jaws 1In 1975, a now-famous theme song—a haunting melody, its foreboding refrain feigning cacophony—announced the presence of a shark; and the shark, in turn, taught us to fear the ocean. For almost forty years now, that shark has terrified audiences. But when a film like Jaws endures for this length of time, there must be something more, something deeper, than a fear of sharks that compels us to watch. The real reason that Jaws is terrifying is because it forces us to confront a reality we fear the most: our smallness. This sense of smallness, which is primarily achieved through the film’s theme of isolation, makes audiences feel feeble and helpless, out of control, and, thus, terrified

The film opens with a shark attack at a nighttime beach party, as a young woman named Chrissie Watkins (Susan Backlinie) leads her love interest away from the party and toward the beach for a romantic swim. The girl enters the water. Her would-be lover, being heavily intoxicated, passes out on the beach and is unable to follow. Alone in the ocean, Chrissie is pulled under the water. She resurfaces—but is then violently jerked back and forth like a rag doll. Her cries for help are in vain. Once again she is pulled under; this time, she does not return. This scene’s power to evoke fear stems from the fact that it depicts Chrissie as an isolated and, therefore, helpless sort of everyman figure. That is, as spectators, we acknowledge that we could very easily be in Chrissie’s position. And the realization that we cannot control nature—that we are powerless against it—fills us with fear. In addition, this theme of an isolation that magnifies our smallness becomes even more prevalent as the film progresses.

In Jaws we meet Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), who has recently been appointed Chief of Police in Amity, a small island town. Brody, aware that there is a killer shark in the area, has to fight the self-serving city politicians and locals for the right to do his job. One of the central conflicts in the first half of the film, then, is not man versus nature but man versus man. The mayor is not willing to close the beaches for the fourth of July weekend because he does not want to cause a panic, hurt local businesses, and damage his own ego. Adding to Brody’s frustration is the fact that many of the locals do not trust him since he is not “not an islander.” People stare and make snide jokes and eventually turn on him when the shark takes a young boy’s life. In other words, Brody is an outsider; he feels impotent and dwarfed by his surroundings, both politically and socially.

Jaws 2In a later, particularly frightening scene, shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) comes face-to-face with a type of isolation that makes him acutely aware of his smallness. He dives into the dark and murky water to explore a wrecked fishing boat and discovers an enormous shark tooth. Then, he realizes the gravity of the situation: he is in the water with one of the world’s top predators. The unilluminated sea that dominates the shots in this scene gives the impression that the owner of that tooth could be lurking just out of sight. Suddenly, the body of a dead fisherman floats on screen. A closeup of Hooper’s terrified reaction is shown as the soundtrack blares shrilly. The terror of it all is that we are right there with Hooper—alone.

The theme of isolation reaches its apotheosis as Brody, Hooper, and Quint (Robert Shaw) take a ship out to sea to kill the shark. Brody must leave his family and face his fear of the ocean. There will be no land in sight where they are going. The ocean, its beautiful and serene surface cloaking the killer it hides, stretches for miles. Here, Spielberg does a marvelous job utilizing numerous long shots to show us just how alone the crew is. It is almost as if the ocean becomes a central character, a deadly foe in its own right. Finally, after a face-to-face encounter, Brody arrives at the logical conclusion: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

jaws 3When taken as a whole, these scenes of isolation show us that there is something we fear more than people, oceans, and sharks. We fear our smallness above all, for we are accustomed to acting as if we are the center of the universe. Full of pride and selfishness, we are terrified to think that we can be brought so low. Indeed, what Jaws really shows us is that we are deeply afraid of being humbled—of losing control. Moreover, it pulls us out of our self-absorbed state and reminds us that we do not rule the world—that we are, in fact, tiny beings.

“Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?” God asks.

No.

Still, He cares for you.

Embrace your smallness.

Trailer Tuesday: Unbroken

Posted: August 26, 2014 by jperritt in Action, Drama, True Story
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[There were no new or notable trailers I was interested in, so I wanted to post one I'm really excited about.]

Her?!

Posted: August 25, 2014 by jperritt in Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi
Tags: , , ,

her_xlgSoooo…I hadn’t read the content of this movie before we received it on Netflix.  Some of you may have never heard of this film, but those of you who have may raise a questionable eyebrow towards this rental.  For those of you who may rent it (as well as, those of you who question watching it) just be sure and utilize the fast-forward and your eyelids.

My reasons for renting?  Joaquin Phoenix, Spike Jonze and the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.  Those are sincere reasons for my desire to watch it, but my occupation also supplied some.  See, I am a youth director and when I heard that this film is about a guy who develops an emotional attachment to an operating system, I thought, That sounds similar to some youth cultural trends I’m aware of.  Let me provide some info about the movie.

[spoilers ahead]

Her follows the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely guy who writes letters for people who inadequately express themselves through the written word.  As the viewer meets Theodore, we discover that he is at the end of a relationship, but is unwilling to complete the divorce process by signing the papers.  He is a quiet, sad man, but still seems to be someone who possesses an inviting nature toward those in his world.  However, it is through this season of desperation that Theodore purchases the new operating system for his computer, OS1.  This OS1 – “Samantha” – is a bodiless entity (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) that fills the void in Theodore’s life.  She provides him companionship, organization, direction, happiness – pretty much anything our selfish heart longs for…for a while.

It turns out that many people have fallen in love with this new operating system.  In many ways, this system provides them everything they want in a relationship, minus the hassle.  You see, users can use the system as much as they want.  They can turn it on and turn it off, whenever there’s a need.  But, the user can simply pursue solace whenever they get tired of dealing with the needs of the OS – even though the OS is just an operating system that doesn’t truly have needs.

This film – although it will be super-weird for most people – is so prophetic.  To me, this film is a picture of our future.  As ridiculous as it seems, this is exactly where our pre-teens and teens are headed.  Think I’m crazy?  Let’s consider a few parallels from the film:

  • People are enamored with their digital devices.
  • People begin to long for the digital “life” over real life.
  • People are able to feed their selfishness through technology.
  • People are able to escape challenge/difficulty/sadness by their technology.
  • People are easily accepting what would seem absurd in previous epochs.

With all that’s been said, let me take a few steps back.  I am not a Luddite.  As Christians, we must appreciate technology and thank God for the technology He has created.  To be Christian does not mean living a life that’s anti-technology.  That being said, Her serves as a sobering reminder of true relationships and warns about the effects of technology on them.

One interesting aspect of the film came through the fact that Samantha and Theodore’s relationship became a bit rocky.  It started out great.  There was laughter.  There was joy.  There was shared interest, but then it got tough.  In other words, it was like every relationship on the face of the planet.  The interesting aspect came from the fact that Samantha became more complicated as she became more human.  She was constantly learning, constantly studying humanity; therefore, she seemed more and more human all the time.  However, this allowed her to pick up on intonation, as well as, express her own felt needs.

This movie tells us many things, but one thing it does tell us is that humanity is complex.  People are messed up.  There are no perfect relationships, but there is a deep need for relationship.  Because we are a people who still long for Eden, we don’t like conflict, we don’t like difficulty, we don’t like things to come at a cost.  However, because we are a people who still long for Eden, we need relationship.  Therefore, we are stuck in the already and the not yet of relationships – relationships will hurt us, but we need them.

Her beautifully illustrates this truth.  Until the return of King Jesus, we are destined for heartache.  We need others, but we will hurt others.  We long for fellowship, but fellowship will disappoint.  Her captures both ends of the spectrum quite well.  Again, many need to be warned about the content of the film – it is a bit much at times.  However, this film should (hopefully) provide a brief pause to the insane habits our ever-changing culture is adopting as normative.

 

 

manIn many instances, espionage movies are guilty of delivering constant, voluminous amounts of information very quickly. With a plethora of countries, characters, and political contexts to navigate, it often seems like screenwriters enjoy confounding their audience. However,A Most Wanted Man, a newly released adaptation of the John le Carré novel of the same name, is a notable exception to the norm. The superbly written script, combined with the haunting soundtrack, sparsely beautiful cinematography, a breathtaking performance from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the steady-handed direction of Anton Corbijn, make it one of the best recent entries into the genre and one of my favorite films of the year. A Most Wanted Man is a plodding film— one that offers the right amount of information at precisely the right time. Unlike so many films in the genre (a number of which are good movies), A Most Wanted Man invites you to carefully consider what is being shown.[1] It is, therefore, eminently and intentionally understandable–but not in the mindless, spoon-fed vein of most blockbusters. It is not just the narrative twists and turns that we are meant to contemplate either. Indeed, A Most Wanted Man is characterized by a pronounced existential angst, despair, and cynicism.

A Most Wanted Man follows Günther Bachmann (Hoffman), a German intelligence agent who must decide what to do when Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Chechen Muslim with known terrorist connections, illegally enters Hamburg. Günther is trying to build an intelligence network in Germany, but it soon becomes apparent that his higher-ups are only concerned with looking good in front of the media. The primary conflict, then, is not between Bachmann and Karpov—as one might naturally suspect—but between Bachmann and the bureaucracy. Bachmann wants to use Karpov to lead him to bigger targets. Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock), Bachmann’s immediate superior, fears that such a strategy will result in “blood on the streets” of Hamburg.

Tonally, the film bears all the marks of a le Carré adaption. The world of A Most Wanted Man is thoroughly existentialist—devoid of God and any sort of telos. A recurring line of dialogue brings the film’s existentialism to the forefront. When Bachmann asks American agent Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) why the intelligence exists, her cynical response is, “to make the world a better place.” Sadly, neither of them believes it. In truth, they do what they do only because they are good at it. And it is what they do that defines them. The results of this way of life are most clearly seen in Bachmann—a miserable man filled with despair, a man who is forced to confront the apparent meaninglessness of his existence. By the time the film arrives at its tragic conclusion, it is obvious that A Most Wanted Man has no hope to offer—only a gospel of emptiness.

The sad thing is that Günther Bachmann’s view of reality in A Most Wanted Man is not simply a cinematic invention, an unpleasant fiction. I fear there are many Günther Bachmanns in the world. There are people who have either suppressed their knowledge of the truth or rejected the gospel of Christ outright in favor of a vacuous existence. They find no meaning in work; relationships prove to be unsatisfying. And when they fail at a task around which they have built their identity, there is a sadness that cannot be removed. R.C. Sproul points out that existential worldviews provide a fertile ground for the preaching of the gospel, which is a daily reminder that life is indeed meaningless apart from Christ. It calls us out of our self-absorbed lives and tells us that our ultimate purpose is to glorify God. Christians, let us be salt and light to the Günther Bachmanns in our lives.

___________________________________

[1] Among other things, the film is a criticism of the Bush administration’s reaction to 9/11, rendition, and torture. I point this out because I want to be clear that my appreciation of the film does not mean I condone the political views contained therein.

Will you follow me?  One last time.

Sorry to start your week off on a negative note, but we’re curious.

Trailer Tuesday: Left Behind

Posted: August 12, 2014 by jperritt in Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Tags: ,

[I couldn't resist]

dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_poster_a_pDawn of the Planet of the Apes was an excellent film.  Personally, I have been surprised at how much I’ve liked the two reboots in the Apes franchise.  In terms of the sic-fi genre, these films have to be some of the best of their kind.  And, I would actually say that Dawn was better than its predecessor.  In my humble opinion, these films are taking a cult classic and turning it into a true classic, which is a rare feat to accomplish.

For starters everyone knows the special effects are phenomenal.  Even if you are one who doesn’t want to see apes carrying guns and riding on horses, you have to admit that the realism of the apes is unmatched by other CGI.  I will be shocked if this film doesn’t take home multiple Oscars in this category and possibly even some other Oscar nominations (Best Picture?).

In fact, you can tell the filmmakers are pretty confident about the special effects because of the opening scene.  They are so confident in their craft that the film opens with a close-up of Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) eyes.  They’re basically saying, Our special effects are so awesome, we’re going to open with a scene that highlights these effects.  And, we are going to get as close-up as possible so you can see how awesome they are.  The filmmaker’s attention to detail with the apes is something that should be highlighted and appreciated – ultimately worshipping the great Filmmaker behind the scenes.

The story of Dawn is fairly simple, but still intriguing and kept me immersed in a post-apocolyptic San Francisco.  One criticism was the fact that the apes believed that the human race was now extinct.  One ape remarked that it had been 10 winters since they had seen a human, however, the viewers discover that the humans are about 15 miles inland in San Fran.  How had the apes not seen them there in 10 years?  Wouldn’t they have run into each other at some point?  Even though this was a bit puzzling, it’s not a deal-breaker for me.

One aspect of the film I found to be interesting was the fact that humans truly weren’t the main characters of the film.  As I said, the opening scene of the film is the apes and this continues for some time.  Several minutes into the film, and I felt like I was watching a Discovery Channel special on apes…that were dominating the world and could speak.  It felt similar to watching Star Wars: A New Hope.  If you remember, much of the beginning of that film has little to do with humans.  The main characters are two robots fumbling through space.

The filmmakers did well to cause the movie-goers to identify with the apes.  We witness an ape birth early on in the film.  This causes us to see the apes as more human than they are, and it accomplishes our love towards this “race”.  We are also drawn in to love the apes through other relationships, like Caesar’s instruction to his son, for example.  The fact that I had to keep telling myself, They’re apes, was a real accomplishment on the filmmakers part.  However, I think most people bought into the lie this film sold us.

And, it is this lie that gets us to the real hero in the movie.  Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this film.  I thought it was extremely well-done, and its excellence only assisted with the lie this film is selling.  That lie?  Apes and humans are equal.  The movie made them so human-like that movie-goers were rooting for them.  We were hoping that Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Caesar would bring their mutual “Trust” to bear in the lives of their races.  Why couldn’t apes and humans learn to love each other?  Why couldn’t we accept the fact that there are some irrational/bad humans and some irrational/bad apes and learn to work together?

At the end of the day, however, the apes can talk as much as they want but they will always lack one essential aspect of their created being.  They aren’t image-bearers of God.  And, because of that, they do not have a soul.  I don’t care if they can ride a horse, fire a gun, bake a cake, or talk – they are apes.  And, while we may have bought into a joyous reality of apes and humans living in harmony, at least one human didn’t – Dreyfus (Gary Oldman).

Some people see Dreyfus as the villain.  The irrational human who isn’t progressive enough to imagine a reality of apes and humans frolicking in an open meadow.  But, he proves to be the only rational thinker when he exclaims, “I’m saving the human race.”  He realizes what we know to be true.  He asserts what was commanded in the opening chapters of Genesis.  That command?  Humans are God’s image-bearers and they are to have dominion over creation.  Therefore, as human-like as the apes could be, a future of equality among these creatures should go against our grain.

Even though we get sucked up into the story of apes evolving into a more intelligent species, we must not forget that mankind named them “apes”.  They are inferior.  They are not created in God’s image.  I am not asserting that there was some hidden agenda by the filmmakers of Dawn.  I’m not even saying that this message kept me from enjoying the movie (again, I thought it was excellent).  I’m just saying, a man risking his life to kill a bunch of talking apes is a hero in my book, as well as, The Good Book.

 

Second-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Poster-High-ResCombining two aliens, a tree, a talking raccoon, and a man sounds like a recipe for a bad joke. To be completely honest, that is exactly what I thought Guardians of the Galaxy would be—a likable and well-executed joke. “It’s a Marvel movie, so it can’t be that bad,” I said to myself, expecting a box office disaster all the while. The results are now in, and I was wrong. Guardians had a huge opening weekend ( $94 million); and, much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the film. It is the ultimate summer blockbuster and one of the best Marvel movies to date. That being said, this post will be a little different than my usual fare. First, I want to provide a few bullet point thoughts about why this movie is so much fun. Then, for something a little more serious, I’ll focus on the team of guardians themselves and attempt to show what sets them apart from other comic book superheroes.

  • Pop Culture references. Kevin Bacon, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, the MacGuffin, and The Giving Tree are just a few that I can think of off the top of my head. Oh, and if you stay until the credits are over (which you should always do in a Marvel movie), you just might get a glimpse of … I won’t ruin it for you.
  • The soundtrack. Aside from being a tremendous amount of fun, the hits from the ’70s and ‘80s remind us that, unlike the majority of characters in the film, protagonist Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)—who goes by the name Star-Lord—is an earthling. The soundtrack also provides seasoned (i.e. older) audience members with something familiar, which is important when you’re dealing with an ostensibly campy movie about a talking raccoon and tree.
  • Genre blending. Comedy, action, romance, and heart-warming moments: Guardians has it all, deftly blended and served in perfectly portioned bites.
  • The thinking audience. Guardians spends very little time explaining its intergalactic politics to the audience, and it is all the better movie as a result. Instead of giving us a five-minute monologue or title card sequence explaining the backstory, the filmmakers assume that their audience can connect point A to point B. That’s a rare thing nowadays.

 

In addition to all of these really fun aspects, Guardians of the Galaxy invites more thoughtful consideration by giving us a group of unconventional heroes. Impolite, unpolished, and socially challenged, these guardians are like the mischievous stepchildren of Steve Rogers, the straight-laced Captain America. They are, in fact, antiheroes. Why, then, do we cheer for them, stand alongside them, and sympathize with them? The answer, in part, is that in our broken, fallen, and sin-stained world, our heroes often have more in common with the Guardians of the Galaxy than they do with Captain America (I like the Captain America movies, by the way). We all love a hero we can put on a pedestal and admire without fear, knowing that he or she will always do the right thing, will always save the world. That’s one reason Superman has endured for over 75 years. But in reality, heroes are often flawed and depraved and not near-perfect pictures of Christ. After all, any good that human heroes are able to do is solely because of God’s common grace in spite of human sinfulness. In this respect, Guardians gives us some of the most lifelike heroes we’ve ever seen.

So, if you’re going to see Guardians of the Galaxy, have fun, look for the Pop Culture references, and enjoy the soundtrack. Then, think about this strange group of heroes. You can leave the theater comforted by the fact that the sovereign Lord—not Star-Lord—guards the universe.