Driven Consumers,” if you associate the story of Noah with adorable animals smiling under a sunny rainbow, you’re reading the story wrong. It’s the story of one man, one single man, chosen with his wife and descendants, to survive a mass extinction. It’s dark, horrible judgement and a story with which believers should wrestle.

Not one they should put up on a nursery wall.

If you’re ok with a simplistic, two-sentence explanation of the Noah story, you’re hiding from the deeper, darker, richer, and ultimately life-giving aspects of the Bible.

But whether the story follows our unchallenged idea of what “Biblically accurate” is, whether it actually goes against the Christian faith (Aronofsky is Jewish, and they had the story first), or whether it is exactly what you’ve always imagined…..

We just don’t know.

So stop fighting against something we don’t know about yet.

Please.

You’re embarrassing me as a Christian believer.

If you want to know more about the Noah movie, we’ve been covering it extensively.

image: Gustav Dore woodcut h/t Dave Lilley

Biopic of Mother Teresa Coming to Big Screen

She loved mightily, trusted beautifully and inspired millions.

Now the world’s most famous nun will be coming to a theater near you in 2015, The Wrap reports. 

The first ever authorized movie biography about Mother Teresa, tentatively titled I Thirst, will be written by screenwriter Keir Pearson. Pearson was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay for Hotel Rwanda.

“Keir’s presentation and his Oscar nominated script of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ and his sensitive script for ‘Chavez’ (the upcoming movie about Cesar Chavez) made him the perfect choice,” explained [head of Flame Ventures Tony] Krantz. “’I Thirst’ is the first and only authorized film about the life of Mother Teresa on the big screen. We couldn’t be more excited for this movie about a woman who stood for total commitment, faith, charity and love.”

Current plans call for Pearson to complete his research trip in Kolkata, India and Tijuana, Mexico during the next month and begin writing by the end of February. “We’re eager to get this story to the global audience,” said producer Jamey Volk.

Read the full story here. 

This begs the question….who would you pick to play Mother Teresa?

Wolf of Hollywood: Only One Oscar Nominee was Made in Fiscally-Unfriendly California

Actors and directors may mumble about their art all they like, but Hollywood studios are all about the almighty dollar. But the very capitalist model that makes Hollywood such a wonderful force in the world may lure away California’s signature industry from the very place that gave it the moniker “Hollywood.”

Check out this chart from e21 showing that although the subject of films may be hippie-dippy anti-capitalism, the behavior of those making and marketing films is bare-teethed capitalism itself. Only one film nominated for an Oscar this year, the comparatively small-budget Her, was actually filmed in California.

Read more about Her and its sadly small version of love.

California is no longer the de-facto home of moviemaking.

It’s long been an issue in California that the restrictive and costly labor laws and taxes drive movies and TV away from being shot in California.

It’s sad.

California is my home state. It’s also the place that birthed the industry of movie-making. Plus, it still has all the non-taxation factors going for it: Beautiful light, lots of varied and lovely settings, predictable and cooperative weather, and a huge labor force of skilled and ready industry workers. Let’s not forget those thousands of actors waiting tables, just waiting to be discovered and willing to work for a nothing!

Still, the $100 million budget of Gravity went to the U.K. Another $100 million budget was spent in New York for Wolf of Wall Street.

Read why it’s ok to hate the Wolf of Wall Street, even if it was nominated for an Oscar.

The situation is so bad that the mayor of Hollywood declared a state of emergency after last year’s Oscars ceremony.

“I am starting to see people who have never made a feature film in Los Angeles,” Chris Baugh, location manager for Oscar winner “Argo,” which actually shot in L.A., told the small group outside a soundstage. “In fact, they are afraid to. They are concerned that it is too expensive and too difficult.”

Looks like the state of emergency didn’t work.

There are lots of reasons why industry incentives aren’t the answer for California. Subsidies are generally bad for states and California has so many likely takers that it would be particularly bad for them to offer deep incentives.

Better to reform the entire state budget. For film as for all industry in California, the government has created an atmosphere in which the cost of doing business is prohibitively high. Corporations are moving out, taking their job opportunities with them. Why should the film industry be any different?

California, with its punishment of business in general and its out of control spending, is in a bad way no matter how you look at it. But it is sad it looks like those ultraliberal fiscal policies are costing the Golden State its signature industry.

Hattip to Mark Perry for the link to the chart. 

Review: Spectacular ‘LEGO Movie’ Connects All the Right Pieces

Call it the February surprise.

No one predicted a movie based on little plastic blocks – known to parents as the most deadly middle of the night threat to bare feet in existence – would outshine not only its current competitors, but all the family films of the last few years.

You have to go back to Pixar in all its Toy Story glory to match the charm, wit, and subversive depth of the simply named LEGO Movie.

It works on many levels, indeed all levels: as a fun, funny movie to enjoy with family, as a commentary on the conformity of society and its lack of creativity, as an ode to human connections, and even, if you squint just right, an exploration of the nature of God.

But most of all, it’s a revelation that movies, including kids’ movies, can rise above tired jokes and overused tropes to something fresh and wonderful.

The story opens in a LEGO castle as the dastardly Lord Business (voice of Will Ferrell) confronts the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) over a powerful device to rule the realm. But Vitruvius has a prophesy, something about a special piece that will stop Lord Business.

That piece is seemingly found in the person – LEGO personhood – of Emmet (Chris Pratt), a nondescript construction worker in an endless team of construction workers who continually tear down and rebuild the city.

He’s a happy LEGO. He loves his job. He loves his city. He loves the leader, President Business, loves paying $37 for coffee at the overpriced coffee store, loves eating those silly LEGO turkey legs or LEGO sausages for every meal. Most of all, he loves the song that is played on continual repeat each and every day: “Everything is Awesome.”

But then he meets Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), whose purple-tinged LEGO helmet hair is formed in a most attractive way. She takes him for the prophesied special and off they go into the underbelly of the LEGO rebellion.

The plot goes much, much further than that, but I’ll let you discover it on your own.

The animation itself is pretty awesome. The world is rendered with painstaking – and often hilarious – attention to detail. Water in the shower and waves in the ocean are a flow of little blue LEGOs, with white ones thrown in for foam. Explosions are flying red LEGOs with those little plastic flames that pop up in LEGO sets. It packs a lot of wow factor.

But the real joy in this movie rests in the power of the script by writing team Phil Lord and Chris Miller. (Brothers Dan and Kevin Hageman also helped with the story.)

And the script is darn funny.

Adults, this is the kind of rare kids’ movie that you will enjoy, even if you don’t have kids.

Take my experience. Imagine the poor film critic, stuffed into a room with about ten thousand little children, about to endure yet another witless flick designed for parents to sate their children for 90 minutes. About thirty seconds into the first scene, I found myself chuckling begrudgingly at a sly gag. “Nice, stupid movie, you got me on that one,” was about the attitude. By two minutes in, Vitruvius ends his prophesy with “You know it’s true because it rhymes,” I laughed out loud. By the time the characters rocked out to “Everything is Awesome,” was completely won over. And that was probably five minutes in. By then, I didn’t care if anyone saw me laughing at a LEGO movie, of all things – I was having too much fun. So were the ten thousand children around me.

And the fun doesn’t stop. New characters keep showing up, brooding bro-LEGO Batman (Will Arnett), perky uni-kitty (Allison Brie), and lots of cameos from beloved LEGO sets: Star Wars Han Solo, 80′s Space Guy, Abraham Lincoln, the list keeps going. It’s a wide, wide LEGO world and you never know who might show up.

That’s just the brand name characters. The heart of this film is the creativity when you go off-brand. Maybe you start with instructions, but then you swap a wheel for a jet pack, a hand for a flame-thrower, a hat for a wheel, and build your own vision. These designs matter too.

They matter because this creation has a creator, a “man upstairs,” and his nature is expressed in his work. Is LEGO world meant to be perfect, conforming to specifications, square and rigid, or is it meant be a wild ride of pirate-headed-transformer-robots-with-shark-arms?

To its credit, the film holds this question in tension and then transcends it with relationship.

Which makes it a very interesting film indeed.

Watch it once to laugh. Watch it again to think and wonder. But, by all means, please watch it.

The LEGO Movie is rated PG for mild suspense and mild rude humor (although I can’t think what they mean). It’s appropriate for all ages, although the suspense might be too much for the most sensitive young viewers. 

Guest Post: The Wealthy Conservative Family Behind Former Oscar Nominee ‘Alone Yet Not Alone’

Alone Yet Not Alone will probably go down in Oscar history as the most obscure Christian movie ever to have been given, and subsequently revoked, a nomination for best original song. In 2013, the movie run was limited to 11 actual theaters, five of them in Texas, according to the Alone Yet Not Alone website. One of the theaters listed on the website, Celebration! Cinema at Rivertown Crossings in Grand Rapids, Michigan, confirmed that the movie did play there briefly in September 2013. Additionally, the movie showed at the 2013 National Bible Bee in November

After considering the movie’s miniscule release and listening to the song itself, many speculated that the song’s nomination had less to do with its musical merits than it did the fact that the song’s composer, Bruce Broughton, is a former Governor of the Academy and the current Music Branch executive committee member.

Apparently, they were not wrong.

On January 28, the Academy’s Board of Governors rescinded the song’s Oscar nomination after discovering that Broughton contacted voters in a way that appeared to offer “an unfair advantage,” according to Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. An Academy press release further explains the decision and the Academy’s promotional regulations.

There are now quite a few people who are upset that the song’s Oscar nod was snatched away, far more people than have ever seen the movie, by all appearances.

Their dismay is couched in language of triumph — along the lines of God’s opinion is the only thing that matters, so who cares about the Oscars anyway — and persecution. Some of these commenters, judging by the list of names I recognize personally, know nothing about the movie other than that it has a Christian message, and thus they’re interested in watching it whenever it actually comes out.

The thing is, even given its relative mediocrity, the song is better-quality than the movie itself, and is certainly, at least lyrically, less controversial in content.

The screenplay follows Tracy Leininger Craven’s book by the same name, a historical-fiction account of her ancestors, Barbara and Regina Leininger, German immigrants who were captured during the Penn’s Creek Massacre of 1755 and raised by Native Americans.

Given its tension and unusual nature, it could be quite suited to cinema, judging from this dated outline of events by John B. Deans. The climax of the tale comes in 1764, when Barbara and Regina’s mother is vainly searching among freed captives for the still-missing Regina, who has grown into adulthood and apparently forgotten her own name. Finally, Mrs. Leininger begins to sing one of Regina’s favorite hymns: Allein, und dock nicht ganz alleine, bin ich in meiner einsamkeit (Alone, yet not all alone, am I in my solitude). Regina recognizes the song, and runs forward into her mother’s arms.

The treatment this story receives by Tracy Leininger Craven is less than outstanding, however. The book is stilted and poorly written, with all the artistic and ideological subtlety of a Westboro Baptist picketing sign. As the story opens, the immigrant family is perfect, and perfectly happy to be toiling in this foreign land, which the book claims they have purchased from the Indians. They are so happy, in fact, that they would rather die and go to heaven in the contested woods of Pennsylvania circa 1755 than be “slaves” in Germany.

The males of the family do die in short order, trying to protect the females they have dragged to the promised land.

The screenplay is much like the book: full of historical inaccuracies (the native costumes come to mind), incoherent narrative and poor acting. After discussing the movie at length with other movie-goers, one source noted “superficial details were well-executed, but where it really counts, the core aspects of visual storytelling fell flat and was laden with faith-based platitudes. The cinematography was fairly well-executed — good framing and picture quality, although there were technical issues such as color grading. However, the script was very poor, moved slowly and lacked any sort of flow.” As far as more offensive underlying themes go, the story revolves around the idea that Native American culture was primitive, savage, and toxic to good Christian white girls, even when they were treated well by said Native Americans.

The lead role of Barbara Leininger went to Kelly Greyson, Tracy Leininger Craven’s older sister, although this familial link has been kept oddly hush-hush. Both women were homeschooled, which their father, billionaire right-wing political donor James Leininger, said  was “consistent with his belief that parents should have choices in their children’s instruction.”  Allegedly, James Leininger provided much of the funding for the movie and has been listed as its producer.

Owen, the movie’s male co-lead, was played by also-homeschooled modesty proponent Brett Harris, little brother of homeschooled Josh Harris, who first launched the idea of courtship into mainstream evangelical society.

The role of Colonel Mercer went to one-time patriarchal and homeschooling star Doug Phillips, although nearly all references  to him appearing in the movie have been scrubbed since he admitted  to having an “inappropriately romantic and affectionate” relationship with “a woman.” It remains to be seen if the version of the movie appearing in June 2014 will have excised his actual scenes as well. Two of his children are still listed in the IMDb credits, as well as former members of his church.

What all of the aforementioned cast members (with the possible exception of Kelly Greyson, who has not been vocal on the subject) have in common is a particularly strict view of gender and family. Homeschooling, to them, is a way to ensure that children believe all the right things and behave in all the right ways. To quote my cousins, who have been very active in this particular homeschooling community, part of this is the imperative that women be modest “keepers at home” (unless, perhaps, like Greyson, they are well-connected) whose pursuits revolve around serving their fathers or husbands.

All of these people believe that America would be better off under a theocracy of their choosing, and they think this is attainable with enough homeschool graduates, who will eventually win over the culture with their grand artistic and political productions — and their sheer reproductive numbers.

What they don’t appear to have realized yet is that all the illegally-campaigned Oscar nominations in the world won’t make their vanity projects into decent art. For art, you need to push, to explore, to touch the stillness and the complexity of what it means to be human; to echo the age-old, conflicted call towards the divine. Christians can make complex art with a good moral message, there is no question. Ask Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy.

However, bloated propaganda pieces are something else entirely.

Katie Botkin is a freelance writer and the managing editor of MultiLingual magazine. She was homeschooled for the first 18 years of her life, and by age 26 had gone on to get two bachelors and a masters degree between teaching English on three continents. 

Review: Oscar Nominee ‘Her’ and Its Sadly Small, Dehumanizing Version of Love

Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, the most evolved sort of man. He’s post-hipster, dresses in cardigans and old man pants, talks softly and emotes freely. It is unimaginable to think of him swilling beer while watching football or getting in a bar fight.

His job is equally feeling-centric. Set sometime in the very near future, he earns a living writing emotional letters on behalf of people who just can’t find the right words to say to their girlfriend, grandmother, or war buddy’s widow. He’s not exactly a ghostwriter, more like a valued third party in their relationships.

Smarting from the breakup of his marriage to his childhood sweetheart – the divorce is filed but not signed – along comes technology to meet his every need.

 

Rooney Mara as ex-wife Catherine and Joaquin Phonenix

His personal device – something between a phone and a human secretary – has an operating system upgrade. After a few questions, including hilariously, “How do you feel about your mother?” the software creates for him the ideal companion.

She’s Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, and she’s perfect. Curious, intelligent, funny, insightful, Samantha is a female version of Theodore, or maybe Theodore with a female voice.

She’s not the yin to his yang. She’s the yin to his yin.

It doesn’t take long for the two to fall madly in love. Part of the genius of this film is that the viewer believes in that love. Joaquin Phoenix convinces us he is head over heels, happy, and satisfied with his virtual girlfriend. Johansson is equally remarkable in her ability to create a full character using only her voice. They’re helped by a smart and engaging script by Spike Jonze, who also directs, that creates a movie that’s surprisingly entertaining for all its philosophical subject matter.

This modern love faces challenges, however, not the least of which is Samantha’s pesky lack of a body. Sexual desire isn’t a problem, but sexual fulfillment is.

The second problem is that an intelligent personality with the ability to process trillions of bytes of information in seconds has to slow down to accommodate her human lover.

It’s an interesting conundrum, one that reaches an interesting conclusion, as far as it goes.

But I’m more taken with what the movie leaves out.

It paints a picture of modern day love that is fascinating in its assumptions, whether it be with operating systems or common human partners.

Most people would, if forced to think of it, likely agree with the idea of a person being an intimate mix of three components: The intellect, the part that mulls over On Walden Pond, remembers, plans and strategizes, and makes choices, or at least rationalizes them. The body, the part that sweats and poops and has sex and gets fat, but also sings, cries, and quivers. And the soul, a more ineffable part, the part that endures, enjoys, loves, hates, the part that we can’t really explain but know matters and sense is eternal and is somehow the wellspring of what we are.

We can’t really explain how they interact either: Why a man sees a woman across a room and knows he wants to know her better, out of all the women in the room. Why we get physically ill when we see a person beaten or killed, why sadness makes our very bones ache. Why a smell can make us happy or laughter actually makes us healthy.

No one would doubt the intellect connects with the body when they see how an Olympic diver focuses as he studies his tape, that the body connects with the soul when they lose themselves dancing their sorrows out on the dancefloor, that the soul connects with the intellect when they hear a tale of a soldier weighing his options and choosing to put his life on the line for his brothers in arms.

The things that touch us most deeply touch all three aspects of us. And love is the deepest of all.

Her reduces love to a purely intellectual pursuit. The very idea of soul is absent, irrelevant, not addressed, abandoned. Does Samantha have a soul? The question is out of place in this movie.

But it’s equally shocking how out of place the body is, although the movie devotes much energy attempting to address Samantha’s lack of a physical body. She, and to a lesser extent, he is concerned about sex, even to the point of attempting various solutions to make sex more physical for them both.

As if that is all we do with our bodies.

Sex is important, don’t get me wrong, and the way the film deals with it is fascinating. But I found myself wondering about more.

What about the encouraging glance just before walking into a party? How do they replace the way the slump of your man’s shoulders can tell you everything, even things he can’t verbalize himself? What about those times a hug is the only gift you have to give a suffering loved one?

I thought about how when you have the flu, what you want more than anything is someone to bring you a bowl of soup and pass a tender hand over your hot forehead. I thought about elderly couples who hold each other’s aches and pains as precious burdens.

When our children are little and fall, we fix it with a kiss. When they cry, we comfort them with a cuddle. That doesn’t end in adulthood. To reduce physical interaction to merely sexual is to deny humanity. Indeed, sex is a culmination, a consummation of those glances and touches and soothing moments. It is a fabulous part of a grander whole.

The second thing that was utterly missing from the movie is equally fascinating. In his former marriage and in his relationship with Samantha, children are flagrantly irrelevant.

Theodore loved his wife, even still loves her in a way one loves exes. That he loves Samantha is clear. But out of the three of them, no one seems to have or have had the least desire to grow that love into a family.

It’s not that they actively don’t want to either. It’s just not a factor. It’s not a question. There’s not even the sense that he’s giving up something to be with Samantha, as many people freely choose to do out of love for partners who cannot somehow have children.

Both Theodore and Samantha create – he, his writing, she music. They find value in adding to the world, in leaving behind a legacy. But that legacy will not be passed on through a new generation. Their art is the closest thing they have to children and they are satisfied with that.

It strikes me that Theodore falling in love with Samantha is a very safe love, for both of them. Just a portion of himself is at risk, so much of his being is left behind. He is in control. Precisely because she doesn’t have a body, he does not risk losing her to life’s horrifying uncertainty.

People often describe having children as your heart walking around outside your body. For Theodore, his heart is safely in its metal case in his breast pocket.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

To its credit, the film doesn’t make it so easy for the lovers. Unforseen threats arise. But still, so much of Theodore is reserved from Samantha that he’s not deeply threatened. Not in any way that matters beyond a few tears.

Ultimately, the movie bothered me not for its commentary on technology or our dependence on it, much of which has been explored wonderfully by other writers.

It bothers me to see love reduced to merely a meeting of minds, sex to an intellectual exercise, creation to a few paltry letters and songs. It bothers me to see love reduced to something so small.

6 Steps to a Better Bieber: An Open, Motherly Letter to Justin

We could feel it coming, couldn’t we? The next shoe dropping. Justin Bieber was reportedly arrested early this morning for drag racing a Lamborghini through the streets of Miami. He failed a sobriety test and was taken in for further testing and processing.

Last week police found narcotics in his home after obtaining a search warrant because Bieber allegedly caused $20k worth of damage throwing eggs at a neighbor’s house.

Plus there are allegations of use of prostitutes.

Justin, baby, we love ya but it’s time to get a grip. Here are some steps to becoming a better Bieber:

1) Admit you have a problem.

I know, I know. You’re Justin Bieber. Just like Lindsay was Lindsay Lohan and Paris was Paris Hilton and Robert was Robert Downey Jr. Guess what? They all ended up in jail. Americans have a high tolerance for celebrity hijinx, but there is a limit to the law and to our patience. In any case, consider: Is this the person you always imagined being? The person you wanted to be? The person you’re proud of being? You’re headed down a bad road, sweetie. Admit it. Admitting it is always the first step.

2) Get off the stage.

You’re the first real social media star, coming to us via YouTube, amassing 49 million twitter followers. You don’t just perform on stage. You live on it. That audience is always there in the social media footlights, waiting for you. And whether you know it or not, you’re showing off for them. It’s no longer good for you. Step off. Step away. Shut down the Twitter. Stop the Instagram. Just be Bieber for a while.

3) Seek help.

Remember Robert Downey Jr.? He turned his life around. Give him a call. Find someone who can understand, just a little, what it’s like to be in the spotlight like you are. Find a program. Find a mentor. Find help.

4) Go back to church.

You’ve never been quiet about your faith. God doesn’t go away when you’re in trouble. He doesn’t stop loving you when you misbehave. In fact He is close to those who struggle. Now you’re 19 and maybe it all seems so silly and quaint, but I bet faith nudges at you. I bet Jesus calls to you. It’s time. Time to find a grown up faith of your own. Time to admit you don’t have all the answers, even though you’re an international superstar, time to spend a while on your knees, connecting to something bigger than yourself.

5) Pursue your art with passion.

You have a God-given, innate talent. You were put on this earth to make music. There is no doubt about that. So dive in again. Make music about what it’s like to be a 19-year-old Bieber. Study music. Love music. Not for the labels or the fans or money, but to feed that need inside you.

6) Give your money away.

Nothing sobers up a rich, spoiled kid like seeing real need. Make it your second passion, your earthly job, to give away your blessings in ways that matter. You do this already somewhat, but make it a focus in place of partying like you’re, well, a rock star. You’ve spoken about abortion. Find some pregnant women or motherless children who need help. Learn about human trafficking and its relationship with prostitution and fight it. International Justice Mission is a great place to start. Fight hunger, poverty, disease, whatever tugs at your heartstrings. You have great power to make a difference, something some of us only dream about.

Justin, there are a lot of us rooting for you. We believe in you. We know your story is not over and we can’t wait to see what you do in the next 70 years of your life.


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